Sunday, September 5, 2010

Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection...

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: out in the desert you can see some unusual and often amusing sights. One of my many quirks (again, a relatively harmless one) is to snap photos of signs, along the lines of Lonely Planet's Signspotting. Here are the ones I got this trip: First, darned appropriate,

I am sorry to keep harping on how hot is was, but really, that kind of heat drives everything else out of your mind.

These signs don't really make the grade, unless they were intended to communicate "Windy! Very windy!"

You can see how the bright desert light overwhelmed my camera. JeepJeep's windows are well tinted, and good thing too. Every time we got out of the car to look at something there were moments of blindness while our eyes tried to adjust to the desert sun, a challenge even with hats and sunglasses.

Then there was this sign, which seemed a little redundant.

Isn't it a bit like stating "watch for icy conditions" in Antarctica?

I'm just saying.

This next one I found utterly charming.

Isn't it great? Where else in the world would you see such a thing? Unfortunately for us, the incinerator-like conditions prevent such events from happening in the summertime, so we didn't see any racing.

Closest we got was a guy out walking his goat.

This is my favorite speed limit sign of all time, anywhere, ever:

The "steam" rising from the little car is actually the numbers in Arabic "120"...but I always think it looks like the occupants inside are either boiling or swearing. Probably both.

While we're on the topic of cars, let me move the story along. Now, I don't generally make generalisations, but I feel largely comfortable in saying that most Emiratis love cars, they know cars, and they love to drive. Enough of that driving is such that one can't help but notice it is firmly in the realm of insane: speeding, racing, and trick driving all are de rigueur.

Commonly seen, even in the middle of nowhere (perhaps because it is the middle of nowhere) are black skid marks from the tires of cars pulling "doughnuts."

This is one of those things that young, bored men with much money do.

We checked out "Scary Mountain" Tel Moreeb, one of the tallest dunes in the world,

where these same young men racing modified Nissan Patrols try to go fast and hard enough to reach the top without blowing up. Adrenaline junkies, feel free to YouTube Tel Moreeb or Moreeb Dune, but be warned, there are some seriously hair-raising accidents, some of which result in fatalities, so I'm not linking you this time.

While racing is going on there are nice men with fire extinguishers strategically located along the nearly 40 degree slope, and with good reason. We drove up to the dune, looked up and said Ohmigod, that is insane.

Looking at the tracks in the sand, apparently some rotten person had been driving a camel up it earlier in the day.

Poor camel.

Now, not everyone out in the desert has money and cars to burn.

These guys, for instance. Another common sight.

You do recall how hot I said it was, right?

Now, our last destination on our desert adventure was to go see the collection of a man who really, really loves cars.

The pyramid (yes, you read that correctly) of Sheikh Hamad bin Hamdan Al Nahyan, better known as the Rainbow Sheikh, houses his wildly extensive eclectic collection of cars.

Known as the Emirates National Auto Museum, it's free to visit. You drive up and find a parking spot, perhaps next to the Earth trailer home, which, it is rumored, is a 1:1,000,000,000 scale model,

and then you enter the pyramid past the monster truck-esque Mercedes

and proceed out of the hot sun (oh, thank goodness) into a giant hangar to wander paved road aisles between cars in mirrored parking spots.

The aisles are like this in case the Sheikh wants to drive any of his cars, and let me tell you, there are a lot from which to choose. There seems to be no discernible why or wherefore as to the sorts and number (more than 200) of cars he owns...little of this, little of that. Or, I should say, lot of this, lot of that.

What was interesting was that nothing is labelled, nothing is explained, there are no have to figure it out by yourself. Inshallah.

The Rainbow Sheikh has a veritable flock of Mercedes-Benzes, as one might expect from a Sheikh, like this one bling-blinged up with much gold,

Note the rainbow licence plate and the single-digit number. The lower the number, the higher up in the Emirate's ruling family the owner is. For instance, in Dubai, Sheikh Mohammad has "1" license plates on all his cars.

Far quirkier than merely a little gold were some Mercedes-Benzes he'd purchased in the 80's, one for each day of the week. He had them custom painted by the apparently accommodating Germans in bright rainbow sherbet shades with rainbow trim; pink, blue, yellow, lime green, candy cane red, orange, and one that was all colors. The cars also had, get this, coordinating rifles in their matching gun racks in the trunks of each.

Bethy was definitely liking the rainbow theme. There truly was something for everyone.

California Highway Patrol car? Check. Queen Elizabeth II's Rolls Royce? Youbetcha. An 1875 steam-powered carriage? Of course. How about a humble NYC taxi? Yup. Rows and rows of Land Rovers and Jeeps from many eras were fun for us, and there was even an off-road 4x4 Lamborghini. I'll bet that wasn't cheap.

When the Sheikh had collected a bunch of cars, he apparently decided to design some too, while he was at it.

They may look outlandish, but before you laugh, it was the 80's or so, and this guy seems to eat, sleep, and breathe cars. He has actually been consulted for his expertise by such companies as Nissan/Renault, and does so gratis.

No surprise. The members of the Royal Family of Abu Dhabi don't exactly worry about money.

Oil, of course, is the reason they needn't worry about such silly things as money, which reminds me, there is one more vehicle I neglected to mention.

The Rainbow Sheikh is extremely fond of the Dodge Power Wagon truck from the 50's.

Why? Simple. The Dodge Power Wagon is the vehicle that was used by early oil prospectors in the Middle East. That truck made him and his family rich beyond any one's wildest imagining, and as Han Solo once said, "I can imagine quite a bit."

So, to top off collecting a whole lot of these trusty little trucks, he also had one built on a grand scale. And by a grand scale, I mean that it is the largest car in the world. By far.

See the regular-sized pickup parked underneath?

The ratio of this truck to a regular-sized one is 64:1. They think it weighs about 55 tons. Not an easy thing to hoist upon a scale.

The wheels are from an oil rig transporter. The windshield wipers are from an ocean liner. It has four bedrooms with all the accoutrements inside, and you can put down the tailgate where it becomes a balcony...and have one heck of a tailgate party.

You have to hand it to the guy, he knows what he likes.


Mumsey said...

With all that oil I'm guessing they don't really worry about MPG - at all.
Did I hear there's been a discovery of a large oil reserve in Minnesota? All those Norwegian bachelor farmers driving icy roads in their 4 x 4 Lambourghini's with color co-ordinated fishing rods just boggles the mind.

Joanna said...

Ok, this is an excellent post. Wild & crazy with lots of money in the desert. Fun to read!!

*Paula* said...

Only in the UAE, eh? Wild and wacky stuff indeed! I have a thing for amusing signs too - great minds and all that ;)

AKBrady said...

And I thought Alaska was the only place with interesting modes of transportation.....

dorothy said...

Monday? YEAH! Call or email :) d