x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

The great outdoors has its moments but it's really not that great

A weekend's camping in the desert is exciting as a novelty but one night of freezing discomfort is more than enough for any self-respecting teenager.

Camping in the desert is not as simple as getting there and pitching a tent. Stephen Lock / The National
Camping in the desert is not as simple as getting there and pitching a tent. Stephen Lock / The National

It was a morning like any other. The snooze button on the phone's alarm was hit several times as I burrowed deeper and deeper into the snug recesses of my cosy bed, unwilling to wake up. A steaming hot breakfast followed, and then it was time for that insufficiently appreciated thing we call the shower. A morning to cherish, though, because 24 hours later told a very different story: bones ached and muscles were stiff from huddling up against the freezing night. There was a rainblocking sheet of a flimsy tent above our heads where a roof should have been. It smelt like sweat, sunblock and congealing noodle curry.

A group of us teenagers were out camping in the desert with our families because one of us had had the bright idea of "making the most of the nice weather until it lasts".

We'd been preparing for it weeks before the actual weekend trip. Packing was probably the hardest bit, though tents, sleeping bags and mats, stoves, beach chairs and clothes were the easy part. I decided to throw in assorted skin creams and lip balm for good measure, just in case it got too dry, and while I was at it, lots of essential oils and some make-up too, which, actually, is a pretty good sunblock.

The food conundrum was slightly more pressing. Unable to decide how much was enough, I stuck to my better-safe-than-sorry policy, and made sure that between my parents and me, we had 20 packets of crisps, 15 Pot Noodles, gallons of water and Gatorade, and chocolate to last a week. We may have returned home with most of it uneaten, but we didn't starve to death, which is always a good thing when you're going on an expedition to the desert.

We started off just before noon. A few families we knew got together, some members swapping cars until we were all well mixed up, and then we sped off towards the great outdoors. All the teenagers inevitably ended up in the same car, much to the consternation of one irate father - the one whose car it was. He retaliated by ignoring our requests for Virgin radio and blasting Eric Clapton out of the car stereo instead. We got our own back later by singing loudly and raucously well into the night when everyone else was trying to sleep.

The plan had been to start trekking and exploring as soon as we got there, but when we did, everyone was too tired from the journey. And we had been certain that we were going to be much more motivated than the adults when we reached our camp ground, but I suppose we'd been a little too optimistic. Donna and I, meanwhile, found a herd of surprisingly friendly goats who were more than happy to nibble on our supplies of Jammie Dodgers. We had to shoo them away eventually when they made up their minds that our clothes seemed rather more appetising than the biscuits.

With the cars safely locked, we set off in due course. For many of us, it was a refreshing change to do some good, old-fashioned walking - not on a treadmill nor around an artificial lake, but in an untouched place, which made the whole experience much more enjoyable. The terrain was a sort of mix of hills and sandy bits; we might have been in the middle of a desert, but it's that time of the year where spring hasn't really succumbed to the punishing midsummer sun yet, so the weather was ideal for trekking.

Returning to the cars to spend the night, we set about actually making camp. You would think that the instructions on the leaflet for pitching a tent should actually provide some guidance on how to pitch a tent. This, unfortunately, wasn't the case, and as Donna and I fiddled around with the flysheet and pegs and things that evening, all we succeeded in doing was getting extremely tangled up. Getting the tent sorted eventually, we turned our attention to cooking a wholesome dinner of noodles and chocolate bars. Thirty minutes of heating water over our tiny stove only made it ever so slightly lukewarm, but we poured it over the noodles anyway and ate them uncooked - hunger is really the best sauce. Attempts to start a bonfire were soon abandoned as it kept going out and we'd exhausted our supply of matches.

This sounds all very adventurous in writing but it's not quite so romantic when temperatures plummet in the middle of the night when you're trying to get some shut-eye. It was very tempting to retreat to the warmth of the cars, abandoning chilly tents and sleeping bags on rocky ground, but no one would give me the car keys because it was "against the spirit of the trip".

I'm not sure I could call what followed a "good night's sleep", given all the insects that somehow crept in even with the zip fastened, but it was an exciting escapade all the same. That doesn't mean I'm up for another one any time soon - the blisters are still peeling and anyway, I've got too much work to be able to engage in frivolous activities like this. Honest.

The writer is a 15-year-old student in Dubai.

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