The Brotherhood of Man   Dear Tim,    I am writing from a very wet Beirut in the Lebanon.     One always comes to reflect on the past at this time of the year and sadly the world at the moment is portrayed as place full of divisions, bigotry and hate.    I would like to dispel some of this small minded propaganda and remind you that from my experience I have found people to be mostly honourable, trustworthy, friendly and compassionate.    I am fortunate to have worked, lived, eaten and shared campfires with people from many different countries and religious beliefs this year.    My great friendship with Khaled Amin, an Egyptian Muslim, still a surprise to many people, even Egyptians. We have worked together for over ten years out of our little office in the Sinai with our extended Bedouin family; this includes Abu Radi, the old camel trader and guide at its head and his sons Talal and Sammy, all of whom I have crossed the desert with on many occasions, both in summer and winter.    Along with the Jebeleya and Al-Egat Bedu of the Sinai, I have crossed the Rub al-Khali with the al– Howitat Bedu of Jordan, who’s grandfathers fought alongside T.E. Lawrence.     Only last month I forged new friendships with Sheikh Abdullah of the Ababda and Sheikh Marey in the Eastern Desert of Egypt and am looking forward to crossing the desert, from the Red Sea to the Nile, in their company in 2017.    We have also been lucky enough to work alongside Coptic and Orthodox Christians in Egypt, Roman Catholic Arrieros in Spain and Quechua Indians deep in the Amazon basin, not to mention our expeditions in the Namib desert working with Afrikaans, Damara and Herero peoples.    All these, who are often very poor people, have shown me great kindness and friendship.    A very happy New Year    Sam

One always comes to reflect on the past at this time of the year and sadly the world at the moment is portrayed as place full of divisions, bigotry and hate.

      Ten facts you might not know about camels  Dear Tim  Since in the near future you will be leading teams across the deserts in Egypt, Sinai or Jordan, I thought I should tell you a bit about our lifelines in the desert - Camels. I’m sure you know already that they can survive for extended periods in deserts without food or water, carry great loads and alert us to the presence of snakes at night, but did you know some of these other lesser know facts about my favourite animals?  My Top Ten Facts about Camels   Top Camel Fact One   What we consider to be camels, are actually dromedaries. Camels, also known as Bactrian Camels, actually have two humps and are found in the Gobi.                              Top Camel Fact Two   Dromedaries originated in North America some 3-5 million years ago and were wiped out by human migration into the continent.                              Top Camel Fact Three   Dromedaries are part of the Camelidae family which includes Llamas, Guanacos, Giraffes and Bactrian Camels of course.     

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


      Top Camel Fact Four   Despite how closely we associate the Pyramids with camels you will not see Dromedaries represented in hieroglyphs in Giza, being introduced to Egypt only in 640 AD in the wake of the Arab expansion, along with Islam.                              Top Camel Fact Five   Dromedaries were domesticated around the time of Moses circa 3,000 years ago in the Arabian peninsular and, according to some, Somalia.                              Top Camel Fact Six   A third, transparent eyelid protects the eyes of dromedaries during sandstorms, but still allows them to see. Curiously they are also able to close their nostrils for the same reason.     

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


      Top Camel Fact Seven   They possess a thick coat of fur, not for warmth as some might think, but actually to insulate themselves from the reflected heat of the sand.                              Top Camel Fact Eight   Dromedaries have oval rather than round blood cells. Their shape helps their blood to flow even when dehydrated and more viscous.                              Top Camel Fact Nine   They can lose up to 25% of their body weight due to sweating.     

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


      Top Camel Fact Ten   The body temperature of a Dromedary fluctuates throughout the day, starting at 34ºC at dawn and reaching up to 40ºC by the end of the day. Thankfully they have the opportunity to cool off during the night!     If you or any of your biology buddies think i've missed out any important camel facts, or that i've got one wrong (hard to believe I know) then let me know.  I'll be sending some questions your way later. Sam

I’m sure you know already that they can survive for extended periods in deserts without food or water, carry great loads and alert us to the presence of snakes at night, but did you know some of these other lesser know facts about my favourite animals?

      Choosing a rucksack, backpack or any other carrying contraption   Sam,    That’s awesome news about the Eastern Desert recce, you know how much I love ruins and temples, and just generally playing at Indiana Jones. I’m all for making a return trip! For one thing, I think it’s important to show people a different image of the near east than the one we hear about in the news so much these days.     I’m carrying on with my mountain guiding training as you know and i’m in the market for a new backpack. My Karrimor Airpsace 25+5 has served me well but it’s seen better days and I feel it’s now time to move on. Also as a side note, according to  Mountain Warehouse  the difference between a rucksack and a backpack is technically in the size of the bag, a backpack having smaller capacity, usually 35L or less, while a rucksack is larger. While writing to you i’m probably going to end up using both terms pretty interchangeably (because I find those details interesting but i’m pretty sure no-one’s ever been in a life or death situation where they needed to know the difference).      

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          
           
              Check out  Outfitters  for more detail.  
           
          

         
      
       
    

  


      Of course, names aside, we’re entering into a whole world of confusion - trekking packs, mountaineering packs, climbing packs, daypacks, attack style packs, expedition packs…the list goes on. Really I think the whole idea of reviewing a rucksack is a terrible idea. It’s a common mistake to read all the reviews online and, feeling thoroughly informed, go and buy the pack that appears consistently in the top three. While this may work for less personal bits of kit, maybe a compass or a GPS device for example, a rucksack you may have to wear day-in, day-out, for weeks at a time, with heavy loads and in uncomfortable conditions.  Ultimately there is no substitute to getting you hands on a rucksack and trying it out yourself.     The most important thing to bear in mind when trying out a new rucksack is comfort. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can get a decent idea of the fit when the pack is empty - another common mistake.  The best way to test out a backpack is to load it up.  Don’t be afraid of being a nuisance in the shop, ask for items to pack inside, sleeping bag, cooking set, jacket, sleeping mat, dry rations, books, etc. Anything to simulate as closely as possible how you’re really going to use it.      

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          
           
              A  rückentrage  common in southern Germany. Basically a chair strapped to your back.  
           
          

         
      
       
    

  


      With the bag loaded up, try it on and get the straps done up correctly. First adjust the waist belt, as tight as is comfortable (don’t burst anything) so that the weight is on your hips - the bag shouldn’t sag below your bum. Then the shoulder straps so that they fit snugly round your back and shoulders - the weight distribution should feel about 80 percent on your hips and 20 percent on your upper body. Finally adjust the strap across your chest (if your pack has one, which it should) and those at the top of the pack where the shoulder straps connect to the main body of the bag. Very important here will be to keep the bag on for a while. Maybe have a browse around, or ask the shop attendant about another piece of kit while you wear the rucksack for a few minutes. Think about the material of the waist belt and how comfortable it feels, as well as height of the shoulder straps - if there is a gap between the straps and your shoulders or if you feel more weight on your shoulders than your hips - on some packs it’s possible to adjust the height of the shoulder straps but not all - like a rückentrage for example. Throughout this process make sure you ask the shop assistant for their help too, after all that’s what they’re there for!     At the end of the day it comes down to what pack suits your body best , this is why reviews can’t work for everyone. You may have to spend a bit of time discerning which is best. It’s always worth asking the returns policy of a shop, Decathlon are famous for  theirs . Also some really cool reading on the history of packs from  Carryoloy  for if you're interested.    Anyway keep me posted how it’s going in Egypt and catch up next week.    Tim

Ultimately there is no substitute to getting you hands on a rucksack and trying it out yourself.

      Exploring the East of the Nile   Dear Tim,    I’m glad you enjoy the Frontline club, it’s a great asset to have somewhere so congenial to meet for business and pleasure. One of the benefits of being a member of the Explorers Club.    The security situation here in Egypt is much the same, the tourist industry is in it’s fourth year of decline, in some way this is where ISIS/DAESH have won, by destroying the economies in the near and middle east countries that relied heavily on tourism for foreign exchange - it is tragic to say the least.    UK based tourist agencies have been in talks with the FO about getting the travel ban on Sharm el-Sheik lifted sometime in the New Year. However as you know I got an EasyJet flight to Hurghada on the Red Sea coast of Egypt, as I had the opportunity to explore the Eastern Desert, which as the name suggests is the area east of the Nile up the the Red Sea coast all the way to the Sudan border. The Foreign Office has no travel restrictions imposed on the whole of this area and after running about having meetings with the chief of police and the head of the tourism office, we secured permissions to travel across and throughout the southern part of the Eastern Desert.     The following morning to our surprise, instead of a guide, Sheikh Mar-Ey turned up to personally guide us around his lands, west and SW of Hurghada. Over the next two days we encountered many Roman ruins, hidden springs and rock art that no European had ever set eyes upon. The following week proved to be even more dramatic, when we met Sheikh Abdullah of the Abdabda, at a small roadside mosque in the coastal village of Qusier. From here we moved West, back into the desert and to even more impressive ruins, temples, pre-dynastic rock art, wide sandy Wadi’s and star studded nights around the campfire. After chatting with Sheikh Abdullah about the size of the tribal lands that he governs, it became apparent that it would be possible to trek across the Eastern Desert, supported by camel’s, from the Red Sea, finishing on the Nile at Edfu, then carry on up the Nile by Fellucca three days to Luxor.    No one has done this in recent times and I feel another epic desert trek is in the making.    We will chat more about this when I get back in December, I still have to go to Cairo to get my membership to the Egyptian Geographical Society and get down to Dahab.    Sam          

Over the next two days we encountered many Roman ruins, hidden springs and rock art that no European had ever set eyes upon. 

      The Frontline Club - The Explorer’s Home   Dear Sam,    Thanks for the advice on practical jokes during expedition, i’ll have to rethink my strategy for when i’m guiding in the Sierra.     I was thinking about that conversation we had discussing the best explorer hangouts in London and it reminded me of our first meeting at the Frontline Club. I must have walked past it three times before I finally found the entrance, so nondescript is the door to the club. As I pushed open the heavy grey door I looked up the long, dusty looking staircase and immediately had the sensation of having stumbled upon something kind of exclusive, like a well kept secret that you’re not sure you should know about. I was greeted by a friendly looking porter to whom I explained I had come to meet my business partner and walked through into the main bar. It felt cool, tidy and surprisingly modern despite the wooden panelling of the back wall and a row of large sash windows that give plenty of light. I spotted you in one of the booths underneath the window. It had been raining and we were both wishing to be back in Namibia or elsewhere in the sun and sand - there’s a reason we specialise in desert expeditions right? We had met to talk strategy and following the growth of our team we decided to try out the Frontline Club as an upgrade from the previous Expedition HQ on the boat in Little Venice. The upstairs bar was filled with war trinkets, maps and huge tattered flags hanging from the walls, as well as showcases of battered old journals and postcards, all of which gave a strong sense of heritage and intimacy.        

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


      As you know the Frontline Club has the restaurant downstairs open to non-members, the members bar, meeting rooms, two bedrooms and a whole calendar of workshops and events (check out their  events  and  workshops   ). It describes itself as “a gathering place for journalists, photographers and other likeminded people”, with a focus on international affairs and independent journalism - so I guess that extends to full-time explorers as well. The connection between exploration and journalism I guess makes sense, the Club said itself when it announced an exciting collaboration with the Scientific Exploration Society in 2014, “both journalists and explorers [operate] in high-risk environments with the shared objectives of investigating issues and reporting findings” (listen to the collaboration launch  here   ) . This is definitely true and I don’t know about you but I feel this definition of exploration is too often becoming confused with adrenaline - where you can somehow get a ‘quick fix’ of adventure. Everyone and his uncle has achieved some kind of world first nowadays it seems, as Sir Ranulph Fiennes neatly put it in an old-ish interview with the  Huffington Post  “  There’s a difference between being the first human to do something the hard way, and doing it in the footsteps of somebody but in a slightly different way.”    This is not to say that there is nothing worthwhile in revisiting destinations, but it really depends on your style, and i’ve found that what people truly value is an authentic experience. I wonder if that is what I liked about the Frontline Club, that it obviously has lots of history and with its emphasis on conflict reporting it represents the raw, authentic side of journalism - no frills, no bluff.    I know you’re leaving for Egypt and the Eastern Desert this week so I just wanted to say good luck with that and I can’t wait to hear all about it. How are the locals coping with terrorism and the way it’s screwing with their tourism industry? Take lots of photos and we’ll catch a pint when you’re back.       Tim

What people truly value is an authentic experience.

      The Cost of a Good Laugh   Dear Tim,     Regarding playing practical jokes on expedition, from my experience I would recommend extreme caution with this. Your sense of humour may be very different from the participants.        

  
     
    
       
        
           
                
           
        

        

       
    
     
  


      In 2006 I was running a series of schools expeditions in the desert in the Sinai. Each school group would fly out to us in Egypt and I would organise to take them trekking with the local bedouin while accompanied by teams of camels through the desert. After three months the final team of students and teachers were going through a period of acclimatisation and pre-training at our base camp in St Catherine’s and I was getting a bit restless and mischievous.     The whole team were departing on a two-week trek through the desert early the following morning and I was doing the evening briefings for the team. After the covering the initial subjects such as avoiding heat illnesses, wildlife safety, the structure of each day, I got onto the topic of ablutions and said I would call people out in alphabetical order to hand over their toilet paper rations. 30 pairs of eyes stared at me intently as a colleague standing next to me with a clipboard called out the first name.    ”Adams!”     Young Adams walked up to me as I tore off a single sheet of paper and handed it to him. Young Adams turned around and walked back to his seat.     “Brown!”    The next young student walked up to me and I tore off a single sheet of toilet paper and placed it in his shaking hand. As he made his way back to the rest of the students all their lower lips started to wobble, tears welled up in their eyes and the teachers gave me hideous death stares. Needless to say they were not amused. My advice - keep the practical jokes to yourself.    I’ll tell you about the rubber snake another time.

The next young student walked up to me and I tore off a single sheet of toilet paper and placed it in his shaking hand.