Saudi fan treks the desert to get to World Cup

Abdullah Alsulmi joins another fan who in January started his walk to Doha from Madrid

Saudi trekker Abdullah Alsulmi crosses a desert area about 350 kilometres west of Riyadh, on September 27, 2022, during his solo trek to the Qatari capital for the Fifa World Cup. AFP
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As the world gets ready for a month of watching football matches on a big screen, many football fans are planning their trip to Qatar to watch the action in person.

And for some football fans in the Gulf region, Doha seems too close to not make an appearance in the flesh, with other fans, in Qatar's stadiums.

After watching a television show in which a senior Qatari official promised an exceptional experience at the upcoming World Cup, Saudi Abdullah Alsulmi, 33, thought: “I will go to Doha no matter what, even if I have to walk.”

His relatives called him crazy as he started to plan his two-month, 1,600-kilometre solo trek from his home in Jeddah to Doha.

Mr Alsulmi is documenting his journey for his thousands of Snapchat followers, highlighting the amazing adventures one can have if only they give hiking a chance.

“When I do this, I want to convey to people that hiking and walking is a beautiful sport, even if the weather is difficult here in Saudi Arabia, even if the terrain is difficult. We can do it,” he told AFP.

“It is a sport for simple people. You only need a bag and a few simple things, and a tent and nature.”

Mr Alsulmi has experience with extended treks in Canada and Australia, where he used to live, but were a different experience to the heat and difficult terrain of the Arabian Peninsula.

He typically sets out at sunrise and walks until 10 or 10.30am, and then breaks for a few hours before resuming in the afternoon and continuing until sundown.

He also walks at night to maintain his goal of about 35km a day.

Mr Alsulmi subsists on food he can buy at petrol stations to avoid carrying a lot of weight, while showering and washing his clothes at mosques.

His social media posts capture details of life on the trail: his nightly search for a spot to sleep, and the time he spotted a scorpion dozing dangerously close to his tent.

“Walking from Jeddah to Doha, every 100 kilometres is different. I mean, the first 100 kilometres there are sand dunes, then mountains, and then comes empty land, then farms,” he said.

“I am going through all terrains in one country in two months. This is a beautiful thing.”

If all goes according to plan, Mr Alsulmi will arrive in Doha in time for Saudi Arabia's opening match against Argentina on November 22.

Madrid adventurer who's been walking since January

Meanwhile, Santiago Sanchez Cogedor, 42, started walking from the Matapinonera Stadium in Madrid's San Sebastian de los Reyes on January heading to Qatar, where he hopes to reach the 2022 Fifa World Cup in time for the opening ceremony on November 20.

Before setting out on his trip on January 8, the sports-loving adventurer had a meeting with Abdullah bin Ibrahim Al Hamar, Qatar's ambassador to Spain.

“The trip will be a journey that will make me a better person, a better human being. It will be continuous learning, nights in loneliness, and I want to share that with the people I am with,” Mr Cogedor said.

He has been to the Gulf region before, when he went to Saudi Arabia by bicycle, this time he will complete his trip on foot.

He is carrying a suitcase packed with a gas stove, water purification tablets and his tent, in which he sleeps during the 11-month journey.

Last month, Mr Cogedor posted a video on his social media accounts showing that he had reached the village of Zakho in the Kurdistan region of Iraq and would soon cross the Iranian border. He also noted that he had passed Erbil and other cities on his way to his goal of covering more than 6,500 kilometres on foot in time for the opening ceremony of the biggest sporting event in the world.

The adventurer, who frequently uploads updates on his adventure, has been sleeping in his tent, at hotels, or with new friends he has made along the road as he travels to Qatar.

He estimated that the journey would take about a year, which is why he set out early in January.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this story.

Updated: October 06, 2022, 12:01 PM
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