Muscat: After 21 days of continuous walking, the “Crossing the Empty Quarter” team has finally crossed the borders between Oman and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and is now embarking on what is expected to be the most difficult stage of the expedition, where it will be isolated from any populated areas and will have limited access to fresh water resources.
Given the demanding geography of the region, the now three-member team will also have to make efforts to cross the high sand dunes and adapt to the quickly contrasting desert weather, which reaches 40 degrees Celsius during the day and drops to sub-zero temperatures at night.
On their way to the border, the team were overwhelmed by the warm hospitality and visits from Omanis from the southern Dhofar Governorate, who are constantly tracking the team, making them feast and telling them tales of their grandfathers and great grandfathers’ exploits with bin Kalut, Bertram Thomas and other explorers
Mark Evans, the expedition team leader said, “We are grateful to the people of the Governorate of Dhofar for their kindness and generous hospitality. The people we met were rightly proud of Oman’s incredible history and their stories enriched our knowledge of the region. We enjoyed the natural beauty of the Dhofar region, its diversity and rich flora and fauna.”
In absolute contrast, the team is now facing day after day of complete silence in the desert, “broken only by the wind and the creaking of the camels’ knees and grinding of their teeth,” said Evans.
“The days are now measured in marches, each march lasting six to seven hours, starting just after sunrise and ending before sunset, with a break in the middle depending on the camels. The day begins at 05:00 am with the Amur calling prayer. He will use Venus and the glow of the rising sun to determine the correct way to face. The team are now heading north towards Bhat Jamal, which they hope to reach before next weekend.”
Despite the challenges, cracked lips and blisters, the team’s spirit has remained high. “The weather change is our major concern as it gets harsher as we get deeper into the desert, but we are highly motivated and determined to achieve our goal during the crossing of the Empty Quarter,” Evans added.
At the remote Saudi border crossing, the border guards warmly welcomed the team, and worked to resupply the team with food, water and fuel.
Mohammed Al Zidjali, an expedition team member said, “Our dream to cross the Empty Quarter is happening. I am very happy and proud to be a part of this legendary expedition. Every day, the average distance we cover is 25 kilometres, and in the evening we set up camp, rest and eat. We use the evening to communicate with our support team and the media and we provide them with daily updates and photos about our progress.”
The third team member, Amour Al Wahaibi is the camel expert and the bread maker. Amour spends his time and effort feeding and taking care of the camels. The fourth team member, Ali Al Mashali, is from Salalah and is a highly trained fitness trainer in the armed forces of Oman, conversant with map reading and direction finding for the team.
Mashali stayed with the expedition team until the Saudi border, but has now returned to Salalah.
At the Omani-Saudi border, Mashali said, “My experience with the team was great. I will work on transferring it to the others. I wish Mark, Amour and Mohammed all the best in the rest of the journey and I am sure that they will achieve their goal of reaching Doha.”
Besides playing the leadership role during the journey, Evans also writes the expedition diaries to keep a record of the day’s travels. His material updates on the “Crossing the Empty Quarter” website, mobile application and social media pages, sites which have now amassed thousands of followers, keen to get daily updates on the progress made by the team.
The expedition aims to inspire young Omanis 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 team had departed from Salalah on December 10, 2015.
It will trace the route taken by the first men 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 a camel train.