Sometimes, you need to get away from the same old routine

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The Independent Travel
Glowering clouds, wet window panes, a black sea, gulls floating on the storm, bandy-legged men hitching up their robes to wade through ankle-deep rivers where streets should be, cardboard boxes, old pieces of furniture and sheep heads floating through the market place. That's right. It's early evening in southern Arabia. I'm in Oman to ride a camel across a desert.

Why? It is because we all need to act the bedouin from time to time. Riding a camel over a distant horizon will, I am assured, put me in touch with the nomad and the hunter-gatherer deep inside me. It is about remembering that the sun shines in the day and the moon in the night. It is about not having to answer the telephone a hundred times a day. It is also, funnily enough, about discovering what made Genghis Khan tick and why the Great wall of China had to be built.

Except that at this rate my camel-trek will probably be rained off. Which gets me wondering what attitude self-respecting camels have to rain - I suspect it makes them feel terribly insecure and useless. What is the good in having spent millions of years investing in a giant water barrel on your back when there is plenty of water lying around everywhere in any case? The poor animals might as well look for jobs as wine critics in Saudi Arabia.

It must be the same for the bedouin. These are the people whose area of special expertise lies in surviving drought, sunshine and sand storms, whose spiritual energies are devoted to coping with the bitterness of impermanence, when they are not breaching other peoples' Great Walls of China. But when they look out of their tent flaps in the morning and realise that the desert has today turned into a nicely watered piece of agricultural land and tomorrow will be blooming like an Amsterdam flower festival - what on earth are they to supposed to make of it?

No doubt they will ask themselves all the usual tough questions about the nomadic life. Is the ability to ride for 19 days without water, or to face off a 100mph sand storm, really a more useful asset than being able to manage a medium-sized grocery-export business for example?

And by the time - say a fortnight later - that the desert is full of fat-tailed sheep and ripening tropical fruit even the thought of owning things like fridges and electric ice-cream makers will begin to seem rather less embarrassing than before. But a leaking piece of woven camel hair draped over a frame of sticks might no longer look like such a great place to spend the night.

The next stage is they'll be dropping out from bedouin society altogether. Instead of rugs designed to be rolled up and bunged on the back of a camel, they will acquire wall-to-wall carpeting; instead of water-skins they will have bottles of French mineral water. All in all, they look like finding the repressed urbanites deep inside themselves long before I ever find a single nomad. By the way, has anyone seen my umbrella?