Explorer saw nature’s sheer beauty and power in Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter

Explorer saw nature’s sheer beauty and power in Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter
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The Dubai-based Italian explorer Max Calderan crossed the vast, empty, undulating sand dunes of the Rub Al-Khali desert, the so-called Empty Quarter in the east of Saudi Arabia, on foot via an unexplored route. (Empty Quarter Studios)
Explorer saw nature’s sheer beauty and power in Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter
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The Dubai-based Italian explorer Max Calderan crossed the vast, empty, undulating sand dunes of the Rub Al-Khali desert, the so-called Empty Quarter in the east of Saudi Arabia, on foot via an unexplored route. (Empty Quarter Studios)
Explorer saw nature’s sheer beauty and power in Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter
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The Dubai-based Italian explorer Max Calderan crossed the vast, empty, undulating sand dunes of the Rub Al-Khali desert, the so-called Empty Quarter in the east of Saudi Arabia, on foot via an unexplored route. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 05 February 2020

Explorer saw nature’s sheer beauty and power in Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter

Explorer saw nature’s sheer beauty and power in Saudi Arabia’s Empty Quarter
  • Max Calderan has joined famous group of men who have crossed Rub Al-Khali desert
  • Calderan completed his 16-day journey on foot using unexplored West-East route

DUBAI: Rub Al-Khali, also known as the Empty Quarter, is the world’s largest uninterrupted sand mass, encompassing most of the southern third of the Arabian Peninsula.

It is a landscape of ever-changing endless dunes made famous by expeditions undertaken between the 1930s and 1950s by Bertram Thomas, Wilfred Thesiger and their Arab companions. Max Calderan, a long-time Dubai resident originally from Italy, has just become the latest man to join that famous group.

Previous explorers are known to have crossed shorter sections of Rub Al-Khali on camels or in off-road vehicles, whereas Calderan completed his journey on foot via an unexplored route.

With his latest feat, Calderan has realized at once a lifelong ambition and, as he puts it, “the dream,” not “a dream.” For the compulsive record-setter, the journey was also a humbling reminder of nature’s awesome power and beauty.

The father of three — and soon-to-be father of four — set off on his 16-day Empty Quarter expedition on Jan. 18 in Saudi Arabia, from Najran, located 880 km from Riyadh.

His plan was to cross on foot one of the world’s hottest and most-brutal deserts, one that covers about 650,000 square km and includes parts of Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE and Yemen.

“When I was only seven years old in 1974, I was reading the encyclopedia where it was written that Saudi Arabia’s Rub Al-Khali is the biggest sand desert around the world,” Calderan recalled during an exclusive interview with Arab News.

“No camels could enter that part of the desert, there was no water and even migratory birds were making diversions.

“So, I drew a picture and told my mother that I would be the first man to enter that area and understand why camels can’t. And on that day, I had a dream of an older man, just like me now, walking alone in the Empty Quarter.”

Calderan’s dream came true when he trekked through 1,100 km of desert from west to east, covering over 800 km of “virgin territory” armed with little more than a backpack and a sleeping bag.

He said on most days he trekked for an average of 18 hours in temperatures that ranged from 2.7 degrees Celsius in the early hours of the morning to 35 degrees Celsius during the daytime.

He routinely woke up at 1:30 a.m. and began his exploration in the darkness by 2 a.m., venturing out into the desert to cover about 80 km before setting up his sleeping bag for another night under the stars, often between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

Despite planning 67 meeting points along his route, each 18km apart, his support team, which traveled by car and supplied him with food and water, was unable to ensure their paths crossed on a daily basis due to unpredictable weather conditions and diversions.

So Calderan’s exact location was tracked through his satellite phone every 15 minutes by a team based in London that oversaw his entire expedition.

FASTFACT

Rub Al-Khali is part of the larger Arabian Desert, covering 650,000 sq km and including parts of Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE and Yemen.

“From my previous experience, I was best prepared — and had the capability to stay totally alone in the desert — when I had enough food and water in my backpack to last at least 250 km,” he said.

About 200 km into his journey, Calderan encountered a community that he referred to as “original, pure and genuine Bedouin tribes.

“I stopped several times to talk to them because I needed as much information as possible about Rub Al-Khali, as what had been written in the books was not totally accurate,” he said.

He was advised to take either the north or south route across the Empty Quarter since these had been previously explored.

The tribesmen tried to convince him that walking straight down the middle of the largest continuous sand desert on Earth was extremely “unsafe” and nearly “impossible,” Calderan said.

“They said: ‘You have to understand that the more you will move ahead, the less you will find animals, trees and water. There’s nothing there.’”

Calderan said he remained undeterred by the tribes’ advice, having made up his mind to stay the course even as he began what he described as a “spiritual conversation with mother nature.”

He told Arab News: “I asked permission from Rub Al-Khali. “I said: ‘Please let me go inside, let me explore your land.’

“The desert replied: ‘Now I will gift you something so you can start to understand who I am.’”

After watching a beautiful sunset, Calderan was caught in a severe sandstorm and was unable to meet his support team at the next agreed point.

“During the sandstorm, you couldn’t see more than two meters in any direction,” he said.




It took Max Calderan 16 days to cross the Empty Quarter. (Photo by Max Calderan/Empty Quarter Studios)

“If you took seven steps and turned around, you could just about see your fifth footstep and, for sure, your seventh would be gone.”

Once the storm had passed, Calderan said he once again called out to nature.

“Dear Rub Al-Khali, I now understand your power,” he said as he as he ventured into a terrain that, to this day, has stayed largely out of humanity’s sight.

Calderan said the landscape was now barren and the silence was deafening.

“This section of the desert was totally empty,” he recalled.

“I didn’t see a single animal track. I didn’t see any other footprints or camel waste. I didn’t even see or hear the sound of an aircraft in the sky.

“If I tried to shout, the sound came out from my mouth, but within a meter from me it would be absorbed by the sand.”

Calderan said it was difficult to form clear thoughts about daily life during the journey. He felt the power of nature had had the effect of silencing his mind.

“The power of the mind cannot do anything in front of thousands of kilometers (of empty desert). You stop thinking and start communicating with nature,” Calderan said.

“I thanked nature for the sights I was witnessing and, at a certain point, I said to it: ‘Do as you want with me — clean my mind, clean my body, clean my thoughts. I have only one mission and that is to see myself with my family again.’ That was indeed my goal.”

After notching up over 100 Empty Quarter sites on his GPS instrument — areas that included waterbeds, wolf footprints and an oryx corpse — Calderan began what he calls the “toughest” trek of all: The final 200km of the expedition.




Max Calderan’s location was tracked through his satellite phone every 15 minutes by a team based in London. (Empty Quarter Studios)

He was mentally prepared for encounters with dangerous creatures ranging from wild cats to deadly scorpions. But what turned out to be the biggest danger was the desert itself, Calderan said, recalling a moment when he stood before a “mountain of dunes” as high as 300 meters.

“It was as if I had travelled to hell — and it was the first time in my life I started to pray in order to come out,” he said.

Reaching the finishing point involved negotiating many more monstrous sand dunes, as a result of which Calderan often found himself exhausted, dehydrated and in a hallucinatory state.

“I was destroyed, but what happened is I got the awareness to understand that we as human beings, with all our arrogance and technology, are nothing in front of nature,” he said.

“We are searching for water in Mars while we are destroying our water resources on Earth.

“At this point, all my training, my strength and my previous experience amount to nothing. All I can understand is that it is time to start giving back to the environment.”

As he poured out his thoughts and emotions about his epic journey during the interview, Calderan said he is still overwhelmed and will need time to fully absorb the lessons of the last couple of weeks.

His hope is that his feat will go down in history alongside other famous expeditions of the Empty Quarter, but with an important difference: The newly created west-east "Calderan Line" will be used by generations of explorers to come.


Oman night ban returns as ICU cases hit new record

Oman night ban returns as ICU cases hit new record
Updated 54 min 5 sec ago

Oman night ban returns as ICU cases hit new record

Oman night ban returns as ICU cases hit new record
  • There are more than 770 hospitalized COVID-19 patients
  • Authorities have renewed the ban on all commercial activities and movement of people and vehicles between 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.

DUBAI: Oman has reported on Wednesday a record number of coronavirus patients in the intensive care unit as the Sultanate renewed night curfew, daily Times of Oman reported.

There are more than 770 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, with 264 in ICU, for the first time since the pandemic started, the report said.

Authorities have renewed the ban on all commercial activities and movement of people and vehicles between 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. local time throughout the holy month of Ramadan.

All types of gatherings, including iftars in mosques, tents or public places typical during Ramadan are affected by the prohibition against mass assembly.

Oman’s Supreme Committee, which was created to deal with all coronavirus pandemic related developments, also imposed a ban on all social, sports and cultural activities and any other group activities.

Key sectoral workers such as in oil, healthcare, utilities, food supply, media and three-ton trucks are exempted from the movement ban, provided they have permissions. Pharmacies were also allowed to operate during the commercial ban.

The decisions can either be relaxed or toughened, depending on the pandemic situation, according to Dr. Abdullah Nasser Al-Harrasi, the minister of Information and a member of the COVID-19 Supreme Committee.


Turkish delegation to visit Egypt in May for ‘normalization’ talks: foreign minister

Turkish delegation to visit Egypt in May for ‘normalization’ talks: foreign minister
Updated 29 min 19 sec ago

Turkish delegation to visit Egypt in May for ‘normalization’ talks: foreign minister

Turkish delegation to visit Egypt in May for ‘normalization’ talks: foreign minister
  • Turkey and Egypt froze ties after the 2013 overthrow of president Muhammad Mursi
  • Cavusoglu said the first delegation talks would be at the level of deputy foreign ministers

ISTANBUL: A Turkish delegation will visit Egypt next month as part of Ankara’s efforts to mend ties, the foreign minister said on Thursday.
“Egypt invited a delegation from Turkey. The delegation will go in early May,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told the private NTV broadcaster.
“We will discuss openly how to normalize relations.”
Turkey and Egypt froze ties after the 2013 overthrow of president Muhammad Mursi, who forged close ties with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
That year, both countries expelled each others’ ambassadors and Cairo had then declared the Turkish envoy “persona non grata.”
But Turkish officials last month said Ankara had established the first diplomatic contacts with Cairo since 2013 as part of wider efforts to repair relations with other Middle Eastern rivals.
Cavusoglu on Thursday said the first delegation talks would be at the level of deputy foreign ministers, ahead of a contact between the ministers.
“I hope we will all together further improve relations,” he said.


US ready to facilitate maritime border talks between Lebanon and Israel

US ready to facilitate maritime border talks between Lebanon and Israel
Updated 28 min 31 sec ago

US ready to facilitate maritime border talks between Lebanon and Israel

US ready to facilitate maritime border talks between Lebanon and Israel
  • He also addressed Iran’s cooperation and work with Hezbollah
  • The official also addressed the current economic and political crisis in the country and Hezbollah’s activities


DUBAI: The US Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale said on Thursday they are ready to facilitate a Lebanese-Israeli agreement on the maritime borders.

“These negotiations have the potential to unlock significant economic benefits for Lebanon,” Hale said during a press conference at Baabda palace in Lebanon.

The official also addressed the current economic and political crisis in the country and Hezbollah’s activities.

“(The) Lebanese people are suffering cause the leaders failed to put the interests of the country first,” Hale said.

“Hezbollah’s accumulation of dangerous weapons, smuggling and other illicit and corrupt activities undermine legitimate state institutions, they rob the Lebanese the ability to build a peaceful and prosperous country,” he added.

He also addressed Iran’s cooperation and work with Hezbollah.

“It’s Iran that’s fueling and financing this challenge to the state and its distortion of Lebanese political life,” Hale added.

The Under Secretary for Political Affairs also said that those who stand in the way may face punishment.

“Those who continue to obstruct progress on the reform agenda, jeopardize their relationship with the United States and our partners and open themselves up to punitive actions,” Hale added.


Jordan slams Israeli police bid to silence call to prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque minarets

Jordan slams Israeli police bid to silence call to prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque minarets
Updated 15 April 2021

Jordan slams Israeli police bid to silence call to prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque minarets

Jordan slams Israeli police bid to silence call to prayer at Al-Aqsa Mosque minarets
  • Israel is a signatory to numerous international treaties obliging it to respect the sanctity of holy places

AMMAN: Jordan on Wednesday condemned Israeli police for sabotaging door locks at four Al-Aqsa Mosque minarets in a bid to silence the Muslim call to prayer.

The move came after waqf officials, who oversee Jerusalem’s holy sites, refused to turn off loudspeakers on the first day of Ramadan. They said the Israelis had wanted it quiet while new soldiers prayed at the Buraq (Western) wall.

Jordanian officials claimed employees of the Jordan-run Jerusalem waqf and Al-Aqsa affairs department were harassed during the police operation.

Daifallah Al-Fayez, spokesman for the Jordanian Foreign Ministry, described the Israeli actions as a provocation against Muslims around the world and a violation of international law and the historical status quo.

He said that Al-Aqsa Mosque was a “pure” Islamic holy site and that the Jerusalem waqf department was “the sole authority” tasked with supervising all of its affairs.

A source at the Jerusalem Waqf Council told Arab News: “This is the first time since 1967 that Israeli occupiers have sabotaged locks in order to enter the minarets and physically cut off the electricity to the loudspeakers. And they pursued waqf officials and staff who refused to carry out their demands.”

Israel is a signatory to numerous international treaties obliging it to respect the sanctity of holy places.

An Israeli siren was sounded in Jerusalem at 8 p.m. on Tuesday as a tribute to the country’s 23,928 fallen soldiers with that day’s call for isha prayer in the city being at 8:29 p.m.

Hanna Issa, head of the Islamic-Christian Committee for Jerusalem, told Arab News that the Israeli action had been a violation of the 1998 Rome Convention and called on the international community to hold Israel to account.

Dimitri Diliani, president of the National Christian Coalition in the Holy Land, told Arab News that the incident was an attempt to stifle religious freedoms and represented an attack against Islamic holy places.

“In addition, this is a reflection of a racist policy of the Israeli occupiers that can’t accept anyone who is not Jewish,” he said.

Ahmad Tamimi, member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, urged international action to put an end to Israeli violations of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem.


Exposed: Houthi plan to prosecute kidnapped Yemeni model Entisar Hammadi

Exposed: Houthi plan to prosecute kidnapped Yemeni model Entisar Hammadi
Updated 15 April 2021

Exposed: Houthi plan to prosecute kidnapped Yemeni model Entisar Hammadi

Exposed: Houthi plan to prosecute kidnapped Yemeni model Entisar Hammadi
  • Kidnapping of Al-Hammadi and two friends is latest attack by the Houthis on dissidents

AL-MUKALLA: Iran-backed Houthis plan to launch a criminal investigation against Entesar Al-Hammadi, a young Yemeni model and actress, who was abducted from a Sanaa street on Feb. 20, the model’s lawyer Khaled Mohammed Al-Kamal said on Wednesday.

The kidnapping of Al-Hammadi and two of her friends is the latest in a string of attacks by the Houthis on dissidents and liberal women in areas under the group’s control.

Al-Kamal told Arab News that a prosecutor from the rebel-controlled West Sanaa court will question Entesar on Sunday.

“My client was arrested without a warrant,” Al-Kamal said by telephone, giving no information about the Houthis’ explanation for the abduction.

Yemeni officials said the three actresses were traveling to shoot a drama series when the rebels stopped their vehicle on Sanaa’s Hadda Street and took them to an unknown location.
 


Al-Hammadi was born to a Yemeni father and an Ethiopian mother and pursued her ambition to become a model despite growing up in a conservative society. The 20-year-old first caught the public’s attention after she published images showing off traditional Yemeni costumes and she later appeared on a local television show talking about her dream of becoming an international supermodel.

The Houthis accused the abducted actresses of violating traditional Islamic dress codes.

Their detainment has sparked outrage inside and outside Yemen as human rights activists and government officials compared Houthi suppression of women to similar activities by terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda and Daesh.


Moammar Al-Eryani, Yemen's minister for information, culture and tourism, said the rebels have launched a “systemic and organized” crackdown on Yemeni women in areas under their control.

“We call on the international community, the UN, the US envoys to Yemen and the women's protection organizations to condemn this crime and pressure the terrorist Houthi militia to immediately release the abductees,” the minister wrote on social media. “They must stop the extortion of women and release all disappeared women from their secret prisons unconditionally.”

Al-Hammadi told a local TV station last year that she wished she could travel abroad to work as a model, citing parental and societal resistance at home.

“It would be great if I was given an opportunity outside Yemen,” she said.

 

 


Social media users have blasted the Houthis for snatching women from the street.

Huda Al-Sarari, a Yemeni activist, said that the abduction of Al-Hammadi is part of “a dirty” campaign by the rebels against women.

“My solidarity is with my dear Entisar and with all male and female abductees inside the militia’s prisons,” she wrote on Twitter.

Amat Al-Salam Al-Hajj, chairwoman of the Mothers of Abductees Association, an umbrella organization for thousands of female relatives of war prisoners, told Arab News that the Houthis have “brazenly” committed crimes against dissidents and women amid “unexplained” silence of international rights organizations.

“The Houthis have abducted models and female activists and committed flagrant violations of human rights before the eyes and ears of the UN, human rights organizations, and everyone else,” she said.