Many people theorize that dogs walk around in circles before lying down as a vestigial instinct from their wild days when they would have had to knock down tall grass in order to make a bed. I have to think that we humans have some ancient instincts from our wild hunter gatherer days too. At least that was what I was asking myself as we reached our camp site in the desert around midnight after driving for over six hours. I wondered what instinct had led me to choose a cot next to three guys in the middle of the desert instead of sleeping in my comfortable bed beside my beautiful wife. What was I thinking!? Surely this was more than just stupidity!
Whatever the reason, desert camping always holds a certain allure. There are not many places on Earth where you can be in true wilderness. It is hard to contemplate that I can do a full day's work in a modern office wrestling with modern issues and then within the same day be in a place with no roads, permanent settlements, power, or cell phone reception. When a friend invited me to go camping with a group of experienced desert travelers I knew I had to go. Part of the excitement of desert camping is that it gives you the chance to play many different roles at once - adventurer, historian, archeologist, geologist, cartographer, linguist and mechanic. If something breaks down you have to fix it. If you get stuck in the sand the only way to get home is to get un-stuck. After exploring during the day, each night we set up a fire, cooked meals over the flames, and told stories. With the firelight dancing on the dunes under a canopy of brilliant stars, I felt a connection to ancient generations who spent their lives around similar fires. I wonder what stories they told.
Going to the desert here is a kind of time travel. It provides a glimpse of a nomadic way of life that is rapidly disappearing. There were several rains shortly before our trip and the desert was carpeted in many places with verdant fields framed by massive sand dunes. With all the grass, the Bedouins were busy grazing their camels. I can't imagine the skill and grit it must take to eke out a life in such a harsh and unforgiving landscape. I can picture Abraham (Ibrahim in this region) grazing his camels and moving with the rains in much the same way. One afternoon we met two Bedouin men who were searching for their camels. They asked if we had seen any camels and we directed them to where we had seen camels earlier in the morning. My Arabic is still very rough but I talked and chatted with them as best I could. Before leaving they invited us to join them for camel milk. Bedouin hospitality is legendary and I am told that if you accept an invitation you'd better be prepared for an all day event. They might slaughter a goat, prepare a meal and insist that you spend the day with them. Maybe I will get to visit with Bedouins on a later trip Insha'Allah (God willing).
The time travel doesn't stop with the Bedouins. You keep travelling deeper and deeper back in time to the Neolithic Period and beyond. Throughout the desert there are Neolithic stone tools. It is humbling to see a scraper or arrow head sitting on the sand that may not have been viewed by human eyes in ten thousand years. There are petrified ostrich eggs and even shark teeth and sea shells from when the area was vastly different from what is today.
At the end of the weekend, as we made our way out of the desert and back toward civilization, the modern world slowly began to come back into focus. After making it to the road and airing our tires up I knew we had arrived back in 2011. Now that the summer is coming, my desert camping will have to wait until next winter. I can't wait!
Stuck in the sand!
Finished setting up camp and ready to relax by the fire.
Sunset over the desert.
Me in the farawaw cloak and shumagh head covering. The warm fleece lined farawaw is perfect for cold nights in the desert!