Driving is a major part of life in the UAE, whether it's using a vehicle for a daily commute, doing the school run, or even for more recreational pursuits, such as showing off your supercar at the mall or taking your
wheels out on a race track for a spin.
Regardless the use, the necessity for cars in this harsh climate, which makes longer distances unwalkable, cannot be disputed. And we're fortunate that the roads of this country are some of the finest in the world; flat as a pancake with very few potholes around to ruin your tyres and nice alloys (try driving in any major city in the UK these days and you'll be thankful for the quality of the roads here).
Aside from some severely dodgy driving habits, we've got it quite good here in the UAE; great roads that wind through some simply stunning scenery. And even when you take that nice, smooth tarmac away, apparently it's a hotspot for off-roading, too.
For many of us in the UAE, including those who own 4x4s, off-roading isn't even on the radar and most wouldn't have a clue what to do when thrust into an off-roading situation. That's the position I found myself in recently when invited on a Ford off-road driving event in the border region near Hatta. Asked whether I'd like to attend, I hastily opted for the answer yes before fully thinking things through. You see, being a city boy from Glasgow, in Scotland, I've never properly experienced driving off-road. And, likewise, I've never properly experienced driving a gas-guzzling monster machine (with petrol prices in the UK, who could afford it?) And certainly not driving it in the wilderness on a rough adventure.
Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the wonders of the outdoors but my experience is limited to driving a small two-wheel-drive hatchback up to a designated camping site, paying the nice man for a tent pitch and setting about cooking up some sausages on my portable gas grill.
So it was with trepidation that I set out early the next morning for Hatta, where Ford was showcasing its 2012 F-Series trucks that it hopes will penetrate the huge market for pickups in the UAE. The fact the company has been the market leader for these types of vehicles in the US for the past 35 years buoyed me slightly, at least until I reached the ominous sight of the towering Hajar Mountains, where the activities were to take place. With temperatures in the high 40s Celsius and in a remote wilderness surrounded by craggy peaks, it's hard to imagine a more inhospitable environment. There's no doubt that, in this part of the world, Ford's trucks would be put to the test - just why did it have to be me?
Arriving slightly late at the Built Ford Tough base camp due to the hastily arranged nature of my trip, I find that I've missed the briefing (not for the first time in my career) and the assembled journalists are hurriedly being ushered into several awaiting F-150 King Ranch vehicles. If there's an ideal method to learning how to drive off-road, this is not it, but I'm at least thankful that I'm not driving first. I'm whisked into the back seat of the gargantuan King Ranch that is nicely furnished with brown leather and find I'm alongside three non-English speaking men. Not a word is said before we take off out of camp in a procession following a lead car around a challenging, almost lunar landscape.
My first taste of off-roading takes an unusual turn when the driver randomly starts screaming into the GoPro camera mounted on the inside windscreen, as the other two chortle heartily while I look on in dismay.