Armchair Adventures: Camels of Tunisia – Humps, Lumps, and BMWs

Riding a camel in Tunisia

by Evelyn Kelly, PhD 

A highlight of any trip to the Middle East – Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan or Egypt – is riding a camel, or at least sitting on one for a photo to show everyone back home. 

Sahara Desert Camels

We are in Tunisia riding through the Sahara Desert and are excited that we will soon reach the camel farm for a 30-minute ride into the desert. Approaching the farm, we hear mournful bellowing like the “Call of the Wild.” Females are in season, and the males are calling. We will be riding male camels.  

For centuries, camels, known as the ships of the desert, have had great significance. In Morocco, one man told me he would trade three camels for my daughter Natalie. She laughed and said, “Am I only worth three?” He assured her that was a great price: camels are worth lots of money

Dressing Like a Bedouin

We don special long gowns that are the color of light brown sugar and wrap our heads with bathroom towels like the ones shepherds wear in Christmas pageants. We are no longer tourists but true Bedouins riding the magnificent ships of the desert. 

Related: Armchair Adventures: The Wild Dogs of Bucharest

One of the grooms confides to Natalie that he will get her the “BMW of camels,” the best riding one. She mounts BMW’s single hump that is covered with a packed bundle of rags that look like recent acquisitions from the thrift store. He is on his knees and looks happy as she climbs aboard. 

A Camel With Attitude

Not so with my camel. He screams and spits. Immediately does not like me, and I don’t care for him, either; he really had a bad attitude. I attempt to mount, but the lumpy bundle pack keeps slipping; I ask for another one with a better personality. My new camel is mild-mannered and laid back. I ride with joy and even have my picture taken with him.  

Riding on a camel for half an hour can be a lifetime on your hip and joints when you are sitting in a rocking chariot on top of a step ladder, hanging onto the horn for dear life. At least I made it for 30 minutes. 

Jan, another member of our party, is stuck with my camel reject. He does not like her either. He behaves like a disgruntled child and keeps swishing his tail up her back. She walks a miserable 30 minutes with him. When she dismounts all up and down the back of her outfit are dark brown streaks of unmentionable origin. 

Just like people, camels have feelings, moods, and unpredictable personalities. They have reputations of being bad-tempered and obstinate from the fear of being abused. Some specialists say this assessment is not fair. But I say, if you are going to ride a camel, be smart and ask for the BMW.