Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Endings and Beginnings

2017 has ended. I have lived through enough new year's eves to know nothing special will magically materialize and this is not really a new beginning of anything. It is just another tomorrow. 

But I have also lived through one amazing 2017 that taught me you can make new beginnings happen at any point in time not just in January. Mine took place this past August and it was truly my own little revolution. 

For some years now, I have been numb. It may not have been obvious because I smile and laugh a lot and people around me tend to think I am this light, happy person. A big part of me is.

But there also is this hole inside my chest that has been driving me insane. I managed to put some of that anxiety into words and I am still working hard on fixing what needs to be fixed. There is no magic pill, it will take whatever time it takes. 

But somehow this past summer something shifted. Something that made me want to start working on myself and address my pain in a constructive manner. Something made me want to get out of that hole. 

I was back home in Lebanon where we spend our summers in the mountains of Ehden and my brother came from Dubai with a group of friends. He asked me to sort out some activities for them and I thought, well, why not join them. I had always wanted to do these things and kept putting them off for some reason. Laziness. Routine. No one to join me. Who knows. But now, a group of fun people were coming over and I did not have to go by myself (which was never going to happen). And so I did. 

I jumped off a cliff. And I flew. 

It was the most liberating feeling I had ever felt. 

And in an instant, I started thinking of all the things I had wanted to do and kept postponing and I began to wonder why. Flying is probably one of the hardest and there I was, above the mountains. Happy and at peace and nothing dramatic had happened. I was still alive. More than ever before in fact. And it was all so simple. It was just pure organic perfection. 

And so it begun. A series of challenges and little victories ensued and changed everything I was and who I decided to become. 

I could not leave Ehden before flying one more time and upon my return to Dubai, I hunted for paragliding in the UAE too. 

A post shared by Rouba Abouzeid (@abouzeid) on

Nothing compares to that state of being and mind. 

My therapist calls this event, my little revolution. I think she could not be more spot on! She accurately summed it all up with a couple of charming and beautiful words that seem to be just that but which carry in actuality so much more weight and significance.  

A series of challenges and little victories

Following on my summer resolution to kick my butt into shape, I registered for Spartan, an Obstacle Course Race that promised to drag me in the mud. Never in a million years would I have ever dared of fantasizing about such a challenge. But I did follow through and... 

I did it!

Ok, that is not really my victory photo.

These are:

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The reason why I took on this challenge in the first place was my son, Jad and the hopes of one day completing a Special Spartan with him. I did use my tiny spotlight to highlight Autism and hopefully, will be doing more in 2018 in that respect.

To get me mentally and physically ready for such a challenge I enlisted my very own army: Coach Youssef in Lebanon who started me on the right path and kept pushing me to trust myself.

All the while, I researched my options in Dubai to be able to pick up quickly once back home and was lucky to find The Core Coach, Ieuan Evans. His dedication is unparalleled and he started working with me remotely, before we had even met which truly impressed me and gave him a definite edge when I was selecting a coach. He sent me a couple of challenges to complete while in Lebanon and got me wanting more! By the time we got to the race, he had turned me into a Spartan beast! Well, not really. I am still my regular mortal self but I am training hard and his program is absolutely fantastic. He incorporates fun fitness elements in an otherwise boring workout (at least to the lazy couch potato that I am) and I have loved getting to try new disciplines like kickboxing, pilates and crossfit.

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Photo by The Core Coach - Ieuan Evans
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While in Lebanon, I also explored new ways to challenge myself and went hiking in Ehden's natural reserve with some friends and Coach Youssef who turned from trainer to true friend and kept supporting me in every endeavor. The Reserve was such a treat I could not believe I kept postponing it every summer!

I also undertook my very first cross-country walk down from my hometown in Ehden to Zgharta to celebrate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. The hike took five hours for a good 30+ kilometers on foot. It was excruciating and I powered through two missed steps and ankle injuries but I was so proud in the end. The littlest victories can be the most rewarding!

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And of course, I could not have returned to Dubai without trying the fun mountain activities first. From a road trip to Qurnat As Sawda, the highest peak in the region where we found snow in the middle of summer, to zip lining in the Reserve... I did it all in a few weeks time! Talk about compensating for lost years!

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A post shared by Rouba Abouzeid (@abouzeid) on

Dubai also gave me new flying sensations with an amazing jump above The Palm thanks to the brilliant guys at SkyDive Dubai! Yes, I took the ultimate leap and jumped off a plane. It appears the insanity will not cease any time soon!

And because the outdoors suddenly became my best friend in the summer, I also looked for options in the UAE where I could challenge myself with each event and hopefully reach new heights, both mentally and in actuality, by hiking in the mountains of Ras Al Khaimah. This is how I met the amazing people at Adventurati Outdoor. I loved them so much, I went on three consecutive hikes in the hottest months in the UAE and moved from beginners to intermediate level in no time. But they deserve their own post, so I will just keep the details for another time.

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In so many ways, 2017 was one revolutionary year and it was all mine.
I cannot wait to see what 2018 brings.
Or rather, what I will bring in 2018!

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Fly high above the desert

Some things cannot be stopped. 
And flying seems to be one of those things.

I was told it would be addictive. I had not realized it would be that compelling. 

I may have said it before, but I will say it again: flying is a different kind of high. It is a calming, relaxing, peaceful elation. And I happen to need that sort of unwinding these days. 

So as planned, I looked up paragliding in Dubai and found a fantastic group on Facebook: Dubai Paragliders. These guys happen to be some of the nicest and fun people out there! 

5am, in my car :)
Photo: R. Abouzeid

Like a proper addict, I woke up at 5am, in the dark, got ready and drove for over an hour to get to that take-off site in the desert. Crazy? Not really because it ended up being such a treat! Worth every minute I spent in my car in the dark. Bonus suprise: I got a fantastic view of the sun rising over the highway. Priceless. 

The site is actually Real Expeditions' camp. 

Arriving at the camp
Photo: R. Abouzeid

They do much more than just paragliding there and they are in the process of adding new activities which sound absolutely fantastic! Aside from your regular hiking and camping, there will be horseback riding around some beautiful surroundings. All of which are kids and family friendly which is exactly what I love to hear!

Posing. Just because. LOL
Photo: R. Abouzeid

At the camp, I got to meet all the guys and Captain Tamás who was gearing up for three tandem flights that morning. He is a seasoned pilot with years of experience under his belt both in aircraft and paragliding flights.

Getting ready to fly
Photo: R. Abouzeid

The take off site sits in the beautiful desert of Sharjah, where a rocky mountain called Fossil Rock overlooks endless dunes of the most beautiful orange sand. This would be a once in a lifetime experience for any paraglider as usually, the natural settings for this sport is radically different.

Photo: R. Abouzeid

Photo: R. Abouzeid

Photo: R. Abouzeid

Photo: R. Abouzeid

Photo: R. Abouzeid

Photo: R. Abouzeid

Photo: R. Abouzeid

Photo: R. Abouzeid

Photo: R. Abouzeid

We were lucky that morning, the wind was on side and we managed to fly for a decent time. To be fair, with mediocre weather conditions in Ehden, some of us could only fly for about 15 minutes so I guess, if we managed that same duration in the UAE, that was quite rewarding.

I was particularly fortunate as when it was my turn, the wind  conditions allowed us to go a bit higher and even play a little bit. I will not say we went as far as venturing into air acrobatics (my stomach remains grateful) but Tamás did go a little wild and, well, I think the video speaks for itself (I apologize for the high pitch screaming. ahem).

Spinning over the Dunes
Video: R. Abouzeid

Captain on top of things!
Photo: R. Abouzeid
Almost ready to let go of the winch way down below!
Photo: R. Abouzeid

Chilling up above
Photo: R. Abouzeid

No feeling like flying!
Photo: R. Abouzeid

Overall, the experience was fantastic and I am now more and more inclined to take lessons. Tandem is fun but it is not a sustainable flying routine and I think I will have to explore how and when I can commit to some serious paragliding classes.

If you too are interested in exploring the desert or flying in the UAE, get in touch with these guys! They will take good care of you and I promise you will go home with exceptional memories.

The complete album of my morning with them is available on Facebook. 

Dubai Paragliders
Real Expeditions
Call: +971.56.5452588
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Instagram: Dubai Paragliders & Real Expeditions

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