Deeba Hasan sits down for coffee with Mark Evans, the manager of Outward Bound Oman, and discovers that he has an unrivalled sense of adventure that is also helping young Omanis to fulfil their potential…
I first became aware of Mark during my second year of college and I remember reading about his experiences in the Empty Quarter, the vast expanse of desert land that covers parts of Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen. Back then, I never dreamed that I’d be sitting opposite him in a cafe to conduct an interview for my Coffee With Deeba column.
Outward Bound was founded during the Second World War to provide survival training for young and inexperienced sailors to help them in the event of shipwreck. Today, there are centres in more than 30 countries and Mark has been the manager of the Oman branch since it opened in 2009. “After my kayaking adventure around the coastline of Oman, I was approached by someone from Outward Bound and we made plans to set up a centre here.”
Mark had spent nearly two decades teaching in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia before coming to Oman in the early 2000s to take on the role of geography teacher at the British School Muscat.
In his first Omani adventure, Mark undertook a solo kayaking expedition, covering the 1,700km of coastline from Musandam to the Yemen border in 55 days.
Mark, who has kayaked in Greenland and Scotland, says he wouldn’t recommend the trip to a novice. “The water looks quite calm around Muscat and Muttrah, but believe me when you get halfway down the coast around Duqm and Ras Madrakah, it’s pretty wild and there were some frightening moments. There were some beautiful moments, too, times when it was just me and the whales out there.”
As plans for Outward Bound Oman were coming together in 2009, Mark received support from several companies that saw the potential of Outward Bound in Oman. “They saw what it could do for the people in Oman in terms of preparing them to enter the world of work,” Mark says.
Once that money was committed and the contracts signed, Mark had the security to give up his teaching job and fully embrace his new role. “I left my job as a teacher in December, but I didn’t want to start with Outward Bound Oman until February 1 because I’d always wanted to take a trip through the Empty Quarter and experience its solitude and wilderness.”
Accompanied by one of New Zealand’s top photographers, John Smith, the pair rented two 4x4s and drove to the border between Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman.
“Before heading down, we did our homework and also went to PDO [Petroleum Development Oman] to use their mapping software in order to locate the highest sand dunes in Oman. We planned to climb the summit of these dunes while we were in the Empty Quarter.
“We had the most incredible time, which included getting arrested by the Saudi border guards who were so surprised and excited to see us that they didn’t know what to do. They welcomed us, fed us with chicken and rice, took us to a military camp where they briefly arrested us, before slaughtering a goat in our honor and filling our cars with petrol.”
As the conversation turns back to Outward Bound Oman, Mark explains, “Ours is a charity that works at grassroots level, with young people in government schools.
“In one of the first journeys that we did, we took one unemployed boy from every region of Oman and challenged them to get something unique on their CV that would serve as a discussion point and help them get a job. It proved to be a great success.”
Today, Outward Bound Oman has several Omani instructors who have been trained by Outward Bound International and have helped many young boys and girls to learn key life skills, become more employable and be of greater value to the Sultanate’s job industry in the process.
In his free time, Mark loves camping in the desert with his wife, friends and two dogs. Despite being very well travelled, he sees Oman as home. “There is this instant warmth here and it’s based on genuine hospitality as opposed to a tourism-driven expectation. The country enabled me to indulge in my passions of adventure, exploration and education and has served as the perfect canvas on which to paint my picture.”