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Abdulaziz “Aziz Walks” Al-Nemer : “Nature was really therapeutic to me”

We recently spent an hour with Saudi eco-tourism guide Abdulaziz Al-Nemer, an inspiring man who managed to overcome his depression by reconnecting with nature as part of a healing process that took him on the roads of one of the longest treks there is: the Pacific Crest Trail. 

Listen to Aziz’s full story here:

Abdulaziz Al-Nemer was born some 30 years ago in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. Being from a very flat region, he hardly ever had any experience with nature aside from the beach and the sand dunes in his youth.

After graduating high school, “Aziz” as he now goes by, entered university in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona. First glance at the mountains surrounding the city, first attraction, maybe the premise of what would later become the passion & occupation of this young boy with still much to discover about the world.

Struggling with depression

Unfortunately, the first days, months, and weeks of school don’t go as planned. The dorm lifestyle inherent to university life in the U.S doesn’t match with Aziz’s personality, who has a hard time blending in. Feeling uncomfortable, Aziz starts skipping classes, his grades drop.

After getting called in by the University bureau, he gets advised that he is suffering from depression and should take some medication. Yet, as young as he is at the time, he feels like modern medicine isn’t the answer to his problems and turns to sports. Quickly, lifting weights at the gym and going for runs boost his fitness at a level where it’s no longer enough. That’s when he turns to trekking and hiking.

Nature as a cure

At first, he goes on short treks. But going up the local mountain for a few hours to see the sunset quickly turns into day-hikes, weekend hikes, week-long hikes even. As a direct result, his grades start improving and the young student ends up graduating with honors. “You can definitely say that nature was therapeutic to me”he says. 

Back to his home country, Aziz gets his first job, which provides him with enough money to go on trips around the world. Still, after a while, he grows weary of the office lifestyle: “I ended up quitting my job because I was feeling unhappy and felt a call from the great outdoors” he says. That’s when he decides to go on one of the biggest adventures one can ever hope for: completing the Pacific Crest Trail, one of the longest hiking trails there is.

A once-in-a-lifetime experience

It goes from California, U.S.A, to British Columbia, Canada, and takes you to different portions in very different environments: desert, forest, mountains, and so on. Along the way, Aziz struggles but he soldiers on: “I thought about quitting a million times. They say going on such a trek makes you discover the meaning of life but I don’t think that’s true. Usually, you think about the bare necessities you need to survive. Food, water. I used to think about ice cream a lot. It may seem shallow but that’s how it is”.

Pragmatic, the Saudi adventurer, who goes by Ramen Shaman in his wild travels -an opportunity to “reinvent yourself” in his own words- also faces loneliness. “In some parts, like the desert, all the hikers hover around the same places, the water sources, so it is fun, you make a lot of great acquaintances. But in some others, you are alone for long periods of time, and you need to be able to deal with it. You also have no cell phone service, so you can truly feel isolated”.

Switching trades for good

Needless to say, after such an adventure, going back to office life was nearly impossible. On the contrary, it was way more in touch with his aspirations to undergo training to become an eco-tourism guide and live off his passion. So he did…

With a certification from the “Leave no trace” collective, he is now able to take people on trips around his home country. And it seems like the eco-tourism business is booming in Saudi Arabia. After all, the country is now open to tourism and has many amazing landscapes for visitors from in and out of the country to discover. On top of that, “Aziz walks” the Instagram page where our guest documents his travels, grew quite successful. Truly, an inspiring story if we’ve ever heard any!