Muscat: On the 38th day of its challenging journey, “Crossing of the Empty Quarter” expedition team has made significant progress towards Doha.
The team has now covered almost three quarters of the distance to Doha with 252 kilometres (kms) remaining in their journey. Currently walking 30 kms a day, they plan to arrive in Doha on January 28, as long as they are not delayed by unexpected challenges, such as more sandstorms.
An official welcome reception will be held in Qatar to celebrate and honour the arrival of the three intrepid explorers, Mohammed Al Zidjali, Amur Al Wahibi and Mark Evans, who started their expedition from Salalah, Oman to Doha, Qatar last December. The three members of the team have endured harsh and challenging weather conditions during the journey, including high temperatures in the daytime and low temperatures at night, as well as unexpected sand storms and squalls.
The team’s journey has not been easy: one camel became sick, they have had to coax the other camels across huge sand dunes, have been drenched in unexpected rain storms in areas, which haven’t experienced rain for six years, and they have suffered the daily onslaught of walking in high temperatures, their feet blistering and the camels kicking them.
Commenting on the challenges presented by the journey, Mark Evan, expedition team leader said, “We are very pleased with the progress made in our expedition so far, and this is down to the good cooperation of the team members and their perseverance to achieve our goal. Every day, we do our best to cover 30 kilometres at least to be ahead our schedule and to arrive in Doha ahead of our original schedule.”
“There have been many high points, particularly meeting so many people on the way. There have been more than 20 social gatherings, large and small, often three generations sitting together sharing an oral history and local pride.... 28 goats, seven camels and three sheep have been slaughtered in our honour. One of the high points for me has been the fact that whilst everything has changed in terms of technology, nothing has changed in terms of the extraordinarily generous and endless hospitality we have been offered. It has been nice to show the face of the real Middle East that lies behind the headlines.”
“One of the major challenges has been managing the psychology of a long journey; blisters, complaining camels refusing to go any further before we were half way across.
“Our worst days were in the mega dunes in Saudi; stiflingly hot, dripping in sweat that ran down my body to soaked even my boots. There were steep dunes with soft sand and the camels bellowed in protest and collapsed to their knees, unwilling to go any further. The memory of this exciting expedition will stay for generations to come and we will recall stories of the journey for our children.”
Evans added, “It is now all downhill as we begin to exit the sands and enter an area of gravel that slowly descends down to the Arabian Sea, and Qatar. Amongst the gravel lies something called sabkha, a hazard well known to desert explorers. After rains, it turns to exceptionally slippery mud, making for difficult trekking, and tricky conditions for the camels. If a camel does the split in such terrain, it can be extremely difficult to get it back up.”
Expedition team member, Mohammed Al Zidjali, also spoke about his experience in the desert. “We are living the dream to cross the largest desert in the world and are very proud of our achievement so far. We will keep walking until we reach our destination and repeat the glory of our ancestors. We are making good progress and things are working as per plan.”
We are in the middle of nature, away from the noise of the city and the daily routine. I think challenging situations, such as this expedition, trains people to be stronger, to face difficult life situations and to become more flexible to adapt to different circumstances and live with fewer resources. We are thankful for Outward Bound Oman, which provided us with this lifetime opportunity to cross this extraordinary desert. A group of Arab youth from Qatar will join the expedition team when they enter the Qatari borders.”
The “Crossing the Empty Quarter” expedition aims to inspire young Arab youth to embody the fundamentals of responsibility and self-dependence and endurance in order to overcome challenges of the 21st century and achieve their goals.
The 2015 expedition retraces the route taken by the men first credited with making the crossing in 1930: British explorer Bertram Thomas and Sheikh Saleh bin Kalut took 60 days to reach their destination. The 2015 expedition is being conducted solely on foot and by camel.