These UAE residents took to the world's toughest desert in search of adventure
- 29 January 2018
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As a real estate agent in Dubai who sells apartments in a competitive market, Fatima Khiran knows all too well that being at the top of the game means tenacity and perseverance. But her biggest triumph ever is far removed from the business world, for the twenty-five-year-old Algerian has completed her longest desert journey last week: a 10-day camel trek that starts out from the Empty Quarter in Abu Dhabi.
Fathima was the youngest of a camel caravan comprising six women, genuine explorers from many cultures who travelled more than 500 km just as people did on the ‘ships of the desert’ (camels) more than 70 years ago. The group included three men and trainers as well.
Why did they do this? For some, it was the spirit of adventure, and for others it was about experiencing the mysterious Empty Quarter, its people, and Emirati culture. For the uninitiated, the Empty Quarter is the world’s largest uninterrupted sand mass, with enormous expanses of desert and gigantic sand dunes. British explorer Wilfred Thesiger and his Bedouin companions travelled across the vast expanses of the Empty Quarter in the 1940s and 1950s and made it famous.
“It’s a very risky affair; there is nothing, literally nothing in the desert!” said Charlotte Sarrazin, a Dubai resident from France. “We didn’t see anything for four days. We just saw a straight line when we trekked along the UAE–Saudi Arabia border. The landscape is so beautiful, you don’t think about the risk involved. When I look at the map now, I can’t image that we crossed all of this.” Charlotte owns a racing camel and has vowed to return next year.
The Camel Trek is conducted by the Hamdan bin Mohammed Heritage Centre (HHC) and organized by its CEO, Abdullah Hamdan Bin Dalmook. Fathima is of Bedouin descent, and she signed on to experience the way her grandparents lived. To make it extra authentic, she switched off her mobile phone too.
For Nicola Mather, a British expat, the trip has been about reliving the experiences documented in William Thesiger’s famous book, Across the Empty Quarter. “I don’t think it’s changed much,” she said. “It’s empty, with huge, red sand dunes making fantastic shapes and colours … absolutely beautiful, peaceful … and the stars are magnificent. I have never seen stars like in the Empty Quarter. And you can see them best on the back of a camel. It was a wonderful experience.”
Anne Laure Laine, a Dubai expat of over six years and who goes by the name Noor, has completed the Camel Trek three times, and she said that it was tougher than before. The participants had to withstand sandstorms and the occasional minor accident, like falling off the camel, but most of them managed to cope with the climate. “It was cold in the morning. At 6 am, it was nine degrees, and the maximum temperature in the day didn’t go above 30 degrees Celsius. Expats in the UAE should plunge deeper into such activities, because there are many things to learn. We saw the wall between Saudi and UAE. Huge sand dunes which are around 250 metres,” she said.
The Trek saw participants journeying a record 63 km in one day during the fourth edition of the annual event. “This is the longest version of our annual Camel Trek,” said CEO Abdullah Hamdan bin Dalmook in a statement. “There were many challenges, but we were able to follow the map prepared after pre-exploratory excursions to chart our route.”
Nicola recollected a visit to a Bedouin house one evening as the group passed through a village. “When we told them we had travelled 60 km that day, they were astonished, as it was such a long distance and nobody does that anymore. Most people who have camels these days take them out for 5–8 km ride.”