Surviving the Bear Grylls Academy in the Oman wilderness



Action man Bear Grylls has brought his namesake 'Survival Academy' to the region to help participants push themselves to new limits. Hareth Al Bustani finds his breaking point

When you find yourself running after a bright yellow van in the wilderness, it is appropriate to question the decisions that took you to that point.

Add 40°C, a very heavy backpack and just three litres of water to last the next 24 hours and things can quickly go from bad to worse.

Welcome to the Bear Grylls Survival Academy, a course designed to push its enthusiastic students to their limits. Savour the feelings of dehydration, muscle ache, vertigo, arachnophobia and spheksophobia, the fear of wasps, and all manner of unpleasant sensations.

As unbearable as the one kilometre run is, it is an ideal time to make introductions.

The seemingly indefatigable Karin Edstrom runs back and forth, encouraging the stragglers, even returning from the finishing line to take the bag from a flailing member of the team. Her colleagues booked her on to the course as a leaving present, one she jokes could indicate that they either know her very well, or simply “don’t like” her.

The run takes us to the mouth of a huge wadi. Hearts pumping, blood boiling and feet wobbling, we trek up terrain covered in pebbles and rocks. Just when it seems time for a nap the team continues on, snaking up a sheer ledge, one after the other.

At this point, I am quite certain I have reached my limit. Conscious of not drinking too much water, sweat is getting the better of me. But we hike further until, fortuitously, instructors David Sculthorpe and Chris Coyle stop beneath a large tree.

We have to keep our rucksacks on, lest we expend even more energy than required standing back up, and an insolent wasp is buzzing around me. I have to persevere – we are learning an important lesson in procuring and purifying water in the harshest of climates.

The group listens in as David reveals the most dreaded of Bear Grylls’ survival techniques – drinking urine.

“It’s not a bad idea. If you were really stuck would you want to drink urine, really? Do you know much about that?”

The silence is deafening.

“In the very worst-case scenario, if you have to it will keep you alive but it’s not the best thing to do.”

A goat looks on in suspicion in the distance before travelling onwards, having heard enough.

For those who are not familiar with Grylls and his exploits, this is actually pretty tame stuff.

A 41-year-old former reservist in Britain’s elite SAS special forces, Grylls, who was born in Northern Ireland, has made his name by surviving the most extreme conditions, from Everest to rowing naked down the Thames River, often with only a television crew for company.

His survivalist techniques include a nausea-inducing diet that has featured deer droppings and using a dead sheep as a sleeping bag, among others.

Grylls’ commercial activities include a knife that can be lashed to a pole to make a spear and the Bear Grylls Survival Academy, which offers special courses around the world, including the UAE. Its motto is, “It may hurt a little”.

So here we are.

Split into two teams, the first task is to start making what is called a solar still. Raj Pal, 43, a paediatrician who describes “expedition medicine” as a hobby of his, batters the rocky ground with a shovel, frantically trying to beat the clock.

The rest of us stuff leaves and the bottom half of a water bottle into the hole, before covering it with plastic wrap secured by rocks.

Hoping for the best, we rise to the next challenge: “boulder hopping” further up the wadi; navigating over areas covered in larger boulders. This is slightly perilous and exhausting.

Higher up, we are given a brief lesson in the bewildering art of tying knots. To ease my suffering, instructor Chris explains an important one using a simple metaphor of a bunny running around a tree – it works.

Further up the valley our instructors stop us again, this time to recreate a medical emergency.

Chris lies on the ground and encourages the group to move him to safety. We are presented with a range of options: put together a makeshift stretcher using backpacks; two people providing support on either side; or making a seat by wrapping a piece of rope across two people’s shoulders.

Once done, we proceed back down the wadi, finally resting for the day near a site commonly used to light fires.

At this point, one of my worst fears is imagined when I am selected as team leader to gather wood before the sun goes down. I delegate in a very British manner, asking for volunteers and begging reassurances.

Chris sits down, and whips out a bag of party tricks – all for the purposes of lighting fires. The most impressive is a ball of cotton wool, “teased apart”, dipped in Vaseline, a potent fuel, and lit with a Bear Grylls signature fire starter, an artificial flint rod and metal striker.

After piling up the bark, small twigs and medium and large branches in the correct manner, we light a fire and David helps us to prepare two large fish.

We tuck in using our Bear Grylls knives and douse the meal in garlic salt, which we earned earlier by solving a riddle.

Ali Albasri teaches me a trick he uses when he camps with his family in Saudi Arabia.

“This is how we wash our hands,” he says with a laugh, grabbing a fistful of sand and rubbing it between his hands. I follow suit but realise I’ve picked up dried goat excrement and scramble for my hidden stash of wet wipes instead.

After dinner we stare at the fire while most soon retreat to their beds. My own “bed” consists of an inflatable mattress that I cannot fathom and instead convert into a futon accompanied by a mosquito-net pillow.

Although I have sneaked in portable chargers and a backup phone, neither of these are of any use. We lost phone reception a long time ago.

After taking off my boots and hiking socks, I eventually enjoy some intermittent sleep.

The next morning, fellow journalist Judy Cogan discovers a ball of tin foil she was given and carried around all day was starting to leak. She unwraps it, and discovers breakfast. And so, we kick off Escape Day by tucking into goat heart – the taste of which lingers for hours.

David says it has rained elsewhere in Oman and we are at risk of being dragged away by flash floods. Despite the cloudless sky, we follow instructions and don our helmets and harnesses before taking turns to propel ourselves up one side of the valley, frantically reaching for juts and then crawling like Spider-Man.

At the top, we encounter our second mock casualty. Karin has been bitten by an imaginary snake and we need to get her to safety. I courageously opt to carry her rucksack.

I have gone all morning without water, having run out. Just as panic begins to set in we are reminded of the solar stills we prepared the day before. While the other team has fared well – with perhaps five centimetres of pure, clean watery goodness – the goats have got into ours. But we are all promised water. Just around the corner. We run.

“I want you to just look around you,” interrupts David, “Are you sure everyone’s here?”

Frenchman Matthieu Soileux, whose girlfriend booked him on to the course, is missing. After another brief recovery effort, this time for sunstroke, we persevere towards the last stretch of the journey.

On the way, Raj goes missing. We find him nursing a hurt ankle. Chris gives us 20 minutes to get him to the van or he will move 100 metres further for every minute we are late. And there’s cold drinks and ice cream waiting.

Such promises invigorate me. Ali and I are of similar heights, so we decide to use the old rope-seat trick. Although the ropes hurt, we really want cold drinks and ice cream.

Not too far down the road, the yellow van is in sight. We’ve made it. Bear would be proud.

Speaking after everyone else has left, David reveals that the three litres of water was not really enough for 24 hours. “Not out here – that would be a minimum for maybe three to four hours if you were trying to stay really well hydrated.”

Chris can trace his career back to a single moment of inspiration. “I remember on a school tour, when I was 14 or 15, we were doing a climbing wall indoors and I couldn’t get to the top.

“Everybody else in the group did it and the instructor who was with us kept the teacher and myself behind. We spent an extra 20 minutes and eventually I got to the top.”

He remains passionate about encouraging parents to “let their kids out”.

“Our parents used to take us everywhere, and we’d go and do archery or rock climbing, even kicking a football in the park. It forms a bond and you start to meet new people.”

David, meanwhile, studied history. “At the end of university, I did a Kilimanjaro expedition and I just thought, ‘You know what? If I can make this my career – this is quite goal orientated and I generally am – that would be absolutely brilliant, and I would love my job every day.”

He takes great pleasure in helping people overcome their fears.

Concluding, Chris reflects: “The simplest things sometimes can make life a lot easier for you. There’s no point trying to light a fire with sparks if you’ve got a lighter.”

For information on the Bear Grylls Survival course, visit beargryllssurvivalacademy.com, or adventure.ae for details of alternative courses offered by Absolute Adventure.

halbustani@thenational.ae

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Company name: baraka
Started: July 2020
Founders: Feras Jalbout and Kunal Taneja
Based: Dubai and Bahrain
Sector: FinTech
Initial investment: $150,000
Current staff: 12
Stage: Pre-seed capital raising of $1 million
Investors: Class 5 Global, FJ Labs, IMO Ventures, The Community Fund, VentureSouq, Fox Ventures, Dr Abdulla Elyas (private investment)

Sarfira

Director: Sudha Kongara Prasad

Starring: Akshay Kumar, Radhika Madan, Paresh Rawal

Rating: 2/5

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Klipit

Started: 2022

Founders: Venkat Reddy, Mohammed Al Bulooki, Bilal Merchant, Asif Ahmed, Ovais Merchant

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Digital receipts, finance, blockchain

Funding: $4 million

Investors: Privately/self-funded

How to help

Donate towards food and a flight by transferring money to this registered charity's account.

Account name: Dar Al Ber Society

Account Number: 11 530 734

IBAN: AE 9805 000 000 000 11 530 734

Bank Name: Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank

To ensure that your contribution reaches these people, please send the copy of deposit/transfer receipt to: juhi.khan@daralber.ae

RESULTS

5pm: Al Bateen – Maiden (PA) Dh80,000 (Turf) 2,200m
Winner: Ma’Aly Al Shahania, Bernardo Pinheiro (jockey), Mohamed Daggash (trainer)
5.30pm: Al Khaleej – Maiden (PA) Dh80,000 (T) 1,400m
Winner: AF Rami, Tadhg O’Shea, Ernst Oertel
6pm: Wathba Stallions Cup – Handicap (PA) Dh70,000 (T) 1,400m
Winner: Bant Al Emarat, Bernardo Pinheiro, Qaiss Aboud
6.30pm: Al Nahyan – Handicap (PA) Dh80,000 (T) 1,600m
Winner: AF Rasam, Marcelino Rodrigues, Ernst Oertel
7pm: Al Karamah – Handicap (PA) Dh80,000 (T) 1,600m
Winner: Zafaranah, Bernardo Pinheiro, Musabah Al Muhairi
7.30pm: Al Salam – Handicap (TB) Dh80,000 (T) 1,400m
Winner: Nibras Passion, Tadhg O’Shea, Ismail Mohammed

COMPANY PROFILE

Company name: Revibe
Started: 2022
Founders: Hamza Iraqui and Abdessamad Ben Zakour
Based: UAE
Industry: Refurbished electronics
Funds raised so far: $10m
Investors: Flat6Labs, Resonance and various others

Race card

6pm: Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 – Group 1 (PA) $50,000 (Dirt) 1,600m
6.35pm: Dubai Racing Club Classic – Handicap (TB) $100,000 (D) 2,410m
7.10pm: Dubawi Stakes – Group 3 (TB) $150,000 (D) 1,200m
7.45pm: Jumeirah Classic Trial – Conditions (TB) $150,000 (Turf) 1,400m
8.20pm: Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 – Group 2 (TB) $250,000 (D) 1,600m
8.55pm: Al Fahidi Fort – Group 2 (TB) $180,000 (T) 1,400m
9.30pm: Ertijaal Dubai Dash – Listed (TB) $100,000 (T) 1,000m

RACECARD

9pm Maiden (PA) Dh70,000 (Dirt) 2,000m
9.30pm Handicap (TB) Dh70,000 (D) 2,000m
10pm Al Ain Cup – Prestige (PA) Dh100,000 (D) 2,000m
10.30pm Maiden (PA) Dh70,000 (D) 1,800m
11pm Wathba Stallions Cup – Handicap (PA) Dh70,000 (D) 1,600m
11.30pm Maiden (PA) Dh70,000 (D) 1,400m
12am Maiden (PA) Dh70,000 (D) 1,400m

Specs: 2024 McLaren Artura Spider

Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 and electric motor
Max power: 700hp at 7,500rpm
Max torque: 720Nm at 2,250rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch auto
0-100km/h: 3.0sec
Top speed: 330kph
Price: From Dh1.14 million ($311,000)
On sale: Now

COMPANY PROFILE

Name: Xpanceo

Started: 2018

Founders: Roman Axelrod, Valentyn Volkov

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Smart contact lenses, augmented/virtual reality

Funding: $40 million

Investor: Opportunity Venture (Asia)

Results:

5pm: Maiden (PA) Dh80,000 2,200m | Winner: AF Al Montaqem, Bernardo Pinheiro (jockey), Ernst Oertel (trainer)

5.30pm: Maiden (PA) Dh80,000 1,200m | Winner: Daber W’Rsan, Connor Beasley, Jaci Wickham

6pm: Handicap (PA) Dh85,000 1,600m | Winner: Bainoona, Fabrice Veron, Eric Lemartinel

6.30pm: Handicap (PA) Dh80,000 1,600m | Winner: AF Makerah, Antonio Fresu, Ernst Oertel

7pm: Wathba Stallions Cup Handicap (PA) Dh70,000 | Winner: AF Motaghatres, Antonio Fresu, Ernst Oertel

7.30pm: Handicap (TB) Dh90,000 1,600m | Winner: Tafakhor, Ronan Whelan, Ali Rashid Al Raihe

CONFIRMED LINE-UP

Elena Rybakina (Kazakhstan)
Ons Jabeur (Tunisia)
Maria Sakkari (Greece)
Barbora Krejčíková (Czech Republic)
Beatriz Haddad Maia (Brazil)
Jeļena Ostapenko (Latvia)
Liudmila Samsonova
Daria Kasatkina 
Veronika Kudermetova 
Caroline Garcia (France) 
Magda Linette (Poland) 
Sorana Cîrstea (Romania) 
Anastasia Potapova 
Anhelina Kalinina (Ukraine)  
Jasmine Paolini (Italy) 
Emma Navarro (USA) 
Lesia Tsurenko (Ukraine)
Naomi Osaka (Japan) - wildcard
Emma Raducanu (Great Britain) - wildcard
Alexandra Eala (Philippines) - wildcard

Company Profile

Name: HyveGeo
Started: 2023
Founders: Abdulaziz bin Redha, Dr Samsurin Welch, Eva Morales and Dr Harjit Singh
Based: Cambridge and Dubai
Number of employees: 8
Industry: Sustainability & Environment
Funding: $200,000 plus undisclosed grant
Investors: Venture capital and government

Rebel Moon – Part Two: The Scargiver review

Director: Zack Snyder
Starring: Sofia Boutella, Charlie Hunnam, Ed Skrein, Sir Anthony Hopkins
Rating: 2/5

The bio

Who inspires you?

I am in awe of the remarkable women in the Arab region, both big and small, pushing boundaries and becoming role models for generations. Emily Nasrallah was a writer, journalist, teacher and women’s rights activist

How do you relax?

Yoga relaxes me and helps me relieve tension, especially now when we’re practically chained to laptops and desks. I enjoy learning more about music and the history of famous music bands and genres.

What is favourite book?

The Perks of Being a Wallflower - I think I've read it more than 7 times

What is your favourite Arabic film?

Hala2 Lawen (Translation: Where Do We Go Now?) by Nadine Labaki

What is favourite English film?

Mamma Mia

Best piece of advice to someone looking for a career at Google?

If you’re interested in a career at Google, deep dive into the different career paths and pinpoint the space you want to join. When you know your space, you’re likely to identify the skills you need to develop.  

 

Kamindu Mendis bio

Full name: Pasqual Handi Kamindu Dilanka Mendis

Born: September 30, 1998

Age: 20 years and 26 days

Nationality: Sri Lankan

Major teams Sri Lanka's Under 19 team

Batting style: Left-hander

Bowling style: Right-arm off-spin and slow left-arm orthodox (that's right!)

MANDOOB

Director: Ali Kalthami

Starring: Mohammed Dokhei, Sarah Taibah, Hajar Alshammari

Rating: 4/5

How to vote in the UAE

1) Download your ballot https://www.fvap.gov/

2) Take it to the US Embassy

3) Deadline is October 15

4) The embassy will ensure all ballots reach the US in time for the November 3 poll

PETER PAN & WENDY

Director: David Lowery

Stars: Alexander Molony, Ever Anderson, Joshua Pickering

Rating: 3/5

COMPANY PROFILE

Company: Eco Way
Started: December 2023
Founder: Ivan Kroshnyi
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: Electric vehicles
Investors: Bootstrapped with undisclosed funding. Looking to raise funds from outside

Director: Nag Ashwin

Starring: Prabhas, Saswata Chatterjee, Deepika Padukone, Amitabh Bachchan, Shobhana

Rating: ★★★★

The specs: 2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Price, base / as tested: Dh76,900 / Dh110,900

Engine: 2.0L, turbocharged in-line four-cylinder

Gearbox: Nine-speed automatic

Power: 252hp @ 5,500rpm

Torque: Torque: 352Nm @ 2,500rpm

Fuel economy, combined: 8.5L / 100km

yallacompare profile

Date of launch: 2014

Founder: Jon Richards, founder and chief executive; Samer Chebab, co-founder and chief operating officer, and Jonathan Rawlings, co-founder and chief financial officer

Based: Media City, Dubai 

Sector: Financial services

Size: 120 employees

Investors: 2014: $500,000 in a seed round led by Mulverhill Associates; 2015: $3m in Series A funding led by STC Ventures (managed by Iris Capital), Wamda and Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority; 2019: $8m in Series B funding with the same investors as Series A along with Precinct Partners, Saned and Argo Ventures (the VC arm of multinational insurer Argo Group)

Results:

First Test: New Zealand 30 British & Irish Lions 15

Second Test: New Zealand 21 British & Irish Lions 24

Third Test: New Zealand 15 British & Irish Lions 15

Final scores

18 under: Tyrrell Hatton (ENG)

- 14: Jason Scrivener (AUS)

-13: Rory McIlroy (NIR)

-12: Rafa Cabrera Bello (ESP)

-11: David Lipsky (USA), Marc Warren (SCO)

-10: Tommy Fleetwood (ENG), Chris Paisley (ENG), Matt Wallace (ENG), Fabrizio Zanotti (PAR)


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