Pictures of complacent camels appear in every travel magazine published.
More often than not, perched atop them are humans with the whites of their eyes prominent as they sit there in high consternation.
Egypt is a land of great beauty, antiquity and wonder… and camels who are part of the tourist draw at various pyramids. Everyone wants a photo op, so they willing board a camel so a friend or family member can catch a shot of them. What is not made clear is that you cannot de-camel unless you fork over “baksheesh”, which means tip. Very clever: you may be charged to be thrust up into the sky at a precarious pace but in order to get down, you have to tip the camel’s front man.
Now don’t wax irritable, there were no tips offered in Egypt until Americans arrived there on business or vacation. We’ve no one to blame but our excessive selves.
The pyramid/camel thing whets one’s dry whistle. After you land in the dust and start thinking about it, an actual camel ride seems in order.
I was in Aswan with a small group of tourists. At dinner one night, we decided to ask our guide about a ride in the desert. We knew there was a Coptic ruin not too far away and asked Melvin if a ride could be arranged.
The next morning, we crossed the Nile and reached Harold’s Rent-a-Camel. Harold selected six camels for our early morning ride.
All of them were resting and one by one, we were placed on the saddles. This is not an easy feat. Once you are seated, the camel stands by raising his back legs. This, of course, pitches you forward. Then it raises itself up by extending its front legs. This, of course, pitches you backward. All this takes place within 30 seconds: the fastest whiplash you will ever know.
A small boy was assigned to each of us. His job was to hold the reins and lead the camel docilely toward the Coptic site. While he did this, my camel continued to try to bite me, turning her neck at an alarming angle in order to do it. Try to imagine a camel spin. She turned her head and kept turning it until we were churning sand into a funnel.
Harold called out, “She’s young and pregnant and doesn’t want to do this.”
“Really?” I called back. “Why then is she, sir, when there are at least 15 other camels dozing in the heat?”
Harold chose not to hear me and yelled at the little boy to get a wiggle on.
I was at the back of our small caravan lurching along happily—I had not been bitten.
We might have gone 100 yards when Little Boy Harried decided he was not going to lead this annoying American on this pregnant and cranky camel any further. He said something and at the same time tossed the reins up to me. Then the little dear went to the back of the camel and swatted its legs with a stick.
That certainly got her attention. She sprang forth into a clumsy gallop while I shouted things like, “Whoa, babe” and “Stop it this instant” and “I’ll tell Harold what a bad girl you are.”
She didn’t understand English. Now she reached her stride and we shot past the others whose cries of dismay did not slow her. We flew along, sand pitting me, and I was mentally bargaining with God. The Coptic site was getting closer and closer. We reached it, circled it and headed back to the corral, again passing my shocked colleagues.
I was saved by another little fellow who managed to slow us down. He led us back to the site.
He and this friends made the camels kneel so we could de-camel. My darling was still in teething mode, but she eventually knelt so I could spring off and out of dental reach.
We spent an hour enjoying this ancient place. It was getting too warm, so we headed to the camels.
I was slower because I knew my camel was watching every move I made and contemplating how best to bite me and hurl me back onto the desert floor – if, that is, she decided to let me get back in the saddle again.
Susan Keezer lives in Adrian. Send your good news to her at [email protected].