Friday, December 17, 2010

The Off-Site Part 1: "Look that, a animal!"

Awhile back, my company played host to a corporate delegation from abroad. The small group was in town to check out Sand Land and assess the possibility of entering the local market. When I got word that our visitors would be in town over the weekend, I decided to organize a desert excursion for them. What's the point of coming to Sand Land if you can't get your "Lawrence of Arabia" thang on, right?

Sand Landian tour operators are, in the words of Forrest Gump, 'like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're gonna get." Some guides are amazing and others make the clowns I write about look half-way competent. I called up a company that I'd had luck with in the past and told them I wanted to: (1) take my guests to one of the "five-star" desert camps; and (2) I wanted to meet/approve the guide beforehand. The next day, "Dave" a polite, well-spoken guide with a degree in Middle Eastern history was in my office planning out the trip with me.

But things pretty much went to hell in a hand basket from there...

On the morning of the trip, I got a call from the tour operator. Dave was down with the flu. Not to worry, they were rustling up a replacement. 45 minutes later, a disheveled man named "Rufus" screeched into Fuckwittery, Inc.'s parking lot at the helm of an ancient Land Cruiser.

I could waste your time by painting a detailed picture of Rufus, but suffice it to say, if they ever make "Deliverance Part II: Sand Land," Rufus could aptly portray Mr. Squeal Like a Pig's Sand Landian alter ego. Back in elementary school, my friends and I would have gleefully labelled him an inhabitant of "Weirdo Town."

"Good morning, touristers!" he called, hopping out of his rust bucket. He proceeded to greet each person and spent an uncomfortable amount of time shaking the ladies' hands while his eyes were fixed on our chests.

"All you go to car now," Rufus instructed.

"Hey guys," I said as the visitors started for the SUV, "Why don't I call the tour company and see if they've got a better - uhhh - vehicle?"

"It's no biggie," one guy said. "We've already wasted an hour waiting around. Let's just get going."

"No, really," I said, glancing sideways at Rufus. "We don't want to ummmmm...break down in the middle of nowhere."

But the visitors insisted it was cool. They were bored and antsy from waiting around and just wanted to get to the Desert Fantasy Wonderland Resort.

So we hopped in the Land Cruiser and set off for the dunes. Rufus didn't speak enough English to answer the visitors' questions about Sand Landian history, but he made up for it by singing to us. The visitors stared out the windows in uncomfortable silence as a "this guy is a creepy freak" klaxon alarm rang in my head.

After an hour we stopped in an old farming town to stretch our legs. As the visitors snapped pictures of the abandoned mud brick houses, Rufus got into tour guide mode by helpfully explaining, "Look that, a animal!" as a solitary goat walked by. And with that, the guided tour of the town started and ended.

A Animal!

We piled back in the SUV and continued on our way to the camp. When he was finally hoarse from singing to us, Rufus asked us if we'd like to listen to "his favorite music." Sure we said, thinking we'd get to savour some traditional Sand Landian melodies as we snaked through a series of farms and villages. He fished around in the glove compartment for a cassette.

"Yay! I love Middle Eastern music," one of the girls said, as she gazed out at some villagers walking beside the road.

Rufus popped in a tape and cranked up the volume. Static crackled from the speakers for a few seconds, and then...

"Just BEAT IT! BEAT IT!!!!!! No one wants to be defeated,"shrieked Michael Jackson.

At this point, things were simply a "we'll be laughing about this over beers tonight" weird. But when we stopped for lunch, things took a turn for the cringe-inducing bizarre. As he chewed on his chicken shwarma, Rufus looked intently at the chest of one of the female visitors.

"Do you have babies?" he asked, his mouth full of food.

"No," she replied.

"Oh, I think you should have baby," he said, pointing to her chest. "You should breast feed."

I stared at him in slack-jawed horror. How in the hell did a guy who didn't know the word "goat" know the term "breast feed"?

But Rufus was on a roll. Without missing a beat, while everyone was still staring at him in shell-shocked silence, he pointed to another lady who was half African, half European. "If I no be in sun, I have a more light color than you," he boasted, pointing to his dark skin.

My husband and I exchanged deer-in-the-headlights looks and dragged him to the parking lot as the visitors choked on their food.

"What the hell's wrong with you, you sick pervert?!" I yelled.

"I no say anything to you because husband is here," Rufus countered.

"What the fuck's that supposed to mean?" I screamed, embarking on a tirade that my husband says bore a striking resemblance to the bat shit ravings of Curb Your Enthusiasm's Susie Greene (don't click the "Susie" link while at work, within earshot of your kids or if you are offended by copious deployment of the F-bomb). After a few minutes, my husband stepped in and calmly instructed Rufus not to direct any further comments to the ladies in the group.

As Rufus and Mr. Adventures had their man-to-man chat, I got on the phone with the tour operator. They apologized profusely and said that they'd arrange for another guide to meet us at the camp and take us back the next day. Reluctantly, the group climbed back in the SUV and we headed for the camp.

Five minutes later, my mobile rang. It was the tour company. The Desert Fantasy Wonderland Resort was overbooked and we were being re-routed to something called "The Tourist Camp."

To be continued...


  1. Badddddd. I really hope your entire trip was not totally screwed up

  2. oh come on, don't leave us hanging like that ...

  3. Oh my god, what happens next????? QUICKLY!!

  4. oh. snap. i hope they at least gave you a discount or refund for fucking everything up...

  5. I would like to book Rufus for my next trip! Cheer up: years ago a friend of mine booked a trip to the Empty Quarter for some friends visiting from the UK and what they got was a Toyota Corolla taxi and the following programme: "We will drive on the track as far as we can into the desert. When we get stuck in the sand, we camp!"

  6. Hiya folks, more's a comin'! The Tale of Rufus is a lengthy one and I didn't want to chew up too much of your time in one go.

    And no, I didn't get a refund. The tour company offered me a substantial discount off of a future tour package but, barring blunt force trauma to the head, it's unlikely I'll be availing of their offer.