Thomas Judes recalls how giving up his job for an adventure gave him the creative inspiration he needed to become a writer.
The sun is spitting its warmth across the light blue skies, sucking up the quickly dried sweat from my arms, burning the surface of the infinite sands which scratch my bare feet in their seemingly endless ballets.
Wahiba Sands. A tongue of desert, spreading approximately 100 miles, north to south, from the centre-east of the Sultanate of Oman right up to the Indian Ocean.
Around me, the wind whispers, the lilting steps of the camels swinging the rations, the scattered herbs drawing ephemeral geometric choreographies on the soft sand, as if imitating the mystical tracks laid by their animal counterparts. Snake discontinuous sinusoids, insects sparkling walking dots, traces of chaotic fights.
My steps get swallowed by the avid ascendant dunes, against the wind. I feel that the cross will be interminable: I’m starting to wonder why. Why, indeed, have I spent the last two months crossing Sinaï Peninsula by foot? Crossing Wahiba now?
A civil engineer and international management post-grad, I had been living in London before starting different businesses in various places. Now aspiring writer, inspired by the reading of my youth. Theodore Monod, Sir Wilfred Thesiger, the vastness of Arrakis planet in Frank Herbert’s Dune, Michel Vieuchange reaching Smara… The past always carve indelible marks. I somehow knew I would one day try my best at having but a glimpsing taste of what they experienced.
Quite familiar with high summits and freezing cold conditions, at the age of thirty, I became obsessed with testing myself on crossing some hot deserts by foot, traditionally and minimalistically. Without any sleeping bag; with as little equipment as possible; walking and not riding; barefoot when I could. To feel the sun on my face. The grain of the sand between my toes, like an extension of myself. Connected.
But doing it the old way wasn’t as easy as I expected: finding and negotiating for camels, avoiding being followed by a four-by-four or forced to follow road tracks. To remain in control of my desires and objectives, with a silent partner.
Days are passing now, somehow similar to one another: singing dunes, the constant sweep of the wind, the perennial quest for finding shade behind a dried tree, a goat shed of wooden posts barely holding worn off fabrics, the narrow shadow of a high dune. And the nights, where crawling creatures pay visit to the warmth of my body, reminding me starkly that desert is not a hot dead place. Marking my mind with the importance of relativity. I’m losing track of time. Of what we call reality.
After two solitary weeks of slitting wind and heat, I realise I’ve finally reached the sea. I break into tears. But I have long decided that these months have provided me with enough ideas for me to return with more accurate feelings, more of these certainties I was secretly longing for, beyond the athletic achievement.
To be able to properly draw, paint or describe a tree, a character, or a feeling, I tend to think you first have to let it grow within yourself. I’m grateful that the silence and wilderness of the desert have allowed some to blossom inside of me. It is only remote places that allow timeless experiences. Suffering and difficulty are the hidden keys of our contemporary lives to escape the crowd, to find the soft and sharp voice of introversion.
I humbly look back at the days when I decided to challenge myself, to get out of my self, scrolling through the likes of Explorers Connect, connecting with other people, shaping the dreams to make them vivid realities you can look back on as the dawn of your life. The desert leaves a mark in your life, so they say. As does any hardship; as does any achievement.
I have now returned to the humid miracle of Europe and completed the first two books of a science-fiction saga, Chronicles of Kashgar, and am currently refining another novel, Genuine Victim. From time to time, when tiredness or dispiritedness strike, I travel far away, back into the desert to remember how the seemingly impenetrable headwinds finally let me reach the ocean.