After spending the past 14 years in the United Arab Emirates, I feel quite connected with the country, the people and the culture as well as the mentality. For quite some time I wanted to learn more about the heritage of the place, I call home. Being fascinated about a place, which has developed so rapidly from a very simple and primordial life to an extensively advanced lifestyle.

One day this year, I read in the local newspaper about a Camel Trek. I was going through the article and got hooked to the idea of participating. The Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Centre for Heritage in Dubai is organizing a trek through the UAE desert to give people a better understanding of the Bedouin’s life. Once launched in 2015 solely to young Emiratis in an effort to promote the country’s intangible heritage, it is now open to all nationalities.

At first, I was a bit hesitant when I learned that the trek would last for 500 kilometres over eleven days. So many questions and doubts ran through my head. Would I be able to do that? Am I willing to sacrifice a major part of my vacation to do this? How will it work? I would only find out if I applied. Therefore, I sent an email. A few days later I got a reply that I was selected to come to a training camp in order to prove my ability to make a ‘Shadad’, ride a camel and my willingness and enthusiasm to do this!

It was already a challenge to find the camp as it was outside the city limits somewhere in the desert. The first day we were told how to prepare the saddle for the camel called ‘Shadad’, which actually consists of some structure made of pillows in different forms and strings, two blankets and a rope. The right way of mounting it on the camel will determine the comfort of your ride. Under strict observation we were practicing mounting and demounting the saddle. Until the time we were told to sit on our self-made saddle. Hoping that this will provide us a smooth ride.

On the very first day, we were even going out for a short ride in the desert. After another day of practice, we were told whether we made it to the next level. Therefore, we could join the other group, which was already training since a few months. Accordingly, the training got tougher as we had to pick up and work on our skills.

Our trainer Hamdan had a very close eye on us in order to evaluate our skills and improvement. He had no mercy with us – no matter how much our whole body was aching by the end of each day, he made us continue the next! And with good reason, because this is the only way to improve! He is one of the people who understands this animal best! We can learn so much from him. Every day he is teaching us something new and with every time we ride this amazing animal it becomes easier and we feel more comfortable.

With every time, we learn to understand our companion a bit better. Since my first day when I came to the country and worked as a tour guide the camel was one of the attractions, which fascinated me the most here. I arrived in the heat of the summer, which was a big challenge for me coming from Europe. Even more so it astonished me how a living being can be so perfectly tailored to live and survive under the devastating. Did you know for example that they can survive up to 10 days without drinking a drop of water even during the summer? That their mouth has a leathery lining, which allows them to eat thorny desert plants? That they have very long eyelashes and ear hairs as well as nostrils that can close to protect from the desert sand? That they have a transparent third eyelid to remove sand from their eyes? And the list just goes on.

The training goes on. The trek will start on the 15th of January 2019. With every day coming closer to the inception, the excitement becomes bigger. The route has increased to 700km over 14 days. This means that we have to work hard to get ready to master this amazing challenge!

There comes the day when we are told who the finalists are for the trip. Ten participants are selected out of hundreds of applicants. It came as a surprise for some and as disappointment for others but in the end, we are a small team with a colourful mix of nationalities. The training let us grow together and become a small family. The excitement to meet everyone and spend our days together on the backs of our camels to prepare for this exceptional trip is rising from time to time. Just a few weeks more and we will be riding through the dunes of the UAE desert. Enjoying and experiencing the lifestyle of the country’s ancestors and relive the past. A once in a lifetime experience is expecting us all and we cannot wait for it! ■

If you are also interested to be part of this extraordinary trip, you can sign up for it on the website

Written by: Denise Ostermann
Photos: Denise Ostermann

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this article was published in OutdoorUAE printed magazine issue #92 December 2018 – January 2019

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