Saturday, May 25, 2013
Tea with the Bedouins and Camels on the Sides of Roads
All my life I'd wanted to see the Rub al Khali, the Empty Quarter, the massive barren wasteland of southern Saudi Arabia north of Yemen and Oman.
It is considered one of the most barren and deadly places in the world, incapable of supporting life, with temperatures reaching upwards of 145F degrees. Without water or proper supplies, one could die within minutes.
So naturally, I couldn't wait to try my luck at going there.
It was difficult to meet Bedouins, those wandering nomadic tribesman who knew the mysteries of the Rub al Khali... until I learned their secret. You have to follow the camels home.
But where do you find camels in Saudi Arabia? Oh... they're everywhere. In fact, it's one of the first Saudi rules you learn. Never drive at night, because there are no street lights and camels walk along the highway.
Yelping insufferable beasts, really... Mark Twain notes in his Innocents Abroad how he witnessed a camel tear the sports jacket off a fellow passenger and proceed to devour it raw.
But if you follow a camel into the desert, you eventually come to the young boy who waters and feeds them, and if you smile nicely, he might just let you sit in his tent and drink his cold sugar tea from a thermus, which is exactly what happened to me.
Of course, to get to this tent, we had to ride in his 4X4 Toyota jeep out across the dunes. Rolling mounds of burning loose earth that never seemed settled, never seemed to horizon, and swallowed the tracks behind us as if we were never there.
The boys would talk and I would sit, looking out across the empty earth. Sometimes we would come to the burned out husk of a goat roasted months before or a small cliff uncovered by the ever shifting and shapeless sands. That's when we all would laugh, sharing this language of the human race. Nod toward the perils of living and drive away.
They never let me get too close. Perhaps they thought I was a bigger danger than the desert itself. Little did they realize, I was the one trusting strangers with my life.