shanlung (shanlung) wrote,

Chile // Riamfada free flights at the edge of Rub Al Khali

Chile // Riamfada free flights at the edge of Rub Al Khali


Another natural disaster struck the world. I watched with pain on that massive earthquake that struck off the coast of Chile and the destruction that caused together with the tsunamis generated.

I can only feel how ephemeral life is when from one moment to the next, lives of those people affected got changed totally.


Riamfada free flights at the edge of Rub Al Khali



more photos in flickr folder "Al Areesh desert camp "

25-26 Feb 2010 Thursday/Friday

The Rub al Khali , (Arabic: الربع الخالي‎),which translates directly as ‘ Quarter of Emptiness’ . That might be better known to people as the Empty Quarter. This is one of the largest sand desert in the world. This 600,000 +++ sq km (250k sq miles) desert covered much of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula. The Empty Quarter sit astride the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Yemen and the Sultanate of Oman.

My wife and I had thoughts of staying at a desert camp. After all, we are staying in a country which is largely desert. The thoughts of seeing the stars at night in the desert was romantic together with books I had read in the past of Lawrence of Arabia and his Pillars of Wisdom and other tales of other intrepid explorers of the past..

Time was running out for that as those kind of camps would be closed during the heat of the summer.

She booked us and Katleen into Al Areesh Desert camp located at the Wahibah Sands. The Wahibah Sands is an extension , or a locally named part of the Rub Al Khali (Arabic: الربع الخالي‎).
The Wahibah Sands, one of the oldest deserts in the world - with rolling dunes, reaching up to 100 metres and shifting sands - magnificent with changing colours. This is the traditional home of the Bedouin, hardy, spirited people who know how to survive in these harsh desert conditions.

The last time I was in the Rub Al Khali was in 2006 when I was stationed in Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I was on the Western edge of this vast desert.
Here is an old photo of me and my friend Osama in that part of the desert in Aug 2006.


Taken from ‘Sheep’s head and camel milk’ (people with queasy stomach are advised not to read

And the last time I read of this Empty Quarter was a couple years ago when I read Gerald Seymour’s ‘Unknown Soldier’ set almost entirely in the Empty Quarter.
We set off at about 11 am on Thursday just after I finished writing and posting ‘Fragments of earlier memories of Taiwan’ on my Livejournal and to folks on my direct mailing list. We had lunch in Ibra after 2 hours of driving.

At about 2.30 pm on that Thursday, we were about to turn off the last bit of tarmac road onto the 500 meter of sand track that lead to the camp itself. We could see that rustic looking camp, on a high ledge of sand and with huge sand dunes behind. The last part of the sand track was on a 15 degree slope. I thought the 4x4 drive would be enough and tried a couple of unsuccessful attempt to gun my SUV up that track. I then got out of the SUV and reduced the tire pressure from 35 down to 20 psi.

I always knew intellectually that got to be done. My natural laziness delayed that slightly. With the lower tire pressure, we got up that slope and into the camp. It was such a visceral feeling when that worked that beat any intellectual understanding that you need low pressure in tires when driving on sand.

I liked that camp at first sight even during my first few unsuccessful attempts to get up that slope. If it was that easy to get to, what’s the point of getting there at all?

We could have come earlier than the stated check in time of 3 pm but there I was getting my last strange report out.
We checked into our rooms which were very basic.



Then we headed for the restaurant and recreation area.


I had little interest in dune bashing or sand sledging and well content to laze in the recreation area.
This camp was on the desert itself, on fine reddish sand. The sand felt so cool and nice in the shaded recreation area. I slipped off my sandals to enjoy the feel of that powdery sand and urged Joy and Katleen to do that as well.
The local Omani manager remarked how wonderful it was that just the day before, another Omani stayed at the camp with his IRN parrot and now today they had me. I smiled and did a recall with Riamfada still in her harness and leash. He smiled back and said that other parrot could not fly.


That restaurant had clear open sides all around. I seen Riamfada was relaxed and I removed her leash to do recall. This was the first time I flew her in free flight in the presence of other people and without our kitties around.
Her harness was then removed as well and she recalled beautifully in that covered area.


We sat around and chill out. I was going to read and Riamfada readily accepted her harness back on while my wife and Kat gossiped away to their hearts content.
From time to time, we went out behind to do some recalls with Riamfada with her leash on. Just to give her a feel of that place.


The sun was setting. It was cooler and we shifted to the seating area in the open and in front of the restaurant. Did some flights there.

more photos in flickr folder "Al Areesh desert camp "



Then we moved onto the sand itself. That setting sun became more sensuous with the wine that Katleen brought out. The fine sand was good to sit on and to lie on. To drink wine on. And to watch the beautiful sun set and the sky turning from orange to a deep red and then to purple and then into the night sky.



The buffet dinner was adequate. Shortly after that, the locals did their traditional drumming and singing and chanting and dancing and led other guests into the local dances.
The camp was so isolated in an area with a very small population. There were no street lights to mar the night sky. Street lights from Ibra about 30 km away were just tiny speckles of light glow. But the moon was full and that was not the best time to view the stars in the sky. I liked this camp enough to know we would be back 2 weeks later to see how the night sky would be then without the moon.

We went back to the room to find it was not possible to tie up a perch for Riamfada to sleep on. But that was not a problem at all. Riam was happy on the steel frame of the bed and she went to sleep just above my head. She seemed to see well enough in the pitch darkness of the room. From time to time I stretched my hand to her for her to beak gently my fingers and her rubbing of her beak and head on my fingers.

We woke up early the next morning. Riam had her harness and leash on and we went to seat in front of the restaurant/recreation area and watch the color came back into the world as light came slowly back into the sky.

Soon we had our breakfast. Some flights were done with Riamfada. She seemed to be relaxed and enjoyed the place.

more photos in flickr folder "Al Areesh desert camp "


I then removed her leash and did a couple of flights. This was the first time I did free flights with Riamfada in the presence of other people.

Then I removed her harness as well.

A couple of flights were done with her.




I then did not like the gleam in her eye. I decided it was time for her harness to be back on again. She step up onto the perch hold by Katleen. I hold that harness to her head . She ducked her head away. I was surprised as Riamfada was always so cooperative in wearing that harness.

Riamfada looked at me and I had that very queasy feeling in my stomach. I reached out with my left hand to steady her on the perch to loop that harness over her head. She evaded my hand, flew a short distance upwards and then back on that perch again.
She turned her head, gave me a penetrating gaze, looked away to the West and down that slope and then she launched herself off that perch and flew upwards.

She gained height and was perhaps 25 meters above us, on a ridge about 50 meters above the ground. I called to her to ‘come come come’ even when I knew I should not call as I knew she was not going to respond to me then. I could not help myself and I had that faint hope or yearning that she would come to me. The wind was blowing from the West and I feared for the worse.



Riamfada started on a big circular loop with me at the center way down below. She did a couple of circles. Then she broke off that circle to head South along the ridge to other huts down that way. She ignored my call. She reached the end of the huts maybe 80 meters away and kept flying on. From a little ball of grey, she became a speck and then she disappeared for a few seconds. She must have turned around. I saw a speck again, and not daring to hope that was her until that speck became bigger and bigger and turned back into a ball of grey. She looped back towards me and I urged her again to ‘come come come’.



To see her circling again overhead at higher level. I would have admired her flights even more if my stomach was not up into my mouth. She broke off her circling to head West in a straight line. I thought ‘My God! She was going to head into the Empty quarters.’

I watched as that ball of grey became a speck. And that speck disappeared even though I tried my best to will that not to happen. Then she must have turned back and to my immense relief, she was heading back to me again. She flew lower and I could hope again that she would return to me as I called again ‘ come come come!’. She was low enough to land on the roof of the restaurant and then as if she changed her mind, she swooped upwards again.

To do another big circle directly over me. She broke off that circle and headed North on the ridge line. My heart sank again as she flew further and further away into the Wahibah Sands. Just when she became a tiny speck, to see her veered away and looped back towards me.

I kept thinking she must be tired as she never flown anything like the distances she was showing to me then again and again and again .I thought she must be coming down real soon.

She thought otherwise, and flew another circle over me high above. She was doing a series of big circles above me as the focus followed by long elliptical loops that made me extremely nervous to put it mildly. And to make it worse, I could not afford to go berserk and had to remain as an island of icy calm to avoid inflicting my fear onto her making the situation worse. I had to watch her to see where she went for chance of recovery. I even had to continue to project good thoughts and praises to her hoping that would encourage her to get back to me while suppressing the fear for the worse that she would never come back. Nice as the sand was in walking a few feet about, I knew I could never be able to run on it the distance she should me she had flown. Each time that ball of grey became smaller and smaller and disappeared added a couple years to my age.

I had written before ‘ when push comes to shove, she might not respond ‘ and never depend on recalls alone. I have said in recalls at home and done in outings, she responded with military precision. I also said ‘when she felt like it’. I knew she was not feeling like it, and chose only to call when I knew she was going to respond.
She heard my earlier recalls made in desperation. She chose not to respond to those recalls.

The only consolation was that I was at the focus of her circular flights and the turning point of her long elliptical loops. Perhaps she was showing me I was still the center of her world.

I rather have her back in her harness and leashed and on my shoulder again.


I aged, man, I aged and aged. I wondered how many hairs turned white, or dropped off during all that time.

My wife was clicking away when she could with her camera. Later on, she told me she thought she was taking memorial shots of Riamfada before she disappeared over the horizon and she never expected Riam to come back.


Riamfada broke off her circle yet again. She headed East with its hundred kilometer of Wahabih Sands. To make it worse, that would take her over to the other side of the restaurant blocking my view of her. If that was not bad enough, there was a big sand dune easily 40 meters high on that side.

That was when I lost whatever shred of calm I had. I walked/ran into the entrance to get through that building and out of the entrance on the other side to keep her in view. I prayed I would see her land on the roof of a hut and not over that sand dune. Then I could sit and hope she would fly down to me.

Before I was halfway through, I saw through that other entrance a grey bird twisting down from the sky. She veered sharply down to a foot above the ground and swop upwards to shoulder height towards me. She flared her wings and tail and touched down on my shoulder. Perhaps she was flying through the entrance to get back to me on the other side of the entrance and landed on me when she saw me inside. But I had this strange feeling that she knew exactly where I was , that I was not outside as before and inside the big hut and she came back directly to me.

I wanted to laugh and I wanted to cry, all at the same time. I had wild incoherent thoughts. I pulled up an almond to offer to her on my shoulder. She took that, dropped that to the floor and nibbled on my finger gently. She then nudged my finger with her beak giving me her beak rubs. She fluffed her feathers and shook them and settled them again and then mouthed my finger again giving my finger yet more beak rubs.

I felt she was telling me that she enjoyed that bout of wild flights very much. And that I worried too much. And that she thanked me for allowing her to do that. As if I planned all that for her.

If only she truly knew what was in my heart at that time, including that fleeting thought of wringing her neck once I got her back. Or maybe she did, and she was reassuring me.

To my amazement, she was not even breathing hard, the way she would in what I thought was a long 70-80 meters flight recall.

For her to come back to me in such spectacular way showed that incredible map she had in her head. To fly back to me from the other doorway. That put to pale the hide&seek recalls I had done with her at home and which I was so proud about. I would hide in different rooms and called her literally to fly down doorways to hunt for me .

But what if an eagle came along to really spook her on that flight. Would she have evaded that and would her mental map be good enough to bring her back?

I have known first hand that Tinkerbell evaded the raptors who were hungry and hunting at Bantienyen for over two weeks. I do not wish to discuss if that was by luck or otherwise and I certainly do not wish to test that again.

At that point, I knew Riamfada need not have her harness on and she would remained with me. But I think you folks understood I had this compulsion that Riamfada must have her harness back on and leashed up

I walked back outside to my wife and Kat. I think all the people there never expected to see her back.


I took the perch, got her to step up and Katleen hold the perch. I brought up the harness . Riamfada poised herself with her head out in the direction of the harness. She stuck her head in when the harness was close enough and lifted her wings for me to put that body strap around her to harness her up. That leash went back on.
We went back to our sofas and chairs. I had a deep drink of the coffee. And I just could not keep the smile off my face now Riamfada was back again.

Later on when I checked those photos back home, I checked the timestamp when those photos were taken. I had not uploaded many photos of blank sky where my wife tried to shoot her but failed . From the time that started, to the time Joy shot me walking with Riam on my shoulder was about 2 ¼ minutes. It was not for eternity less a day as I had felt then when I saw her flying off.

You can check the sequential photos of Riamfada on long recalls of 60++ meters that she flew to me in about 6 seconds. Riamfada was flying non stop for well over 2 minutes.

I had known of Riamfada doing frightful arabesque flights when on harness such as what I related in that visit to Nakhal fortress with friends as she flew in exuberance only a grey is capable of instead of a simple straight line to me.

I had expected that she might do more than just flying to me when allowed to fly free. I had not imagined that extent of what she did that morning. It was not a ‘spook flight’. It was not a ‘parroty joke’. I am at a loss what to call that kind of flight. Maybe I call it ‘ I am a crazy grey parrot flight’, or ' I wanna age daddy flight'. She clearly knew the difference between harnessed and the limitations of the line and flying completely free.

I hoped all her future free flights would be just a sedate direct flight to me and not include a flight to distant horizons the way she did to me.

We had no desire to ride on camels or do any other thing then just to sit there and breath easily again. I went back to my book with Riamfada perched content behind me. It was a while before I recovered my equilibrum.


A few more flights were done with her. I knew I could remove everything. But it was for my heart and peace of mind that the harness and leash remained on her.

Here is a sexy recall from Riam, with her flying off an angle to me and looping back to face the way she came from. See that complet sequence here






In time, we had to go. We took a drive down to Wadi Bani Khalid because that was nearby and I thought a shame if we did not show that to Katleen. But after the excitement Riamfada gave, that was anticlimax and we did not stay there long. We headed back home via Ibra shortly after that.

But one interesting thing on the way to Wadi Bani Khalid. I saw a track there with a sign saying ‘to UMQ’. You recalled my last abortive trip to Umq. Now I know there is a likelihood to drive from Bimah Sink hole to UMQ and all the way to Wadi Bani Khalid across the Eastern Hajar mountain range.

The question is whether I have big enough cojones to overcome the wimp factor, or if I am dimwitted coupled with a belief ‘that only the good die young and I am not in that category ‘ enough to try that.

Let me brood over that for a while.

If and when I do go, I think it will not hurt to take my little Milofor with me .

more photos in flickr folder "Al Areesh desert camp "



If what I wrote help you and you like to help, give a thought
for the wildlife sharing our planet.
Do write that cheque to Gerald Durrell wildlife trust

I am a life member of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. Do join us to do
whatever we can for the wildlife that shared our planet.
or to any wildlife conservation body of your choice


For those that through no fault of their own, or otherwise, and had to part painfully and unwillingly from their beastie or birdies, whether in the past, or the present, or in the future, I dedicate the saga of Riamfada that I had wrote , and continue to write to that final handover , to you all.


(edited on 4th November 2011 to include below)

To Shanlung - How to do Free Flight Outside

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