'It was priceless': UAE expats spend 12 days riding camels, get 'full Emirati' experience

The group of over 30 people, including Emiratis and expats, rode camels for approximately 8 hours a day through the desert


Nasreen Abdulla

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Published: Tue 9 Jan 2024, 5:16 PM

Last updated: Wed 10 Jan 2024, 8:40 AM

Despite having lived in the UAE for over two decades, British expat Emma Brain had never spent more than a couple of hours in the desert until December. That is when she embarked on the annual Camel Trek initiative by the Hamdan bin Mohammed Heritage Centre (HHC) when she spent 12 days travelling the length and breadth of deserts in the UAE.

“It was priceless,” she said, speaking to Khaleej Times. “When you live in Dubai, it is easy to get lost in the glitz and glamour. This trip reminded me that there was this whole other side of the country. We were also dressed in the traditional jalabiyas and riding a camel through the desert. So we got the full Emirati culture experience. It was a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

The group of over 30 people, including Emiratis and expats, spent 12 days riding camels for approximately 8 hours a day through the desert, starting from the Empty Quarter (Rub' al Khali) desert and ending at Global Village, where the trekkers received a warm welcome. During the course, they enjoyed the beautiful desert, soaked in the Emirati hospitality and bonded with their camels.

For Ministry of Education curriculum developer Robin Kyung Tae Kim, the trek was an attempt to immerse himself in the Emirati culture.

“We have been trying to integrate more aspects of the Emirati culture into the curriculum for schools,” he said.

“I wanted to have a first-hand experience of it so that I could help better design it. For me, the biggest takeaway was how important camels were to the Emirati identity and culture.”


Both Emma and Robin agreed that the trek was an incredible physical challenge. “Nothing prepares you for the bruises and aches that come from riding a camel for so many hours,” chuckled Emma. “So much so that whenever we took breaks, we would massage each other’s backs.”

The group trained continuously for several weeks before the trek. “During the last few weeks, we were training three times a day,” said Robin. “So I had mentally budgeted the difficulties I would face. However, the first day was incredibly tough. Temperatures were higher than usual and we were going through the salt plains. So it was hotter than expected. After about three days, our bodies got used to it.”

Bond of a lifetime

For German expat Anne Runde, one of the most memorable things about the trek was the bond she shared with her camel. “One night, I had headed out to give my camel a treat but I had forgotten my torch,” she said. “It was pitch dark and I was about to turn back when my camel stuck her head out and looked at me as if to say hey, I am here. I felt such a connection to her that I began calling her Binti (my daughter).”

She said she found the process of riding a camel very therapeutic. “It was almost like meditating,” she said. “I never imagined I would feel that way. When I was on the camel, I was not thinking about anything else.”

Robin agreed that he was blown away with the connections he made during the trek. “I was expecting to do the trek and then go home,” he said. “But I made such amazing bonds, both with my camel and my co-riders. My camel’s name is Shamrookh, which means the connecting stem for all the dates. He was notorious last year for not behaving well but I was able to make such a connection with him that towards the end of the trek, he was the first to fall in line. It was so fulfilling.”

Impressive operation

Travelling an average of over 45 kilometres every day, the riders would start early. “We would wake up at around 6.30am and after breakfast, we would load up and prep the camel,” said Emma. “The aim was to set off at 9am. We would reach our camps by around 4 or 5pm. Between that we would stop several times for breaks.”

She said that HHC took care of every tiny detail. “From chefs to cook the choicest dishes to toilets to showers to tents, HHC took care of everything,” she said. “And the whole thing is entirely free.”

Robin said he was impressed with the scale of the operation. “I can’t stress how big the production was,” he said. “The media team, the medical team, the arrangements was such a huge logistical operation that I am blown away. I would highly recommend it to everyone.”


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