Mark Gillett

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What is it about the desert? – The Raw & The Cooked

with 7 comments

I am off to the desert again next week.  I haven’t been for a while and I am looking forward to it. This time it’s for a photographic job and to look at other business opportunities.

I have been visiting or exploring deserts since 1984.  My first venture was from Dubai where I borrowed a friends 4×4, got together with some other friends and went out for around 5 days. We explored a region between Dubai and Al Ain and since that first trip I have been hooked. So drawn in by it that I have taken people back, led long journeys through some of the most hospitable parts of the desert in Oman, and more recently taken bereaved youths to benefit from what a desert offers.

People ask me what it is that keeps taking me back and use to find it hard to explain. To begin with it was the excitement of adventuring and exploring something new. Then I would return to the same region many times like the Wahiba in Oman. I would always find something new on each journey but that was not the attraction anymore. It was now about the real reasons I loved it so much in the first place.

The desert strips you back to the real you. You in the raw. It takes away all the gloss that we live with and even if you take some of it with you, you invariably wish you hadn’t. Last time I took my iPod and at the end of the trip I realised I didn’t even get it out. Opting for the sound of the wind in the sand, the crack of the fire and the conversations with the people around me. Then at sleep time, I would watch the stars, shooting stars and make my own music in my head. To listen to music is just wrong for me.

In my early days I did. And funnily the album that always come to mind was that in the title by Fine Young Cannibals. The only music I ever listened to in the desert.

My journey with the youths was when I first saw the real benefit to others. I had taken many people who felt it had changed their lives but these trips were different. The purpose was to give them space and time after their bereavement. Map out their futures or at least make sense of it after their lives had been thrown into turmoil. No one to question them. No expectation other than to survive. We walked 150 km across the Sinai, self supported with camels. Each of those taking part formed lifelong bonds and they are still all close and have each found their path in life for the time being. And an inner peace.

I also see so many people touched by the desert in the Marathon des Sables. Fortunately I get to photograph it each year. I have also run it….. Most runners will tell you its the event. Deep down, I think not. It’s the whole journey from when the training starts but it’s the desert that really gets them. (

Runners put them selves through real hardship but that is not really the deal. It’s more about living with so little. You have just about what you need to live. No more. There is no reason for not completing other than miss management or unfortunate injury and you have all life needs in your pack. And that is all we really need.

I met my wife in the desert and I know her heart is the same. She feels it too. She needs to go back as I do.. In April 1000 more people will feel it on the mds, experience the beauty. Some won’t like it but all will be affected in some way. Most will cry when they cross the line. Not because they are glad its over but more sad. Sad that they have to leave behind the rawness of what has just changed them forever.

It is the people of the desert that that teach us most. I have spent much time with bedouin too and this is usually the most humbling experience. They share everything. If you meet them on the journey they will sit down and offer you coffee and dates no matter what hey have left. They will help without question if you are in trouble. They will act like family.

The next few weeks I will see this environment again. Not in a solo role and not out of touch with modern life but it’s still the desert.

Give it a try…..

Written by markgillett

February 23, 2010 at 4:22 pm

7 Responses

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  1. I took part in MdS 23 and you are exactly right, Mark. I forgot I was in a ‘race’ on the first day and just absorbed the beautiful isolation of the desert and, paradoxically, the camaraderie of the other participants. Sometimes I just had to stop and push my hands through the sand to really be sure that I was actually in such a wonderful place. Truly a magical experience, and captured nicely by the photographs you yourself took of it and, I’m happy to say, of me.

    Paul Wells

    February 23, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    • Hi Paul, glad you feel the same…. Mark


      February 23, 2010 at 5:31 pm

  2. nicely done mark, have a good time, wish i was there


    February 23, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    • Good to hear from you mate….


      February 23, 2010 at 6:01 pm

  3. Mark, you have put into words what I’ve always felt and couldn’t explain about the desert. My friends always ask what I like about it and why I do desert races. The heat, the majestic sand dunes, the million stars at night, the bluest sky you’ll ever see….it’s always sad at the end of the race to leave all this behind. I can’t wait to do my next desert race!


    February 23, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    • Hi Tess, thank you for the comment. When are you next racing?


      February 23, 2010 at 6:42 pm

  4. Hi Mark,
    I did MDS in 2009, am thinking of Raid Oman in November. Really love Oman, used to live there and been to the Wahiba Sands. Also would like to do Libyan Challenge again in 2011 (did it in 2007 and 2008), I hope the Libyans don’t have a row with anyone by then. 2010 LC got cancelled due to Libya’s row with Switzerland which resulted in refusal of visas to Schengen countries. Feel so sorry for Jean Marc!
    MDS 2010 is going to be epic, I have some friends who will be there. Have a great time out there!


    February 26, 2010 at 2:17 am

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