At the UAE-Saudi border: He expected it to take long, but it turned out to be short and sweet.
Emirati trekker Jalal Bin Thaneya's experience at the Saudi border reaffirmed his belief in his goal.The officers examining his papers were frankly baffled. "‘You are walking all the way to Makkah?' they asked. ‘Yes', I replied."
Bin Thaneya reached the Saudi border at Al Ghuwaifat at sunset on Thursday (He had set off from Ruwais on Sunday, December 11).
After the speedy and smooth border experience, he headed into Saudi territory towards the biggest challenge in his walk — the 500-kilometre Al Harad Highway he was warned not to attempt.
"But I am here now," he said, speaking to Gulf News while walking on the highway last evening.
He is barely able to keep his voice free of triumph. Yet there is trepidation.
How has it been for him so far? "Very tough," he says.
But there have been some sweet moments too.
On Thursday, for example, at Al Ghuwaifat, walking past the five-kilometre queue of trucks, a bottle of orange juice arced through the air towards him as a truck thundered past. Its driver stuck his head out of the window and roared out an appreciative greeting, "Enta rejjal! (You are a man!)".
"It felt good, being appreciated for my efforts." Bin Thaneya says. Earlier, Bin Thaneya walked from Ruwais to Sila for three days through a bleak landscape ("just acres and acres of sand and nothing else; a flat nothingness"), festooned with modern-day trappings of industrial artifacts, oil pipes and electric grids, oscillating between appreciation for a land of core beauty and concerned about the conservation of it.
Learning to be grateful
The bleakness though worked as a constant reminder for him of how his forefathers managed to live amidst nearly inhospitable conditions. "It teaches you to be aware of how lucky we are to enjoy so much comfort," he says.
The days are hot, the "sun is not forgiving" and "the wind is in your face all the time, gusting and punching at your face."
The nights are cold, "freezing", just like he remembers them on his previous walks. Then there are the nocturnal creatures which come enquiring about the trespasser on their territory. He can sense their presence in between the deep sleep cycles. And in the mornings, he can see their footprints in the sand. But fear is not an option. "Not when faith is the reason I am out there in the first place.
"You can't afford to be fearful. What would be the point of it all in that case? You just need to become one with nature."
In tandem with the physical effort required to keep putting one foot after the other is the mental discipline of planning each day to its lees. He meets his back-up man, Yahya Al Hoot, at predetermined spots and together, they assign each day a mileage to be covered and things to be done.
What do they talk about given that they are the only two humans they mutually sight along the endless stretches? "We don't talk much," he responds. "We touch upon the basic issues of the day, that's all. The day's tasks have to be accomplished and time is always at a premium. We have an understanding of the purpose of this walk … so I guess in many ways he does his job and I do mine."
His job at times calls for unusual efforts. For instance, "On the morning of the third day, I woke up while it was still dark to wash my clothes so they would dry by the time I needed to set out — around 8am. It's important to stay fresh; makes the daily routine more tolerable," he says.
When the road seems endless, the sun is in your face and the only serenade to your senses is the incessant drag of the trucks from the highway, a long pull from your water bottle or the smell of fresh clothes can put an extra spring in your step.
Next week: Along an endless highway