Dubai If there's one thing Singaporean traveller Hajar Ali would never forget after crossing one of the world's largest sand deserts — the Empty Quarter — last week, it would be the connection that she had made with nature.
"Waking up in the morning to all the sand dunes, to just nothingness, nobody around you, just sand dunes. It's so beautiful to be one [with nature]," Ali, who set out on an expedition to the Empty Quarter on March 22, told Gulf News.
"You'll feel like you're in your natural element. Then you'll really see how living things actually live in the ecosystem," Ali added.
Originally a 12-day expedition, Ali claimed to have become the first woman to have made a North to South vehicle crossing of the Empty Quarter through the eastern lobe in just six days.
Spans four Arab countries
The Empty Quarter spans 650,000 square kilometres and runs across four Arab countries — the UAE, Oman, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
It is home to some of the world's largest dunes and is also considered as one of the world's driest, hottest, and most unyielding environments.
"There are very few places left unexplored now. And the Empty Quarter, I feel like it's one of the most remote, very extreme environments. It has really nice history of exploration and expedition and to be the first woman [to cross it] is very satisfying," Ali, who was aided by a Dubai-based driver in her journey, said.
And as if on cue, the team encountered a problem right away at the beginning of the trip.
"We heard some sound, and then the roof rack dislodged itself and actually slid down on our [car's] windscreen. Luckily, for us it slid down at an angle where it did not crash the windscreen because we would have got hurt," Ali said.
Even if she had prepared for the worst, Ali said that the sandstorms during their last three nights in the desert made it difficult for her to sleep.
"It felt like there's someone depositing sand into your tent. So when the sandstorm got really bad, the only place you can sleep in is the car," Ali said.
No longer a stranger to inconveniences caused by off-the-beaten-track places, Ali said taking a toilet break out in the desert was no issue until she saw something on the sand.
"I was [looking for] a spot for a toilet break, and then I found bullets, and then I got really scared, It's a really bad idea to be shot at while you're on your toilet break," Ali said jokingly.