Two retired Emirati friends are in the middle of the road trip of a lifetime that has taken them across Europe, covering 19,000km to date.
Salah Al Shamsi and Ibrahim Al Bashir, both 53 and retired, have been planning the mammoth expedition since 1994.
The current journey is just the first leg of what will be an exploration of countries in Asia and Africa.
They left Sharjah on June 20 in their trusty 2013 Toyota Camry.
They set out with a simple yet audacious goal: to experience diverse cultures, landscapes and nationalities first hand.
“We had a dream in 1994, before we even got married, that one day we will have a road trip across as many countries as we can,” Mr Al Shamsi told The National.
“It was hard back then due to many responsibilities, but we are living our dream now.
“The idea of travelling across Europe had always fascinated us. We wanted to challenge ourselves and prove that it's never too late to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.”
Their route so far has taken them from the UAE to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, before they took the ferry to Finland and on to Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Britain and Ireland.
On Thursday, they boarded a ferry from Ireland to northern Spain and will continue to Portugal, Gibraltar, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and then take the ferry again to return to Europe to visit countries including Malta, Italy and Switzerland. Their journey back to Sharjah will take in Turkey, Iraq and a stop in all Gulf countries.
“Our plan is to cross through more than 53 countries. Despite the fact that we are enjoying our epic trip, we are moving quickly now. We do not know how long it will take,” Mr Al Shamsi said.
Along the way, they have marvelled at the architectural wonders of historic cities, savoured the flavours of regional cuisines and embraced the hospitality of the locals.
Their journey of discovery has been documented through Snapchat, capturing breathtaking landscapes and heartwarming interactions.
While their 2013 Toyota Camry is not designed for off-road or long-distance expeditions, it has proved to be a reliable companion, smoothly navigating various terrains.
“The car has already done more than 280,000km since I bought it in 2013. We have many cars and four-wheel vehicles, but we chose the Camry due to fuel consumption,” he added.
While in the UK, they were keen to go to Etihad and Emirates stadiums, in Manchester and London respectively to get pictures of their Sharjah-registered vehicle in front of properties sponsored by UAE brands.
Mr Al Bashir attributed the success of the journey to meticulous planning, regular vehicle maintenance and a spirit of resilience.
“We wanted to show that with determination and proper preparation, even an ordinary car can undertake an extraordinary journey,” Mr Al Bashir told The National.
The two Emirati men encountered many challenges on the road, such as when their car had a mechanical problem in Denmark and needed spare parts.
“We stopped in a garage and the owner was originally from Iraq. As soon as he knew we were Emiratis, he fixed the problem and changed our tyres for free. He even booked us two nights in a hotel until the car was ready,” Mr Al Bashir said.
“We had many people helping us in direction and inviting us for food, but the Iraqi people's generosity was something beyond belief.
“Our best moments were while crossing Iraq – people were inviting us to their homes and escorting us on the road as soon as they saw Sharjah’s number plate and Emirati flag.”
Both praised the strength of the UAE passport, which enabled them to cross the borders into various countries without problems.
“We were wearing Emirati national dress and carrying the UAE flag. We are not social media people but when we start posting on Snapchat to document our journey, followers start asking us to post more to know more details.
“I think we inspired others to do similar journeys in the future.”
Given the success of their journey in their white Camry, they plan to go on a second epic journey to Russia and on to Asian countries, all the way to the Toyota factory in Japan.
“We want to reach the Toyota factory and give them the car as a souvenir after crossing so many countries in a trusty vehicle. We will leave the car in Japan and return to the UAE,” Mr Al Shamsi said.