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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 26 April 2018

With the desert on our doorstep, s’mores and scary stories are just a short drive away

By midnight, I was planted comfortably in a Ford folding chair, with a marshmallow-topped skewer in my hand, listening to a friend tell us how his previous house in Dubai was haunted.

The deserts of the UAE present plenty of opportunities to go camping with family and friends. Getty
The deserts of the UAE present plenty of opportunities to go camping with family and friends. Getty

Growing up as a child in the United States, the idea of a campfire was almost mythical. Scenes depicting teens huddled around a fire, sharing spooky tales while roasting marshmallows, were in almost every young adult movie set at a summer camp, and I always wanted desperately to have that sort of adventure myself.

No adults, no parents; just a group of kids in oversized sweatshirts sitting amidst nature, feeling rebellious and breaking some rules. But the opportunity never came to me in my childhood (largely because I wasn’t allowed to go to overnight summer camps), and my first campfire-like experience took place just last week, in the sand dunes on the outskirts of Al Qudra in Dubai.

The weather had cooled down to the extent that we could get away with wearing light cardigans, so we figured it was a good time to embrace the outdoors. A group of eight friends, we piled into two cars and drove out to the Last Exit food-truck park near Al Qudra Lake on a Thursday evening.

There, our two designated drivers let some air out of their car tyres. We were hours behind schedule, having planned to be there by 8.30pm, but it was now almost 11pm.

We loaded the cars with snacks and naturally, supplies to make s’mores. Finally, I would be roasting marshmallows over an open fire in the great outdoors.

We spent about 15 minutes casually off-roading, looking for a spot that was secluded enough in that it offered a break from the smoggy skyline of Dubai, but which was still accessible and easy to return from.

We found a spot, and parked the cars at the top of a small sand dune. Before unloading the cars, we took one more look out at the sky, making sure that the blinking lights of Burj Khalifa were no longer visible. Nothing ruins a wilderness trip more than the constant reminder of the world’s tallest building in your line of sight.

Seeing only a sky full of stars, we started settling down, laying out picnic-style mats and setting up folding chairs in a circle formation. In the middle of the circle, the boys started piling the firewood, only to realise they had forgotten to bring lighter fluid. The prospects of maintaining a flame with just a cigarette lighter were low, and it looked like our hopes for a campfire were quashed.

Fortunately, however, one of the members of the group was an avid adventurer and problem-solver: he tore up pieces of paper, sprinkled them in between the wood, and kept lighting them with the lighter, until the fire caught onto the wood.

This same friend brought along a grill-top and a pot, in which we warmed up tea – karak chai was the drink of choice given our Dubai desert surroundings. Surprisingly, we were in need of a lot more than just light cardigans, but we had brought along a stash of sweatshirts and shawls, just in case.

By midnight, I was planted comfortably in a Ford folding chair, with a marshmallow-topped skewer in my hand, listening to a friend tell us how his previous house in Dubai was haunted.

Two decades after dreaming of a campfire moment, I was finally experiencing it, and while it was void of the rebellious, hormone-driven thrills of teenage years, it was still a lot of fun, offering a much-needed break from air-conditioning, shopping malls and shisha cafes.

There were no high heels, designer bags or even board games with us – just a group of friends bundled up in the sand, spotting shooting stars and sharing scary stories.

For someone who is usually unable to suppress her yawns by the time the clock strikes 1am, I was shocked to glance at my watch and see that the time was 2.30am. We all seemed to have energy to stay up longer – no one really wanted to leave. But the boys needed to wake up for Friday prayers the next morning, so we started packing up, although no one was looking forward to returning to the light, noise and stress of the city.

A few days later, while driving with my radio turned on, I learnt that Katy Perry would be performing in the UAE on New Year’s Eve. For just a millisecond, I reached for my phone, thinking on planning on buying tickets for the concert with friends.

Then I remembered my weekend adventure and realised I’d much rather bring in the New Year surrounded by a few friends, fire, sand, s’mores and a piping hot cup of karak chai.

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Read more of Hafsa's columns:

A trip to lost and found at the Dubai Mall sheds light on human decency

Wedding season is here and that means ‘showtime’

Easing into a fitness regime with the help of a hammock

Café culture is thriving in Dubai thanks to Instagram

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