15 Jan 2016

Camels in the Sahara

I’d never ridden a camel before. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against them. They’ve got the hump and the knobby knees. The long eyelashes and the buck teeth. They are so goofy they become endearing.

My traveling companions on my tour through Southern Tunisia were a bit appalled that I had never had the pleasure of sitting atop such a ridiculous creature, so they insisted that we take a camel ride through the Sahara. Early in the morning, we exited our hotel and were met by our guide holding three scarves. Soon we were wearing turbans covering our faces and were ready to go. I plopped my sunglasses on and we headed off to the camels.

Three camels sat lounging in the sand next to a weathered Berber man. He instructed each of us to board our camels. As I climbed on, he grabbed my flip flops off my feet and put them between the two wooden dowels I was to hold onto. It’s something you do at an amusement park when your legs dangle, but I had no idea camel rides could get intense enough to lose your shoes.

Then my camel was nudged to stand up. I guess I had never seen a camel stand up or sit down before. I sort of imagined they would do it like a horse. You know, they would just stand up. But camels are different. First they get their front legs upright, and then their back. At one point during the endeavor, you are left hanging on for dear life. Or least you are hanging on so you won’t slide down your camel’s back.

It was at this point that I realized the guide was going to walk in front of the camels instead of riding one himself. That should have dawned on me sooner since there were only three camels and there were three of us, leaving him without a camel, but it was early and sand was swirling around. It also occurred to me that we weren’t going to be gaining any speed on these camels. My next thought was, “have I ever seen a camel run?” Well, instead of running we would enjoy a leisurely jaunt through the Sahara on the back of a gangly creature who occasionally would get agitated and nip at the camel in front of him.

And it was leisurely. I enjoyed moving slowly through the dunes, wondering how far in every direction the desert continued. The camels maneuvered the dunes effortlessly as we trekked for thirty minutes into the desert. Then, we stopped and the guide nudged each camel to lay down. I again went through the extreme angles as the camel eased onto the sand, only this time I was leaning towards the camel’s head. My feet hit the ground once again and I gathered my shoes and sloshed through the sand. It was red and so very fine, not gritty but soft to the touch, unlike any sand I had ever seen.DSCF2346

A few minutes later, we again climbed aboard our camels and turned around to head back. The wind was picking up and I noticed that there seemed to be more sand in the air. That meant only one thing: a sandstorm.

The sand which had once felt so soft and warm was now going through my turban because it was so fine. It was blowing underneath my sunglasses and going into my eyes. I started to get all squinty and then the sand started going in my mouth.

At this point you might think that I regretted my camel ride.

You would be wrong.

It’s not every day you meet someone who has ridden a camel through a sandstorm in the Sahara. And it wasn’t so bad. I found myself closing my eyes occasionally, but I had to keep opening them because I wanted to see what we were doing. I didn’t want to miss anything, the beautiful scenery or even the sandstorm.

It was the most oddly perfect first camel ride.

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