The desert of Oman is genuine wilderness; the silence incredibly powerful; it is a wonderful, spiritual place, a place to empty your mind, to put things in perspective, discover yourself, and other cultures.
We run two types of journeys; those that follow In the Footsteps of ... the famous desert explorers Bertram Thomas, and Wilfred Thesiger, and those that focus on promoting intercultural dialogue between young people from the western and Arab world. These journeys, called Connecting Cultures, are endorsed by UNESCO.
In the Footsteps of .... journeys are truly educational, cultural experiences, and are suitable for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness, and an enthusiasm for the outdoors; we love sharing our knowledge and passion for the desert wildlife, landscape and people, where we use the stars and centuries old instruments called Astrolabes and Nocturnals to work out the time. Amongst other things, you will learn how to bake bread under the sand, and how to navigate by the night sky and the sun. We use camels, sleep on the sand, live off dates, sand bread and Omani honey, drink cardoman infused coffee and relax around a frankincense fire at night under the desert stars.
For most of our journeys we use a sand sea called the Sharqiya (Eastern) Sands, an area the size of Wales, and some 3 hours drive south-east from the capital city, Muscat. Whilst Thomas and Thesiger and best known for their crossings of the Empty Quarter, both men spent extended periods of time exploring Oman, and both visited the Sharqiya Sands. Here, the dunes reach 100 m in height, and the area was the subject of an intensive three year survey by the Royal Geographical Society in the mid-1980s. The proximity to the Arabian Sea leads to a regular dew appearing, providing much needed airborne moisture, and creating a desert that has significantly more life than first appears. The RGS survey identified 150 species of plant, 200 species of birds, amphibians and reptiles, in addition to a staggering 16,000 invertebrates.
Connecting Cultures, established in London in 2004, is recognised by the United Nations Alliance of Civilisations as one of the world's leading and most innovative civil society projects addressing the issue of intercultural dialogue between young people.
Endorsed by UNESCO in Paris and Doha, and working in close partnership with the Ministry of Education in Oman, Connecting Cultures takes groups of young people from the western and Arab world on intensive, five day journeys into the desert of Oman.
In an environment where mobile phones do not work, the young people are able to engage in undisturbed face to face dialogue, identifying shared values and exploring cultural differences. Connecting Cultures targets young people aged 17-24 who are potential future leaders and opinion formers in society.
At Connecting Cultures we believe that our programme is far more powerful than conference based workshops and internet based programmes. The wilderness experience is far removed from the cultural influences of our daily lives, and strips participants of the normal social basis for personal identitiy. In the absence of masks, peer pressure and doors to hide behind, participants must confront themselves. The desert is socially ambiguous; status differences soon dissolve, and candid interactions occur. Stories are told, secrets revealed and pains shared, encouraged by the trust developed through the cooperation required on a mutual journey.
For details of our next 'In the Footspteps of .. ' expedition, due to take place in the winter of 2012/2013, click here.