30 December 2018

End of the Year

Time to make like a shill again. The book is still available. For sale on Blurb.com, $15.00 Canadian; the USD equivalent is less.


"Chasing camels in Arabic countries encumbered only by gender, age, opportunity, and gentle self-delusion. Impersonating a world traveller requires permanent smiles and sign language on high alert. Strange, the writer's pull to ancient civilizations. Stranger still, baking one's tender body in near-isolated deserts. Highly recommended for lovers of animals and warm climates. Lose yourself briefly here in a different world."

"Arabic" is over-stated only in that two of the countries are not. The United States and the Netherlands. Some of the experiences were divine. Others were funny or disappointing with a variety of characters, and just one heart-attack-scary night "hill climb."

Back cover:
Brenda Dougall Merriman is well-known as a genealogist for her serious books Genealogy in Ontario: Searching the Records; United Empire Loyalists: A Guide to Tracing Loyalist Ancestors in Upper Canada; and Genealogical Standards of Evidence. She writes about her Canadian, Scottish, and Latvian ancestors at http://brendadougallmerriman.blogspot.com. Crime fiction, too - https://anotherfamdamily.blogspot.com/


15 December 2018

Our Man of the Camels

It makes me happy to bring to light some women who work with camels (Our Lady of the Camels, three posts). I haven't even touched on those who labour to grow the camel dairy industry, what with the health benefits of camel milk slowly being recognized.

But I can no longer avoid sharing a man of the ilk. Avoiding is not an apt word; I've put it off because describing one of the most consistently decent human beings I have ever met is next to impossible. Decent is that quite right? Considerate, caring, modest, funny, warm, open-minded, literate, patient, unpretentious ... see, so many very suitable words come to mind but they will encourage disbelief, ringing like the smitten fan that I am.

'Tis Doug Baum, hardworking proponent and advocate of traditional camel culture.

For your information, it's not just me. Hundreds of people across the United States and bushels more across the world know and love Doug Baum for his camel expertise, his willingness to help, his hospitality, his uniquely enriching tours abroad. Not to mention his home-based Big Bend Camel Treks in eastern Texas. Want a history lesson? Doug's Texas Camel Corps attends numerous schools and historical reenactments where he educates. Need camels for your living Christmas tableaux? Doug's on it. In fact, his entire family trailers their own camels (nine at last count) around the countryside and beyond; in 2016, for instance, they participated in some thirty-nine nativity and holiday performances.

Cameleers looking for training advice or for veterinarians or saddle construction? Doug and his contacts run training clinics for international participants and freely dispense advice on Facebook. Oh, the contacts! ... in Egypt (where he keeps a home with his Cairo family), Jordan (where he regularly arranges donations for Syrian refugees), Morocco, India. Wishing you could explore an exotic country in-depth with camel ride options? Doug's your man. He leads very small group tours to all those places where travellers spend their time with locals in a cultural immersion; personal relationships become the outstanding memories. His enthusiasm is expanding to Kenya and Mongolia/China.

Photo: Heather Daveno

Doug also travels to provide training for animals and handlers, to build saddles, to attend conferences from Mexico to England to Mongolia. He knows that camel tourism a newly coined phrase – can help ensure the animal's survival and turn things around economically for families in the more depressed regions. Always on his mind is the question of the native camel herdsman: "How do I continue to keep camels in my life in the face of changing times and modernization?"

So Doug's calendar must have 26 hours in a day and 40 days a month. When does he have time to make educational videos or play his guitar? And perfect his Arabic?? Or maybe he's studying Marwari by now. Yes, he has a Facebook page ("The US Army Camel Experiment") with many videos.

At any rate, don't let Doug see this or he would deflect any hint of admiration with his trademark humour.

He lights up the life of everyone he meets. I consider him the redheaded son I might have had. Camel culture is his calling, but the man with the stetson is a full-time goodwill ambassador on a global scale.

© 2018 Brenda Dougall Merriman

27 November 2018

A Ship Called Camel

In 1783 with the Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary War, a ship called Camel was one of a host of British vessels busy ferrying Loyalists to places of refuge in Nova Scotia and Quebec. Many sailed from New York, the last Loyalist stronghold.

References to the ship come from quite a variety of sources and they provided a continuing discussion in several issues of Loyalist Trails.[1] Different consultants and sources, both original records and authored works, were gleaned for information about Camel in the year 1783.[2] Original sources note that Camel was a frigate, converted to an armed transport carrier in 1783.

Model of a heavy frigate
The ship's activities looked like this:

April: Capt. Tinker was the master; Camel sailed with the Spring Fleet of late April, her first landing in (what is now) New Brunswick on June 10th.

July-August: She departed New York July 10th, arriving Quebec City on August 12th; Capt. Tinker as master. A transcribed list of passengers is available on the UELAC website: http://www.uelac.org/Loyalist-Ships/Camel-1783-July-QC-passengers.pdf.

September: Camel sailed September 1st to Saint John and Passamoquoddy, first landing on the 18th; the captain's name was indecipherable in the Master's Log but the ship commander was Lt. Geo Burlton. A roll of passengers is in the Ward Chipman Papers (Archives New Brunswick).

November: One historian believes she sailed this month from New York to Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia.[3] Part of the ongoing discussion involved whether the fourth trip even happened. The ship's log records only the first three. At the time of the discussion in Loyalist Trails, it was unclear whether the log book extended beyond October 1783.

Another point of debate: "Secondary sources" say Camel did not arrive in New York from Spithead in England until late May of 1783, therefore could hardly have taken part in the Spring Fleet evacuation. Hence the question: was there more than one Camel? How likely is it that two ships of the same name were commissioned at the same time?

According to Revolvy, six British naval ships have been called Camel.[4] Two were in the period being discussed; of the others, one was seventeenth century and three were nineteenth century. It seems only the 26-gun naval supply ship HMS Camel is the best "fit" for the times. The Revolvy website says it was "formerly the merchant [ship] Yorkshire," ... "purchased in 1776 and sold in 1784."

HMS Surprise (replica), Maritime Museum, San Diego
Images here of eighteenth century frigates can only approximate what the Camel may have looked like. I stand to be corrected if I have misinterpreted any of the serial discussion or naval terminology. My interest here is in a name, not in arguing fine historical points of which I have no knowledge.

But why on earth the unusual name for a ship? Of course! ... Ship of the Desert. The camel is an ancient and enduring symbol of transportation.

[1] Loyalist Trails, weekly online newsletter of the United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada (www.uelac.org/Loyalist-Trails/2015/), No. 2015-18 (3 May); No. 2015-20 (17 May); No. 22-2015 (31 May). Information from Editor Doug Grant, and Ed Garratt, Stephen Davidson.
[2] For example, Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Carlton Papers, Book of Negroes; LAC, Ward Chipman Papers; Archives of the New Brunswick Museum, Ganong Papers, The Book of Proceedings of the Society of Friends or Quakers who Settled at Pennfield, Charlotte County in 1783; The National Archives (TNA - UK), ADM52 Log Books, ADM36 Muster Books.
[3] As discussed by Davidson: Theodore C. Holmes, Loyalists To Canada, The 1783 Settlement of Quakers And Others At Passamaquoddy where "This book includes the line: After disembarking the passengers the Camel returned to New York to bring more loyalists to freedom. So this historian believed that there was [possibly] a fourth voyage. I have not been able to find any references to this outside of Holmes' book. Holmes says that the ship was 293 tons. Tinker is given as the captain of the ship."
[4] Revolvy, https://www.revolvy.com/page/HMS-Camel? ... which would have lifted the information from elsewhere.

© 2018 Brenda Dougall Merriman

04 November 2018

Salalah, Oman 2018

The fates were against us on this trip. After five days of serene cruising south on the Red Sea and then through "Pirates' Alley" (halloo, Djibouti, in the distance) in the Gulf of Yemen, we arrived at Oman's agricultural city, Salalah. The air temperature had been slyly climbing to unseasonal heights; nothing is normal anymore in world climates. Combined with excessive humidity, spending much time on deck became uncomfortable to say the least. Perhaps that is why the "beach break" excursion was cancelled for want of enthusiasts. Sitting in scorching sun and sand for hours seemed folly when other excursions would have air-conditioned interludes in a bus or an indoors visit. The real possibility of sunstroke outweighed my regret at the loss of a potential camel ride on the beach.


Salalah's coastal location, though of desert climate, benefits from mild summer monsoon rain that turns the brown to green and fosters banana, coconut, papaya, and pineapple plantations. Its low-rise architecture is a distinct relief from the unrestrained skyscrapers of UAE cities. The Dhofar region has been famous for millennia for its production of frankincense, that irresistible, aromatic, plant-based resin. The iconic incense burner can be seen everywhere.

So my companion and I took a bus to Al Haffa Souk for browsing, a familiar spot from previous trips and just the right place for gifts. Here was quite the sales pitch for frankincense:

In fact, the aroma became so overpowering in the souk alleys in the stifling heat that soon we opted for cold drinks and coffee in the shaded streetside cafe. Waiting for the return bus, another buddy with respiratory trouble was suffering even more than I was.

What happened next was quite unreal. We and the entire market street were startled by a horrendous metallic crash. Immediately a crowd of men surged into chasing an SUV with a smashed fender that came to a sudden, erratic stop opposite me. An angry-looking young man slammed out of the vehicle to confront the shouts. Fender bender, we thought. Such a busy street. Let's not gawk.

After the chaos began to make sense, we learned that the speeding young man had just run over and killed two of our ship passengers, who'd been unloading from a bus. Third person seriously injured. Smashed the bus door almost off its hinges. And then he had not tried to stop. The outraged crowd that materialized so fast had somehow forced him to a halt.

Police, ambulances, witness interviews; counselling provided for fellow passengers. Terse newspaper reports that the arrested perpetrator not from the Dhofar region they emphasized had been speeding, with no driver's licence! Much later, the survivor who'd lost his wife gave his own account:

Imagine the pall over the remainder of the cruise. This beautiful, peaceful country that I love has its flaws.

© 2018 Brenda Dougall Merriman

14 October 2018

Al Ain, United Arab Emirates 2018

This post is pure fantasy. Because I missed my only chance to get to Al Ain, "garden city of the Emirates." Let's say, it's what I would have done, had I gone.

[We spent ten days sailing and touring in the hottest weather I've ever experienced, unseasonal even for the Middle East. The itinerary was made for me — new places like Khasab (Oman), Doha (Qatar), and Abu Dhabi (U.A.E.) ... more on some of those places elsewhere. But our final port, Abu Dhabi, promised an excursion to Al Ain and for whatever reason, it's been high on my bucket list. However, passengers were dropping out of shore excursions, unable to cope with the heat; only five minutes in the sun, between leaving the coach and entering the site to visit, melted us into dripping sweat and numbing of the brain. Stay out too long and we would literally begin to cook. More evidence of climate change. Finally I too admitted defeat; having the added sensory burden of fibromyalgia was too much of a health risk.]

My fantasy trip, perhaps, but based on collected facts. Abu Dhabi is one of the seven United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) and its territory includes extensive land regions east and south of the city. Al Ain is situated about two hours inland from the city, verging on the fabled Empty Quarter desert (Rub Al Khali) ... a desert of epic journeys in the 1940s by British adventurer Wilfrid Thesiger. An exhibit of his photographs and other mementos is in the museum of Al Jahili, said to be the welcome sight of civilization he spotted after completing a crossing from the south.[1] Al Jahili Fort is now restored to its unique 1891 origins. There I would be, scanning from its circular heights for signs of a camel train.

Al Jahili Fort

Wilfrid Thesiger

I can scarcely imagine what Thesiger endured after leaving Salalah in the south. His Arabian Sands is regarded as a classic of travel literature, describing the lives of Bedu tribes, "probably the finest book ever written about Arabia and a tribute to a world now lost forever."[2] I.e., a world before oil was discovered. My own taste of the Empty Quarter was five years ago before scrambling around the debatable "lost city of Ubar," in Thesiger's time a site still buried and unknown. It is beside Shisur, a village familiar to Thesiger. Certainly the Bedouin are more accommodating now than some of the explorer's encounters with suspicion or hostility.

A 1948 Thesiger photo of  Qasr Al Muwaiji
The rugged Al Hajar mountains are on Al Ain's eastern flank; landmark Jebel Hafeet mountain overlooks the city for excellent views, highest peak in the Emirate.

Al Ain itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the oldest continual habitations on earth. Centred on and blessed with a large, flourishing palm oasis hence its appellation as "garden city" it recently grew from a village to tourist proportions. "This date palm oasis has been recognised by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for its importance as a repository of genetic resources, biodiversity and cultural heritage."[3] Strolling shady pathways in the oasis you can explore groves of tropical fruit trees and inspect working parts of the original irrigation system constructed 3,000 years ago.


Besides Al Jahili, a number of forts that once protected plantations in the oasis have been re-purposed. Of heritage and cultural interest are Al Ain National Museum with sections on archaeology and traditional Bedouin crafts; the Palace Museum was once the home of the UAE founder Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyam, renovated in traditional design to exhibit the ruler's lifestyle and diplomatic relations. Qasr Al Muwaiji is the birthplace of the current Sheikh Khalifa of Abu Dhabi Emirate, displaying lush gardens and material related to the ruling family. And more ... Al Qattara Fort houses a gallery and centre for all manner of arts. Oh yes, I would be lingering over the jewellery exhibits, the colourful pottery, historical garments, the ancient artifacts. A handicrafts market takes place on seasonal weekends, including tastes of local food.

Al Ain Palace Museum
And then! The renowned camel market of Al Ain, apparently one of the few remaining livestock markets in the Emirates. Here the beasts are traded for breeding, racing, meat, or milk. I might lose myself freely wandering among the dusty pens, admiring and taking photographs (only with permission). Camels are and always will be an essential part of the heritage and fabric of the Bedouin, whether nomads or urban dwellers. Of course racing has become a national pastime with all the entailed competition and prize money.

Al Ain has other tourist attractions of modern variety not to be mentioned in the same breath. Great changes have come to the U.A.E. in the last fifty years, but Al Ain is determined to maintain an old and proud culture. So let's keep my fantasy trip far from the Emirates' glitzy shopping malls and outré architecture.

[1] https://www.timeoutabudhabi.com/art/features/74944-in-the-footsteps-of-wilfred-thesiger
[2] Michael Asher, 27 August 2003, "Sir Wilfred Thesiger (obituary)," The Guardian.
[3] https://visitabudhabi.ae/en/explore/regions/al.ain.aspx
Also, "Al Ain," Yalla, the tourist guide for Abu Dhabi, Edition 2, 2018.

© 2018 Brenda Dougall Merriman

16 September 2018

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, 2018

The iconic rocks welcome us to Cabo San Lucas. Once a small, low-key town known for deep sea fishing, the place has mushroomed into laidback tourist party town from what I could see. It makes me wonder how its sister town, San Juan del Cabo, fared in the meantime; an even quieter, more high-end residential town that did not encourage tourism. Now ... the rocks are the only familiar sight to me from thirty years ago.

The arid desert locale and spotless white sand beaches in Mexico's Baja peninsula seemed a natural setting for a camel ride.

If the camel enterprise seems unusual for this country, it's become something of a trend in various Mexican resort areas. A tourist company operates this particular outing from Cabo, taking guests by truck north to Rancho San Cristóbal. There about a dozen well-behaved, pampered camels take turns offering small group rides. I say pampered because the animals are beautiful and obviously well-cared for. Our chatty guide ("call me Marco," with a joke about Marco Polo) is irrepressible.

My Texas cameleer friend Doug Baum was involved with a partner, Sidi Omar, in originally bringing these camels to Cabo and training them with their new handlers. That was some six or seven years ago with a fair amount of turnover among handlers since. Doug also goes on training and saddle support missions to Cancún, for instance.

First we get to do the third-party photography. Taking your own photographs while riding is a no-no, simply because they want both your hands clamped on the safety grip. Good thing they'd never seen me in the Middle East. They encourage the camel-kissing trick and the sharing a bite to eat trick. Camel has a piece of jicama in his mouth and waits for me to chew on the other end. Ugh. Pineapple would have been nicer!

No surprise that a waiver is required; this is North America, after all, where most camel ranches would require the same. (I wanted to say shades of Bellingham, Washington, where we indeed had the waiver but none of the follow-up safety issues). Therefore must don the accompanying helmet with something intended to resemble an Arab headdress attached to it. Goofy-looking, but can't escape it or the emphasis on safety. And disappointing: we mount the standing camels. No fun in that, especially with the two-seater saddles. Hoping my Oman camel T-shirt impresses them, I successfully convince them that I am riding on my own.

Once in the saddle, a very pleasant ride commenced. Through the cactus-strewn landscape to a small tidal pool, then back along an endless, pristine, uninhabited beach. Glorious, really (but hating the headgear sorry/not sorry). Then a walk through the desert flora with a guide. Finally we were taken to view the collection of rapidly developed print or digital photographs.

A very tasty Mexican lunch followed. A woman was kept busy cooking the corn tortillas for us to gorge on cheese tacos, beef molé, beans, spareribs, rice, and Dos Equis beer. I'm sure I took photos of the invitingly arrayed tequila shots but after a few samples I must have misplaced my touristy sense.

Olé ... a very safe venture.

© 2018 Brenda Dougall Merriman