x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Arabian sands of time run out as explorers enter Al Ain

Trek in the footsteps of Thesiger reaches its penultimate stop.

From left, Ghafan Al Jabry, Saeed Al Mesafry and Adrian Hayes arrive at Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain yesterday.
From left, Ghafan Al Jabry, Saeed Al Mesafry and Adrian Hayes arrive at Al Jahili Fort in Al Ain yesterday.

AL AIN // The explorers' trek from Jebel Hafeet to Al Jahili Fort looked like a wedding parade, with people beeping their car horns and taking pictures of them all along the way.

It was a world away from Wilfred Thesiger's original 1940s desert trek that the UAE explorer Adrian Hayes is recreating.

Mr Hayes arrived at his penultimate stop yesterday afternoon with two UAE army officers, Saeed Al Mesafry and Ghafan Al Jabry, accompanying him.

The group is expected to arrive at their final destination, the Abu Dhabi Corniche, on Tuesday.

While Mr Hayes tried his best to retrace the footsteps of the British explorer, who journeyed from Salalah in Oman to Abu Dhabi 65 years ago, the experience was certainly different.

"It [the Empty Quarter] is a different world than it was 65 years ago," said Mr Hayes.

"When we felt we were in the middle of nowhere, that was the most special point."

While he said there was nothing he was afraid of during the trip, he was concerned about not getting enough "time alone" because there were so many well-wishers and people who wanted to play host to them.

"There were a lot of times we weren't alone," Mr Hayes said. "I was worried that the well-wishers would distract a little bit from the nature of it. I wanted to go really hard core."

The only thing he regretted not taking with him was a proper camel saddle, as they were using blankets, among other things, which proved to be rather uncomfortable.

Mr Hayes said the most challenging aspect was getting enough food and water for the camels.

"We have the challenge of finding enough wells," he said.

"The ones that existed in the days of Mubarak bin London [Thesiger's Arabian name] have dried up since people now live in villages and not on the land like they used to."

Mr Hayes had his fair share of mishaps. His camel was spooked by camera flashes on the first day of the trek. It threw him and he needed 13 stitches to his head.

Shortly after, the team faced a cyclone in Salalah for five days.

Mr Hayes learnt to ride a camel just a month before the journey started on October 30. He said that was his biggest learning experience.

Mr Al Mesafry and Mr Al Jabry said there was nothing they missed about their regular, everyday life.

"I only missed my country's sand [while in Oman] … and my own camels," said Mr Al Mesafry, 26.

He believes their most dangerous situation was when they crossed Jarjees valley in the Omani Dhafar province, which is known for its snakes and scorpions.

They did not encounter any but were warned by many locals to be on the lookout.

As someone who has lived in the desert his whole life, Mr Mesafry said the heat was not a problem.

"[Mr Hayes] used to get a little tired but we tried to make him patient by joking with him," he said.

"All hardship disappears when you are joking and having a good laugh."

"A journey of disappearing footprints" was the slogan Mr Al Jabry, 27, wanted to give the trip.

"We were walking and looking for the footsteps of Mubarak bin London - where he went, where he stopped, who he visited and who honoured him," he said.

"In every area we reached old men would tell us he passed by and we would listen to their tales."

On his return, Mr Al Jabry said he planned to sit by himself and rethink some of his notions from the past.

"We used to underestimate old men. We would say, 'So what if they rode camels and lived in the desert?'" he said. "But now I know what an achievement that was."