Over July and August, Ammar Al Badi walked around the entire island of Ireland. An Omani engineering student who's been living in Dublin for several years, Ammar, 23, completed his solo journey of over 2000km in just 40 days. That's an average daily distance of 50km! We tracked him down to find out more.
"I just went for a walk..."
Looks an amazing journey: what inspired the idea?
I don't really know what inspired me. It just came to my head when I was in my last two weeks of my internship here in Dublin. I wanted to do something that I will remember for the rest of my life. I was a member of the DCU hiking Society for three years and a member of DCU running club for a year. I just like walking. I love meeting new people from all around. And I just love the country, and this summer might be my last summer [here] since I'm starting my last year in DCU in September. So, I just went for a walk.
How much walking had you done in Ireland before this?
I chose to come to study in Ireland for no particular reason and I'll never regret this decision in my life. I used to go for day hikes with the DCU hiking Society - Dingle, Kerry, West Port and other places. It wasn't really long hikes; 5-8 hour days. But I think it really all started three years ago; I used to do volunteering work in an equestrian centre in Coleraine in Northern Ireland. One weekend I took the train to Derry. On my last day in Derry I couldn't catch my train and I didn't want to wait for three hours, so I walked back from Derry to Coleraine. It was 50km and took me 10 hours. Since then, I've liked long distance walking.
What kind of daily distances were you managing?
I did 2016km in 40 days; an average of 50km a day. There were days where I walked less and days I walked more depending on the weather and the way. The longest I walked in a day was 75km and the lowest was 32km.
My route was: Dublin-Laytown-Slieve Foy-Belfast-Whitehead-Slemish Mountain-Portrush-Limavady-Letterkenny-Donegal-Bundoran-Sligo-Easky-Ballina-Westport-Leenane-Doonreagan-Galway-keelhilla-Lahinch-Ennis-Adare-Tarbert-Tralee-Dingle-Killorglin-Cahersiveen-Waterville-Templeone- Bantry-Rosscarberry-Kinsale-Cork-Youghal-Dungravan-Waterford-Wexford-Courtown-Arklow-Greystones-Dublin
Where did you sleep?
I stayed in Hostels and B&Bs, but mostly in campsites. There were also days when I couldn't find a place or it got so dark before I got to my final destination that I stayed in people's farms after I asked them. Once on top of a mountain in the Burren, once or twice on a beach and twice in a forest.
How was the weather, in general?
It was Irish! Though I did get a tan over my original!
What were some of the difficulties of such a long walk, and had you anticipated them before starting?
The walk itself was one of the biggest challenges of my life. Continuing to walk day after day without a day stop was a big challenge. It was hard to wake up early in the morning and start a long hard walk after I just finished one the last night. Some days, I suffered painful feet from the first step, but I kept going til I got used to the pain. And the weight that I was carrying in my rucksack was a pain on the back, but I tried to balance it to minimise the [discomfort].
I've walked on hard inclines. I've climbed mountains. I've walked in lakes and in the Atlantic! I've had a 12-hour shower ...and 12 hours of sunshine. It was hard but the people that I met and the landscapes that I've seen made it easier. It was long and tough, but now I can rest and enjoy it and remember it and tell stories about it for longer.
Did you enjoy every step of the journey, or were there times when you questioned what you were doing?
Before I started my walk, I was offered to stay two more months in my internship placement and also offered work with a company here in Ireland in an engineering related position. I turned both these offers down. I knew that I won't have the time in the future to walk around the country because next summer I'll graduate and I'll be hunting for a job. This summer was my last and only chance to live [the dream]; walking around the Emerald Isle.
What, for you, is the special attraction of travelling slowly through a country on foot?
When you walk through, across or around a country you get the chance to see things you can't see when travelling by car or bike. You get the advantage of meeting more local people, and seeing stunning landscapes. And you will have a nice long story behind every picture you take. On the other hand, travelling by bus, car or bike can save you a lot of time, you get to see more and enjoy more in less time. But the stories are easy come and easy go!
Of all the new places you must have discovered as you travelled through, do you have any particular favourites?
It was all great. Maybe the weather and the people I met made some places more special than others. But I'll give it to Kerry and its amazing ring.
How did your impression of Ireland and its people develop as you went along?
In Arabic we say it just kept becoming bigger and bigger in my eyes! Since I came to Ireland I just knew friendly, welcoming people and a great history and country. On the walk all the people I met were friendly and welcoming too! And on my way I met people from all around the world, and they seemed to love the country too.
Do you feel you have changed as a person?
Yes, a lot!
- All photos copyright Ammar Al Badi