Conquering Kilimanjaro with camels

David Dunn, for CNNUpdated 12th October 2015
(CNN) — Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro has long been a bucket list favorite of thousands of adventurers around the world.
But imagine tackling Africa's highest peak with two occasionally reluctant camels as part of your team.
This was the symbolic mission of a group from the United Arab Emirates who set out to be the first in the world to scale Kili with the usually desert-dwelling beasts.
Dubai adventurer Awad Mohammed Majrin wanted to put his country on the map for something other than record-breaking buildings.
The 48-year-old Emirati also planned to raise the UAE flag at the 5,895-meter summit for Emirates Travellers, an organization he runs to help other adventurers realize their dreams.
"Many people climb Kilimanjaro, but when you say by camel..." says Majrin, who by day also heads his family real estate business.

Royal intervention

A six-man team was assembled that included Majrin, Saeed Al Memari, the first Emirati to climb Everest, and Ahmad Al Qasimi, a retired Yemeni military man who got Majrin's attention with his aim to become the first to cross Africa by camel.
However, the first major hurdle arose before the men had even shouldered a backpack: Tanzanian authorities initially refused a permit to climb the peak with an animal, let alone two camels.
Fearing for their unique expedition, Majrin and his colleagues at Emirates Travellers called upon the office of the Crown Prince of Dubai to intervene.
Himself an accomplished horseman and man of action -- Google the photo of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid on top of the world's tallest building, Burj Khalifa -- the royal secured permission for the mission to climb.
Emirates Travellers then had just three weeks to organize an expedition that would usually take months of planning, including training camels Zabeel and Al Shindagha, before the 10-day climb last December.
A recent documentary, "Climbing Kilimanjaro by Camel," captures the struggles faced by the men and their camels.
That included shifting weather patterns, plunging temperatures and a lack of oxygen, as well as bruising, rugged routes that proved tough for the gangly legs of the camels.
Majrin said this meant paying extra attention so that the animals -- ridden and used to carry provisions only some of the way -- wouldn't come to harm.
"Even for us it was hard breathing and there was snow, but we took care of the camels to protect them from cold," he recalls.

Team effort

Cool for camels: The desert-dwelling beasts endured the rigors of Kilimanjaro.
Courtesy Emirates Travellers
"When we reached the top we didn't celebrate too much as we knew going back wouldn't be easy because the camel has long legs."
With patience and the expertise of local guides and porters, the Emirates team made it up and back to the park entrance with no casualties.
"It was a unique experience and a really nice feeling to make it," says Majrin.
"We didn't think it would be so difficult, but when you do a trip, it is in your blood, even if you think you should stop."
Kilimanjaro was hailed a success for Emirates Travellers, started in 1996 with Majrin as team leader, and the annual Dubai Travellers Festival, of which he is committee president.
In fact, it was during a previous festival meet that Majrin was inspired to climb with camels, having invited Ahmad to join other adventurers to discuss past expeditions.
"This guy wanted to do Africa by camel," recalls Majrin. "He was traveling Asia and some Arabic countries and he told me of his dream.
"The camel is connected to our culture, so we spoke with the Crown Prince's office and they supported him. We, as a team, organized the trip, and we visited him in Ethiopia to give him motivation.
"In one year he covered 9,000 kilometers from Yemen to South Africa with a camel and got a world record."

Africa by camel

YouTube documentary "Africa by Camel" shows the challenges Ahmad confronted in 2013, including being shot at in lawless parts of Africa and attacked by a hyena while sleeping.
Ahmad's tale may have inspired Majrin but the Emirati had actually previously chalked up his own first -- by leading an Arab team on a drive around the world by car.
"When you start an idea most people say 'don't dream too much'," says Majrin of the epic journey.
"Some people said 'you cannot do it'. But I started meeting with friends and they liked the idea. It was a mission for a group of Emiratis to go around the world, to take a peace message and make relations with each country we drove through."
Starting from UAE capital Abu Dhabi, the 4x4s crossed the Middle East to Turkey and Greece before shipping to Italy for wider Europe.
In Geneva they met the late Sheikh Zayed (founder of the UAE) and he ordered all UAE embassies to support the team.
That historic trip took several stages staggered over six years in the late 1990s/early 2000s and produced a book and exhibitions to inspire those back home.
But Majrin's appetite for adventure wasn't satiated, not least because of stories imparted by other travelers encountered while crisscrossing continents.

Desert destination

"It was a unique experience and a really nice feeling to make it," says Majrin.
Courtesy Emirates Travellers
"We met many, shared experiences and kept in touch, and we came up with the idea of having a festival with all those people in Dubai."
The first festival convened in 2012 and has followed each December. The number of adventurers invited each year has become bigger and more diverse, with audiences growing to the thousands.
Having evaluated each candidate, festival organizers fund their flights and accommodation in the emirate. This year it takes place from December 16 to 19 in a desert location to be confirmed.
Initially Majrin's colleagues had to seek out participants.
Word has since spread as the festival provides a popular platform for all to relive adventures publicly.
Majrin has photographs featuring previous attendees, ranging from a Russian man who cycled for 21 years around the world and a South African who crossed the planet by Microlite, to an English woman who motorcycled from London to Cape Town, and from North America to South America solo.
There's a smiling American man who rode a horse from South to North America over six years.
Another photograph shows an Argentinian husband and wife team who drove a classic car for 14 years around the world, producing four kids along the way.
A French guy gave details of his solo sail from Bangladesh to France as did a Canadian man who spent 11 years walking around the world.

'Crazy, but happy'

The festival has previously hosted a man who rode horses from Mongolia to Hungary in two years and a Malaysian teacher who in his 70s cycled from Malaysia to London.
"Most travelers... There is no place gathering them to share experiences," says Majrin, who offers the chance for attendees to exhibit photos and address an audience.
"People were excited to listen to their stories, and the travelers were happy to meet each other. You look at their ideas and they seem unique, crazy, but when they come here, they are happy that their achievement is appreciated."
Majrin remains a keen traveler, but is happy organizing the treks, climbs and walks of others -- such as motorcycle group Dubai Riders, planning to ride from Cape Town to Dubai -- and the festival.
"All those people with their achievements... Imagine sitting with them. Most travelers I ask the same question, I get the same answer.
"You see a guy going around the world and ask 'why do you do it?' He says 'I just want to be away from everything and discover'."
Majrin glances at the globe on his desk and adds: "It will not make them rich, but they will be richer inside."
Watch the film "Climbing Kilimanjaro by Camel" at http://bit.ly/1DaJjZn
See "Africa by Camel" at http://bit.ly/1H23p2Z
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