In this piece, MUAZU ELAZEH writes that with about 11states of the country battling the throes of desert encroachment, Nigeria can learn how to effectively maximize the potential of desertification from the United Arab Emirates
“You can’t come to Dubai without having a feel of the desert safari. That is the only thing that will show you truly visited Dubai. If you show people pictures taken from this conference hall, they are likely to doubt it but the desert safari is unique.”
These were the words of Jenkins Alumona, the CEO of Strategic Outcomes Group, and incidentally, the man who coordinated the movement of other senior editors and my humble self, to Dubai for the all-important Digital Dialogue Conference organised by MultiChoice Africa.
Of course when Jenkins uttered these words, he further fueled the passion in me and made me feel like rushing to the desert safari that very moment.
I have heard and read a lot about the beauty of Dubai and its boundless tourism potentials just as I have heard so much about the desert safari.
Prior to my visit, I did a google search on desert safari and what I got was “a desert safari involves a jeep drive through enormous mounds of sand (called “dune-bashing”), and a stop at a campsite where you’ll have the opportunity to ride camels, get henna tattoos and be entertained by a belly dancer during dinner”.
Everything about it from the simple and one button press search from google further fueled my curiosity.
So when the opportunity to visit Dubai presented itself, I told myself that I must experience the desert safari.
All through my stay during the conference, I kept fantasising about the desert safari and couldn’t help but imagined what the experience would look like.
To underscore my anxiety, when it was about time for the trip to the desert, I hurriedly left my hotel room and waited for about 15 minutes at the reception for the driver.
The trip from my hotel to the desert was a little above one hour but obviously because I was eager to get there, it looked like eternity to me.
However, when we finally got to the desert, I came in close contact with how people could effectively harness nature’s gift for optimum economic benefit.
At the desert, our first port of call was a date palm plantation where tourists were served water and soft drinks preparatory to witnessing the falcon show.
Indeed, the falcon show which to my mind was like an appetizer as far as what to expect during the desert safari was concerned, was an amazing experience that brought a chance to look at falcon, the undoubtedly elegant bird, closely and to know various fascinating facts about it.
“From ages, falcons have been used for hunting in Arabic countries. They are trained to catch prey in the desert using their unbelievable remote sensing ability. Today, they are tracked using radars and GPS technology”, a guide, enthused.
Although we were not able to witness much of the falcon show as the elegant bird flew away and never came till we left for the dune driving, we had the chance of taking a closer look at the falcon.
But as far as the safari is concerned, what stood is the dune driving which began after a brief safety briefing.
During the dune driving, we dipped and dived over sunburnt sand dunes, some of which lie at 90 degree angle.
The trip which is an off-road race in the desert’s sloped contours, happened in convoy of no fewer than 60 ruggedly built Toyota jeep with about five passengers in each.
Even though I was anxious for it to start, I became jittery at some point because of the dipping and diving over the sand dunes and, hence, couldn’t wait to get to the camp site which marked the end of the dune driving.
When we got to the camp site, I was told that some people literally passed out during the trip because the exercise was strenuous.
But in fairness to the guides, a safety notice was pasted in all the vehicle warning tourist of the potential danger in the trip they were about to undertake.
Conspicuously displayed inside the vehicle for tourists’ information was a safety notice which read: “Dune driving is a physically strenuous activity that you undertake at your own risk.”
The notice went further to state clearly that, “It is not recommended for pregnant women; people suffering from heart attack, neck or back conditions; people over the age of 65 and people who are wheelchair dependent.”
It takes one embarking on the drive to actually appreciate the reason for the warning.
Dune driving which to my mind is the outstanding feature of the desert safari terminates at the camp site where tourists have the opportunity to ride camels, have dinner and be entertained by a belly dancer.
Our driver who gave his name simply as Habib, described himself as a freelancer noting, “I work for different companies and we bring people here twice every day, some in the morning, some in the evening.”
Habib disclosed that each tourist was charged $100 for the safari and from my conservative estimate there were over 300 tourists. This means good money coming in from the safari alone, on a daily basis.
While I savour the beauty of the desert safari, I reminded myself that Nigeria has a lot to learn from Dubai.
It is sad that instead of turning the beauty of the desert into a tourist attraction of some sort which will boost our economy by creating employment, we are constantly complaining about the danger of desert of encroachment.
In Nigeria, 11 states that included Katsina, Jigawa, Sokoto, Kebbi, Zamfara, Borno, Yobe and Gombe are battling the throes of desert encroachment and one wonders what is stopping the state governments from turning this agony into blessing by creating a model similar to what Dubai has.
Incidentally, some of these states have the highest level of poverty and depend, like most states, solely on federal allocation which continues to decline by the day.
The threats posed by the increasing level of unemployment and the dwindling fortunes from oil have since underscored the need for the country to diversify and taking a hard look on how to explore the nation’s vast tourism potentials will no doubt help greatly.
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