By STEVE MacNAULL Kelowna Daily Courier  www.thechronicleherald.ca

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The camel trash talk comes from the most unlikely person.

The world’s tallest building — the 828-metre 160-storey Burj Khalifa — rises up in downtown Dubai. The city is surrounded by the Persian Gulf on one side and desert on the other. (Photos by STEVE MacNAULL / Kelowna Daily Courier)
The world’s tallest building — the 828-metre 160-storey Burj Khalifa — rises up in downtown Dubai. The city is surrounded by the Persian Gulf on one side and desert on the other. (Photos by STEVE MacNAULL / Kelowna Daily Courier)

Here we are trekking through the desert in Dubai and tour guide Jacqui Ellerker is into a monologue about how lazy camels are, their nasty teeth, their penchant for biting, eating everything in sight and destroying landscapes.

“For instance, this camel I’m riding used to be used for racing, but he was a lagger, so we got him and now we do tours with him,” she says.

“And just look at them. They’re certainly not going to win any beauty contests.”

Just as abruptly Ellerker turns on the camel charm.

“But, boy, they are good at hauling people and cargo around the desert,” she explains.

“The Bedouins (the original nomadic peoples that used to roam the desert of the United Arab Emirates) also ate their meat and drank their milk. Camel’s milk remains good unrefrigerated in the desert for up to seven days. And even people with cow’s milk allergies can drink it.”

It’s the kind of insider camel trivia our tour group gobbles up.

After all, riding a camel through the sand dunes is on many of our bucket lists.

The camel trek at Al Maha Resort & Conservation Reserve doesn’t disappoint.

We meet in the camel ring 45 minutes before sunset when the weather gets a little cooler in the desert. We pick our mounts more by the colourful blankets that make up the saddles on these one-humped wonders than any knowledge of their speed or temperament.

The hardest part of riding a camel is starting off because once you get in the saddle the camel gets up from its kneeling position with an abrupt two-part lift, sway and jolt that will throw you off if you’re not ready and not hanging on.

Once upright it’s an easy half-hour lope through the desert to our destination — a high dune where we dismount in another awkward two-part descent and collapse.

We’ve come here to climb the dune, glass of champagne in hand (something easier said than done), to toast the sunset.

The camel trek is part of Al Maha’s conservation efforts to help guests understand desert animals more.

The resort also has falconry, horseback riding on Arabians, desert safari, archery and desert hiking options.

This is all offered with a backdrop of luxury accommodation and gourmet dining.

Al Maha, which is a 45-minute drive from the highrises of Dubai, is made up of a main lodge and 42 private bungalows tucked into a hillside oasis finished Bedouin-style with swooping tent roofs and patio awnings.

The decor is decidedly Arabian Nights and each bungalow has its own grounds and infinity pool.

The view is all blue pool water to endless desert.

While most people think of Dubai as the go-go megatropolis with a skyline that features the world’s tallest building, it’s really a geographically diverse Emirate with the city surrounded by the Persian Gulf on one side and desert on the other.

Al Maha’s 225-square-kilometre reserve makes up six per cent of Dubai’s land area.

With some desert fun checked off the bucket list, it’s time to go urban because the city of Dubai really is a spectacle.

That’s why our tour group checks into the Armani Hotel (yes, designed and named after the fashion icon Giorgio Armani), which just happens to be in the aforementioned world’s tallest building — the 828-metre 160-storey Burj Khalifa.

The mind-boggling tower contains the world’s highest restaurant and bar — Atmosphere on the 123rd floor — and is adjacent to the world’s largest shopping centre, the 1,200-store Dubai Mall.

The only way Canadians can fly non-stop to Dubai is from Toronto on Emirates Airline’s A380, the largest passenger plane in the world. It’s a superjumbo double-decker jet that can carry 500 people.

Business-class passengers have lie-flat seat beds and a lounge where they can sit on couches or get drinks and snacks at the stand-up bar. First-class passengers have even bigger personal cabins and access to showers in the bathrooms.

If you’re sensing a bigger, better, best theme with Dubai you’re right.

It’s used oil money and ambitious plans to build a cosmopolitan city over the past decade that amazes with its architecture, attractions and tax-free business.

Nights at the Al Maha Resort & Conservation Reserve and Armani Hotel can be packaged with Emirates’ flights. Emirates Airline flies Toronto-Dubai three times a week.

The airline has also started a stop-over program for Canadians to get discounted hotels in Dubai before catching a connecting Emirates flight to elsewhere in the Middle East, Africa or Asia.

Steve MacNaull visited Dubai as a guest of Emirates Airline.

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