x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Explorer Adrian Hayes to retrace footsteps of 'Mubarak bin London'

The UAE-based adventurer Adrian Hayes will be joined by two Emiratis in a quest to retrace the steps of the legendary Wilfred Thesiger in honour of National Day.

Sir Wilfred Thesiger during the second crossing of the Empty Quarter in 1948. Explorer Adrian Hayes is to follow in the footsteps of the legendary traveller and re-enact a 40-day trek between Salalah and Abu Dhabi.
Sir Wilfred Thesiger during the second crossing of the Empty Quarter in 1948. Explorer Adrian Hayes is to follow in the footsteps of the legendary traveller and re-enact a 40-day trek between Salalah and Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // "The harder the life, the better the man," the British desert explorer Sir Wilfred Thesiger is popularly quoted as having said.

And Thesiger, who shunned modern conveniences, knew how to live rough.

Now Adrian Hayes, the UAE-based explorer, wants a slice of the same hard life as he traces the footsteps of "Mubarak bin London" across the Arabian desert.

Mr Hayes, a former British Army Gurkha officer, wants to complete the 1,500-kilometre trek by foot and camel in the same manner Thesiger did, to coincide with the UAE's 40th National Day celebrations.

He will be joined by the Emiratis Saeed Rashed Al Mesafry and Ghafan Mohammed Al Jabry of the UAE Armed Forces. The trio will begin the 40-day trek at the end of this month, starting in Salalah and arriving in Liwa on National Day.

The caravan will then pass through the desert around Al Ain and finish in Abu Dhabi about December 9.

Thesiger "went from Bedu village to Bedu village and water hole to water hole, and we are doing the exact same", said Mr Hayes, a father of two.

The team will rely on basic provisions, nature and Bedouin hospitality to survive, just as Thesiger did.

The timing of the re-enactment takes on a special significance with the friendship between Thesiger and Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE.

Thesiger recalled first meeting Sheikh Zayed in 1948 in a famous passage from his masterpiece, Arabian Sands: "He was a powerfully built man of about 30 with a brown beard. He had a strong, intelligent face with steady observant eyes, and his manner was quiet and masterful."

Thesiger spent the years between 1945 and 1950 travelling across Oman and what is now the UAE.

Much has changed since, including the paving of roads, and running water and electricity in the villages. But Mr Hayes said he would keep his expedition as authentic as possible.

"A lot of the Bedu are no longer living in tents and a lot of the water holes have dried up," he said. "It's less of a problem for us but more so for the camels."

The trio will spend half of their time on camels and the other half walking. To avoid the midday sun, they will travel early in the morning until 10am, then rest before resuming after 3pm. They expect to travel an average of 35km a day.

The purpose of the expedition is to create awareness of Thesiger outside of the Middle East; to complete a classic re-enactment; and to see the changes in the desert since Thesiger's time.

Abu Dhabi Media, which owns and publishesThe National, is providing the financial backing for a documentary of the expedition. The UK company Twofour Productions will shoot and produce the film, which will air next year.

Mr Hayes said he expected the toughest part of the journey to occur in the middle. "It might be a week before we come across anyone," he said. He and his companions will wear what Thesiger wore: kanduras, khanjars and sandals. They will live on dates and rice.

But as it is customary for Bedouin to slaughter a lamb in honour of visitors, the trio will gladly accept any such invitation.

The Emiratis Mr Hayes is travelling with speak some English, but he wants to practise the Arabic he learnt in Oman 20 years ago.

Mr Al Jabry said he was looking forward to the event. "When the opportunity arose from the UAE Armed Forces to form part of the expedition team, I knew it was a challenge I was eager to undertake," he said.

"The expedition is set to promote the culture and heritage of Abu Dhabi and I am proud to be closely involved in an event which forms part of our National Day celebrations."

He added that "with a strong background in camel handling and desert survival, we will work closely with Adrian to ensure the trek closely follows that of Thesiger's in the 1940s".

Abdulla Butti Al Qubaisi, the director of communications at Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, which is backing the expedition, said a key part was engaging the UAE's children in their country's past.

"The educational programme will allow schoolchildren to follow online the journey made by the modern day travellers and allow them to compare it with that of the original explorers," he said.