Camels are renowned for being foul-smelling, bad-tempered creatures with a serious aversion to their suppressors (humans) and a penchant for spitting up their oily, dark stomach contents when annoyed (which is always?). But how can any self-respecting Fun, Fearless Female not ride a camel when in Egypt?
Of course, COSMO’s business development manager, Rebecca Whisson-Smeda, and I instantly regretted our gung-ho decision to ride these eternally-grumpy animals as soon as we spotted their 2m-high humps up close on Saturday afternoon. The fact that one particularly disgruntled camel was snapping aggressively at its owner Franco when we stepped out of the safe, cool confines of our van just added to our growing hysteria.
As it happened, this particular camel was mine and he’d been misnamed the innocuous ‘Charlie’ – ‘Devil’s Spawn’ seemed more appropriate somehow. The lead camel, ridden by the slight Franco, had been dubbed Moses, and Rebecca got to ride Mike (hilarious name choice again, especially considering ‘Mike’ is Rebecca’s dad’s name, she pointed out).
I started giggling hysterically as soon as I straddled Charlie’s colourful Bedouin-carpeted saddle. Even when he turned his long neck towards me and glowered, as only camels can. I couldn’t quite suppress my fit of giggles. Rebecca, who looked almost colonial in her sweeping hat and beautiful scarf (all thanks to her mom’s strict orders to keep herself covered at all times lest the sun fry her olive skin), was a lot more contained as our camels hoisted themselves off their knees in a seesaw motion onto their impossibly long, scrawny legs… although she did threaten to abort the mission immediately if there wasn’t a rider to steer her camel. There wasn’t – there was just Franco in the front on Moses, then Charlie connected via a rope to him and then Mike.
But, as our torturers started their sedate trip along the shore line and into the desert, all hysteria and threats dissolved. Both having ridden horses before, we were expecting to hang on for dear life by gripping with our thighs and feet. But camels are not known as ‘the ships of the desert’ for nothing. Their surprisingly smooth and rocking gait is thanks to the fact that they move both legs on one side and then both legs on the other. We just had to perch on their wide saddles with one hand holding onto a saddle handle for a bit of stability, but could allow our legs to swing freely.
Amazingly, their feet are also padded and absorb the shock of walking. In fact, I think Rebecca and I spent half of our two-hour trip chatting about the fabulousness of their incredibly soft-looking huge feet.
Thankfully Charlie and Mike turned out to be the best rides of our life (excuse the innuendo), and when we rolled off their backs as the sun set over the desert we wanted to thank them. But, as I was about to pat dear Charlie, Franco blocked me and told me I’d be safer stroking Moses – one look at the hatred in Charlie’s impossibly big left eye showed Franco was right.
Rebecca gave Mike a good stroke or two but unfortunately also stroked over some sticky, foul-smelling black goo plastered on his neck. Only later did we realise this was the putrid liquid spat straight out of a camel’s stomach – and there was no doubt in my mind that Grumpy Charlie had spat at poor Mike. Just glad I hadn’t been his next victim!