Arita Baaijens is Holland’s leading female explorer.

She has made many solo desert trips as well as travelling with nomads over the last twenty five years primarily in Egypt, Sudan, Siberia.

 

 

 

1. How did you get involved in desert exploration?  

I first had a taste of the desert in Sinai in 1978, and made several journeys into the interior, while dreaming of a longer journey for which the Sinai was too small.

Ten years later I met Carlo Bergmann, a German who travelled in the Western Desert of Egypt with camels. He agreed to take me on one of his journeys if I paid for expenses and on the condition that certain physical services were included. When I refused the price went up. To cut a long story short, we travelled together for about a month. The landscape was fascinating, but the man drove me crazy with his vitriolic moods. He considered himself to be the King of the Desert and expected me to behave according to his rules. After a month I desperately wanted to leave and I told Carlo to bring me to the road.

The night before my departure I watched the full moon appear from beneath the earth. The sand dunes glowed in the silver light of the moon and I could not bear the thought of leaving this magical place. I decided there and then I would continue the journey on my own.  Carlo warned me that I would die if I missed the water wells en route. I nodded and asked for directions. He gave me a detailed description of the route, told me how to handle the camel I would take with me and waved goodbye.

 

2.What was the most useful skill you learned from Carlo Bergmann?

You probably won’t believe this, but the most important thing I learned from him is the art of loving (*). Of course I also learned technical stuff: how to buy and train camels, how to navigate (I’m talking pre-gps days!). I learned how to repair worn camel feet, how to use a revolver.

A good mentor is invaluable, but I learned most of my lessons while travelling solo: how to cope with loneliness, deal with run away camels, tracking, treat and operate sick camels, deal with panic, use fear as a tool.

(*) This requires an explanation. My first solo journey sobered me up. I nearly missed the first water well, I did miss the next one, my camel ran away and so on. But the desert was not my biggest enemy. My mind was. Being alone made me wonder how the German survived all the lonely winters in the desert. I tried to understand his way of thinking and slowly fell in love with his mind.  I leave the rest up to your imagination.

 

3. What advice have you for people who want to make solo desert expeditions?

Go to a country where you can find nomads and camels, learn the language, learn from locals. Then take a deep breath and off you go, solo. A steep learning curve is the reward. Keep in mind though that the desert is not like your mother. You can make mistakes, but not too many…or you’ll be dead.

 

4. How many expeditions have you made and what discoveries do you value most - both those about yourself and the places you have been?

Between 25-30 journeys.

Discoveries: I am a survivor. I can look death in the eye and stay calm, have no unreasonable fear for the unknown. Enjoy walking on the edge and to take calculated risks. I know myself inside out by now and ilhamdulilah, there’s no need anymore to prove my strength or to show that I can further, higher, deeper than someone else.

Nomads taught me true leadership, courage, to put the interest of the group above that of your own, deal gracefully with limitations and draw backs. Not to show anger, pain, frustration. How to ride a camel.

By the way, nomads are human and they also make mistakes, so trust your own judgement. 

Most beautiful archaeological discovery while travelling with Krzysztof Pluskota in the Red Sea Hills, eastern Sudan: a hidden valley with 3 altars and thousands of prehistoric petroglyphs of cows. 

 

5. What advice do you give to young would-be women explorers?

You can achieve whatever you want.  You don’t need muscles, nor a penis, nor a moustache to become a successful explorer. It’s not always easy being a woman, but there are advantages. Nobody expects you to carry or use weapons. Therefore people are less suspicious and less aggressive towards you. Travelling in the Islamic world you also have the advantage of being able to mix with both men and women. Travelling in Siberia, you are not expected to drink as much vodka as men do. 

 

6. Any final thoughts?

Go, go, go girls!!!! If you need some help, let me know.

For further information about Arita her website is: aritabaaijens.nl