Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Banyan Tree Al Wadi, Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates

I have been a little – OK, a lot – spoiled these last couple of days, staying at the Banyan Tree Al Wadi resort in 'RAK', as the locals call it. From the welcome, where you quickly discover all the staff are going to treat you like a favourite auntie they're very happy to see, to the moment when you're introduced to your villa – which is vast and has more light switches than the Empire State Building – to the moment when you realise that the swimming pool on the back deck is for your use alone, right the way along to the food, which is out of this world delicious (I had a vegetable curry last night that has knocked the shrimp in garlic and whisky off the top spot it's held these last 15 years or so), to the smells and colours of the desert which had me reaching for the cliché handbook, hoping vainly that I could avoid them all, right up to the moment a large Harris hawk sat on my (well-gloved) hand and ate raw quail, this has been an experience that I just want to savour. I just wish I had words that weren't so hackneyed from overuse.

I just wish everyone I know could see the way the desert night falls so completely and all at once, so that you're suddenly in darkness. If only I could describe adequately the very clear sunlight of the morning and the way there is an entirely different colour palette here from anywhere else I've been, all ochres, burnt oranges and grey-greens, but also startling blue and green.

I know I'm gushing, but this was quite honestly a bit of heaven on earth. The best bit? Aside from swimming in the Persian Gulf, that is? It has to be meeting and interacting with the birds of prey here. What a very special experience.

I got to fly, as they say in this biz, a Harris hawk and an Arabian owl. I also got to see a Peregrine falcon at work and learned about the very special place these birds have in this region's culture. I'm ending with this picture of me with Salma, the Harris hawk, because I'm now in Dubai, staying at the very wonderful Warwick Hotel Dubai and want to check out the swimming pool on the 47th-floor roof before it gets too late (stop hitting me! OK, OK, I won't mentioned the cheese and opera cake slices I just had with the lovely Anna Karas, alright?). But there will be more soon of this amazing-looking city, that must surely be a vision of the 22nd century.

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