18 participants were transported to the past and got a little taste of the Bedouin lifestyle, as they embarked on a 14-day voyage across the UAE desert on camelback on December 5th, 2019 as part of Hamdan Heritage Centre’s camel trek.
Out of the 700 applications HHC received, 18 participants were selected altogether, which consisted of nine Emiratis and nine expats along with two young Emirati boys, aged five and seven, who underwent rigorous training to prepare for this trek at the Al Nakhra camel farm in Dubai.
Covering nearly 65km a day of the vast expanse of the UAE desert, the caravan was led by HE Abdullah Hamdan bin Dalmook, CEO of HHC, starting off from Mender Al-Aslan before heading to a pre-arranged route that included Al-Thurawaniah, Al-Assab, Al-Dhafra Fort, Al-Marzoum, Al-Shabika, Bugrin, North Razeen, Al-Haffar, Al-Ajban and Saih Al-Salam.
After 14 days of a grueling trek across the rolling sand dunes, the convoy finally arrived at the Heritage Village of Dubai Global Village on December 18th, 2019 which marked the end of the sixth edition of the trek.
The caravan included people from UAE, Germany, France, Britain, China and Albania, who, despite their differences, were able to bond and endured all the challenges of this adventure together.
Sport360 caught up with some of the trekkers during their stopover at Al Razeen to see how this journey had transformed them.
Shirley Wilkinson – honouring the heritage of a country she has called home for decades
British-Indian expat, Shirley Wilkinson moved to UAE in 1975. She undertook this journey to deepen her understanding of a country she has called her home for so many years.
“I wanted to do this as a thanksgiving journey to the nation and to my mother, who brought me and my sister up in Dubai. She managed to do it through the support of this country that backed her up and enabled her to raise her children on her own,” Wilkinson told Sport360.
Wilkinson was one of the oldest participants of the camel trek and her grit is testament to the fact that age is most definitely just a number as she celebrated her 52nd birthday with her fellow caravanners.
She learned a lot about UAE’s rich past and even about herself as she proved her mettle through the journey.
“I trained really hard for it and I wanted to do this purely through my own efforts. I learned how to handle and manage my camels during my training. I am generally a confident person, but when I was on my camel it was different sense of confidence I felt and you just connect with them, you can read their various moods – it was a very unique experience.”
Hilal Ahmad Abu Ibrahim – passing the heritage to the next generation
68-year-old Hilal Ahmad Abu Ibrahim was the oldest participant of the trek and was a prize-winning rider back in his younger days and even rode camels for HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid.
The Emirati participated with his five-year-old grandson Hamdan Mohammed Hilal, who is already a gifted rider under his grandfather’s tutelage.
Abu Ibrahim was the most experienced rider in the convoy and was eager to help others.
“I ride 50 to 55km a day on my camel and honestly, this is the best exercise for one’s body. It really gets your entire body working and keeps you fit. I even get my grandsons to do the same. I brought my young grandson along. I want him to have the same passion for our heritage and preserve it for our future generations,” he said.
“I was so happy to see so many people who were willing to learn about our country’s heritage. They were so passionate and really helped and supported each other throughout the whole trip.”
Anna Aiko – Aspiring ‘Queen of the Desert’
French-Japanese adventurer and photographer, Anna Aiko traversed the Empty Quarter after watching the 2017’s Nicole Kidman-starrer Queen of the Desert.
Following her successful Empty Quarter expedition, the 40-year-old nomad learned about the HHC camel trek and decided to join it. She came to the UAE just for this trek.
She said, “The hardest part of the journey was the training, but I am really amazed by the hearts of the Emirati people and their hospitality. They really helped me and guided me throughout the journey. I got to see some beautiful landscapes and I am so glad I got to experience this.”
“Another great part of the journey was that I got to share this journey two young Emirati boys. They really are impressive. They are so young, yet they already can ride camels. It truly is amazing.”
The trekkers returned to Dubai after covering a total of 700km in two weeks. They were greeted by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who waved at them as they made their way to the Global Village.
For more information on Hamdan Bin Mohammed Heritage Centre, please visit: hhc.gov.ae