x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Explorers have mixed feelings at the journey's end

British explorer arrives in Abu Dhabi with his Emirati companions, ending a 44-day, 1,500-kilometre trek.

From left, Ghalfan Al Jabri, Salim bin Kabina and Adrian Hayes talk about the journey they took more than 60 years apart. Lee Hoagland / The National
From left, Ghalfan Al Jabri, Salim bin Kabina and Adrian Hayes talk about the journey they took more than 60 years apart. Lee Hoagland / The National

ABU DHABI // In crossing the shallow waters around Abu Dhabi island more than six decades ago, Wilfred Thesiger and his Bedouin companions would have waded.

But Adrian Hayes, Saeed Al Masafri and Ghalfan Al Jabri took their camels across the Maqta Bridge and finished their 44-day desert trek among skyscrapers.

"It's been dredged," said Mr Hayes, a British explorer who lives in Dubai. "Now you can't get across it."

On their 1,500-kilometre expedition by camel and foot, which ended yesterday, the men traced the steps of the British explorer Thesiger but could not relive his journey, he said.

"This was never going to be a re-enaction," Mr Hayes said.

The men travelled through lonely stretches in the Empty Quarter and were showered with hospitality. But they also passed oil equipment, highways and towns, and used a car to carry water for their camels.

"I wanted to do it in much the spirit [Thesiger] did but I think what changed was the interest - television crews coming every three days to us and well-wishers, people throwing parties," Mr Hayes said.

"I started to resent this. I wanted to be on my own. But after a while I had to realise this is how it is. It's a living country."

As they crossed the beach opposite Khaleej Al Arabi Street, Mr Hayes and the two Emirati army officers were greeted by video cameras.

Abu Dhabi Media, which publishes and owns The National, is providing the financial backing for a documentary of the expedition.

At the end, there were sunbathers and cafes. But there was also Salim bin Kabina, who travelled with Thesiger as a teenager.

Now in his 80s, Mr bin Kabina welcomed Mr Hayes warmly.

The explorers had mixed feelings.

"I am very happy and unhappy," said Mr Al Masafri, 26. "Happy because we finished the expedition but unhappy because we finished the best time of my life."

Mr Hayes peeled bandages from his heel, showing torn skin. He planned to visit a chiropractor, and a barber for his beard.

He reflected on his nights under the stars: "It's had a lot of frustrations, some sadness and some disappointments. But it's been an incredibly special experience."

 

vnereim@thenational.ae