ABU DHABI // When 44 women pledged to walk from Al Ain to Abu Dhabi, they anticipated the hazards of blinding sunshine and searing heat, but never in their wildest dreams did they expect the torrential rain, 126 kilometre-an-hour winds, hailstones and lightning.
The travellers were taking part in Women’s Heritage Walk, a challenge undertaken in honour of generations of Emirati men and women who used the route to the summer cool of Al Ain and the winter season at Abu Dhabi.
Pamela Millar, 43, an Abu Dhabi-based architect from Chile, said the dramatic change in the weather on Tuesday came as a big shock to the women, who had set off from Al Bada Resort at Al Ain a few hours before.
“The lightning hit the ground just 300 metres from us, and the wind was so hard, like a hurricane”, she said.
“Many people got scared, others got excited and we needed to work as a group to help each other get through it. That was what I loved the most - all of these women were fantastic, we all helped each other. Some of us cried - it was all such a rollercoaster ride, not only in terms of the weather, but also in terms of the emotions inside us.”
Organiser Jody Ballard decided to put the safety of her walkers first. At the end of the first day, after most of the group had walked 25 kilometres, half of the women were driven back to the safety of Al Bida Resort, and half returned to their families in Al Ain and Abu Dhabi.
The next two days were spent in quiet contemplation, waiting until they were sure that the storm has passed.
On Friday, the women returned to the desert, determined not to let the weather get the better of them.
They ventured a few kilometres outside of Al Ain at 6am, and walked for 12 hours over a distance of 37 kilometres.
“That day, we got to see the desert in all of its many colours”, said Emirati Bodour Al Tamimi, the finance director of Bedashing Beauty Lounge in Abu Dhabi.
“We saw these little lakes forming in the desert, which you would never usually see. We saw plants that looked grey before the rains - almost dying - and then we saw little green shoots sprouting out of them as they came back to life. That was beautiful. We got to witness the desert coming to life because of the rains.”
Traditionally, Emiratis would celebrate the coming of the rains, she said. “But on this occasion, we celebrated after we had already been beaten up by the rain. Actually, we were lucky in some respects because the rain makes the sand harder, so it was easier to walk on.”
On Saturday, the ladies walked another 30 kilometres to Abu Dhabi, where they arrived that evening at the Zayed Centre in Al Bateen to be greeted by loved ones.
Although their experience was tinged with the disappointment that they only got to walk about 100 kilometres of the 120km journey, the women were triumphant.
The walk was organised by Escape Events and Mrs Ballard’s company Strategic Wellness Systems.
Sponsors included Sheikha Shaikha bint Mohammed, who was also the walkers’ patron last year, and Sheikha Fatima bin Mubarak Ladies Sports Academy.