Many years ago I crossed paths with a fascinating woman, Brenda Dougall Merriman. Brenda is a respected genealogist and author of four acclaimed books on the topic. She has, and still does, amaze me with her knowledge and great sense of humour. Life took some twists and turns and we lost touch for a few years but when our paths crossed again, as with any true friendship, we picked up where we’d left off.
It was during our ‘catching up’ conversations that I learned about her new interest that had become an integral part of her extensive travels. Beyond the study of genealogy Brenda enjoyed camel rides. It’s a hobby few others, in North America can claim.
She’d enjoyed her first camel ride in her teens while touring the Mediterranean with a friend. In her early 60’s, on a trip to Morocco, the interest was reignited. It was during a touristy evening where a special dinner was being served in a tent on the outskirts of Marrakesh. The group was being serenaded by wandering minstrels, while camel rides were going on around the edge of the venue. Upon seeing the camels and realizing that the rides were open to the group she jumped at the opportunity. As she shared, once I saw it “I knew I had to do THAT!’ Before long she was second guessing her decision as her travel companions hadn’t the nerve to join her. As she explained ‘the camel handler had a singularly surly disposition; his world view included neither job satisfaction nor customer service. Paid in advance, he didn’t care if his passenger went ass over teakettle in the all-important mount and dismount. Fortunately, a stored memory of old, saved me from disgrace.’ She was hooked.
There have been many more trips and camel rides over the past twenty years. Some have been rides from cruise shore excursions while others have been overnight trips. Like her adventure to a desert camp in Oman and more recently a two-day ride through the Red Dunes in Morocco, staying at an overnight camp.
To date Brenda’s taken part in camel rides in seven countries – from India, to Egypt, Tunisia and even the USA. To memorialize the experiences and share them with others she has written a camel blog, affectionately titled ‘cameldabbletravelbabble’. She’s transformed the stories into a book ‘Camelogue -a photographic chronicling of her experience chasing camels in Arabic countries.’ As she confessed, to commit to a ride requires ‘baking one’s tender body in near-isolated deserts.’ Although camels are known to be tempermental, she’s had few negative experiences. It’s a different story around the saddles. Some have truly been a sore point as they range from a full saddle to a simple blanket. The physical repercussions haven’t slowed her down.
Just as she was drawn to studying genealogy in Ontario, Brenda felt a pull to ancient civilizations. I was curious as to what it was about camel riding that has drawn her back to the experience, time and time again. Her response was, “when riding there’s nothing in the universe but the power of silence and nature, all else drops away…’civilization’, daily routine, even self-awareness. The camel’s swaying is therapeutic, comforting, for me. It’s part of tuning into the heart of the planet.” Although she’s not known for being highly spiritual there’s clearly a sense of belonging and peace that she’s found during the rides.
Although now in her late seventies and still an avid traveller, Brenda is tempted to take another camel riding trip, dreamily smiling at the thought. As she explained it, for now she’s content with the knowledge “Warm memories can never be duplicated at a later date; time and circumstance dictate otherwise. They are best hauled out, dusted off, revived for a smile, and gently stored away for another time.”
A good life lesson for all.
If you’re interested in reading more about her camel riding experiences check out her website.