March 2, 2011

Riding Camels at Wadi Gazelle

A wadi is simply an Arabic name for what we call a "wash" out west. It is a dried up streambed that only runs during major rainstorms. But, some wadis are so large and covered with sand, they never run today. So, how did they form? They simply must have formed during another era, such in the time after the Ice Age ended, when much of the Sahara Desert was actually savannah-like grasslands, rather than stark desert devoid of plant-life. At that time, the Sahara contained elephants, giraffes, wildebeests, and other African savannah species.

We headed from our hotel in Dahab to Wadi Gazelle. Unfortunately, Kathleen was unable to join us due to the effects of "Pharoah's Revenge". We too had some mild symptoms, but not enough to stop our adventures. The first thing we did was sit down with a family of Bedouins at their home in a cliff-face cave. We were served tea and the young girls showed us some jewelry and trinkets they had made. We obviously made an obligatory purchase of a little turtle necklace and some beads. Bedouins are a distinct ethnic sub-group of Arabs, with their own culture, traditions, and dialects.

See me gritting my teeth?

Soon, the girl's father brought out the camels. Clearly the saddles were not designed for nearly 6-foot plump American tourists, because when I got onto it, it was a very tight and uncomfortable fit...especially for my little guys down below, if you know what I'm sayin'.

Luckily for Mohammed, he got a calm not-in-heat female.

Linda got to ride a female camel who was entering heat, while I got to ride the horny male who also happened to be hungry. What it would result in is a wild ride of ups and downs, as my camel grazed on every little plant he walked past, while moaning in desire at the female ahead. However, eventually my initial pain subsided as things got numb with the lack of blood flow.

When you are riding on the hump of a camel, you are up really high. It feels very unstable and you realize that you have a long ways to fall if the camel does something unexpected. I guess if there was any consolation for me, it was that I was sealed in the saddle so tight the only way I was going down was if the camel fell too. But, there were a couple of times that felt possible. Well, as long as he didn't try to hump the female, I figured I was safe.

But, what an adventure as we trekked up the wide wadi, into some beautiful rocky canyons, and then down into an unexpected oasis, where a small bedouin village stood. There, we saw a bedouin woman with her hijab (head scarf) off smoking a cigarette. Clearly she was not expecting us. As soon as she spotted us entering the village, the cigarette was gone and the hijab was on.

We drank tea with her, explored the little village of date palms and goats, and then soon we were on our way. We trekked up onto a rocky area that the camels were not very sure-footed on and then looped back to down another wadi to our van waiting by the cave. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day and what an experience to really get a feel for how the "real" people of the Sinai Desert live. It didn't feel touristy, it didn't feel packaged. There were no other tourists around that day. It just felt authentic and that is what made it so special.

Unfortunately for the Bedouin people, their way of life has been under assault for over 30 years. The Mubarek regime had a policy of trying to get these people to abandon their semi-nomadic and subsistence way of living and to move to the cities  to get jobs. This has resulted in the traditional Bedouin population of Egypt shrinking dramatically. It will be interesting to see what happens to these proud traditional peoples under a new regime in that country.

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