In Thesiger's Arabic Desert footsteps: Interview with Adrian Hayes

Posted: Oct 24, 2011 05:55 am EDT

(By Correne Coetzer) Former Gurkha officer, Adrian Hayes, who has ventured across ice fields and above snow lines, is now heading to the burning heat of the Arabic desert sands. Probably the biggest challenge is the sensitivities and politics in this region which have made even getting to the start line a massive challenge, he says to ExplorersWeb.

Hayes and two Emirati Nationals are to recreate the journey made by Wilfred Thesiger in 1940s; the Amundsen of the Desert, he calls Thesiger. He explains why he is doing this expedition and introduces his two Bedu team mates.

ExplorersWeb: Where did the idea come from, to follow Thesiger's footsteps?

Adrian: I first got the idea when I was seconded from the Gurkhas to the Sultan of Oman's Armed Forces in Salalah in the 90s.

Thesiger, or "Mubarak bin London" as everyone knew him, was an icon in Salalah and the whole region and it was there that I got to learn a great deal more about this remarkable man and thought about re-creating his travels one day.

As soon as I completed our Greenland vertical crossing two years ago, we started actively planning it. For me, an adventurer living in the UAE and speaking reasonable Arabic, it was basically a no-brainer to try and re-create his journeys in some capacity.

ExplorersWeb: What is the aim of the journey?

Adrian: We are basically re-creating his first crossing of the Empty Quarter, travelling from Salalah in Oman, to Liwa, Al Ain and Abu Dhabi in the UAE.

With a lot of stakeholders, a TV documentary (Two Four Productions from the UK) and book accompanying this, however, it's more of a project than a straight expedition.

And that project has three main "pillars" - a look at the travels of Thesiger; the modern day re-inaction expedition; and the changing culture, heritage and lives of the Bedu of the Empty Quarter.

It's not about any furthest, longest or fastest and not even a first; Canadians Bruce Kirkby and Jamie and Leigh Clark did similar in 1999. With full respect for their great efforts, we are trying to do this as authentically as possible to Thesiger's journey's, i.e. with 1 modern day Brit, 2 Bedu, 7 camels, traditional dress, dates, rice and bread dough and not a lot else.

ExplorersWeb: What inspires you about the Thesiger expedition?

Adrian: I guess he was the Amundsen of the Desert - someone who was completely at home and happiest living in sparse conditions with little creature comforts in the vast emptiness that is the Arabian Desert, the largest sand desert in the World.

And someone who so integrated into the lives of the Bedu that he gained a respect and acceptance that was well-nigh impossible in the age. Journeys or characters like this are not possible nowadays, but I think he deserves an even greater recognition than he received.

ExplorersWeb: Where will you get the camels from? What type of camels will they be?

Adrian: We are bringing them from the UAE, galius thoroughbred camels, however will use local mountain camels to trek through the Dhofar mountains at the beginning of the journey.

ExplorersWeb: What clothes will you be wearing?

Adrian: We'll be wearing traditional Arabic dress, i.e. dishdashas (robes), shemagh's (head dress), a Kanja (knife), and sandels. That's it.

ExplorersWeb: What temperatures will you endure? Will there be times during the day that will be too hot to walk in?

Adrian: A bit of a luck of the draw, it will still be extremely hot in the middle of the day, which is why we'll be resting then. It could get quite cold at night as we head into December.

I don't do too well in heat, which seems a bit stupid considering Dubai is my home, but it's something I have to manage.

ExplorersWeb: What food will you take and will you carry everything with? What about the camels food?

Adrian: Obviously, it's simply not possible to do a 1500 km plus desert journey on foot and camel in an "unsupported" category. In the 1940s Thesiger travelled from settlement to settlement, getting fed, watered and re-supplied where he could to endure the next leg of his travels and we will be doing the same.

What's changed of course is some settlements have disappeared completely and others have grown from a few tents to much large villages, but the aim remains that we will carry as much food simple dates, bread dough and rice - and water as we can with us and re-stock at these places.

ExplorersWeb: Where will you get water?

Adrian: Similarly to the food, as much as possible as Thesiger did, from villages, water holes and other settlements. However, many of the wells and oasis's he went to have long since dried up which does create a challenge.

We are okay carrying our own water, which I've planned for 4.5 litres per person per day, but the camels need water every 3 days, which is why we will need at least one resupply - which we are being completely honest and integral about as it's all part of the modern day changed lives and conditions.

ExplorersWeb: How will you navigate and how did Thesiger navigate?

Adrian: I will use a compass, the sun, the stars and local knowledge when passing settlements, again, the same as Thesiger did. Speaking Arabic is a huge advantage needless to say.

We won't be having GPSes or any modern communications equipment and, frankly, I'm looking forward to the peace and tranquility this offers as much as I look forward to it on ice caps. There is an element of risk involved with this; of course, not least straying across some sensitive borders, but it's worth the benefits.

ExplorersWeb: Tell a bit more about your team mates pls. How did it come that you picked them? What do they contribute?

Adrian: We had a selection from the UAE Armed Forces and chose two young beduin officers, Saeed Rashid Al Mesafry and Ghafan Mohammed Al Jabry, They are bedu through and through who are very keen to be part of this journey and, above all, camel farmers.

Though I have great respect for the animals and even learned to ride them for an adventure race in the 90s, they aren't my normal form of transportation to the office every day and hence why I'm bringing them along as well as to replicate Thesiger's travelling companions, Salim bib Kabina and Salim bin Ghubaisha in the 40s.

ExplorersWeb: What will be your biggest challenge?

Adrian: Any movement on sand dunes is inherently difficult as I have experienced from many years living in the region.

However, probably the biggest challenge is the sensitivities and politics in the region, which has made even getting to the start line a massive challenge. Sadly, it just isn't possible to head from A to B as I would have liked and as Thesiger did in the 40s or even to an extent as the Canadians did in the 90s.

And as such, there is always a chance of something going wrong, even before we get to that start line. However, it's a great project that is worth these risks and I'm really looking forward to it regardless.

About Wilfred Thesiger

The great explorer, "Mubarak Bin London" (Wilfred Thesiger), crossed the desert of the Empty Quarter (Rub Al Khali) twice between 1945 and 1950 with his two Bedu companions, Salim bin Kabina and Salim bin Ghubaisha of the Rawashid tribe.

Thesiger's travels took him through the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, via the southern oasis of Liwa, through the capital city, and to Al Ain. It was in Al Ain, whilst hunting for a month with HH Sheikh Zayed that he formed and enduring friendship with the "father" and first President of the United Arab Emirates.

Expedition Details

Team: 3 men, Adrian Hayes, Saeed Rashid Al Mesafry and Ghafan Mohammed Al Jabry and 7 camels
Nationality: 1 x British and 2 x Emirati,
Route: Salalah, Mughshin, UmmZamoul, Liwa, Al Ain, Abu Dhabi
Total Distance: 1,500 km
Daily Distance: 35 km
Start: Salalah late October 2011
Finish: Abu Dhabi 12th December 2011
Transit: Approx 40 days desert transit
Dress: Traditional

About Adrian Hayes

Adrian Hayes is the British, UAE based, record-breaking adventurer, speaker, corporate coach and sustainability ambassador. He set a Guinness World Record in 2007 for reaching the Earth's "3 Poles" - walking all the way to the North Pole, South Pole and summiting Mt Everest - in the then shortest period of time in history, becoming only the 15th person ever to achieve the feat. He holds a second Guinness World Record along with Canadian teammates Devon McDiarmid and Derek Crowe, for the Arctic longest unassisted kite-skiing expedition in history, the 2009 vertical crossing of the Greenland ice cap.

A former Gurkha Officer and Special Forces reservist in the British Army, Adrian, an Arabic speaker, is a highly experienced desert operator having served in the deserts of Southern Oman during his military career.

#Trek #interview

Adrian Hayes with Saeed Rashid Al Mesafry and Ghafan Mohammed Al Jabry.
courtesy Adrian Hayes
Hayes: "I don't do too well in heat, which seems a bit stupid considering Dubai is my home, but it's something I have to manage."
courtesy Adrian Hayes

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