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Camping in the deserts of the UAE

Camping is a wonderful activity, especially if you are looking for opportunities to bond with your family or friends.  Finding a camping grounds are not hard in the UAE. There are deserts everywhere in the UAE. Weather you pick Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Res Al Khaima, Fujehra, or Al Ain, all have wonderful deserts.

Though it sounds fun, camping in the wild can be really tough if you just set-out without proper preparation. So, to enjoy your camping, make sure that you gain enough information to make this a wonderful family trip.

The best times to camp outdoors in the UAE is between mid-October and April. Always carry plenty of water and make sure your vehicle has full tank of fuel. Always inform someone where you are going and when you will be back!

Is it safe to camp out in the desert?

Though UAE is a very safe place, even for campers, I would prefer to go in a group if you plan to stay overnight. It is a no man’s land, and there could be people driving around in their four-wheel drives. Pay more attention if you have women and children. The more people there are, the group can help if you get stuck in the sand, or to chase the unwanted company, or to help you in other emergency situations.

If you find a wadi, stay a bit far from it. Water can flood the place within few seconds at times.

What should I carry when camping in the desert?

  • Tent: tentThough you can get rugged, fancy and therefore expensive tens in branded stores like ARB, etc., you make get a cheap one, but that does the job in stores like Carrefour and LuLu Hypermarket. Make sure you get a tent big enough to accommodate the members of your family, plus one extra, so that there will be room to move around inside the tent. Since it can get windy, get a tent that has strong structure that can withstand the winds, and can be firmly fixed on the ground.
  • Sleeping bags: Weather you are planning to stay overnight or not, having a good sleeping bag can give you a comfortable base to rest your back. If you have a sleeping bag with thick layers of material, you will not require an additional mattress.
  • Firewood: While small think branches can help you to set the initial fire, the thick blocks of wood can keep the fire going.
  • Grills: grillThis is where you will be placing the food to cook above the fire.
  • Kettle: kettleIf you are a coffee or tea lover, get one of these to boil the water.
  • Aluminum foil: This can be very handy to wrap food, also to cover food while cooking.
  • BBQ stand: bbq grillTry to choose one with strong base, and right size for the food you plan to cook.
  • Newspapers: Though you can read while you are camping, this will be very helpful to light the charcoal.
  • Charcoal: You will get two types of coal. One made of crushed charcoal particles combined and formed to an oval shape charcoal. Usually these are easy to light. However the real charcoal is the one that will last long. Usually I mix both when placing it in the BBQ stand.
  • Lighter: Though matches is enough, I prefer a cigarette lighter since using a match stick can be tricky when there are winds.
  • Lighter Fluid: This will make your life easier to light the charcoal.
  • BBQ fan: To bring the cofanal to a red burning state you will need to blow air towards it. You could use a piece of cardboard as a hand fan to blow air, or use a BBQ fan to do the job quicker.
  • Spatula: A very useful tool when cooking in open flames
    Bowl for washing up.
  • Warm jacket or sweater: It can get real cold in the evening and night. Having some warm cloths will be very useful.
  • First Aid Kit: When you are out in the wild several things could happen. There can be insects, scorpions, or even snakes. You the place you are camping may have sharp rocks or thorny bushes. It is good to include alcohol pads, adhesive bandages of different sizes, antiseptic fluid such as Dettol, eye drops for washing eyes, adhesive surgical tape, scissors, pain relief tablets such as Adol, pain relief ointment such as DeepHeat, etc.
    Rubbish bags: Big black ones will be the best. It can be used to collect garbage, store items as an extra bag, or even be used as a blanket in emergency.
  • Mobile Phone: Unless you are going deep into the desert, you should get network coverage.
  • GPS: If you are going off road, this is a MUST. Save the spot close to the main road from you would had diverted to the desert. Plus learn how to identify the address that is the coordinate of your present location (Latitude and longitude). This will be the most useful information you can provide to a rescue team in case you need their help.
  • Cool Box and ice: There is nothing like having a cool drink in the middle of the desert. Buy a big cool box. It can even be used as a chair or table if you do not have one.
  • Rope: Will be useful if required to tie the tent, two the vehicle if required, tie stuffs to the vehicle, etc.
  • Picnic chairs: Though the traditional way is to lay a mat or carpet and sit on the sand, you can use a chair if that is what you prefer.
  • Knife: A multi-utility foldable one might be the best pick, though a good big and hard one too can be useful.
  • Flash Light: Get a real powerful one.
  • Tool kit for your vehicle: This is a different list based on how far and deep you want to go inside the desert.
  • Sunscreen: As the weather will be hot using a sunscreen of at least SPF30 will be recommended

Where to put Up the Tent in the desert?

Make sure you are pitching the tent into flat land; avoid setting up tent on the side of a sand dune. In several part of the desert you may find trees. If you find one that can provide share from the heat you should seriously consider putting up the tent under it. Though trees provide good shade, it is advisable to be slightly away if you plan to have a bonfire. The last thing you want is the dry branches to catch fire.

Dangerous animals in the desert:

Though you may scorpionfind beautiful birds and animals during your camping trip, you should be very careful not to bump into dangerous ones like snakes and scorpions. Scorpions are venomous and typically they avoid humans and will only sting when threatened. Usually they are found hiding under rocks, tents, clothing, or any object, where they find shelter.

A variety of venomous snake species are found in the UAE. This includes the horned viper usually creamy-beige in color. It is found under anything that provides a little shelter from the sun. If no shade is available, it buries itself in the sand.

The GOLDEN rule. snakeOnce you set your tent, put your luggage inside, and always zip-close the tent. Almost every tent that is available there days has zippers, which prevent any insects or animals to enter inside. Do not leave your clothes or shoe outside the tent at night. Keep them inside with the shutter closed. If you leave them outside you may accidentally put the shoe without realizing that there is a scorpion inside.

Do not leave any garbage or food outside since it will attract other animals such as fox, camels, lizards, etc. It is advisable to keep the food inside the car itself.

Wonderful Event

At the end of the day, a well prepared camping trip can be a wonderful event.

Buying a used (second hand) Royal Enfield

royal enfieldBuying a Royal Enfield is slightly different than buying any ordinary bike. Though there are dealerships in several countries, the bike is manufactured only at one place. It is in Chennai, India. One should be already aware that it is a classic bike, still keeping its retro looks. Though it is not using the bleeding edge technology like other bikes, several upgrades had been done lately.

In a witty tone, once my friend told that having the Royal Enfield is like having the wife. You take care of your bike, and it will take care of you.

I have bought a 4 yr old Royal Electra in India for half the price of a new bike, and it ran good for my daily commute, and long rides. The only money I spent during four years I had my Royal Enfield was regular oil change, and replacement of a clutch cable.

First of all you need to decide if you are going to buy a very old junk Royal Enfield, and give it to a mechanic to rebuild it, changing literally all parts and making it shine and run like new one. I know of several specialized Royal Enfield mechanics in India who can do this. Without exaggerating, I can tell you that the bike will look, and run like new. However the price of buying the old bike, the price for all new parts, paint work, and the labor (which is cheap in India) will add on to a good amount, which will be equivalent to buying a 6 year old decent Royal Enfield.

The other option is to buy a not-that-old decent bike. This time ensure that you test the vehicle thoroughly. Do not buy an abused bike to save a bit of money. If you do this you will not enjoy your rides, and will eventually spent lot of money fixing it. Do ask the user how he rides the bike. If you get a feeling that the person is a fast rider and loves cursing it above 70 km per hour, please do not go for that bike. From my personal experience, having owned two Royal Enfield bikes, they are not meant for fast rides, especially the models prior to 2005. They run good if you maintain a 55 per hour ride. If you ride these bikes at higher RPMs you will mess-up the engine.

The best way to understand the condition is by hearing its sound. Take the bike to a quiet place, switch the gear in neutral position and start the engine. Pay close attention to its sound from the engine. Make sure the sound is tight, without rattling noises. Ideally a person who maintains the bike well, when not using the accelerator or as we say when in idle, will keep the rpm as low as possible, just for the engine to run without stopping.  Check if the sound from the engine is smooth, following a stable rhythm. If there are lots of noises (not the good packed sound) from the engine you may want to avoid that bike. Now increase the acceleration bringing the RPM to 3/8 of the max and notice the sound. If it still sounds good, then that is a good sign.

Examine the sprocket attached to the rare wheel. If you see that the teeth are narrow and worn out, or if there are any missing in between, that will need to be repaired. Riding with this condition will spoil the chain, and engine.

Examine the body of the bike. Is the paint work in a good state? Do you see any damaged parts, or any signs that the bike was involved in any serious accident? How about when you ride the bike at 40 to 55 kms per hour? Do you feel any vibration, as if the wheels are not balanced or aligned properly? You need to check all these when buying the bike.

Well, best of luck !!!



A ride to the scotland of india – coorg

goorg1An excellent ride through the open roads, curves, slops, hills, cool breeze, ghat, me and the thumping rhythm.

It has been a while, or should I say that since I got my bullet I had this desire to ride to Coorg. A long ride of 250 kms from Bangalore. Some say it is crazy, but for me it was a challenge, an achievement, something that requires courage and confidence in yourself, your partner -your bike, and above all in God almighty. I had asked several friends for a company since I got my bike. But due to several reasons none was able to join for a long rides. After successfully riding alone couple of times to Mysore I guess the confidence was there. My mind said, yes, I can do it, and that was all I required.

My family had to go to our native for a week to attend a marriage, and I knew that it was the right time to make my trip. April 5th, 2008 was the date I decided to take off. It was a long weekend (Saturday, Sunday and Monday) due to Ugadhi festival. On the 2nd I took my bike for a checkup. It was in good shape for the trip other than few works that could be done later. Fear and excitement build up, and I was searching, and calling few hotels in Coorg to book a room. Since schools were closed for summer break, and due to the long weekend, all the rooms were already booked. Finding no place to rest your back after 250 kms of ride through rough roads including the ones through the ghat section was something that bothered me a bit. To be very frank I was still ready to try my chances. Then a thought came, why not work this Monday and try to get a comp-off next Friday. By doing this I will still get three days off, and the chances of getting a room in Coorg will be much higher. I got permission to work on the 7th and to take off on the11th. Since there was two days off in between I got the bike’s pending works done too.

goorg3As one can imagine, as days closed, the excitement and anxiety was shooting high. It was the 10th, the day before “the” day. Detailed plans were made including things to carry, route, and speed to be maintained, etc. The route I planed to take was Bangalore, Srirangapatanam, Yelivala, Hunsur, Kushalnagar and finally Madikare. Bag was packed, final round of cleaning the bike was done, cooked and ate a good dinner, and finally hit the bed.

The long waited day is here! It’s Friday, 11th of April. Woke up from a good night sleep at 5:30 am, and was all set to kick off by 7:30. An excellent morning and my partner, my Royal Enfield Bullet was waiting in the porch, shining, all ready for the ride. The tank was topped up last night itself. Tied the bag on the back seat, made sure the house doors are locked, and started the bike. As usual, it started in the first kick itself and we were ready to go.

So the journey began. As per plan the speed to be maintained was 60-70 km/h. Many riders will ask why just 70 on a bull? Though the bulls can do 90s easily, I like to maintain a speed of 60. Taking the road conditions and the stops into consideration, if everything goes well it will take around 6 hrs to reach Madikare. From the beginning I kept reminding myself to keep the speedometer needle above 60, and to avoid unwanted stops. The first stretch through the Bangalore – Mysore highway was a very smooth ride. The traffic was moderate and I was able to reach Mandiya in a single stretch. There I stopped for 15 mins to have my breakfast. I had a plate of idle-vada and a good cup of tea. From there I crossed Srirangapatanam, and by 10:00 I took the deviation from the highway towards Yelivala. Roads were not that bad and as planned I was able to maintain 60 km/h comfortably. Passing through the villages, the scenery was really pleasing. What a difference compared to the busy Bangalore city! Green paddy fields, trees, hills and rivers. The road after Yelivala till Periyapatanam was good, kind of a highway, seems to be a newly tarred one. In the middle of no where, on the road side were a bunch of fruit vendors lined up with their carts filled with mangoes and apples. I could not resist myself to stop there to get some. I grabbed a kilo of mangoes and continued my ride.

goorg2The next major stop was at a place near Bylakupee, where I was able to see several Tibetans. Its already 12:15 pm and my legs and back needed some rest. I stopped there for about 20 mins and I had some mangoes to cool myself. The roads from there were not that even, and maintaining the planned speed of 60 was difficult. Major places crossed included Periyapatanam and Kushalnagar where I spotted a bullet workshop on the road side. I guess that was the only one in that area. Kushalnagar seems to be the big market place that is close to Madikare. As I left Kushalnagar, the scenes started changing. The hills began, and we started climbing the narrow roads through the coffee plantations. Some curves were really sharp, and I had to be very careful while overtaking the slow trucks and busses that blocked the narrow road.

Finally I reached Madikare. Since it was April, the temperature at noon was hot. My first aim was to find a place to stay. Unusually several hotels were full and the town was busy with people. With God’s grace I got a place to stay that was close to the main bus stop, and close to the room where I stayed during my last visit. The only room available there was a double that coasted Rs 500 per day. Though the whole setting was not professional, without thinking twice I grabbed it immediately. It was a 2:00 pm and I didn’t have lunch yet! The next immediate thought was to hit a restaurant as early as possible.

On the way to the restaurant, I stopped by a church that is close by the museum. It was a small one, but really beautiful. Though the restaurant was over crowded filled with tourists, since only one seat was required I somehow managed to get it. I had my lunch, and headed straight back to my room for a nap. I slept till 4:30 PM and had to wake up since the power went off. It was 5:00 and what could I do during the rest of the evening? Abby falls was near, about 7 kms from where I stayed.

That ride to the falls was excellent. Narrow roads, sharp turns, really cool breeze, and excellent sceneries. Finally I was able to feel that I am in a hill station. The roads and the houses were like the once seen in old movies taken at hill stations, a bit away from the crowd. There were no much traffic, nor people on the roads. It was soothing to see houses, greenery, hills and the narrow streams of water. As I reached a particular area I saw a crowd walking on the road side down the hill. I wondered were they came from. May be there is a school or a church near by. Within a minute from there I reached the entrance of the falls. There was a parking lot, and the fee was Rs 5 per bike. I parked my Royal Enfield and passed the entrance gate. It was as if I entered a coffee plantation. From the entrance while going down the slop I could hear the sound of the water flowing through rocks. At every curve I eagerly looked to spot the falls. There it was at the end, a beautiful one. In front of the fall, about fifty feet away there was a hanging bridge, where people could stand and watch the falls. The fall was not a big one, but was really beautiful to see in that surrounding. There I met a couple from Bangalore. They told that it was their first wedding anniversary. Noticing my AOL id tag they asked, “Does AOL have a camps close by?” We had a small chat about my bike trip and why I wear the tag always while on long trips. I spend around 15 minutes there and headed straight back to the park, that had the “Raja’s Seat”, close to my room in Madikare.

goorg4I reached the park around 7:00 PM. I paid the entrance fee of Rs 2, and walked towards the Raja’s Seat. It was a wonderful site from the tip of the other side, close to the “Raja’s Seat”. Within few minutes I heard the sound of the Indian national anthem, and saw people rushing towards the center of the park. There was a musical fountain and the show began. Several songs were played and the fountain dancing accordingly.

Once the show got over, I headed to the market looking for a cable lock for my Royal Enfield. I felt a bit uneasy to park by bike overnight in front of the hotel since it had no enclosed parking space. I thought that it will be better to add a cable lock along with the handle lock the bike had. There was no luck. The only ones shops had were real thin ones, which I already had. Though I was assured by couple of folks that it was safe to park my bike just in front of the hotel, I was not comfortable since the rooms were on top of the building, and there were no one in the ground floor who could keep an eye on what is happening in front of the hotel at night. After thinking for a while I went to the hotel where I stayed last time in Madikare with my family. They had an enclosed parking lot and a watchman too. I met its owner who was kind enough to allow me to keep my bike in their parking lot.

Once the parking issue got resolved I headed to a close by restaurant to get my dinner. I got a parcel and had it in my room itself. It was time to hit the bed. It was tough to get a sleep in the beginning. Initially I woke up several times seeing some unpleasant dreams. The later part of the sleep was good and woke up at 6:00 AM.

A cup of tea was a must in the morning. I got dresses and was walking towards the entrance door of the hotel. The main door was locked from inside and the attendant was fast asleep in a couch close to the front desk. I saw a couple standing outside knocking the door. I woke the attendant, who handed the door keys to me. The couple asked the attendant for a room, but there were none. I once again thanked God for getting me a room without much struggle. After ensuring my Royal Enfield was there I walked to the close by restaurant. Since early morning, complete breakfast menu was not ready. I had two cups of tea and a plate of sweet kesaribath. Within 15 minutes I was back in my room. I had a good warm shower, and got ready to get back to the park (Raja’s Seat).

The site was spectacular. The songs of the early morning birds, chill weather, and the fog made my morning dashing. I spent close to an hour enjoying the view and the weather. Early morning in the park was the last in Madikare as per my list. After having my breakfast I went back to my room to pack my bag. I relaxed for some time in the room and by 9:45 AM my Royal Enfield and I started back home. While coming down the road, I stopped close to a mile stone to capture the distance from there to Mysore. It was around 110 kms. When we reached close to the Royal Enfield workshop in Kushalnagar, I stopped and checked the clutch cable, and the wheel chain to see if I will need to pull over at the workshop. There was no need to stop, everything was in good shape. I felt the ride from there was much faster though I kept the speedometer needle just on 60. At around 12:20 PM I made the next major stop to cool myself down. This was about 88 kms from Madikare. There I had two tender coconuts and took rest for sometime. It was a continuous ride from there till my Enfield chocked since it was running out of gas. I switched the gas knob to reserve and continued my journey on the road that intersected with the route to the Brindhavan gardens. There I spotted a BP petrol pump. Since it was a very small filling station I filled petrol for just Rs 100 and continued my trip till Mandiya, where I filled petrol for another Rs. 500 and continued my trip. From there till I reached home I had only one break where I rested for some time enjoying the remaining mangoes I had. On the way back from Madikare I saw three accidents out of which two were really bad. One was where a bug truck fell on its side, and the other where a Maruti van ran out from the highway into the field.

By around 5:00 I reached back home, safe and sound. I thank God for the wonderful trip, alone with by buddy my Royal Enfield.

–Shiju Varghese

Living in a van

The plan to live in a van sounds really interesting, adventurous and it sounds like a very good way of saving money. Well, it is true. However, it is not that simple as it sounds. If it was, then everyone would have gone for living in a van, instead of paying a bigger amount in house rent. But that does not mean that it is impossible. Sure, it is very possible if you are determined to do it, and can save you a good amount of money.

(*) What kind of vehicle should I get?

When planning to live in a van, this is a very crucial decision. Remember that this is a one-time investment. Getting a brand new vehicle might not be recommendable. If you can afford a new vehicle, making monthly payment, why not get a small room for rent. Getting an old vehicle, in good running condition will be a better choice since you will not be driving in much, but will have to move a bit around to stay away from trouble. However, do not try to compromise on size. Do not go for a car or a small van since you will have to spend a good amount of time for a long period in it.  Go for an old, but big van. Try to choose a boxy shaped van like an early 1990 “Ford Econoline 150“. Though vans with aero-dynamic shape such as a 1998 Dodge Caravan may look stylish, it takes away space in the design. It will be perfect if you can get a boxy shaped van with such as an Econoline with high roof. Try your best to get a good looking van since you don’t want your vehicle to stand out in crowd drawing lots of attention.

(*) Am I a person who is comfortable living in a small space?

The overall length of a big cargo van such as a GMC, Savana Cargo, 2014, bumper to bumper, including the engine compartment (hood), driver seating section, etc., is about 18 foot long. So, if we take out the quite not usable area, and think about the living space, it is about 9 to 10 foot in length, and about 9 foot wide. Now this is not a small van like Chrysler Voyager, or a Dodge Caravan. So the space i smaller vans will be less.  Now if we need to live in the van you will require few accessories and storage too that will take-up a bit more space.

(*) Should I get a cargo van, or a passenger van?

A cargo van is the one that comes by default with no passenger seats, and no rear windows. Though this model provides better space, getting proper ventilation at night can be an issue since it does not have rear windows to crack open. While sleeping at night it won’t be safe to open the windows completely, or leave the doors opened. Therefor you will need to crack open the windows leaving 2 inches of space for air to flow through. Getting the air flow from just two front windows might not be sufficient to keep the whole van ventilated.  However, if you are getting a passenger van, you will have to remove the mid, and back seats to make space.

(*) How many people are going to stay in the van?

If you are planning to live alone in the van, then things can work out if carefully planned. But if you have a family, then you may want to lookout for an alternate solution. First of all, the mindset of other members may not be same as yours. The last thing you want to do is prepare a van to live, and let it go half way. It could be extremely challenging if you have children. They require space, and it will be bad making them live in a tiny space, which will not be their choice.

(*) What is the climate of the place where you are going to live?

If you are planning to live in a van in an area where the climate is pleasant or moderate, then you have a very big advantage. However your stay will be challenging if you plan to live in an area where the climate is very hot such as Texas, USA. It can become tougher if you are planning to lie in a van in a cold place. In these situations, if you are planning to keep the temperature inside the van moderate, it could become tough or expensive if you are planning to go for a solution based on electric power from a battery, or from the van’s engine.
If you are going to live in an area where there is lots of sunlight, going for a solution based on solar energy will be the best. Watch YouTube for ideas. You can place the solar panel close to the front windshield, and connect it to the fan. Do not go for tiny fans since it will be of no use. Portable rechargeable fans are available in the market. You can charge it from power, or If you have a good solar panel, you can use that too.

(*) Where do I park my van?

If you have a safe place where it is fine to park the van, and live in the van without any issues from the neighbors then you can go with a permanent spot to park your vehicle.  However, if you do not find a good place to park and settle down, then you will require a slightly newer vehicle that runs well. Usually in cities it might be difficult to get a place to park your vehicle permanently. Parking for long in public parking lot, or remote corners may end up in security guards asking you to move. In this case you may want to talk to a house owner, or a business owner to see if they could allow you to park your vehicle at least at nights. Though you are not doing any illegal activities, neighbors and security guards might not want to invite any trouble. I have heard that WalMart allows people to camp overnight in their parking lots. You may want to check with them first before taking a chance. Moving around different places each night might be a good idea to avoid getting noticed.

(*) Maintain a clean and healthy environment

By living in a van does not mean you need to give-up on cleanliness. It is very necessary that you remain clean, and also make sure your new home is clean as well. Having a decent looking van will give a better impression to people who notices you, and will stop them from trying to chase a dirty neighbor. Moreover living in a clean place will help you to maintain your morale. Do not stuff your van with stuffs. Keep minimum things, and organize them well. Do not throw litter around the vehicle.

(*) Need a place to shower.

This is not going to be a challenge if you plan it well. One of the best options will be to join a small gym that has shower facility. You can do your work out, and use its facilities such as restrooms and shower. Places such as community or sports centers that have gyms and showers are a cheaper option than the big chains. I knew a man long time back who would clean our store’s restrooms daily, and in return the manager allowed him to have a quick shower, and a small breakfast. Similarly you can try to get a small job at some place that will allow you to have a shower. Other options are truck stops, RV parks, etc., that generally have access to showers at a low price.

(*) How do I cook my food?

It is not a wise idea to cook inside the van since there is no enough space. Your van may be already packed with cloths and other items, and might not have sufficient exhaust system. The chances of fire accidents are too high. The best will be to cook outside, might be in a park, or other designated area. Keeping a small stove used for camping might be a good idea to cook a small meal. Food such as peanut butter, canned tuna, crackers, etc. is great staples. Relying on fast food from restaurants can be expensive for many. Since there are no storage to keep food refrigerated, using dry cereal such as corn flakes, milk powder, instant noodles etc., is advisable.

(*) How do I plan the van’s interior?

Rule no one- remove all seats other than the front seats. It will be very difficult for you to live with all the seats. Remember one thing that the purpose of the van is not to drive around town with your friends, but to live in it.
The first thing you will want is a good night sleep. Getting a bed structure just enough for you to comfortably sleep is essential. Though you don’t want to get a small frame that cannot fit you, you don’t want a big one either that takes up the whole space in the van. Though you really do not need a bed frame, and can sleep on floor just using a mattress, having a frame providing a foot gap to store luggage underneath can be very useful to store items. In this way you will use the area not just to keep your bed, but to store stuff too.
To store your clean cloths, and other items, you can use rectangular plastic bins, stacked one over the other. There are few other storages too available if you can explore more.  Since you will be moving the vehicle often ensure that the bins are securely fastened so that they won’t fall or move around. Keep dirty clothes in a separate bags so they don’t smell up your clean cloths.

Having a big strong cool-box will be handy to store water, food, and other eatables. Plus it can be used as a seat too.