Fifty women follow that caravan

Women who have taken part in the 125km walk across the desert from Al Ain to Abu Dhabi talk of the life lessons learnt and the focus such an endeavour brings.

Emotional link to the past: the Women’s Heritage Walk from Abu Dhabi. Photo Courtesy: Women’s Heritage Walk
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AL AIN // Twice a year, Emirati women would cross the 125 kilometres of desert between Abu Dhabi island and Al Ain, on foot and by camel.

Now more than 50 women of various nationalities are set to do the same in this year’s Women’s Heritage Walk, a five-day trek across the desert to honour a tradition that stretches way before the UAE’s foundation.

“As the men of the sea embarked on their months-long pearling and trade trips during the summer, women would travel by foot and camel to Al Ain, where the weather is cooler,” said Bodour Al Tamimi, 35, an Emirati investment professional and an ambassador for the walk.

“And then a few months later, they would walk back to Abu Dhabi as the weather cooled down near the coast.”

Walkers have had three months of training to prepare for the event, which takes place between February 9 and 14, and organisers say it will be the biggest in the event’s three years.

Jody Ballard, a founder of the walk, said it was open for all nationalities, ages and religions.

“This balance is integral to the success as cultural exchange is one of our key pillars,” she said.

“We have gradually increased our numbers over the years. “We have more than 50 women from a wide variety of ages and 20 different nationalities walking this year, which is our biggest yet. Their stories are as unique as they are.

“Some want to prove to themselves they are physically capable, some are recovering from major illnesses and others are trying to surmount personal issues and gain a little distance from their daily lives.”

Ms Al Tamimi said her goal has changed since she set out on the first walk in 2015.

“At the beginning, the drive behind this journey was to start a healthy lifestyle, break the routine of luxury that we are used to,” she said.

But now her goal is to build confidence among Emirati women.

“I want to encourage them to become more fit and healthy, break their routine, try adventures within the simplicity of life, away from luxury, appreciate our strong women of the past and learn to appreciate the beauty that their country carries around the borders of the cities,” said Ms Al Tamimi, who has crossed the desert several times.

Estelle Gay-Folly said her first walk last year had helped her emotionally.

“I was looking forward to spending a lot of time with myself, reflecting on my past and planning for my future,” said Ms Gay-Folly, 46, from Switzerland.

“From the first footprint I left in the sand, I got out of my head and into my heart. I thought less and felt more.”

Canadian Randa Al Zein, 41, is taking part in the journey this year and looking forward to the challenge.

“Walking for five days continuously is certainly a challenge for a person like me who does not walk or run on regular days. But now when I am part of the journey, I suddenly realised I can do it,” the Abu Dhabi life coach said.

Ms Al Tamimi said: “You would be amazed how the silence of the desert is so soothing. It is unexpected but it is just like painting or playing an instrument.

“Without the noises of technology and modern life, all you concentrate on is the steps you take and the sensations within you and around you, and yes, the chats and laughter of women. It strengthened me.

“Having women of all different ages, backgrounds, countries, the lessons I received on cultures, personalities, myself, family growth, the friends I gained and the wisdom that I shared and received are all priceless.”