We were in the thick of the Sahara desert dunes. It had been an hour and a half since our caravan started out, and the sunlight was fading into the sand lined horizon. My camel continued on towards our desert campsite for the night, following the line of camels being led by a Bedouin. The wind started picking up, and with a brief glance to my left, I saw a sky that was darkened brown with dust with any remaining blue being slowly consumed by it – it was a sandstorm, and it was heading directly for us.
The journey started at Kasbah Yasmina. The sun still hung in the sky, illuminating the massive sand dunes and casting shadows of our camel caravan onto the golden sands. I rocked slightly side to side upon my camel’s back, feeling every step he took. His hoofed feet slightly sunk into the soft sand before each step and he moved both legs on one side of the body at the same time with each step. Everything about him felt casual and chill. I named him, Apathy, since nothing seemed to interest him.
Getting on and off a camel is an adventure in and of itself. You mount them while they are sitting on the ground with their long legs folded beneath themselves. Once mounted, they stand up, first with the back legs, so you are thrown forward at a steep angle, and then by the front legs. And to sit, they put their front legs down first, throwing you forward again at a steep angle, and then by the back legs. Once standing, they typically reach 7 feet (2 meters) in height to the hump.
The Arabian Camel, also known as a Dromedary, only has one hump, as opposed to two which is common in other types of camels. So the saddle, which is basically a padded cloth cushion with a metal hand grip, is draped around the hump. I wasn’t the most adept rider, partly because my saddle was crooked, but sitting and riding was relatively easy, as long as I moved with the animal. Plus, we only went a speed of around 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) per hour, so riding was manageable.
In this region, the relationship between the camel and humans goes back more than 3,000 years and their main use is as a pack animal, since they have the ability to carry large loads up to 25 miles (40 kilometers) a day. They have other uses as well, food and wool. And the surprising thing for me was that camels come in different colors, from white, to black, to tan, to varying shades of brown.
These camels come naturally equipped to deal with the harsh conditions a desert can present. They have long eyelashes, hairy ears, and the ability to close their nostrils to protect sand from entering. They’re hump is a storage of fat that can be converted to water and energy when sustenance is needed and not readily available. The hump can store up to 80 pounds (36 kilograms) of fat. Couple that with their infrequent sweating, and they can travel nearly 100 miles (161 kilometers) without water. I can’t imagine it feels pleasant going that long without water, but they can do it if the need arises.
Our desert guides were surprised about the oncoming sandstorm; I guess it is not the most common occurrence. I draped my turban over my face, braced myself, and the sandstorm was finally upon us. The wind picked up and our visibility decreased significantly. Sand was getting into my eyes, so I donned my sunglasses and squinted. You would think being from a desert, living in a desert, and camping in a desert all my life, this would be something I had experienced before, but it wasn’t, it was my first sandstorm and it got to be in the Sahara Desert while riding a camel.
Fortunately, it wasn’t a widely severe storm and we were only about 15 minutes from our campsite where we would seek shelter in our tents. The storm died down after a couple hours and we ate chicken tagine, and watched and listened to the bedouins and our desert guide sing and play the drums while under the stars.
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“The desert is partly a state of mind that requires you to bow to nature in the search for humility. The desert will not tell you about itself – it is a way of life.” – Touareg freedom fighter Mano Dayak