Today I went airborne in a luxury SUV, met a Qatari Dakar winner, met some camels, saw some amazingly crazy modified cars, and I got passed by the police in a Ferrari. This has been my first day in Dubai.

It has been a weird trip thus far.

I’m here in Dubai to drive the car that won the toughest motor race in the world, the Dakar Rally. It’s an X-Raid Mini and raced to victory by Nasser Al-Attiyah, who is from Qatar, and sat next to me at dinner. Nasser Al-Attiyah is not only the most skilled off-road driver in the world, he has also done everything from race a 4000 horsepower turbine speedboat to collect a medal in the Olympics for shooting. He still holds a shooting record. He uses an over-under Beretta shotgun.

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I gave him my card and my phone number. If you’re ever in the US, Nasser, please drop Jalopnik a line. Let’s get you in the Mint 400.

I was particularly tired when I met Nasser because I had been out in the desert earlier in the day. I had not planned on being in the desert. I hadn’t planned on anything. BMW/Mini had only told me a day before I left that I would have a free day before the actual planned drive event.

I ended up at a place called Mebar Auto out in some industrial district outside of the glitz of Dubai’s vast main drag, a sort of beige-washed version of the Las Vegas strip, only blown up to a proportion of height typically seen in science fiction.

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Mebar Auto builds trucks for desert racing. I found the shop thanks to my dad messaging a guy who used to write for Top Gear Magazine via LinkedIn, who then directed me to the guy who runs the shop in Dubai that builds Icelandic trucks, who then directed me to an address and just said, “They know you are coming.”

As it turned out Mebar Auto is one of the coolest shops I’ve ever seen. They don’t build trucks like Americans do. They don’t give them huge lifts. They give them new bumpers, new wheels and tires, new engines, and (critically) extremely good suspension. Remote reservoir dampers appear to be their thing. To best explain the point of having expensive suspension on a big car, the owner Rashad took me and his sales manager Miguel to his ‘test track’ five minutes away. His test track is a sort of not-exactly-defined route directly off the road under a bunch of power lines. It has huge jumps. We were in a vast, seven seater Nissan Patrol with a manual transmission, a V8 engine, and some dampers that certainly cost more than my car. The Patrol weighs something around 6,000 pounds. Here it is midair.

The picture above also satisfies my requirement as a tourist to photograph the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. There it is in the background.

There were also random camels wandering around. This one was very chill. The camels were roaming free, though they had sort of ankle cuffs so they couldn’t run away. They sort of sauntered in a very relaxed manner.

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The thing about Dubai is that if you follow the script, so to speak, everything is extremely easy and extremely efficient. If you deviate from that script, if you do not quite fit into the planned order, things become extremely hard. Take a look at the mechanic here sleeping in a cubby during his lunch break.

What’s particularly strange is nobody seems particularly troubled by any of it. Life is hard for the Pakistani, Filipino, and East African immigrants. But, like the cuffed camels, nobody around looks very disturbed by it, though they are clearly aware.

Dubai, though, defies any easy definition. For example, here is a Lamborghini Huracan that costs something short of a million dirhams (I think about a quarter million dollars) with a tiny plastic insert that you put in your seat belt clasp so the chime doesn’t go on. It costs pennies. It is also emblazoned with the BMW logo in rhinestones.

Like I said, Dubai defies easy definition.

I will conclude by mentioning that the first thing I did in the day was hitch a ride to the Dubai Mall, which may or may not be the biggest in the world by a significant margin. I don’t care to look it up, and I don’t care to know. It was like any other mall, only it had no end and it had an aquarium bigger than the one in Monterey my family would drive half a day to see when I was a kid.

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Special thanks to BMW and Mini and X-Raid for flying me out and paying for my hotel and breakfast and dinner. Thanks to Matthew Jones for connecting me with Hjalti of Arctic Trucks. Thanks to Hjalti for connecting me to Mebar Auto. Huge thanks to Rashad and Miguel from Mebar Auto for the tour, the ride in the Patrol and the delicious lunch from Potbelly, yes that same sandwich place in the States.

Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove, Miguel Quema (where I am pictured, in the cheap sunglasses)


Contact the author at raphael@jalopnik.com.