When we pack our bags to explore the wonders of our world, consider these keys to a happy journey….travel lightly and let go of your stuff that burdens the back; travel expectantly and untie the strings to every package with an expectation of high adventure; travel hopefully so as to experience something new and wonderful; travel humbly as you visit people and their places with respect for their traditions and ways of life; travel courteously with consideration for your fellow travelers and hosts; travel gratefully in giving appreciation for the many things being done by others for your enjoyment and comfort; travel with an open mind and leave your prejudices at home; travel with curiosity and imagination keeping an open heart and mind for everything you will encounter; travel fearlessly and dismiss all worry; travel relaxed and learn to let go of things that aren’t perfect or don’t go your way; travel patiently as you accept to understand others and be flexible and adaptable to all situations; and travel slowly knowing that jet planes are just for getting you to places, not really seeing places. Consider an alternate way of traveling, moving, adventuring, exploring, escaping….embark on a caravan by camelback to experience some of the most photogenic places on earth!
For centuries, nomadic people have traveled from afar with unimaginable stamina by camel-back, traversing mass desert landscapes to get from point A to point B. Part of their ritual while riding is reflecting and meditating, and when tired, they stop to quench their thirst, while resting their hump-backed loyal friends. I have a deep appreciation for traveling to a destination in search of further learning something and taking the slower-paced ways and more scenic routes in the process. Moved by the observation of Rumi (the 13th century Persian poet) who stated “But knowing depends on the time spent looking” – my father, a nomad-at-heart and true adventurer, determined it was time for me to see life through a camel’s eye. And so we journeyed into the middle of nowhere by jeep and finally arrived in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley, northeast of Beirut, to see the beautiful ancient Greco-Roman ruins of “Sun City” or Heliopolis (also known as Baalbek). It still possesses some of the best-preserved ruins in this region, including one of the largest temples of the Roman Empire. Not yet possessing quite the experience my father had who had been to Egypt many times among other Middle Eastern remote locales where camels are the “norm”, I was a bit terrified of the creatures. So at the age of seven, with much hesitation, I was gently lifted upon the saddle of my first camel by my father and off into the sunset I rode with our guides. As I caravanned upon one of the oldest modes of transportation known to mankind, I completely let go, accepting that I was not the one in charge of driving this one-humped stubborn Dromedary-vehicle. Being guided by gentle Arabic nomads who have known their way having had centuries of experience within their ancient bloodline of the desert trade routes, I finally reached my final destination in the hands of an expert. I was in awe of its massive archaic stone walls. As we proceeded deeper into this magnificent structure with its beautiful colomns, I was immediately mesmerized by where I was. I listened to my father and the guides story-tell of journeys spent going into the Sinai desert to seek one of the Earth’s oldest spiritual homes, St. Catherine’s Monastery. One can only enter this land with the Jebeliya tribe of Bedouins (who are descendants of the soldiers who were sent by Emperor Justinian to build it 1400 years ago). They share a respectful and interdependent relationship with the area, and as such this specific tribe now holds prestigious positions maintaining its gardens, and serving as its stonemasons, bakers, blacksmiths, carpenters, gatekeepers, herbal medicinal shamans, and knowledgeable desert guides. To rejuvenate our lethargic afternoon spirit, we took a break relaxing in the shade as the midday sun made our arid earth reach a temperature of 100-degrees. I sipped a traditional herbal blend of sage, marmaraya and habuck tea in the shaded comfort of temporary-set colorful tents, picturesquely set with tribal rugs, pillows and candle votives. I felt like I was in a real-life fairy tale setting. As I nibbled on olives, cheese, bread and dried fruit that had been packed for us, I continued to listen to these interesting white-turban-clad gentlemen of the desert speak about their culture. Even at that young age, I imagined what it would be like to be a real nomad – waking up every sunrise just to wander and explore the desert on camel-back, slowly drifting among the amazing dunes, taking in the scenic views from tops of mountains, and letting my camel sip water within whatever lush oases I came across; then journeying further into significant religious places that would unveil themselves to me along the way.
I urge everyone to embark on their own little caravan upon an even-toed ungulate within the genus Camelus, bearing distinctive fatty deposits known as “humps on its back, to explore so many other fascinating destinations they call native-home. Go on a camel safari through the Sahara desert with the Bedouins; explore the ancient Egyptian pyramids through the Nile’s Valley and its Delta; find true bohemia riding through the Moroccan desert with the Berber tribesman; see the stunning desert land of the Maharaja of Jaisalmer in India; or embark into the red sand dunes of Australia’s Outback onboard one of these fascinating creatures of our earth. Listen to the telling of ancient tales and folklore by an elder and sleep under a starlit sky surrounded by any of these magnificent high altitude desert ecosystems, each filled with their own diverse landscapes. Despite the ever growing concerns within many of these regions nowadays, the fond moments I had have grown even more precious in my memory’s storage bank with each passing day. I replay them often in my mind to remind myself never to lose that adventurous spirit that I felt on-board that first camel ride. I understand now how closely intertwined I was in so many ways with this barren yet spiritually-fertile region, its rich treasures, the people, their life and culture. I was blessed to journey in such a way to appreciate my hosts’ serene and historical desert region and their graciousness. On my exodus route out of this incredibly ethereal and enchanting nomadic wonderland, I remember shedding tears. Perhaps it was in that moment that I learned, “Not all who wander are lost”. I experienced the life of a desert nomad, for just a brief moment in time and the last key to a happy journey….travel with the spirit of a true world citizen and be an ambassador of good-will to all people you encounter.