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Thu 19 Mar 2015 10:21 AM

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Review: Bear Grylls survival course in Dubai

The British adventurer has launched an academy that includes a night in the rough terrain of the Dibba mountains

Review: Bear Grylls survival course in Dubai

Bear Grylls, the British adventurer, has become the poster boy for all things outdoors. Through his TV shows including Running Wild, Man vs. Wild and Get Out Alive, in which he parachutes out of helicopters into some of the planet’s most hostile terrains and survives by doing whatever is necessary (such as drinking his own filtered urine, wearing a seal skin wetsuit and eating raw snake – yes, he actually does those things).

And he’s made learning survival skills cool, not crazy (well, just a little crazy). So when the Bear Grylls Survival Academy launched its new 24-hour courses with adventures based in the mountains of Dibba, just a two-hour drive from Dubai, we had to check it out.

With limited survival nous – and having watched way too much Man vs. Wild – we arrive at the adventure centre expecting to be abandoned in the mountains to forage for grubs and shelter in caves. Admittedly, we were a little disappointed when our guides assured us that it wouldn’t be quite that extreme.

After meeting all the fellow adventurers, our 24 hours begin with a safety briefing and introduction to the team who would instruct us. ‘Everything we do here is dangerous,’ says our guide Chris. ‘This is a dangerous place and dangerous things can happen.’ Our first lesson is about the basic priorities of surviving in any environment. ‘Please Remember What’s First’, a mnemonic for Protection, Rescue, Water, Food, formed the basis of what we would learn that day – how to protect ourselves from the elements, make shelters and identify a suitable campsite, find and clean water, and find sustenance. The briefing was the only lesson we had that wasn’t outside. And afterwards, we were quickly issued our backpacks with just 20 minutes to repack, leave our luxuries behind and make for the mountains ahead.

Approaching the huge rocky expanse up ahead, the trek seemed impassable, but as our guides showed us how to climb and traverse safely, we learned how to stead our footing. The hike was about 3km in total. Not a tremendously long way, but over loose rock and boulders, it feels longer. Our guides took the opportunity to teach us a new skill along the way. They taught us how to use knives to shave kindling, which is necessary for starting fires, and how to split wood. Every few kilometres we’d take the weight off our backs and hydrate, and take in a new lesson such as tying knots, first aid and how to find and purify water.

We made stretchers from hiking sticks and a long-sleeved shirt, made water filters and used our backpacks to help carry people out in case of injury.

Learning new skills and putting them into practice while trekking is great. Anything can happen in the wild – you just hope it doesn’t. Our guide Luke took us to the heart of a wadi bed to demonstrate rope tying and climbing, when we saw, on the rocky edges, that a hill goat had died of a fatal accident. While it was unpleasant to see, it was also a reminder that even those who are adapted to this environment need to take extra care.

Before evening fell, we made our way back to camp to set up our mosquito net shelters while there was still light. Our guides then taught us how to build social fires that we could gather around, and how to build a fire that we could cook on. There’s something primitive and instinctive about creating a fire that resonates in everyone.

We were given raw fish to gut, chicken to butcher and vegetables to chop, and we cooked our meal from scratch over a fire sparked by steel wool and a lithium battery. You’re never left to ‘survive’ all on your own, but the course gives you the tools to know what to do if you had to, and that does warm you with a sense of achievement. Amer Saddiq Abusido, another participant of the course who runs a family business in Dubai and had done some trekking and camping before, but never taken a structured course, says, ‘I expected it to be much tougher. I thought they would give us hints on how to find water and survive out there, or drop us there, leaving us to find a certain position the next day. I didn’t expect it to be as easy as it was. I learned a lot of things that I didn’t know, such as how to tie different knots in rope, but I expected it to be much tougher.’

In the morning we set out for home and had to hike, run, abseil, crawl and zip line out of the wadi. The latter part of the 24 hours was far more physically demanding than the first, and a role play first aid emergency added extra drama.

Nadeen Aujan, a part-time chef in London and Dubai, heard about the course from friends in the UK and scheduled participation into her trip to Dubai. ‘I think everyone should know survival skills; building a fire, shelter, first aid, how to make black smoke to get people’s attention when you don’t have a mobile phone. Unfortunately none of us do because we live in cities and everything is there for us. I had done hiking before, but nothing like this. If I do any hiking again, I’d be much more prepared and at ease in case of emergencies.’

We all survived the 24 hours and made it back to civilisation with sore thighs and a handful of new skills – without having to eat raw snake.

Details: AED2,024 ($551) for the 24-hour adult survival course. www.beargryllssurvivalacademy.com (04 392 6463).

* This review was originally published by TimeOut Dubai.

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