Where were we from yesterday? Oh, that’s right…
Oh my freaking non-specific Ramadan-respecting deity! The suites..!
The regular suites at Al Maha are identical (though the colour scheme changes) and equally stunning. Furnished only with traditional furniture and with all the mod-cons discretely incorporated there was nothing that the suite hadn’t thought of before I did. Binoculars for desert viewing. Fridge compartment for icy cold wet cloths. Easel and sketching crayons in case my inner artist burst forth (it never did).
There was a television in a cupboard that I never even opened. How could anything on television be as magnificent and engaging as what I had there before me? There was a luxury spa bath so deep I couldn’t have climbed back out of it having got it (so another thing I never used). There were two day beds and the most delectable snacks on the table between them including a bowl of fruit including some local mysteries that I braved across the three days I was there.
(Detour: I was starving from my flight, so quickly got stuck into the banana from the fruit bowl which was so very good that the first words out of my mouth when I next saw Lawrence of Arabia was ‘the bananas here are amazing’. Still #winning in the conversation stakes… )
But as soon as Aknoush finished his tour (and as soon as I’d inhaled that banana) there was only one thing on my mind. Something I’d been thinking about for months before I hit the extreme heat of the desert.
Part of my image of myself at this resort was swimming out to the infinity edge of my private suite pool, laying my cheek on the cool, wet tiles and crying out the stress of the past two years as I stared at the desert.
Cathartic mission accomplished.
It’s been a long time since I’d last worn a swimsuit and–lemme give you the tip–I really put the ‘wear’ in ‘wearing’. But my pool was private, the desert was vast and the resort virtually empty and, as Aknoush had made very clear, no staff would come to the apartment until they were one hundred percent certain I was not in attendance.
So me and all my roll-y bits could do whatever we wanted in this remote, private place.
I lazed around in my temperature-controlled pool (which pleasantly halved the 48C desert heat), just soaking up the extraordinary view. These photos don’t come close to capturing how magical and seductive the dunes are, so you’re just going to have to take my word for it that it seeped in (like its sands) through every crack in my soul until I felt heavy and silty and… whole.
Hence all the crying. No-one could see me and all that stress really wanted out. So, I just let it leak out into the pool. Better out than in, right?
And then the strangest thing happened… as I submerged for my first underwater dunk I heard a voice, coming from deep inside me, that said clear as day: “The desert required a sacrifice.”
And as I surfaced, and the cool water streamed over my face, I got it…
My ring. The family heirloom that had meant so much to me and that, on a literal whim as I collected up my things and walked out the door to the airport, I’d decided to take with me to Wales to have it valued by welsh-gold experts. The ring that sweated right off my finger on my overnight Emirates flight as they raised the temperature to prepare us for Dubai’s extreme heat.
The desert took my ring. Not some thief bastard on the plane. Whatever was about to happen to me in this place, it came at a price. And I’d paid it on admission.
It was the strangest, most baptismal moment I’ve ever had.
And so here’s what happened next. I turned and swam slowly back to the shallow end of the pool and lay myself out on the long, shallow pool steps and thought to myself: ‘Okay. You can have it.’
And when I opened my eyes he was there. Sweet and small and gracious and almost a kind of apology from the desert. He slurped up my tears with his pool drink and all the stresses of the past couple of years just…washed away.
And my love affair with the desert began.