Interview with Max Calderan, Explorer and Star of Into the Lost Desert
Extreme dessert explorer Max Calderan takes on his lifetime dream of crossing the Rub al’ Khali – a.k.a the Empty Quarter – in his new documentary In The Lost Desert. We catch up with him about extreme desert exploring, filmmaking and the importance of staying humble...
Where did your interest in extreme desert exploring first come from?
When you are a child, you are dreaming. If you are dreaming, you have the capability to think you can do something for you, and that is something that was always in my DNA.
After my past experience in extreme sports like rock climbing, I started to enlarge my horizon to understand there are more places and buildings to explore - and I finally started to merge my dream from when I was seven years old.
How do you prepare for when you cross these deserts and for your most challenging desert yet, the Rub’ al Khali?
The Rub’ al Khali was a lifetime dream. I waited 46 years and it became an exploration that was embracing my entire life and everything I did in my life. It was a summer of experience, of a happy period and sad period. When you are moving in the desert, it's all about the people that are supporting you. They are my engines.
What was your most challenging moment during the expedition?
We have to divide them into two very different boxes. Box one is the documentary that shows something like a summary of what was happening in the desert. The other box is later with the true experience.
I see the documentary and it’s very emotional. I’m happy that has been given that kind of perspective. Because usually documentaries always make people out to be like Superman. I am not the Terminator. I have a family, I am an explorer and the first thing you have to do is to be quiet and calm and to face any kind of difficulty. But having the capability to be patient, waiting for the feedback of the sand and the desert, is key.
"I think now technology is showing the final part and is not showing the big effort, the sacrifice, the suffering of the artist"
The sand dunes are still the biggest I've ever tackled, though. You do have to be tough, a strong physical effort is needed. I was crying at each dune. At a certain point I forgot that I was in the dunes. I felt like I was in heaven, in the sky. I was out of my body.
I was saying, 'Okay Rub al’ Khali. You’ve won this game.' I understood with my body, my thoughts, my dream, my life, I am nothing in front of the natural. I needed to treat nature with respect. Please let me go in, let me go through you and I will try to be very humble, and I will try to do the best to protect and preserve you.
How were you first approached for the documentary?
I was in Dubai in a restaurant. On the same table was one guy, his name was Tim Ryan. We started to have a conversation and he said he could put me in the right connection with someone in Saudi Arabia because I had this very marvellous dream to achieve. We exchanged our mobile numbers, and we were in touch.
What was the process for filming the documentary and what was it working with the crew behind the scenes?
It was the first time I had so many people around me. The first time I was confused because on previous explorations there was a maximum of one or two cars to keep a low profile in other desserts. It seemed strange.
I think that at the beginning maybe the feeling was it was easy work there. But after the second day, after the sand dune, I understood the Rub al’ Kahli is not easy.
"Your goal is to do something big for you. And if you stay humble then the success will arrive."
How did it feel to complete your dream to finally cross the Rub’ al Khali?
One of the most famous Italian explorers, Marco Polo, he was exploring the Far East, China and so on. He used to say, ‘I can reveal only fifty percent of what I saw, because if I tell the other fifty percent nobody will believe me, they will think I am a crazy man.'
This is the feeling I have. Everything I say now is only fifty percent because when you are facing the emptiness and you are alone, it is going to open the doors that are the biggest question marks about what we are searching for in our lives.
What would your advice be to anyone wanting to do something as dangerous yet invigorating as you have done?
First is don’t try it at home! Nowadays, everything is going through video and the video shows a lot of dangerous things without experience. And this can open the door to a lot of accidents.
I think now technology is showing the final part and is not showing the big effort, the sacrifice, the suffering of the artist and of people doing something crazy like I did.
My advice is before putting everything on video, go to nature, go the woods, go to sleep in the middle of a forest, sleep a night in the forest. Try to get to know the animals, try to talk with them, try to drink the clean river water. Day by day build your dream. Try to do something big, remembering it doesn’t matter if it is important for other people - it has to be important for you.
Your goal is to do something big for you. And if you stay humble then the success will arrive.
So be humble, respect your mother, your father, your people, and nature.