Travel Tips: Justin Marozzi

From Justin Marozzi, travel writer and historian

For anyone embarking on a camel journey

1. Get in touch with cameleers young and old, normal and eccentric (they’re mostly eccentric) and download their top tips. There are plenty out there in this country alone. Think Michael Asher, Robin Hanbury-Tenison, John Hare (see below), Benedict Allen. Modesty prevents me from putting myself forward in this capacity. Pop into, or better still join, the Royal Geographical Society, a veritable mine of information on all matter of expeditioning.

2. Disregard all advice against going on a long and potentially dangerous journey by camel. The naysayers can stay at their desks writing emails to each other. You are embarking on a life-changing, life-enhancing expedition. They are not.

3. Always remember to hobble your camels at night. It sounds rather sinister but merely means applying the length of pre-prepared cord between the animals’ two front ankles. Rest assured, they will still roam maddeningly overnight in search of the choicest thistles, but they will be over the horizon if you forget to apply the hobbles. That is a bore when you wake up in the morning and have to retrieve them.

4. Don’t be offended if a camel spits on you. Which he will. Interpret it rather as a sign of affection. It’s all part of the bonding process.

5. Once you have ridden camels over any distance, you must spend the rest of your life as an Honorary Ambassador to the Worshipful Court of Camels. John Hare, founder of the Wild Camel Protection Foundation, which supports the critically endangered wild camel, is the finest exemplar. Never malign these splendid beasts, who are frequently the object of derision and ridicule. They are noble beasts and should be treated with love and reverence. Would you carry a plodding human and his luggage thousands of miles across the desert without so much as a thank you? I thought not.

7. Read all you can on the desert. There is a fine tradition of writing from these shores and many more besides. Burton, Doughty, Lawrence, Bell, Stark, Thesiger, Saint-Exupéry. The Egyptian explorer-fencer-spy Ahmed Hassanein Bey’s The Lost Oases is a masterpiece of evocative prose. Remember Thesiger’s words. "Here in the desert I had found all that I asked: I knew that I should never find it again."