Lodovico Varthema knew that he must master the Arab tongue if he was to pass among the people of the desert, much less gain access to their holy places, and he did not set out for Mecca directly. Varthema, who was more often governed by his appetite than by intellectual curiosity, thought the peaches and pears unsavoury. From his observation of the lives of the settled people at the edge of the desert, Varthema was able to learn a good deal that would be helpful when he travelled into Arabia. Varthema took great delight in telling tales of their exploits which often resembled medieval European joustings. In fact, the caravan was probably in the desolate region between Tabuk and Madain Saleh on the road from Maan by now, according to Varthema’s timetable. The birds, said Varthema, were supposed to be the progeny of the dove that spoke into the ear of the Prophet in the likeness of the Holy Ghost.