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Speaker Pam Towse: Travels on a camel

Pam Towse has been married for 44 years to the man she met when she was 12. Her husband and son despair of her love of deserts. She was Head of Special Needs at Northfield Secondary School in Billingham. Pam has had a very interesting life, but only told us in detail about her travels in the desert. She was a butcher’s daughter who learned todrive at the age of 10. She has always enjoyed pitting her wits against the elements. She loved her teaching job, but its main aim was to provide her with the funds for travelling. She ow lives in Stokesley.

Pam never had pets as a child, but she admired the camel from the first time she saw one in a circus. She rode one for the first time in Sharm el Sheikh at the age of 34 and was totally hooked. She wanted to live with camels, but she was never looking for a holiday. She googled holidays in Mauretania, and found that they were aimed primarily at French speakers. She was inspired by Mary Kingsley, who travelled in West Africa at the end of the19th  century. On her trips, she only takes a change of clothes, but no underwear! The sight of lacy garments being hung out to dry generates too much interest from the men in the group!

On her first trips, her French was weak, but she soon learned. She always keeps diaries and journals. She recalled how many interesting people she had met. One of her regular male companions is Elwan to whom she sends her old clothes for him to sell in the local market – a form of international recycling. Pam has met travelling women who sell trinkets and she showed a mirror and a leather bag for tea bags as examples.

She gave us some insights into the behaviour of the camel. It is an animal given to moaning and grumbling and will always step away from you. They always have to be rounded up at the beginning of the day even if they have been hobbled. They carry heavy loads as well as the rider, but it is essential that the load is balanced to prevent the ship of the desert from capsizing. One camel liked polo mints! Her experience of the Moroccan saddle made of iron was that it was very uncomfortable, but the Mauritanian version made of leather was much better as long as the leather did not dry out. There are many wells in Mauretania, but the animals are always watered first.

The food deteriorates as the trip progresses. Camel meat gets rancid as it gets older. Goat is cooked in tin foil covered in sand and is usually eaten with couscous. Bread is made by cooking it in the ashes of the fire and blowing the ash off the finished product. A food tin can be used both as a kettle and a cup. The daily routine would include 2 meals a day of meat and two veg with a sleep after lunch and the evening meal cooked after dark. One sleeps as high as possible, but not under a tree. There is a need to see and be seen.

Another of the interesting people she met was Michael Palin. He had filmed aboard the world’s longest train, the 3km long iron ore train which crosses Mauritania. He thought it was hell and told her she was mad to travel on it. Getting on board the moving train was bad enough, but the pictures inside made one think that Michael Palin was right!

Her 7 essentials for the desert trekking kit are:

1. Wear a shalwar kameez – comfortable, easy to wash and dry and modest

2. Take supermarket flatpack tissues instead of loo rolls – easier to pack and discreet

3. A hip flask if you don’t like black tea

4. A wooden wedge to ensure that the bedroom door stays shut when you are asleep

5. Chewing gum – it keeps your mouth fresh even when it’s dry which is always

6. The warmest sleeping bag you can manage – the desert nights can be very cold

7. A three metre length of gauze-like material – it can cover you during the heat of the day, keeps out the flies when you sleep in the heat of the day and can be used to cover your head and neck.