The participants in the third edition of the ‘Camel Trek’ organised and supervised by the Hamdan Bin Mohammed Heritage Center (HHC) were overwhelmed by the hero’s welcome they received after successfully completing a journey of a lifetime in the desert of the UAE.
A group of 13 men and women returned to Global Village on Friday January 27th after having set out on Saturday 21st January on a week-long expedition where they turned the clock back traversing the pristine sands of the desert used by people in ancient times.
The caravan comprised camel riding enthusiasts from Oman, United States, Egypt, France, United Kingdom and the UAE.
They were selected for the ‘Camel Trek’ after expressing interest in following the footsteps of people who lived in the desert and underwent an intensive training program by the organizers HHC.
A large crowd gathered at the Heritage Village were treated to an exhibition of traditional dances such as ‘Ayala’ and a ‘Al Harbiya’ performance by an Emirati folk troupe in honour of the trekkers. As part of the time-honoured tradition, saffron was put on the faces of camels. There were also Youllah performances by Yuweel artistes, falconers were also present and even small sand dunes were made so that the camels would feel at home, all of which created a mosaic of a different era.
Mohammed bin Huraiz, the Manager of Chief Executive Office of HHC, expressed delight at the successful conclusion of the ‘Camel Trek’.
"We are happy to have organised it and all the participants came home safe. They were very cooperative and did their best to achieve their goals without any complains. We are very proud of them and pleased to have organized this historic journey," he said.
Leader of the convoy Khalifa bin Sabeen praised the resilience displayed by the group of Emiratis and expatriates during the gruelling expedition which took them to Al Ain and to the borders of Oman.
"The most beautiful memory of the trek came on the third day when we started entering the sand dunes. It was most the awesome, most amazing and picturesque view I have ever seen," said Khalifa.
The group of trekkers who had become a large family after experiencing the traditional Emirati hospitality and leading a nomadic life in the desert, were sad that the ‘Camel Trek’ had come to an end. In a short space of time they even managed to create a bonding with the camels and shrugged off the challenges they face after covering nearly 50 kilometers a day and vowed to return again.
Among the diverse group of trekkers was an Arabic-speaking American Mike Metzger who felt like a ‘Superhero’ after the completing the trek.
"Everything hurts. Knees, back, hands but inside you feel like a superhero. Like you can do anything," said Mike who has never been in the limelight before.
"It was beyond this world. Never have I seen so many cameras, so many media and so much applause," he said of the reception organized by HHC.
"As for the Camel Trek it was like walking through a gateway going back a thousand years in ancient times. What I like to remember is the pure traditional life of the Emirati people and the natural love these people had," said Mike from California.
"We learned the true culture of this land is about sharing, about hospitality, knowledge, nature, plants, stars and the whole universe. What we saw in last seven days was like being transformed into another planet," he added.
Among the five women in the group were two accomplished hikers from Britain, Hina Webb and Rhian Adams, both personal fitness trainers who are using this ‘Camel Trek’ as a launch pad for more adventures.
"The organization has been absolutely amazing. Everybody has done a fantastic job. They’ve been hospitable kind and caring. I cannot thank them enough," said Hina who is planning to climb Everest Base camp this summer.
"I’m a little bit sad that it is over and a little bit tired after enjoying the family feeling of everybody riding together. The feeling of riding through the desert and that kind of adventure was amazing. The desert is a beautiful terrain and the camel is a beautiful animal," she added.
For Rhian it has been an incredible experience of learning about the Arabic culture, language and also seeing how the Arabs used to live in the past as well as how they live now.
"Seven long days in the desert and seven hours each day riding. Spending nights around camp fire sharing stories in the evening. It’s been an incredible experience. The welcome reception has been so lovely and it is nice to get down off a camel," said Rhian whose ambition is to climb Mount Everest in 2019.
"What I like to remember is the people. I’ve made some fantastic friends on this trip. We still have banter and laugh despite the language barriers," she added.
The two French women in the group, Charlotte Sarrazin and Anne-Laure Laine, were sad they had to go back to civilisation after this life-changing experience.
"I feel always weird to come back to civilization because there is so much people and noise. The welcome reception was amazing. I didn’t expect this at all," said Charlotte who treasures spending life in the desert as a group.
"As a European we come here without our family. I think slowly we forgot life in family living in this group together. This is an amazing group who share different moods and habits," said Charlotte who has become an expert in managing camels.
"I learnt everything about camels. They are very smart animals who try to preserve their energy. They are very curious too," she added pledging to return with her own camel ‘Talah’ next time.
Her friend Anne who was happy to go the distance this time also shares fond memories of the group of people she spent with.
"I feel so good. I’m sad it is finished actually. I remember what the guys taught us. I learnt to stay on camel whole day and about the culture, the way people were living before and what they eat," she said.
Egyptian Lobna El Halawani, a personal fitness trainer in the UAE for the past three years, feels nothing is impossible after completing her maiden ‘Camel Trek’.
"It was a very nice feeling to join this trek. It was a lot of experience about camels, about riding on desert and how to know direction using stars. The experience of food. I’m so happy," said Lobna, an endurance horse rider.
"You will find me soon in camel races," she said in jest but will seriously continue training with camels summing up how much passion this ‘Camel Trek’ has generated.