Sands of time: when three explorers returned to Abu Dhabi after a 44-day trek across the Empty Quarter

They were following in the footsteps of legendary traveller Wilfred Thesiger

British explorers Adrian Hayes (L) and UAE nationals Saeed al-Mesafry (R) and Ghafan al-Jabry (C) arrive at their final destination in Abu Dhabi on December 13, 2011 after completing a 44-day trek across one of the world's largest sand deserts, the Empty Quarter, in the footsteps of late traveller Sir Wilfred Thesiger. AFP PHOTO/JOSEPH CAPELLAN (Photo by JOSEPH CAPELLAN / AFP)
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On Tuesday, December 13, 2011, three explorers returned to Abu Dhabi after a 44-day trek across the Arabian desert. Adrian Hayes, accompanied by Saeed Rashed Al Mesafry and Ghafan Mohammed Al Jabry of the UAE armed forces, had made the journey with camels, beginning in Salalah, then going to Liwa before passing through Al Ain and finishing in the city.

The adventure spanned 1,600 kilometres and, throughout, the team relied on basic provisions, natural resources and Bedouin hospitality to survive.

Why, you might ask? Hayes, a former British Army Gurkha Officer and father-of-two, wanted to mark the UAE's 40th birthday and follow in the footsteps of legendary traveller and author Wilfred Thesiger, who for five years explored Arabia's Empty Quarter, which takes in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen.

Thesiger, also known by his Arabic name Mubarak bin London, wasn't the first westerner to traverse the area – that accolade goes to British political officer Bertram Thomas, who, on December 10, 1930, began his crossing of the Empty Quarter with Bedouin guides at Dhofar, reaching Doha some 59 days later – but his is arguably the more celebrated journey.

Hayes and his team's own trip decades later became even more talked-about, as a documentary, Footsteps of Thesiger, premiered on Discovery World a few months later, offering people the opportunity to learn more about the past and present of this vast Arabian expanse.