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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Lizard bites, beetles and dunes 'the size of Burj Khalifa': One man's desert diary after 170km trek

Mike Metzger embarked on a 170km trek from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain earlier this month in memory of Sheikh Zayed’s “life achievements and love for humanity”

Mike Metzger has completed a 170km trek from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain, despite the reluctance of his camels. Satish Kumar for The National    
Mike Metzger has completed a 170km trek from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain, despite the reluctance of his camels. Satish Kumar for The National    

A lizard bite, beetles, swarms of mosquitos and lazy camels – these are just some of the hurdles one UAE adventurer faced in his mission to cross the Abu Dhabi desert.

Mike Metzger, 34, embarked on a 170km trek from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain earlier this month in memory of Sheikh Zayed’s “life achievements and love for humanity”.

In the end, it took the American 11 days, one day more than he originally planned, but he finally arrived in Al Ain with his two camels in tow on Monday.

“The most difficult part is that you are constantly battling mosquitos and flies and they don’t leave you alone,” said Mr Metzger, who lives in Abu Dhabi and became fascinated with Emirati culture while he was still living in the US.

“You would never think that you would be swarmed by mosquitos in the middle of the dunes.”

And then there were the giant black beetles, which would crawl onto his face while he was sleeping.

“I had a tent for my midday breaks but during evening times I slept under the stars. I didn’t have any energy to put up a tent at night,” he said.

He would often wake up covered in beetles, with several on his face, in his ear and even crawling up his kandoura.

“And then you had to wait another hour before you could relax again to get back to sleep. Then you would wake up in a couple of hours because you had another one on you,” he said.

He did not see any scorpions, which he was grateful for, but he was bitten by a lizard somewhere near the E16 Sweihan highway.

“This thing just grabbed onto my toe. I was screaming in pain.

“I thought it was a scorpion at first and then I looked down and saw a tail wiggling and I had to rip it off my foot and throw this thing and I had to park the camels and try and take a look at the bite.”

The pain subsided within an hour, and he kept on going, but progress was often slow.

His camels, Sindibad and Nesma, which he bought after arriving in the UAE three years ago, had been out on walks before. But they had never experienced anything like the towering dunes they had to navigate between Al Khazna and Al Ain.

“The dunes were just crazy, like Burj Khalifa scale. I basically had to weave around them,” he said.

“My camels had to take these excessive breaks in the middle of the day, which was tough because they would only walk for 10 minutes and they would just stop. You couldn’t walk them.”

Every time they would stop he had to give them water, dates, apples and dried milk to encourage them to keep on moving. His older camel, Nesma, was struggling to see by the end of the trip so he had to hand-feed her for some of the trip.

But they all made it thanks to the support of his friends, Abdallah Haidar and Anne-Marie Scheepers, who handled the logistics of the trip, delivered the food and water and were on call in case of medical emergencies.

He also thanked Maria Graciela Molina, who sponsored the trip financially, and Zaid Al Zubaidi, Ahmed Ghazel and Khalid Abdulnasser who helped him organise it.

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Read more:

American adventurer embarks on 10-day trek of Abu Dhabi desert

Pupils taught to protect bird key to Emirati heritage

European falconers recall charm of Sheikh Zayed: 'If there was a room, he filled it'

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He held a few ceremonies on the way to celebrate Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father of the nation, one of which involved a Serbian family of seven who travelled from Dubai to meet with him.

“They were talking about how this country has given them so many opportunities and a platform to live in peace and prosperity and how grateful they were.”

Another ceremony on the outskirts of Al Ain was attended by 50 pupils from Al Yahar Private School.

“They were reciting poems in Arabic about Sheikh Zayed. It was magic,” he said.