A desert escape for the ladies

Rebecca Mayston first landed in Oman about a decade ago from New Zealand and was invited by Guide Oman to go into the Wahibas for some dune-bashing. In 2009 she ventured in with trepidation, petrified when she first took the wheel. But by the end of the weekend, she was hooked! It dawned on her that other ladies in Oman might enjoy the challenge, and just needed the incentive. Today, Rebecca is a Jeep Ambassador and Guide Oman Safari curator and on Friday, October 4, she and her team from Guide Oman organised the sixth annual ‘Ladies Desert Safari’ weekend with the goal of encouraging women drivers to take the wheel and develop sand-driving skills.
Sixty women, including eleven Omanis in about 25 guest vehicles assembled at 11 am in Al Kamil – necessitating an early departure from Muscat – to begin their exciting weekend in Sharqia, and go it alone. Nearly all left husbands and men-folk safely back at home to mind children, while two ladies did bring their children along to share the experience. Many wondered if there won’t be a man in sight, as they hark back to the heady feminist days of the 80s. Rebecca organised a support crew of twelve cars, including seven men, to ensure everyone’s safety and well-being. And that means that all the vehicles get out of the desert on Saturday too!
Some support crew were women: English Nurse, Debbie Rawcliffe came along for the thrill as much as to help.
The convoy headed off-road towards a camp for lunch and afterwards were given important driving instruction using a model Wrangler. They were armed with tips on how to approach sand dunes safely, and tyres were seriously deflated before setting off into the desert, south of Kamil. Women were divided into teams and even coordinated dress-codes and themes were decided upon before the trip.
There were PDO ‘Desert Damsels’ for example, in hot-pink attire complete with fascinators, Team Unicorn, Team France in heart-shaped sunglasses, and Bedouin Ladies with face masks. In the evening there was dancing to music powered by a vehicle battery, plenty of pink ribbons and a Desert Princess. Prizes were awarded for dancing, dress and performance, and an Omani bagpiper made his way to the Campfire to entertain them over dinner.
Concern was mooted about the temperature in the desert so early in the season, but participants were pleasantly surprised to find it was cold enough at about 22°C at night to need a sleeping bag in their tents. During the afternoon when women were driving in up to 38°C, they could use the air-conditioning in their jeeps. Until they got stuck!
And boy did they: one Omani got caught nose-down in a bowl, but the team helped her drive out using coaxing encouragement. ‘The Pussycat Dolls’, Jane, grinning from cat-ear to cat-ear, and second-timer, Julie, said it was beyond their wildest dreams.
After the weekend, Jackie, a first-time participant, said how much she enjoyed the experience. “The worst is never as bad as you fear. On Saturday we were driving in much softer sand and lots of us got stuck at one time or another. But the experts always gave advice and watched us apply it safely until we got out. If we did not succeed, out came the rope and on went the winch, just enough to get us over the hurdle to try a different approach. This gave me the courage to try for things, knowing we were in safe hands, and since being tentative is not useful in certain circumstances, what better context for courage!
It was comforting to know that if the worst happened there were excellent drivers to guide people, a team of volunteer mechanics in case of vehicular problems and a nurse in case of medical issues.”
One crew member posted a message afterwards to Rebecca: “Your long plan and hard work made ‘Ladies Crossing’ a reality and was recognised by everyone. Your name has been recorded as the first female desert safari organiser in Oman, and in the Gulf”.
High praise indeed then, for the vision which inspired Rebecca Mayston to get the ‘Ladies Desert Safari’ on the road nine years ago. Over the years some drivers have come from Dubai to join her women’s trips, and others drive from other parts of the UAE, to join the public events. “It gives women the confidence to drive on their own and join in again, alone or with a companion, even on mixed-gender events”.
These events are so popular that Guide Oman runs them at least twice a month to Sharqia or ‘Rhub al Khali’ (Empty Quarter) from September till April, and for the first time, they are looking to add a second ladies’ trip this season. Now that is proof of a successful mission to empower women’s driving.

GEORGINA BENISON