Trail Notes: The Prince
Trail Notes: The Prince
In celebration of the ten-year anniversary of Paul Salopek's first steps on his Out of Eden Walk journey, this dispatch is now available for educational use in fifth- and eighth-grade reading levels. The original text is available as the default reading level, as well as on the Out of Eden Walk website.
By Paul Salopek
EL REIS, SAUDI ARABIA (11/10/2023)
“You want to give the prince canned corn?” asks my walking guide, Mohamad Banounah.
He is surprised and disbelieving. He is sick of explaining. He is taking matters into his own hands. This is likely a good thing for His Royal Highness Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, who is the president of the Saudi Commission on Tourism and Antiquities and the eldest son of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Prince Sultan is a cultured man, an experienced pilot, a champion of Saudi history, and an extraordinary traveler in his own right. He is the first Arab in the world—the first Muslim and the first royal—to visit outer space. He is paying us a visit at our beach camp. I have just suggested to Banounah that he share our lunch from the camel bags.
“That’s what he’s coming for,” I say, “an authentic experience.”
Banounah shakes his head sadly, at my ignorance and lack of sophistication. He waves me off to “go write.” He gets busy.
A word about the corn:
It was Banounah’s idea. We needed a high-calorie staple to satisfy the multinational palates of our little caravan: Saudi tastes, Sudanese tastes (Awad Omran, our cameleer, comes from near the sixth waterfall of the Nile), and American tastes. Banounah’s solution: cans of whole-kernel sweet corn. Such corn may be consumed at any temperature. It can be conveniently spooned straight from the can while you walk. Except Awad won’t touch the stuff. Even Banounah dislikes it. And I am tired of it, too, though my stomach is no pickier than a goat’s. We carry many pounds of canned corn north through the Hejaz desert. Our camel bags sag with this wonder food. Perhaps we can trade it in Jordan—as an unusual item—for something more edible.
“You have a very nice camp,” Prince Sultan says eight hours later, after landing on the beach in a Sikorsky helicopter. He is a no-nonsense, friendly man, curious about the world he circled every 90 minutes aboard the space shuttle in 1985.
From the landing zone, where Banounah has staked a makeshift windsock, we walk to a large open-sided tent that Banounah has set up next to the surf. It is floored with fine red carpets that Banounah has unrolled onto the sand. Banounah has positioned plush elbow cushions at various spots in the shade. He has brewed dozens of cups of tea and coffee for the prince’s staff, produced platters of dates, and installed washbasins complete with a small bottle of perfume for the hands. I am seeing most of these things for the first time. All of it—minus two roast sheep Banounah bought from a nearby village—came from the back of Banounah’s dusty Yukon support vehicle. That vehicle seems to hold most of the comfort items needed in the early 21st century.
I agree heartily with Prince Sultan. We have a very nice camp.
5 - 12
Social Studies, English Language Arts, Geography, Storytelling, Anthropology
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January 22, 2024
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