30 March 2018

Ships of the Ocean

(As opposed to Ships of the Desert ...)  

The cruising "secret" is out, getting more and more exposure; see "Why a smaller cruise ship will steal your heart" by Ralph Grizzle on Cruise Specialists Blog. I might as well follow suit.

I've probably said it before, but for me, ocean-sailing is most pleasant on what the cruise industry calls small ships. The definition or size of a small ship may vary from one company to another, but generally means less than 500 passengers. Certainly there are even smaller ships catering to luxury clients or very specific destinations (expedition ships).

Mid-size ships seem to be considered by many as 250 to 600 passengers. To my mind, a ship of 800 or more passengers is on the verge of daunting; anything over 1,000 is a monster ship to me. I don't want a casino or a bowling alley or tennis courts. What I do want is enjoyment of a ship where faces quickly become familiar and a sense of community soon thrives.

My experience has been with the popular Voyager and its predecessor, Discovery, which each accommodated about 600 passengers. To the great sorrow of loyal cruisers, Voyager (and its sister ship Minerva) ceased to function early 2017 in a parent-company bankruptcy. Rumours swirl about its transformation into a luxury ship for Mexican waters. Ships get recycled, reconditioned, re-purposed.

British company, the Fred Olsen cruise line, has several ships in this category. Braemar and Black Watch are two I've experienced, or intend to. Carrying about 900 passengers, Braemar was that bit bigger that it took more time to get around the ship. Glass half full: the necessary walking back and forth from one section to another is nothing but beneficial.

And what have I done? Booked on the 1200 passenger Marina. With some trepidation about the size! But it's easy enough to get to know a ship in advance by studying deck plans. I'm hoping it's not too big to find when the mood strikes congenial, like-minded passengers or quiet reading space.

Why cruise at all?
Aging and/or arthritic bodies appreciate the "unpacking once" aspect, the "floating hotel" convenience. To me, the size or location of my cabin is scarcely relevant since it's only there for sleeping. Smaller ships often have itineraries where they can glide into harbours inaccessible to the monsters. They offer a satisfying variety of day excursions in or around each port visited, with local guides. Shipboard speakers give talks, preparing you with background, history, etc. But you're free to make your own arrangements at any given stop: advance research and planning highly recommended!

For those of us who can't completely vegetate, all these ships have a gym with exercise equipment, and there's usually a deck circuit for measured, brisk walking laps. Plus, of course, the programs for fitness, hobbies, amusement, and entertainment. Pick and choose. Or ignore, and just deep breathe the clean sea air in the sun.

© 2018 Brenda Dougall Merriman

19 March 2018


Second edition now available!
Created at and for sale on Blurb.com, $15.00 Canadian; the USD equivalent is less. Click on:

Now 110 pages, stripped of "fillers" in the first edition. Approximately half the book consists of edited past adventures; the rest is added adventures since 2012.

Here's the public description:
"A personal photographic chronicle of 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. She also writes about other adventures on her blog CamelDabble TravelBabble at http://camelchaser.blogspot.com.

06 March 2018

Our Lady of the Camels

Yours truly is far from the only first-world person extraordinarily interested in the lovely beasts called camels. But some go well beyond the dilettante stage of enjoyment. Some spend their lives raising, nursing, training, mending, and tending camels. Gradually I became aware of a few who make a difference in their worlds. Ilse Köhler-Rollefson, a German veterinary surgeon, is the first one I will feature.

Raika tribe families in Rajhastan, India, have been struggling to preserve their camel culture way of life. Camels are treated with love and respect for their milk, wool, and as superb draft and transport animals. Families have been dependent on having camel herds for sustenance and trade. But changes in economics and ecology plus disease are decimating the number of animals, especially in remote settlements.

Köhler-Rollefson came there over twenty-five years ago to study for her Ph.D. And she stayed. The intimate bond between the families and their beasts impressed and inspired her. Despite being an outsider she was eager to help revive and improve the situation.
Written of a local camel fair:
Like many people in the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan, she [a camel handler] reveres camels the way that Hindus worship cows. Many who have brought their camels here are Raikas, a special caste of camel breeders, who believe they were created by Shiva to be camel guardians. They worship the camel god Prabuji. (1)

Very gradually, being able to treat sick camels, Köhler-Rollefson was accepted. Treatment now involves both modern and traditional medicines, the former still rather difficult to obtain. She set up an NGO called Lokhit Pashu-Palak Sansthan (LPPS) to facilitate supplies and raise money. Thus she became an advocate and an activist on behalf of the Raika whose very identity is wrapped in camel culture. Nevertheless, Rajhastan's camels and rural livelihood are still in critical danger of eclipse.

From her blog:
"Meeting the herders is a humbling experience, seeing how the old Raika philosophy of “first the camels, then us” is still alive, the hardships and hard work they perform to keep their camels healthy, how many farmers appreciate the manure that the camels deposit on their fields as organic fertilizer, how closely the herdsmen observe nature and the effect of camel browsing on the trees of the Aravalli Hills. One can feel how camels are a crucial part of the agro-ecological web whose disappearance would undermine both local food production and ecology."(2)

Camel Charisma (https://www.camelsofrajasthan.com/) was a concept she created originally to operate a camel dairy. Now numerous projects have grown to support camel breeding, camel-related products, and biodiversity within the Raika camel culture heritage.

A pastoralist, Köhler-Rollefson in her words:
"Now I do everything that I feel is necessary to work towards policies and practices that support socially responsible and ecologically sustainable livestock development, and to develop alternatives to the “Livestock Revolution” which is one of the socially and ecologically most disastrous trends globally.  So I am variously a researcher, a writer, an activist, a fund raiser, a teacher and trainer." (3)

In 2016 Köhler-Rollefson received the Nari Shakti (Women Power) Award from the President of India, the first foreigner to be so honoured, for her contributions to the Raika pastoral community. It was *** a string of recognition awards. Her book, Camel Karma: Twenty Years Among India's Camels Nomads is available on Amazon.

Imagine dedicating your life to help renew a unique culture and livelihood that was slowly fading. Changing the course of her life helped change the lives of many Raika.

Our Lady of the Camels ... passionate, compassionate, and tireless.

(1) Jasvinder Sehgal, 18 December 2017, WorldCrunch (https://worldcrunch.com/culture-society/where-indian-camels-are-as-sacred-as-cows-but-vanishing-fast)
(2) and (3) ilse-koehler-rollefson.com

© 2018 Brenda Dougall Merriman

21 February 2018

Tinghir, Morocco 2017

Travelling with Doug Baum means visiting people in their homes, learning about their livelihoods, seeing parts of a country off the well-trod landmarks, but not ignoring major historic sites. Morocco itself is more well-known as a tourist destination than say Tunisia, a country of vast contrasts and exceptional beauty. Morocco has much of the same in abundance. In the central to southern part of the Berber lands, interesting towns came one after another, towns we had never heard of before.

Tinghir (aka Tinerhir) is one. The Todgha River once carved its way from the High Atlas mountains, creating a stunning, deep, narrow canyon before emerging into the desert, creating a fertile oasis that Tinghir now occupies.

We check into the centrally-situated Hotel Tomboctou before dinner. Heather and Catherine then go to a traditional, if spartan, hammam for bathing and refreshing. I decline; the heat of a standard sauna-type experience triggers fibromyalgia flares and worse. Mark chooses the backpacker's laundry remedy of plunging into the hotel pool fully clothed.

Photo credit: Heather Daveno

Tomboctou is a family-built kasbah of 1944 vintage with reception rooms and galleries intended to entertain important guests. Converted now for hotel usage, its high ceilings and several storeys (and bedroom furnishings) are no less impressive for passing tourists.

After dark, it is time to meet Doug's friend Saeed, the camel man who never stops smiling. Saeed has invited us to dinner at the compound where he lives as a single man, with several single sisters, a married sister and her family, and his parents, all with their own quarters. The man is as friendly and cheerful as his photo as he ushers us into the reception room. Across the courtyard yonder we can hear activity in the communal kitchen. We settle in with the obligatory mint tea, observing the homage to (and gossip about) the royal family. 


It isn't long before Saeed's sisters and mother show up to greet us; vivacious, extrovert sister Leila frequently sits with us at the low table for dining. Their kitchen results appear course by course over the hours. First the bread and olives with kefta, itself very filling! Then chicken brochettes. The main tagine of chicken and vegetables arrives. It's so tempting to drift back onto the pile of cushions behind us ... it's been a long day on the road meeting Doug's various friends in unusual settings.

Leila insists on slicing apples as the final course and feeding them to us who are far too full to digest another thing. Same with the bananas. When Saeed enthusiastically reaches around to shake various hands, he tries to high five me, but I give him the bump, to his and Doug's great amusement. A little nap would be good at that time, but Saeed is just getting into high gear.

Out come the drums (did someone know Doug was once a drummer in a band?) while Saeed's father Youseff joins us and other family members slip into the room. Mohamed produces his flute for accompaniment and for a time we have a chorus of drums and boisterous singing. Sitting beside me, Youseff's face is positively lit with joy at the turn of events. Heather is happily curled up in the cushions. As the drumming slowly decreases and my head is nodding I looked to Doug for signs of it's past our bedtime, time to take our leave.

 No ... Leila and Mama suddenly reappear with armfuls of bright fabrics and manhandle Heather and I into dressing up. They don't know my torn shoulder tendons make it torture for me. Everyone has to pose us for posterity. Nevertheless you can see we are almost asleep on our feet. Extensive goodbyes before we get to the hotel at 11:30 pm, sated and drooping.

Next morning is cool but bright. We drive to Saeed's which in daylight we see is on a great viewpoint of the oasis. His two "tourist" camels, very appealing animals, are standing outside; it's how Saeed earns money. We must have tea, in the sunny courtyard.

Photo credit: Heather Daveno

We take a long winding drive to the beautiful park-like valley floor and famed Todra Gorge. It's a longish walk on a slow upgrade through the amazing gorge of towering cliffs. Imagine the force of that river over thousands of years. Now it is more like a stream that continues to sustain oasis land and life. Keen hikers and rock climbers can find numerous routes here. I'm lagging, caught by hanging carpets and clothing irresistibly displayed by a smattering of vendors.

 Yet again to say a fond, final goodbye to Saeed at his place of business, a slightly different viewpoint over the oasis. Doug checks some camel teeth to the fascination of local bystanders.

Back down the hill for a surprise. We park by cultivated fields ― growing plots for individual families to raise their vegetables or crops for their animals. A narrow little path through this toward a lovely forest gives a spectacular view of the town across the fields.

The surprise at the other side of the forest is the 800-year-old site of the Iklane mosque and madrasa. In disuse, parts of it are crumbling but some restoration is underway.

Photo credit: Heather Daveno

Photo credit: Heather Daveno

Photo credit: Heather Daveno

The caretaker shows us through the complex, chatting with Doug. So old, so impressive, details of architectural glory. A well in the middle of it. Yes, I climbed all the stairs. On the way back, pause to inhale the perfect town view against the bluest sky. One of those precious Moments.

© 2017 Brenda Dougall Merriman

08 February 2018

A Sea-less Beach

Small and little-known (outside their national borders) deserts and semi-desert arid areas crop up in the world, not all of them in year-round tropical latitudes. For example Bulgaria's Stone Desert; Tabernas Desert near Almería, Spain; or the Kyzyl Kum, shared by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Certainly not all deserts are populated with camels and covered with sand.

Yet sand dunes are a geographic feature often associated with camel riding (at least in my mind) but also with great bodies of water, appearing on every continent. Dunes can be found on many coastlines around the world; the Great Lakes have them too!

Aside from my frivolous "beach" remark, De Haere Nature Reserve in the Netherlands is one of the unusual small inland pockets of sand; not to be confused with the manor house of the same name (an estate for visitors to tour, with related activities). The now-protected conservation area is north of Apeldoorn in the Veluwe hills, by the village of Nunspeet. I'm sure there is a scientific, historical explanation for this small and secluded anomaly. How did this sand mass appear in an unlikely place?

The last Ice Age left a pool of melt water between the retreating ice and the slope of the moraine it created. "During this period, sand over sand was deposited."[1] For centuries some grasses made it a suitable area for grazing animals but probably only two hundred years ago, agricultural drainage of remaining swamp water, over-grazing, and shifting sands completely dried it up. Low bushes, heather, and mosses can be seen in the periphery but little takes root in the moving sands that inexorably change shape to their own rhythm.

Unlike Holland's national parks featuring immense dunes by the sea, this miniature enclave is hidden within a scrubby pine forest planted in the modern era. The forest also houses a secret underground war-time hiding place. Now that is intriguing ... and deeply disturbing.

A great venue for a picnic or a trail ride if you have a horse. Here I am with not enough photographs after the fact, not enough for true appreciation of this little gem. Although walking through fine sand on a perfect sunny day is tiring ... or good exercise!

[1] Nunspeet Village, ""De Haere," http://www.nunspeetvillage.nl/groen/n020.html.

Photographs: CDM

© 2018 Brenda Dougall Merriman

20 January 2018

Friends Send Me ... camel things (8)

Repeats may be inevitable from time to time; please forgive. The treasures continue to flow in ...

Cousin Brian educates me; this will be useful. Does he know the Arabic word sounds the same?

Speaking of Brian, both he and Fred thought Camelflage was pretty unique; jungle camouflage?

Below, admittedly lifted wholesale from a friend of Doug Baum. Get it?!

Mon amie Facebook Coralie has her very own personal clown camel called Tyrki.

A stamp? From Hungary? Christine says it's a song.

Can't imagine where Sharon found this but I want!

Richelle bakes onto the interweebs. If this had been real, would I dare to destroy eat it?

Jane and Marian found this memorial in Victoria Embankment Gardens: Officers and men of the Imperial Camel Corps Egypt, Sinai, Palestine, 1916-1918.

© 2018 Brenda Dougall Merriman