Explorer Mikael Strandberg

Rub Al-Khali, part 4

A feeling which changes quickly during midday, whilst walking and the strong sun is pounding your head. It is difficult to think during this time, otherwise deserts are great for contemplating life. And during this time it is hard to believe that anyone can survive, even less live in the desert, but the amazing thing is that you continuously see tracks after life. Most of all from small lizards, beetles and hares. But I also saw a fresh track after a fox. Repeatedly you pass some odd looking rock balls, which in fact are crystallized over thousands of years by the little dew that the desert receives. On and off you pass a resilient bush or even a patch of grass, loved by the camels. These animals which are so perfectly evolved to fit the desert. Mussalam, the camel owner, had major difficulties with Sahara for three days. She didn’t like the desert at all. Especially with a tourist on her back. She wasn’t used to travelling over dunes and was terrified every time it was going uphill or downhill. The forth day she allowed me to ride her again. And once up on the back of the camel, behind her hump, sitting on a relatively comfortable saddle, it is pure joy when at walking pace. It is much more comfortable than on a horse, but once, for some unknown reason, a faster trot or gallop starts it is very difficult to enjoy life. Since there´s no stirrups, and very little balance, you hold on to the saddle for your life! But, there´s no doubt, a desert should be travelled by camel. It is relatively slow, so you actually have time to study the surroundings carefully, but still it moves faster than walking. 5 km:s per hour and you loose very little energy and sweat by riding a camel and therefore, need less water. But, gee, do I need to train camel riding before setting off on the great Expedition of our time!


“I need the desert”, Bin Hassan told me almost every hour, “I feel very good every time I return here.”

I learnt a lot about the Bedu during these days. My respect for them is enormous. The power it takes just to survive in the desert is unbelievable as anybody can understand who has suffered thirst and hunger in the desert. (Which I didn’t this time, but I have spent a long time all together in other deserts around the world.) And they have lived here for thousands of years. They are the people of the desert. Three times a day I saw them turned in the direction of Mecca, praying to Allah. It just felt so natural out here in the desert and I can well understand why Islam was born in the desert not far from Rub Al-Khali. Every year some Bedu, those who cannot afford air or car travel, takes a three month camel journey to Mecca. Through the Empty Quarter. I also like that the Bedu are very sociable, talkative and very proud. They believe in themselves. They consider themselves the true Arabs. And they love women and camels, more than anything. These two subjects dominated the camp fire talks. Mussalam even started drawing women dressed in abeyya in the sand. That after only 4 days, gee, I wonder what kind of paintings it will be like after seven weeks in the desert!


So, conclusion, what did I learn for the big Expedition?

  • I need to learn Arabic, there´s no doubt about it. More important than ever. I will not get anything serious done otherwise. I will not understand Arabia.
  • Good, well-trained camels are dead important. They should be used to hard, undulating desert travel and like tourists…I will need at least three months of training before leaving and setting out on Expedition.
  • Desert travel in winter is not bad at all. The heat is bearable. Nights are not to cold.
  • Travelling the Bedu way will be much more difficult than traditional expedition travel. Less food and less energy…..
  • Motivation is very high and I am definitely ready! It feels like big things are coming up!


  1. This is really interesting and The Empty Quarter has always fascinated me since i’ve read Wilfred Thesiger’s books. I was so sad reading he passed away in 2003
    all alone at a British Hospital-home.

    I never went there during my years in KSA, but did spend lots of time in the deserts, both with Expats and Saudi’s.
    Keep up the good spirits for this expedition traditional style (leave the Hummers on the asphalt…) and start to learn Arabic.

  2. Mikael, I work in the kingdom and want to do only a small 1 week tour in that area. Who can I contact to organize with a very small group. Not many people are eager to join. I plan to go in November next year. Any E.mail adres or phone number of a Guide would come in handy.
    What is your next assignment going to be?
    Take care

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