This Italian Explorer Is Attempting To Walk 1200km Across The Arab Desert

19 January 2020
Culture, Max Calderan, Italian, Explorer, Arab, Desert, Lifestyle, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen
Max Calderan has begun his crossing of the Empty Quarter, Rub al Khail, from west to east

The explorer Max Calderan has begun a new adventure today, breaking one the cardinal rules of life in the Middle East: attempting to walk anywhere.

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But for extreme desert explorer Calderan, walking is the only mode of transport for him. To prove it, he set out yesterday on a 1200 km trek across Rub ‘al Khail and a section of enormous sand that has never been explored before.

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Known as the Empty Quarter, Rub al Khali is a 650,000sq km desert which covers parts of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen. Islamic tradition holds that it contains the ruins of a great lost civilisation – the Atlantis of the Sands. The Holy Qur’an refers to a city called Erum of the Pillars, a place unlike any other ever created by man. Destroyed by a natural disaster sent as punishment by Allah, it apparently still lies buried somewhere beneath the sand.

Crossing from west to east, Calderan will cover the full length of this barren desert on his own. And with good reason. Dunes up to sixty storeys high, blinding sand storms, poisonous snakes, spiders, scorpions and extreme heat make it not a particularly inviting place to be. Even migrating birds take a detour around it.

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The first recorded crossings by non-locals date back to the 1930s when British explorers Bertram Thomas and St John Philby crossed the sand. Latterly Alastair Humphreys and Leon McCarron pulled a sled from Salalah to Dubai and in 2012, Hajar Ali became to the first woman ever recorded making a crossing.

Calderon’s attempt will be an almost entirely solo effort. Carrying enough food and water to sustain him for 450km stretches of his journey, the Italian is entirely without support vehicles, and is simply walking the desert, solo.

Setting off from Najran yesterday, 880km outside of Riyadh, Calderan expects the journey to take around 20 days but ahead of his journey he said he was confident.

“It’s always strange before I leave. I feel as if I’m a witness rather than the explorer. I don’t believe it’s me. Until I set foot on that sand and get started, I am an ordinary man but as soon as I start and my feet hit the sand, I change immediately.”

Having already run for 90 without stopping through Oman (covering 437km) or crossing the 365km Wahiba sands in summer, Calderan clearly isn’t phased by sun or sand. Indeed, research into his physiology shows that he produces less cortisol, the hormone responsible for stress, than the average human. In short, he’s a chill dude.

Calderan will be making a documentary film of his expedition to help highlight the dangers of climate change in the place they’re already felt the hardest. Climate scientists warn that by 2050, more than 25 percent of the Earth will experience serious drought and ‘desertification’, transforming places into drylands that are no longer habitable. More than 80 percent of these areas will be in developing countries already grappling with severe food shortages.

You can follow Calderan’s progress via his official website.