One of the main visions of the Arabian Expedition is to build a bridge of understanding between the West and the Muslim East and within the Arab countries themselves. No matter how one look upon things, this is one of the major problems that the world is facing today. There´s an enormous need for information, education and clear debate on both sides. One of our major hopes regarding this upcoming Expedition, of which 50% is Arab, Salim and Nasr, and the rest made up of me and Pamela is to communicate via the Internet every third day, where debate will be one of the most important issues. We need to communicate. If this is possible, to create a forum for debate just like we wish, we don´t know yet.
The reason I bring this very exiting and important issue up in this report is due to this email that I received yesterday:
Know that the Bani Hasan tribe has been undertaking camel treks out of Yemen across Africa for centuries – guess that’s already been “explored” (without GPS receivers and sat-phones).
I’ve lived in Yemen for a while now and you are like every dick head tourist I’ve seen coming through here, donning local clothes and a jambiya (you know the locals laugh at foreigners doing that, right?), giving yourself a local name (priceless) and blogging about the place like you discovered it.
However, you stand apart in your unfailing ability to aggrandise yourself for doing what is otherwise standard adventure tourism. You’re no more of an explorer than the 1000th Yemeni traveling through Sweden can claim he is exploring stockholm.
Why not explore the mind of the self-important ethnocentric tourist? You’ve got a head start.
amelahodalt (this person did leave his or hers email, but no name)
During my 25 years of exploration, I have never, ever received an email as offensive and full of bitterness, jealousy and hatred as this one. I am sorry to, once again, find out that so many people feel bad in this world of ours and use so much of their joy to live to pour out their hate and bitterness for something they disagree with. I have received tons of letters, emails, phone calls throughout the years and I have been stopped in the street many times by people who disagree with what I do, who I am and how I see life. Of course, I wish everybody would love me, but that is definitely not the case! But I accept all kinds of critique. It is part of any life where you have personal opinions.
However, to be able to have a debate about anything in life, opinions have to be free and many. Within a limit. Offensive emails like this one, based on hatred, jealousy and bitterness, leads nowhere. But there are, after all no smoke without fire, and some of these issues this person highlights comes up a lot in my sphere, what is an explorer and what is true exploration, so I will start a debate by answering this persons accusations. Feel relatively free to come with opinions, but since I moderate everything, because I on and off get these type of emails, I will not allow more emails like this one, which is free of any reason, good research and thought.
About the Beni Hassan tribe, like the more well-known Beni Hilal tribe, and other Arabs who have traveled both ways, to and from Mecca, this is true, but there´s absolutely no written records that a full east to west trip has been done without a prolonged break. Especially not in modern times. However, one of the main ideas with the Expedition, is to highlight the Arabs as great travellers and their amazing journeys. One of them is the well-known Ibn Battuta. And that is why 50% of the members are Arab, so that they can become modern day Ibn Battutas and give the Arab world a voice from the exploration point.
When it comes to satellite phones and GPS, it shows that you have no idea about my past history of exploration, feel free to read this. I have never, ever used a GPS and never will. However when it comes to satellite phones, I did have it on the Siberian Expedition and will have bring one on the upcoming Expedition. This is due to the need to communicate via Internet. Plus that authorities nowadays won´t let you into the country without one. It is considered another measure of security. But, I will never, ever, use the satellite phone to call for help or assistance. It hasn´t happened and it never will.
When it comes to donning local dress, I agree fully with you. This is the first time in my life, that I have put on local dress, and I agree with your assessment. The reason is as follows: I was given it as a gift from Pamela and our two friends Mohammed and Hussein, to wear for one day. From which all photos are taken. I felt very uncomfortable, but realized that there were many in the souk who actually felt honored and liked it that I wore there local Sanaani dress. But that was the only time. But, it could well happen again in the future. Once again, I wish you would have done your home work better. This is the thing with blind hate, jealousy and bitterness, it works over reason and research. Better to do something with your own life in stead. Enjoy it. Do it in a way you think is appropriate. Write about it. Because communication is the most important issue for a stable future for the globe.
The giving of the name Ahmed Al-Hamdani was the same evening. It was Hussein and Mohammed who gave it to me. As a sign of their respect. For what I don´t know. However, many western tourists, adventure travelers and explorers have been given names whether they like it or not. Two well known ones are Wyman Bury and Wilfried Thesiger. I have been given local names, whether I like it or not, meeting other people, tribes, like the maasai. I was throughout my Expedition there called Olorogwa, which means the fiery one. Local names are always given by local people as a sign of respect and appreciation. Maybe that is why you have never experienced this.
When it comes to my love of writing, well, I will always write as I have just discovered a place! For me, I do discover all the time and for me it is a new discovery. It is about loving life. I really love life! And whether you like it or not, I have a following of readers globally who wants me to write the way I do. And its people. If you don´t like my writing, why bother reading it?
That last paragraph reeks of jealousy. I won´t even comment it.
To sum it all up, I see you love Yemen and the Yemenis, which I do as well and you have come across a lot of tourists and travelers that you don´t like. I am sorry to hear that. Why don´t you start a blog and write about your feelings? Find a solution to your anger?
Yemen was one of the highlights of my life in many ways. See the slide show from there!
Since Pamela and myself together with Salim and Nasr will face the upcoming debate together, Pamela, who is an academic look upon the email like this and will leave her comment as a comment! Start the debate!
The accusation of being an “ethnocentric” tourist suggests the tourists’ centering looks through a lens of their own culture, in this case, Scandinavian culture, and are unable to see the world as people from other cultures may view things. This is far from what Mikael has done in the past 23 years of Expeditions.
As to being a “false” Explorer, since many have ventured out into the desert centuries before hand with or without camels, for instance, Ziryab a Royal court Musician traveled from Bagdad arriving in Andalusia Spain 751 C.E., Ibn Batuta who began from Tangier to Egypt, Persia, India, China and even made his way to Yemen; what most people often forget is that we live in a contemporary time-frame and see the world through the lens of a current time-frame, with a conscious thought of how things may look different in someone else’s purview. Some Explorers on long term expeditions are constantly plague with how their words and visual art will be captured and dignified as crossing cultures. What your points have made more clear is that some people look at the world though eyes of the persons contemporary time-frame without giving any thought to how things may have been during another era.
Additionally, not all Adventures should be grouped as Explorers – Explorers have a hard time with this and Adventures seem to lack the long term devotion to the enormous personal rewards and hard work post expedition. There is no “grandiose” inflation of accomplishment especially for the fact that Mikael wants to be deported back to Siberia’s Koylma River.
Any Yemeni able to travel to Stockholm and make it to Sweden may find it consumed of efficiency and community green parks. He/she maybe better suited for a city such as Brooklyn where the culture of random yelling is part of conversing, which really made Sana’a much for amusing.
To: Amela Hodalt – Critic
From: CuChullaine O’Reilly – Founder, The Long Riders’ Guild
Subject: Unjustified Attack upon the Exploration Ethics of Mikael Strandberg
Allow me to preface my letter to you by providing you with this brief explanation.
I was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the Explorers’ Club because of the perilous equestrian journeys I successfully undertook in Pakistan. Thereafter I founded the Long Riders’ Guild, the world’s first international association of equestrian explorers. The Long Riders’ Guild now has Members in forty countries, all of whom have made a qualifying equestrian journey of at least one thousand miles. Plus, the Guild has supported more than a hundred equestrian expeditions on every continent except Antarctica. Additionally, I am the publisher of nearly four-hundred exploration and travel books in eight languages.
I mention these facts so as to demonstrate that I not only know a great many of the world’s leading explorers, I am also extremely well-versed in the accomplishments of past travellers. Consequently, I believe I can say with some justification that while you are right to cast doubt upon the exploits of some so-called modern “explorers,” you have in your eagerness cruelly libelled one of the world’s true living travel heroes.
Thanks to the influence of television reality programs the world has recently been subjected to a sad parade of pretenders who expose their egos across the small screen. They eat bugs for money. They bully others across a jungle and make believe it is “leadership.” They are peacocks with a lust for fame and money.
In stark contrast to these cartoon explorers, we have Mikael Strandberg, a man who has rightly earned a reputation for personal courage and professional exploration ethics seldom equalled by one of his still young age.
Your unwarranted attack upon Mikael includes a number of glaring errors.
One, while it may be true that other travellers, Arab, Yemeni, Chinese, Foreigner, whatever, once made a camel journey across a portion of the route now proposed by Mikael and his three comrades, these previous trips in no way invalidate the sincere desire of these four brave souls to set out on their own perilous camel expedition. If the world adhered to your negative example, once a single journey had been made, then armchair critics such as yourself would deem it unworthy and unwise for anyone else to ever bother repeating the original mission. Thus your criticism is a denunciation of the intrinsic magic involved in travel. One can read about a journey, but unless one undertakes that trip oneself it remains merely words on a page.
Therefore, to denounce the basic integrity of Mikael’s trip is not only entirely unfounded, it is also academically incorrect as there is no recorded camel journey of this magnitude on record. Having suffered, and nearly lost my own life, in the saddle on several occasions, I can assure you that an animal expedition which includes so many personal dangers, geographic hardships and governmental obstructions will, if successfully completed, rank among the most important camel expeditions in the history of mankind.
Another malicious point of contention you unfairly raised was how Mikael had, upon the suggestion of his Yemeni friends, adapted local clothing and culture. One of the travel books published by the Long Riders’ Guild Press details the story of the Scottish explorer, John Duncan, who undertook an equestrian exploration into the African jungles during the 1840s. Because he adhered to the strict social protocols of the Victorian era, Duncan rode into the steaming swamp wearing his regulation red wool British army coat, his knee-high black leather boots and his shiny helmet. While the natives were duly impressed by this display of English sartorial splendour, Duncan’s misguided loyalty to his native costume ultimately helped undermine his health, which in turn resulted in his early death in Africa.
In stark contrast to this episode was George Wyman Bury, another Englishman, who spent years living in Yemen at the beginning of the 20th century. Like Mikael, Bury adapted the native clothes which best suited the climate and the sensibilities of the local populace. This was a bold step in that day as it invariably resulted in Bury being denounced as having gone “native,” which in turn caused inevitable social critics to denounce his abandonment of white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant principles.
Sadly, during my residence in Peshawar, Pakistan I too experienced social ostracism from water-boilers such as these. Because I had converted to Islam in Afghanistan many years before, and due to my adoption of shalwar, kameez and turban, the white sahibs who drank at the local foreigner’s club banned me from entry. Like you, they mocked my decision to dwell as deeply as possible in another culture, which included wearing the clothes of my friends and fellow religionists. Like you, they also resided in an intellectual ghetto based upon the fallacy of their personal and national superiority.
Thus, your attack upon the clothes of a man not only reveals how little you understand his soul but casts a tremendous insult upon the Yemeni people whose culture you pretend to sympathize with and protect.
Finally, while all of your points are inaccurate, your use of profanity to describe Mikael Strandberg is a public revelation of your lack of shame. It is my privilege to call many of the world’s most respected travellers and explorers either friends or comrades. None of them are perfect. Like me, they have all sinned. Yet I will not stand by and allow an internet parasite to insult any of them. If, as your wicked letter proves, the internet has provided us with tremendous blessings, it has also opened the door to the abuse of this glorious tool.
In closing, I trust that the public will continue to believe, as I do, that Mikael Strandberg is not a perfect human being. He is in fact like another explorer of a previous era, Sir Ernest Shackleton. Like Mikael, Sir Ernest had his flaws. Nevertheless he inspired tremendous admiration and loyalty from those who knew him. The world is always in need of a genuine hero, and though Mikael is no sinless angel, the world could do far worse than by holding him up as an example of personal courage and ethical exploration.
CuChullaine O’Reilly FRGS
To the subject.
Hillary Clinton visited last month Tatarstan/Russia and University I was graduated from. One of the reasons why Mrs Clinton visited Tatarstan, it is the area of Russia where Muslims and Christians live together for hundreds of years (population split about 50/50) in peace. I should add that our family is an example of such a peaceful coexistance. I am Russian and my spouse is Tartar. Today is 31 year since we’ve met :o) It was quite a ride, but religion was never a problem.
Vile. Ignore. There is nothing else to be done.
Meanwhile, keep on coming through with your boundless enthusiasm and postings for the rest of us, please!
Way to go CuChullaine, my sentiments and support good friend! Bob Atwater, FRGS
Please accept my decision not to share my identity as Yemen is actually a small community.
As a foreigner living in Yemen – this issue has come to my attention through the grapevine.
While I do agree that this may not be the best forum for terms such as “dickhead” – I can understand the frustrations of the reader!
It seems that Mikael is unaccustomed to such feedback – could this be that he surrounds himself with like-minded people unlikely to offer criticism?
Ms. Elsafy’s incoherent comments, as she is a participant, can hardly be considered objective.
Mr. O’Reilly’s membership in the old boys club is painfully obvious.
Victors comments seem unrelated.
Now to Mr. Grant…Vile? Ignore?
I submit that if the profession of Explorer is indeed a tangible and identifiable ethos attainable only to those who undergo specific education and training (ie: there is an actual definition that all members adhere to, that is clearly set apart from Adventurer, Traveler, etc.) then, like all disciplines that deal with the touchy subjects of culture and people and places (Anthropology, Area Studies, etc.) if it is worth its salt it will come out on the other side of debates such as this more refined, better defined and with a stronger following.
I am sure that the comment that sparked this debate is shared by more people that take the time to leave a message for Mikael.
I, for now, have only one question: Would Ibn Battuta have traveled on foot – or Shakleton by canoe – in an attempt to experience travel in a way that preceded them? As a form of adventure? Of course not – they both used the most sophisticated technology available to them in their time, and why wouldn’t they? I think it is this replication which borders on caricature that many find so offensive. I don’t believe that what motivated these explorers of old was to do the longest, most daring, most publicized, most different thing of the day; rather, they were seeking the ends, not the means – they actually were charting the uncharted (although this is a problematic statement on many other levels, as these were not uninhabited locales) – so, put simply, SO WHAT if no one has ridden camel as far as Mikael proposes? Who is he competing with? What is the point? At least the adventure travelers on TV who “eat bugs for money” accept who they are – people of their time, catering to an audience of their time, using all available tools of their time.
What Mikael does – if done for himself and his own experience of life, does not bother me. If it makes him a happy person, great! But why does he deserve this title “Explorer”? Aren’t we all exploring?
Dear British Citizen living in Yemen,
The reason I made a blog report about the former comment was that I wanted just a debate on the subject. I do appreciate your comments and your lust to define the word explorer and what is exploration? Please continue.
Just for the record I will answer your thoughts briefly. It will be the last reply from me on this subject. I will turn to a new chapter of time and continue on with my life after this.
Since you obviously haven´t take time to read anything accept what you want on the blog, let me once again state the main purpose of the trip:
• The main purpose of the expedition is to build bridges of understanding and knowledge between the Arab countries themselves, and also between the Islamic east and the European west. Perhaps the most important mission of our time, as the gap between the two cultures is widening and fear and fanaticism are growing stronger. And I want to highlight the great Arab travelers of our time. And introduce two new Arab voices to the subject on how we see the world, since I want a new perspective on how the world sees exploration, Nasr and Salim.
I really hope you read this sound and clear. And understand it. You don´t have to agree or like it. But that is the main reason and have always been. To build bridges between cultures. And it will continue to be so. And if you take some time to read through the blog you will see being the first have never been my aim. But I don´t mind being the first to do a thing neither. We are all different. And on top of all these subjects, the media is a totally different subject. However, we will all know the final score, how it all went and feedback on that, once the Expedition is over. Which is far ahead in time and you might even have left Yemen before that. On your Expedition.
Also, I do know who you are and wish you the best of luck in what you do. I hope your travelling goes well.
Greetings from the neighboring country of Oman!
I have followed Mikael for years and I have travelled to many of the places he has visited and he has inspired me and many more to discover new places in this world. Now I am going to visit Yemen this month together with my husband, even if the ambessys and newspapers say it is the most dangerous country in the world. Mikael tells me it is the most fantastic. So we want to visit Yemen. Have you ever met this fantastic person in reality? He is so inspiring, energetic and kind and only say good things about other people. We will continue to follow your progress and I think there´s very few jelous people like this. What is their reason to be in Yemen I ask myself? Heja på Mikael!
Having travelled over 7000km on foot with camels through the Sahara – from M’Hamid el Gizlaine in Morocco, down through the Western Sahara, into Mauritania, through Mali, and into Niger, I have variously been described as: A walker; an explorer; a traveller; a trekker; and an adventurer.
I choose not to use the term ‘explorer’ to define myself, purely for reasons of definition. Nobody can presume to ‘explore’ our wonderful world in the true physical sense of the word. Having said that, every traveller undergoes personal exploration when they set out. I also found the term ‘adventurer’ fairly distasteful, as it smacks of charlatanism and stunts, which – when you actually walk every step of your journey, without a 4wd up your behind or a camera crew following, with no resupply and the challenges of living amongst a culture not your own for an extended period of time – seems unfair.
Ultimately, however, I have adopted this term, mainly for media consumption. It possibly will never sit easily with me; but I know what I have done, and it is a great deal different to somebody who jumped on an overland truck through Africa for a few months.
I am curious as to what the initial emailer is actually objecting to. Is it the journey itself? That would strike me as odd, as everybody has a right to journey in the way that appeals to them, and as they choose. Is it the stated aim of building a bridge between cultures? Sure, this may be an idealistic and ambitious goal – but who can fault the intention?
Or is it the attempts to ‘blend’ with a culture not Mikaels’ own? Sure, we have all seen Lonely Planet tourists roll into a Marrakesh souk and walk about with crumpled jellaba flapping unbecomingly, self consciously sipping tea. But having walked amongst Saharawi in the deep desert for months on end, I can tell you that as a woman, it was far easier for me to adopt local dress than to constantly be mistaken for a man, or had presumptions made. far into the Sahara, there is no television to inform the nomads that Western women dress differently. To do so invites unwanted attention and criticism. Having said that, as soon as I entered a town, off came melekhva and on went travelling clothes! But is this about me aspiring to be something I am not? Hardly. It is convenient, and downright necessary, particularly in areas like the Western Sahara and Mauritania, where the nomadic women place a lot of value on how a woman presents herself. In Mali and Niger such dress was not normal nor required, and thus I didn’t wear it. I have no question Mikael will apply the same rationale.
My final comment is regarding the identity of the initial communicator – was the correspondent a Yemeni, or an ex pat feeling a little jealous of their local understanding?
Good luck, Mikael, on a wonderful expedition. Anybody who travels unaccompanied through such territory has achieved a remarkable feat. And to the correspondent – I would say, walk a mile – in this case several thousand of them – in another man’s shoes, before you make an assessment about what is or isn’t a challenge.
Dear Mikael, I just read about the email attack…I had something similar on Oman Forum, to such an extent the ministry of information shut down the site until a lot of it was deleted!!! It was very depressing to read all these attacks on me as if I had done something criminal in going to the magnetic North Pole…but it was all written by people who have never done anything themselves, and who will never amount to anything so their opinion really doesn’t matter. It would be different if the RGS or National Geographic said it, but they just armchair critics and so it didn’t bother me in the end.
Haha! This really made me chuckle! It is amazing what people get angry about and that they have enough spare time to bother to email about it!
As Aisha wrote; “It seems that Mikael is unaccustomed to such feedback…”
If you open a blog you invite for discussion. Some of the comments you get, will be out in the blue. Some of them will be a contribution to an intelligent discussion, others will be words from a different perspective.
But as a publisher (yes you are one): You always have to defend peoples right to express their opinions, even when you may not share them!
I don’t think you should identify them as “words made of blind hate, jealousy and bitterness”, just defined them as a comment from a another point of view, it is enough.
Good luck with your plans and I am sure you will do it outstanding as you done before, whenever it has been an expedition or an advanced travel… 🙂
Thank you to SZ for bringing the conversation back to some kind of center.
Why the backlash that those who question Mikael’s profession are somehow jealous, mean-spirited or not accomplishing anything of value in our own lives? It is important to bear in mind that many people choose to move “abroad” and to adopt new places as their beloved homes. We are all (or should be) doing our best to contribute something positive to these second homes, and, especially when we live in places like Yemen, to enter the global discourse with positivity, understanding and compassion; put differently, attempting to mitigate the mis-understandings that exist between the East and the West (constructs I am not wholly comfortable with) is a shared goal between Mikael and ourselves. Am I, then, an explorer? It is likely that nobody with my unique personal biography has been in Yemen before, or does that not matter? Does the fact that I drive a car and not a camel disqualify me?
I don’t think it should be that surprising that those of us who have permanently (or semi permanently) relocated to Yemen would raise an eyebrow to those who pass through in a rather orchestrated and short term manner and then proclaim to be the appropriate liaison between this and his culture. We see this all the time with journalists, for example, who breeze in and out and then have the platform from which to deploy their impressions of Yemen to a very large public; often to Yemen’s detriment.
This is not a personal attack against Mikael.
Again, I don’t think there is anything wrong with what he is doing if it is for his own personal experience. And, I do read the other comments here with an open mind and concede that many valid points have been raised. Still, we all have our personal sensibilities, our personal moral compasses (I am not accusing Mikael of immorality as he clearly believes he is doing something noble) – and the term “explorer” (unless you are exploring outer space, the inner earth or the deep sea) will likely always smack of self-aggrandizement for me. But, at the end of the day, these are just personal tastes.
I still wish that my earlier question would be answered directly:
Would Ibn Battuta have traveled on foot – or Shakleton by canoe – in an attempt to experience travel in a way that preceded them? As a form of adventure? Why the camel?
Again, as SZ said – you open the forum, you invite the debate! I truly hope you are posting all the comments you receive and not just those that support you fully!
I, for one, don’t wish you ill or failure in your life or work, Mikael – I simply want to deconstruct this concept of land exploration in the 21st century – which in my opinion does not exist.
Subject: Animal Travel
I read your last posting with a growing sense of remarkable sadness. Though you made an attempt at understanding Mikael, you clearly do not comprehend either the importance, nor the inspiring intrigue, of travelling with animals, be it horses, as in my case, or in camels, as in the case under discussion.
You wrote, “Does the fact that I drive a car and not a camel disqualify me?”
No, but it puts your views into perspective by implying that you have spent the majority of your existence sealed in a metal cocoon, speeding from one place to another as fast as possible via the use of machines, cut off from nature as your body is transported like a slab of meat from Point A to Point B. Is that what you are advocating, the energetic efficiency of machines?
You go on to state, “I simply want to deconstruct this concept of land exploration in the 21st century – which in my opinion does not exist.”
I beg to differ, Madame, and will point out that in less than a decade the Long Riders’ Guild has grown from five members originating in three countries to the stage where it now has members in forty countries. And lest you rush to judgment again, by perhaps implying that this is a white boy’s club dedicated to pony picnics, allow me to state that the latest people to join are a woman from Canada and two men from Mongolia.
In fact every single person who is a member of the Guild stands as a certified argument against your misguided view that those who travel by horse – or camel – are either glory seekers, pretentious peacocks or simple fools. All of the women and men who have joined the Guild have done so after making a qualifying ride of at least one thousand miles.
Every major equestrian explorer alive today belongs to The Guild, including Hadji Shamsuddin of Afghanistan, who recently rode a thousand miles through that war-zone, Jean-Louis Gouraud of France, who rode 3,000 miles from Paris to Moscow, Claudia Gottet of Switzerland, who rode 8,000 miles from Arabia to the Alps, Adnan Azzam of Syria, who rode 10,000 miles from Madrid to Mecca, and Vladimir Fissenko of Russia, who rode 19,000 miles from Patagonia to Alaska.
No one forced this wide array of humanity to make those harrowing journeys. Like Mikael, they were lured out onto the road because their souls longed to experience things not to be found inside a air-conditioned machine.
This concept was voiced by the Canadian Long Rider, Bonnie Folkins, who just completed a difficult and perilous equestrian journey across Mongolia. Despite the hardships, upon her return “home,” Bonnie had this interesting insight.
“I was looking out the window, day-dreaming and all I could think about was, I wish I had a horse to ride. But having a horse to ride is not the issue. It is the travelling and the day to day adventure on horseback. Having a horse and travelling by horse, especially if you are en route to an unknown destination, are absolutely separate. I knew at the end of the first week of our ride that because the adventure was on horseback it was completely different than anything I had ever done in my life. Later, when we driving back to Ulaanbaatar by van – over territory we had already covered by horse – it was on a different / lesser dimension. That’s when I suddenly realized how much I had missed in my life by traveling on wheels.”
Which brings me to your next inaccurate observation.
“Would Ibn Battuta have traveled on foot – or Shakleton by canoe – in an attempt to experience travel in a way that preceded them? As a form of adventure? Why the camel?”
Madame, this exercise is akin to explaining colours to a blind woman.
Has your mechanized existence so cut you off from the delights of the animal kingdom that you no longer realize the immense gifts which are found by those of us who willingly travel in this manner?
Allow me to draw your attention to that most intriguing of modern day camel travellers, the rightfully famed Arita Baaijens of Holland. Like Mikael, I consider myself lucky to count this incredible woman among my friends. Like Mikael, she too practises humility in her life and brotherhood out in the field. For also, like Mikael, Arita has successfully undertaken a number of astonishing solo journeys, only hers have been with camels.
Arita is regarded by the vast majority of the international exploration community as being the most knowledgeable female camel traveller alive today. Having already made various difficult and dangerous camel journeys into the Sahara that would break many a cartoonish television explorer, now she’s off to Mauritania so as to research the role of women in the trans-Saharan trade caravans. As always, Arita will be travelling with her beloved camels, not because she is looking to perform a stunt but because of her deep abiding love and respect for these magnificent animals.
As Arita demonstrates, the lure of travelling with animals is something that predates the mechanical age. The car has been with mankind for less than a hundred years. Yet mankind has been exploring the world on horseback for more than six thousand years. That experience still resonates deeply in the soul of many of us, including myself, Arita, Bonnie and Mikael. Plus, it is important that this discussion not overlook the vital fact that the Bedouins, Nasir and Salim, as well the young woman, Pamela, are also involved in the forthcoming camel expedition.
Their presence reveals the true nature of this debate, which is not actually about the validity of camel, horse, or other means of animal travel, the appeal of which still resonates in the souls of countless humans, regardless of race or sex. No, the debate is actually between the villager, who has never understood the desire to travel towards the horizon, and the nomad, who refuses to be subjected to the taboos placed upon him/her by the voice of authority, be it the modern day Department of Health and Safety or a priestess of caution such as yourself.
The history of humanity is full of forgettable people, who, for one reason or another, urged, warned, forbade, or declared illegal the movement of others. Twenty years ago the Berlin Wall, that great symbol of injustice against the human need to travel, was knocked down. Yet the repressive desire to thwart the travel plans of others continues to simmer.
Your denunciation of the plans of these four humans to travel on camel is such an action. The fact that you don’t understand either its appeal, or its importance, is only a reminder of how tragically prevalent is your attitude and belief.
There are a wide variety of reasons for this discouragement, all of which are a variation on the same theme. It’s dangerous or deserted, cold or hot, infested with beasts or crawling with bandits. One of my favourite excuses was the one told to the young woman who wished to ride across England in 1939. Her outraged critics reminded that she couldn’t possibly do such a thing “in this modern age.”
Yet there is a new type of danger now in existence, one introduced by people like you, and that is the danger of ridicule. Now, instead of being told that it is too dangerous to go, Mikael is being told he is silly. Instead of bandits, he is forced to waste valuable time defending himself instead against mockery aimed at him by stay-at-home pedestrians.
Mankind is currently suffering from a world wide case of animal travel amnesia. Though it took thousands of years to learn how to travel with camels and horses, in less than a hundred years, not only has the knowledge been largely lost, as your letter sadly proves, the very value of this experience is now no longer understood.
Thus, it was very revealing when you asked if Ibn Battuta or Shackleton could return, would they choose to travel as they once had, given today’s mechanical alternatives?
What would their choices be? To enter into the mini-police state which airports now represent? To be lined up like cattle, then driven and degraded from the ticket counter into a cramped seat? To be shuttled, shuffled and sullied? To pass through the world in a climate-controlled envelope of steel? Ah, that sounds like a system designed to provide comfort and serenity.
Travel by any type of machine and your journey is firmly rooted in the industrial present. Travel by horse, or camel, and you travel by time machine. The new world slows down and an old world opens up before you. This is the world of the Long Riders, and the camel travellers, one of the first lessons of which is that the bond which occurs between you and your animal will come as a result of the two of you having survived the unknown elements of the trip together. For when people, like Salim, Mikael, Nasir and Pamela make such a journey, they will be no different than their 6,000 year old ancestor who first swung his/her tentative leg over the back of a wild pony and galloped toward his/her own distant and dangerous horizon.
Even in this age of anonymous air travel, which forces one to travel within the confining steel cocoon of a plane or car, riding a horse or camel links one to the incredible world around us. You don’t watch the world flying by. You interact with it. You don’t travel at the speed of sound. You sashay along at the pace of the wind. You don’t suffer through security checks. You slow down your heartbeat to join the rhythm of the horse’s hoof beats.
It was the great English Long Rider, naturalist and passionate horseman, Charles Darwin who argued that the migratory urge is one of the strongest of instincts.
Sadly, the majority of humanity live their lives like worms, content to die in the same clod of clay in which they were born. That explains why as long as some humans have been attempting to ride towards the sun, sedentary people have been busy urging them instead not to leave. These are the pedestrians who divided the landscape into “wild” and “domestic.” They saw their “inside” life as representing security, all the while denoucing mounted life as uncouth. Such people betray their own dreams and become ghosts not to be remembered.
In conclusion, camel, and horse, travel is a craft, which is represented by a guild whose mission is to preserve, protect and promote a type of inter-species experience which you seem destined not to understand. The validity of travelling a great distance over the surface of the earth, thereby traversing incredible hardships, surviving unforeseen dangers, all the while in the company of an animal that loves, protects and transports you, is an experience which all too few humans will ever enjoy. That is sad. Yet to denounce it out of a lack of understanding is sadder yet.
CuChullaine O’Reilly FRGS
Thank you for your interest.
I have had more than 900 visits to this page since this debate began, but very few comments outside these above here. I welcome a debate on what is exploration. As we see above here, opinions are many. The only comments I have had, which I have not published, is one from an acquaintance of mine from the documentary scene, who was very unhappy with me, just because we didn´t do a deal on this Expedition, but it included too much personal things which you readers have nothing to do with. The other one not published, is the guy who wrote the first piece on which this blog report was set up. To create debate. If I was worried about critique, why would I than bring it up? Anyway this guy sent me another batch of anger, jealousy, threats and bitterness this morning, but signed under another name and email address, edward schissorhand this time, as to appear as it came from another person. I just want to say that everyone who leaves a comment, also leaves their real trace, an IP-address. Which have helped me to conclude that Aisha, who is a woman I have met there in lovely Sanaa, and the other a bloke with a British background. They know each other very well. For example, it is not only the IP-addresses, just half an hour after Edward Scissorhands second try to get published, she wrote her piece which ends with, I quote:
I truly hope you are posting all the comments you receive and not just those that support you fully!
So from now on, for an open and continued debate on a very important subject, please publish your proper E-mail addresses if you want to get published here.
Like Alistair, I just don´t know why you two spend so much energy on writing on this subject and why don´t you start your own blog about a subject which interest you and create awareness for what you think is right or wrong? Or is it maybe a case of that you don´t have that capacity? Spending too much time complaining about others maybe?
That is my last word on this issue!
M – aaah, life is great!
Some comments on the subject of adopting native dress:
For myself – the reason I wear a Mongolian deel (traditional coat) in that country is because I feel it is the ultimate solution to their severe and unpredictable climate. The design has been worked out for centuries. If I had worn one the two times we were lost in the Gobi and if we had not found our way out, it would have prevented hypothermia that could have been a life-threatening issue.
Mongolians never go without their deel – even in the hottest weather. It serves as a blanket, a windbreak (double fabric across the chest), a raincoat, a sun protector and even a serviette during meals! (Nomads wipe their mouths across the skirt) And with the super long sleeves, a rider never needs gloves in winter, (the perfect answer for a travelling photographer – no gloves and a warm camera in his/her hand all the time.)
If it had not been for my winter deel – a fur lined deel – I could not have slept night after night comfortably in cold conditions which, after the end of September, were hovering at and below freezing. My nylon sleeping bag was cold to the touch, shifted continuously and made noise against my ears, interrupting my sleep greatly . Having the fur-lined coat on hand when we woke to ride in the snow was a real plus. It is actually foolish to consider travelling in the Mongolian countryside without one.
Unfortunately my riding helmet was a dead giveaway that I was not Mongolian and I cannot tell you the countless times I wanted (and should have) hidden it, to remain anonymous. I was a target for anyone who wanted to know details of what we were about, where we were going or had anything else in their minds like horse stealing or general theft.
And on the subject of travellers donning local hats and turbans, it must be remembered that head wear has been designed and adapted by local people for protection from the sun, wind and dust storms – for millennium. In European and North American cities we do not need head protection so we don’t think about it. Under extreme weather conditions like sand storms, not only does it become next to impossible to see without an unwrapped turban but it is also needed to help one breathe. A turban insulates; it is worn in the heat to keep the head cool and in the cold to keep the head warm.
About being given a local name? I believe it is the greatest compliment a person can have. In Mongolia, my Canadian birth name means absolutely nothing to Mongolian people. They have no association to the sound or spelling and therefore do not even try to remember. If they hear my Mongolian name “Altai” however, not only do they remember me and the name – but it bonds our friendship immediately.
My motto as a traveller is this: when you put your foot inside another country, you become an ambassador of sorts for your own country. Anything even as simple as being given a name affectionately by local people will firm up friendships and open many doors.
Whats the big deal?
We are quite a few who have spent parts of our life travelling to different places, by different means.
Had our little adventures.
Seeing things from our original perspective gives a wider span to our experience.
However much we try we can never be locals. But we can drink, sleep, dress and eat like they do. And to some extent even talk and share the perspective on life.
What happened to the good taste in granting others their harmless pleasures.
Why shall it be a shame to use a gps or a satphone if we have the means or feel we need to. Is it something to die for?
The one who makes the trip has the right to his own formula, that is what it means to be independant. Self relient.
If you like the lokal cloathing why not don it, it is often appreciated and a way to feel more a part of the local picture, as well as a way to adopt to the climate.
Wish you a good trip Mikael.
I have two opinions, but let me just say, yes I am a big supporter of Mikaels low-key way to look at life and get on with his Expeditions which always put the people he meets in focus, not himself -haven´t you read his books or seen his films?
My first opinion is, since I myself have been an ex-pat in Saudi-Arabia (which I loved!), Dubai and Bahrain (I loved these countries less) and I stopped being one, I got fed up with the negative people, and started a life as as a traveler and in my job as a reporter and salesperson I have met many ex-pats. I have to say that especially English speaking ex-pats are cynical, tired of living an ex_pat life, and negative to anyone who shows optimism and they spend too much time watching satellite tv.
Secondly, go through his CV. For Christ sake, he has been honored as an explorer. Medals, books and so on. And the British Explorers Club thinks he is the contemporary best explorer in the world. Why shouldn´t he than call himself explorer? And why do you negative lot only focus on his upcoming venture, have you noticed what he has done up until now?
Please, leave your ex_pat lives and go home where you come from. And, Mikael, get on with your life. Don´t give them anymore air with their silly, poorly researched thoughts so full of negativism. I don´t even understand why you started this silly debate.
My father in law was like a father figure to the President of Yemen, and let me tell you this…..
This person who sent this email to you does not love Yemen. Real Yemeni’s love tourists – explorers – journalists – etc. etc. and on and on, and they love people that love them! They love attention and they love being hosts to everyone and anyone! sooo do not listen to the words of this worthless person, they have no real meaning what so ever…..
I saw Mikael lecture at the Travellers Club In London last month. I had no idea what to expect although from “explorers” you’d expect some kind of ego trip. Mikael was nothing like I expected, very humble, straight from the outset stating his purpose for exploration was about self-discovery, finding out the meaning of life for himself.
What’s wrong with that ?
He lectured on his expedition to Siberia, an area of the world I knew nothing about and although I have no intention of repeating his expedition I learned a lot about the region, history and people of that area. Had Mikael not conducted this expedition I would be less informed and somewhat poorer in my knowledge of the world. Is it not the duty of explorers to go out and then come back and educate people of their stories and adventures ?
Isn’t that what Mikael does ?
The element of his lecture that stuck out the most was that his expedition was not about himself – it was about the people he met along the way, their reaction to him, his interaction with them and the relationships he built up with them. As many of the land based the firsts have been eaten up by now (Everest, Poles etc.) isn’t modern exploration about forging relationships, bridging cultural divides and educating those unlikely, unwilling or unable to undertake difficult journeys (whether you want to call hem expeditions or not) ?
If you’re lucky enough to see Mikael give a talk then go and see him and meet him, he’s a great guy and very amenable and has a really great outlook on life and I’d hate to see him stop exploring and coming back and telling us his great stories.
Mikael is doing what a man must do. Many have dreams of great expeditions – few go through with them. He must be allowed to undertake his dream in his way without our interference but with our support and admiration. If he succeeds we will all know about it – if he fails I suspect he will try again another time.
The name of Strandberg is already well known for good reasons. His ambition is bottomless, his photography in many cases incomparable and his guts – in the words of a surgeon I know well – are beauties! I was privileged to introduce him at a remarkable talk he gave us in Norfolk. Do not underestimate this man.
Keep up the good work Mikael – those who have gone before know to some extent what you are going through. Cuchullaine got it right – let the grumblers and moaners grumble and moan till they are blue in the face. When they have done their trip of a lifetime we look forward to hearing about it.
John Labouchere, FRGS, Founder Member, Long Riders’ Guild.
More power to you, your elbow and your camels. Wishing you Godspeed, a Happy Christmas in the desert and may Allah watch over your caravan safely in the weeks and
months ahead. It will be a great journey.
Who knows, by the time you get back, we may even have got the Royal Geographical Society exploring again!
Such a usefule blog wow !!!!