Camels and Lost Manuscripts


“I distrust camels, and anyone else who can go a week without a drink” – American comedian (if there is such a thing) Joe E. Lewis

The beach at Essaouira in Western Morocco stretches for a couple of miles or so and about half way along there are camels, lots of camels.  Once they used to carry trade goods from the Sahara to the port but now their job is to provide rides for visitors and tourists.

I have always thought that some things should only be done once in life and for me a camel ride is quite high on this list.

I took a camel ride in Lanzarote in 1984

Camel Train Timanfaya Lanzarote

Having very quickly forgotten my lesson in the boat yard about being easily hustled I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself negotiating with a camel owner for a one hour ride along the beach and before I could say Lawrence of Arabia I was sitting on a shaggy carpet on the back of a dromedary and being hoisted into the air!  It is a long way up on a camel so once on board there is no realistic opportunity of changing your mind that won’t involve a sprained ankle or a broken leg!

To be fair I was happy with the price – 150 dirham (£12) for one hour and one mile which compares very favourably with £2.50 for a five minute and two hundred yard donkey ride at home on Cleethorpes Beach, near where I live.

Cleethorpes Donkeys

And so we set off at a leisurely pace along the beach with the camel man persistently trying to persuade me to spend more and extend the ride to two hours.  I refused, I was certain that an hour was long enough and I held out.  I was proud of myself for that.

Essaouira Camel Ride

In my pocket I had brought with me some pages from a note book so that I could make a record of the day and at one point I thought of something so brilliant, so Bill Bryson, so Hemingway, so Laurie Lee, that I felt I needed to write it down immediately in case I forgot this potential literary gem and I reached inside my pocket for pen and paper.

Unfortunately it was quite windy and as I clung on firmly to the wooden saddle with one hand I was surprised by a strong gust that separated me from the paper and it went back-flipping across the sand like an Olympic gymnast and it was lost.  Now I would have to rely on memory.

As it happens, this was rather like Lawrence of Arabia himself.  Lawrence kept extensive notes throughout the course of his involvement in the First-World-War and he began work in 1919 on the manuscript of his book ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’.  By December it was almost complete but he lost it when he misplaced his briefcase while changing trains at Reading railway station sometime in the following year.  It was never recovered and he had to start all over again.

At least Lawrence still had his notes but he did have to rewrite four years of memoirs, I only needed to recall four days!

T E Lawrence

Another famous loss is the story of Thomas Carlyle and his book ‘The French Revolution: A History’.  In 1835 he finished volume 1 and gave it to his friend John Stuart Mill to read for his comments.


Unfortunately it was the only copy of the work and Mill’s servant allegedly mistook the book for household rubbish and used it as a convenient source of material to get the kitchen fire going one morning!

Unlike Lawrence, Carlyle apparently kept no notes at all and had to completely rewrite the first volume entirely from memory.

Little wonder he looked so glum…


In 1922 Ernest Hemingway lost his entire early work including the only copies when his wife had a suitcase stolen from a train in Paris as she was transporting it to her husband in Switzerland.  I can’t imagine Hemingway being terribly understanding about that.

Anyway, the camel ride continued until it reached a block of stone in the sand – a ruined red brick fortress, battered by the years into submission and collapse by the unrelenting waves.  At some point in the late 1960s Jimi Hendix visited Essaouira and stayed a while in a nearby hippy village and they like to tell you around here that it was during this sojourn that he was inspired by the ruin to write his song ‘Castles in The Sea’ but sadly the dates don’t quite correspond and it turns out that he actually wrote the song two years before ever setting foot in Morocco.

And so the camel ride had reached its turning point and then returned me as promised to the start where I was mugged for a second time today when the owner told me that we had been out for an hour and a quarter and that I owed him 200 dirham.  Another lesson learned!

Castles in the Sand Jimi Hendrix

39 responses to “Camels and Lost Manuscripts

  1. They always manage to get a bit more money out of you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There’s quite a history of literary gems being lost. The Russian author Gogol went mad and burnt a large proportion of his masterpiece “Dead Souls”, Virgil destroyed the first draft of the “Aeneid” and how many Gospels were lost? We only have four in the Bible, and there are around thirty others in existence that the church chooses not to talk about, some with quite extraordianary stories. What else was lost?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ow! I will never whine when I accidentally delete a blog text again! What a story!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Love your story, Andrew!


  5. I did once, in the early days, Andrew, and I was furious with myself for days. Don’t ask me to recall which one it was! 🙂 🙂 Loved the back flipping bit of paper. I can picture it vividly. I also have to write down my Bill Bryson moments but fortunately they’re few and far between, and never when I’m riding on a camel. Hope the washing’s dry!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Seems to me the air up that high on a camel is good for musing. You certainly did you share. Do camels stink?


  7. Well, I’d never make a good camel, according to Joe E. Lewis.

    You’ve had enough adventures for about 5 people, I reckon.


  8. Cleethorpes donkeys and exotic camels mentioned in the same post? Great stuff – surely your lost manuscript couldn’t have beaten this?


  9. What an interesting day you had! Great post and very detailed. Thanks for sharing 🙂


  10. Pingback: On This Day – Lost Manuscripts | Have Bag, Will Travel

  11. Why I never do anything when I visit somewhere. Best have no memories at all and save $30.


  12. I took a camel ride in Australia once and it was pretty scary,but at least not dealing with an intimidating bandit! )


  13. A great set of stories old and new here.


  14. I like the Carlyle/Mill story. I more than once encountered a similar scam on Westminster Bridge –


  15. Hemingway’s first wife lost his manuscript and notes on a train journey. I would not have wanted to be her. I enjoyed my camel ride in the UAE. Everyone should ride a camel once. You look like a natural!


  16. I hate feeling conned! And I don’t think I ever want to get on a camel.


  17. It does leave a nasty taste in the mouth when you are mugged like that. We had it happen in Turkey when the receptionist we’d befriended (and taken with us on days out) hired a car from his friend to take us out for a day and then landed us with the bill for the car and the ‘picnic’ he’d brought!


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