By WENDY SQUIRES
The guide had to be joking. Then again, we were in Dubai, a place where the extraordinary is commonplace.
Since arriving in the modern desert oasis, I had been shopping in the Mall of the Emirates, which just so happens to have its own ski field. Not bad, considering temperatures outside often rock the high 40s.
Not to be outdone, a visit to the largest mall on earth, Dubai Mall, saw me scooting past an enormous aquarium and Olympic-size ice-skating rink on the way to stock up on Marks & Spencer knickers and macaroons at Galleries Lafayette.
I had seen the world’s tallest building, the sublime Burj Khalifa, an elegant monolith that looked like God had dropped her Art Deco earring, only for it to land wrong side up in the sand.
I had swum at Jumeirah Beach looking up at the unforgettable uber luxury hotel, Burj Al Arab, rubbing my eyes in disbelief its 321m-high sail is not really Neptune’s yacht about to take off in a strong wind.
I had dune-bashed at high speeds, the driver turning the golden sand into a spray behind us like a wave about to dunk our Jeep. I had smoked a shisha pipe under a full moon in the desert, ridden a camel, had my arm tattooed in filigree henna and waited beside burqa-wearing women at air-conditioned bus stops.
I had poured water on a rock in the middle of the desert to reveal thousands of shell fossils, fantastic reminders the dry plains were once an ocean.
I’d hailed pink roofed taxi cabs (indicating female drivers) and scooted past a flamingo sanctuary smack bang in the middle of town. And in an effort to make it from the spice souks (sellers) in Deira to the gold traders across the creek in the old part of town, Bastakiya, I had jumped a wooden water taxi.
Talk of scorpions as big as your hand and camel spiders that look like small aliens and bite like bitches in the dessert had terrified and intrigues me in equal measure, me and I couldn’t believe my jaded city eyes when the pomegranate juice I ordered came out in a pint size beer stein (and cost around a dollar!).
I had slid down water slides at theme parks to rival Disneyland, and tried to fit in a trip to Ferrari World in nearby Abu Dhabi and a chance to dive for pearls but run out of time.
But my guide, Waquir, had to be pulling my chain this time. I couldn’t believe there was such a thing as a robot camel jockey – even in Dubai.
“They are very light in weight, much better than human jockeys,” he said, straight-faced which, for the affable local, meant a big white-toothed grin.
“The sheiks who own the camels follow them around the track in their cars while they race, using the remote control to make the jockey whip harder.”
Now, I wasn’t alone in thinking “yeah, pal and I’m following them on my magic carpet” but lo and behold, Waquir pulled the car off the highway and down a dirt road to a local store. And there, before me, was a robot camel jockey that reached up to my knee, resplendent in coloured silks, peaked riding cap, whip and all.