Many trade route criss-cross Mars and these are plied by numerous caravans bringing trade and goods to those who need them and to those that don't. A caravan is always a welcome sight when spotted by a watch tower and it is becoming an ever increasing custom to send out riders to meet the caravan, as a sign of respect and to help protect them on the last part of their journey.
Each caravan is funded and provided by a merchant family with several of the larger families owning a good number of caravans, usually travelling along different routes so as not to saturate an area with the same supplies. This is also good economically as no one family has a monopoly in a particular area.
The caravans themselves consist of several, large sleds pulled by docile herd animals (a treatise on which later) and a good number of smaller sleds that comtain either precious cargos or members of the caravan themselves. Occasionally, an important family member will accompany the caravan on needed business exchanges. There are also several outriders that will scout ahead to see that the way is clear for the sleds and also to check for roving bands of Sky Martians.
The sleds can be massive affairs of several levels but the typical sled is of the same style as canal barges, two levels with the lower used for heavy or bulky items.the sleds are quite low to the ground to help with the offloading and both sides can be lowered and act as ramps. Awnings are a common feature as it can get rather stifling in the red wastes and the coolness underneath can be a welcome respite. Some sleds are painted in the house colours of the merchant family who owns it and along with bright awnings the caravans can be a colourful sight.
Some families are starting to arm their sleds; or even have entire sleds, with ballistas in an attempt to dissuade the Sky Martian attacks. This only seems to happen for the smaller clans and lone skiffs out for a quick steal but every little helps in the trade heavy City Martian culture.
When a family member joins the caravan they are given much honour and their sled is generally the brightest. Depending on the owner, a caravan might take a bit longer than normal with a family member on board as they find it useful to spend time with the caravaneers to see what the lay of the land is in other towns and cities and to get a taste of the wider world. Quite often it will be a younger member joining the caravan to help with being trained into the higher levels of the family but sometimes an older member will take the journey to see an old acquaintance.
When evening comes and the days travel ends, the caravans form a circle with a large fire in the middle and the clan tellers tell tall tales of days past and of the times before the Great Storm. When two caravans meet, even during the day, they will stop and share the fire and stories and sometimes even goods if the trade seems worth it. The circle of caravans also act as protection against some of the beasts that occasionally wander the red wastes and would attack unwary travellers but a good fire and plenty of noise generally keeps them away. As the Sky Martians don't tend to attack at night only a light guard is set once the fire has died down and the City Martians can spread out their awnings at the sides of the caravans and have a full nights rest.
Once the caravan has reached its destination it is lead to a supply holding area where the incoming goods are checked off and a list of the caravans wants and needs is handed over for the residing merchant families assistants to scour the local market and obtain what is required. The goods brought are listed and distributed as and when amongst the local merchants and traders to either be sold to the local populace or another visiting caravan from another city. The stay can be several days as the caravan is resupplied and stocked up for its continuing journey. The longest caravan journeys can last for several months and cover numerous towns and cities but they are usually unfrequent and not the rule. A normal journey will take two/three weeks and include only one or two visits to different locales.