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RIYAD: Driving through the Empty Quarter in Saudi Arabia is a feat in itself, but crossing it on a camel in the 21st century is extraordinary, and photographer Anna Aiko is ready for the whole experience as she travels through the Kingdom. , the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and the Silk Road this way.

“My dream was to explore the region on the back of a camel, but the question was how? said Aiko.

When asked how she would describe herself, Aiko told Arab News: “An iPhone photographer with a passion for camel travel.”

In the mid-1970s, Aiko’s parents lived in Saudi Arabia. Throughout her childhood she listened to their stories about the area and came to love it. (Provided by Abdullatif Al-Obaida)

Aiko was born and raised between two cultures.

“I was born in Tokyo and grew up between Japan and France. I then moved to Paris for 20 years as an artistic director in the fashion and luxury industries.

In the mid-1970s, Aiko’s parents lived in Saudi Arabia. Throughout her childhood she listened to their stories about the area and came to love it.

“The Arab world has become like a fairy tale,” she said. “With this mix of cultures, I could see the world with a vision.”

Aiko has always had a passion for travel, and one of the main trips she took saw her following the old Silk Road path in 2015. During the trip, she took photos with her iPhone, which led her to win, among other prizes. , the iPhone Photography Awards.

The year 2019, when she passed through the Empty Quarter, known as Rub Al-Khali in Arabic, was a turning point in her life.

“A friend told me he was looking for a man who wanted to cross the empty neighborhood on the back of a camel,” she said. “Although I didn’t know how to ride a camel, I told him I wanted to be the one to do it, and 72 hours later I flew to Saudi Arabia to join the Rakayib Camel Caravan to cross the vast desert. “

Even though her journey started with a sandstorm, she was overjoyed, and that’s when her love affair with the Arabian Peninsula began.

“I cried with joy because something impossible was coming true. I was living my dream.

Her passion for camel travel has only grown, and today Aiko owns two magnificent camels.

“Exploring the beauty of the Arabian Peninsula in this way never ceases to amaze me,” she said.

The trip covered a total of 2,400 km. In the United Arab Emirates, she traveled with the Hamdan bin Mohammed Heritage Center, while on Socotra Island, Yemen, she traveled with the support of the Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan Foundation.

Recently, Aiko was invited to the celebration of Saudi Arabia’s 91st National Day. She was chosen to travel 91 km of the ancient Darb Zubaydah trail on the back of a camel.

Darb Zubaydah, or the Zubaydah Trail, is one of the most important humanitarian and social projects in Islamic civilization. It stretches from Koufa in Iraq to Mecca, covering 420 km inside the kingdom alone, and was once known as a route for pilgrims and traders.

The trail was named after Zubaydah bin Jafar, wife of Caliph Harun Al-Rashid, who helped build and revive it for convoys and passers-by.

“The region of Hail, since Antiquity, was the heart of travelers, and the generosity of its inhabitants was renowned. When I discovered this new part of Arabia, I had tears in my eyes. The landscapes of the region, the sand dunes, the desert, the mountains and the rock art are remarkable.

She mentions that she plans to take some trips in the future. “I am confident that life will guide me to the next step, to create a new connection between its stories, like a puzzle.

One of Aiko’s goals is to convey the beauty of the Arabian Peninsula through her travels.

“I have been passionate about the beauty of the Arab world for as long as I can remember. I love traveling on camels while capturing the authentic life along the ancient caravan trails.

She remarked how surprised she was at the “hidden beauty” of the countries in the region.

“As a woman riding a camel, I have always been welcomed as a member of the family. It allowed me to participate in the culture, which deserves to be better known. I hope my experience as an art director allows me to translate the stories through my photography and preserve the beauty of the region as the 21st century continues to unfold.