A British explorer and two Emiratis on Tuesday completed a 44-day trek across one of the world’s largest deserts, the Empty Quarter, in the footsteps of the late traveller Sir Wilfred Thesiger.
The three men riding two camels were welcomed with a large round of applause from crowds who were waiting for them at Abu Dhabi’s corniche, marking the conclusion of their 1,600-kilometre (990-mile) trip.
Following closely the route taken by the British explorer in the 1940s, the team began the trip in late October from the tropical forests of Salalah south of Oman, before navigating across one of the biggest bodies of sand on earth.
British explorer Adrian Hayes made the trip with UAE nationals Saeed al-Mesafry and Ghafan al-Jabry.
“I feel incredibly privileged to have undertaken such a special experience,” said Hayes, 53.
“It is a lot different from 65 years ago when ‘Mubarak Bin London’ visited Arabia,” he said quoting the name given by bedouins to Thesiger. “I have so much respect for the journey he undertook.”
Relying on basic provisions, nature and bedouin hospitality, the trio passed through a number of key historical sites that Thesiger visited during his Arabian travels in the 1940s.
“One of the highlights was trekking South of Liwa (in the UAE) where there were no vehicles and we were cut off from all modern day living and truly got to experience the beauty and serenity of the desert,” said the former British army officer.
One of Thesiger’s companions during his famous trek, Selim bin Kabinda, who was 12 at the time, turned up to welcome the trio.
“There is a very big difference between this trip and the one we did, of course. There was a lot of fear. We could have died in any place anytime,” he said.
“Today you have books you can read. Before we needed three months — 90 days, not 44 days,” Kabinda added.
The UAE-based Hayes has set two records listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, including reaching the North Pole, South Pole and Mount Everest in the shortest time, in addition to the Arctic’s longest unsupported snow-kiting expedition to date.
In 1959 Thesiger published his travel book “Arabian Sands,” in which he recounted his trip across the Empty Quarter between 1945 and 1950 and described the vanishing way of life of the bedouins.
The book, which has been reprinted several times, continues to be displayed prominently in the travel books sections of major bookshops in the United Arab Emirates.