This November a Secret Compass expedition will seek to complete an epic 280km crossing of the Sudanese Bayuda Desert. The Sudan is a fascinating country where the Arab world meets Africa and we are delighted that the expedition will be led by the renowned explorer and Sudanese expert, Michael Asher. Michael is a former SAS man and the author of over twenty books including Khartoum: The Ultimate Imperial Adventure. A fluent speaker of both Arabic and Swahili he made the first recorded crossing, along with his wife Mariantonietta Peru, of the Sahara desert from west to east by camel – a journey of 4500 miles. Resident in Kenya for more than two decades, he has lived in the Sudan for ten years, including 3 years living amongst the nature-based nomad tribe, the Kababish. Here we find out a little more about the man who will leading our first desert expedition.
What was your first expedition?
In 1980, on vacation from my volunteer teaching job in the Sudan, I bought a camel, and, never having ridden one before, set off alone to Darfur, about 400 miles away. It took about 3 weeks, and in that time the camel tried to knock me off once, and once ran off into the wild blue yonder leaving me stranded (some nomads caught it for me) In Darfur I joined up with a camel-herd being driven on the hoof up the ‘Forty Days Road’ to Egypt. That was a fascinating and seminal trip, covering about 1500 miles in all.
What do you enjoy most about desert exploration?
The feeling of wilderness – being 200 miles from the nearest settlement and connection with Nature, you can’t get this in a motor-vehicle. Motor-vehicles bring the industrial world with them .
As an internationally renowned desert explorer why does this expedition to cross the Bayuda desert excite you?
The Bayuda trek is the only camel-trek I know of that is the ‘real thing’. We carry everything by camel with no back-up, no prearranged camp-sites, no going round in circles. It’s a real expedition in an area where tourists are almost unknown, and where you never see a motor-car.
What is the funniest thing to ever happen on one of your expeditions?
The funniest thing that happened to me (in retrospect ) was when my camel ran off on my very first trip. It did so deliberately, snatching the rope out of my hand and dashing off the way we had come, with me running frantically after, shouting ‘Come back! Come back!’ Every so often it would stop and start grazing: as soon as I got anywhere near, it would shoot off again. When two nomads who happened to be coming the other way, managed to stop it, they asked when I’d last fed it. I told them I hadn’t as i thought camels could go for days without food! They rolled about laughing: ‘He’s just hungry,’ they said.
What’s the most dangerous situation you’ve found yourself in out in the desert?
Once in Mauretania we ran out of water, not having found the wells we were looking for. There was no GPS then, and we hadn’t seen a person for 10 days. We thought we were going to die of thirst, but spotted a single nomad encampment at the last moment. Those nomads, who’d stayed behind when the rest of their tribe had moved south, saved our lives.
What do you think the clients might find hardest about the trip and how they can mentally prepare
The trek is fairly tough physically: you need to be quite fit to walk & ride an average of 30 km per day for 10 days: what makes it more difficult though are the conditions – heat, wind, dust, cold, possible sandstorms. I recommend long-distance walking in adverse conditions rather than running, for training purposes. Clients also need to be flexible and adaptable enough to travel in wilderness where you see no trace of the industrial world, and may not encounter another human being for days. Many people start with the idea that the desert is hostile and are afraid of it: in fact, although one doesn’t take anything for granted there, it’s home. After about 4 days most people feel as if they’ve been there all their lives.
Michael has traveled more than 30,000 miles by camel, and has won the Ness Award of the Royal Geographical Society, and the Mungo Park Medal of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society for desert exploration.
Our expedition to cross the Bayuda desert is open to anyone with a good level of fitness and more details can be found here.