Ah, that special time in every traveler’s life when they get to experience a camel ride for the first time. By no means the most comfortable way to travel (I get saddle sore just thinking about it), it is still an experience that everyone should have at least once.
Our group had been traversing through Israel for the past couple of weeks. We had seen a lot of places and experienced a great perspective through it all. But we were all really looking forward to this part where we could ride a camel. We pulled up to Genesis Land near the Dead Sea where we would be riding the camels down into the valley to have lunch. Because they wanted us to feel as much a part of the story of the Canaanites as possible, we were each given a ( somewhat campy) robe of sorts to put on over our clothes. Then we went outside to meet the team.
We were put in groups of twos and directed to a camel. Mark and I were to be riding Matilda. We walked over to her and said hello and she eyed us with a irritated look. Mark got on Matilda first taking the back seat. But as I went to get on Matilda turned her head and gave a very angry horn like sound. I stepped back, now a little worried that I had unknowingly done something wrong. They told me to try to get on on the other side. I tried again only to get the same angry sound again directed towards me. “She’s never like this, I wonder what has gotten into her” the handler says. They decide that maybe Matilda should sit this ride out and instead they brought out Margot.
I approached Margot very slowly with my hand out stretched enough that she could smell me. If camels are like horses and dogs and could sense nervousness, I wanted Margot to know that I was a friend no matter what Matilda said to the contrary. One guy in our group was terrified of this camel experience and as I offered Margot my hand he started saying “Don’t do it, that camel will bite you! Or spit on you at the very least!” But Margot did not bite me or spit on me, in fact she nuzzled my hand a little as an acceptance of my offer of peace.
This time, I got on first and then Mark climbed on next. Now securely on our camels, the handlers said to hold on tight and lean back while the camels stood up. What a weird sensation to feel thrown forward while leaning back with all your might while the camel stands on the back legs and then stands on the front legs. The camels all crowded around each other as they tried to decide who was going to lead. But then we were on our way down the desert path.
We reached the tent a little ways down the hill where we would have lunch. We gathered around the table, finding a comfortable spot on the provided mats, and looked out over the incredible desert before us. They talked about the Canaanites and their life here in the desert and what it must have been like. Lunch was served on giant platters and was one of the best meals that we had the entire trip.
Then it was time to go back up the trail. We were put into groups of two again, this time I would be riding with Nick who had been worried about the camel biting me. Our camel this time was named Honey and she was as sweet as her name. She would be the leader of the group up the hill. Honey liked to stop frequently to snack on brush on the side of the trail. Nick behind me panicked every time she lowered her head for a bite, which seemed to be every few feet. Soon the other camels thought she had the right idea too and they began to stop to munch too. If the leader was doing it then they should do it too.
But what I really loved about Honey is that she loved to sing on the trail. She started making these soft humming sounds with random mah sounds in-between like a beat. I leaned down and said “Honey are you singing?” and Honey gave me a toss of her head with some more of those mah sounds but a little louder this time. I wanted to join in on the trail song and started singing along with the old ‘Yippie I Oh Kayay’. I sang the old cowboy song and Honey hummed and mahhed along as we made our way up the trail, with the occasional stopping for a brush snack.
Our camel ride was at an end. While Nick jumped off as soon as he could I was hesitant, not because I was nervous anymore about riding a camel but because I wasn’t ready for the experience to be over. I got off of Honey and gave her a soft stroke on her neck. I got down low so I could take a picture of me with my sweet singing friend. She smiled for the camera and hummed again tossing her head. Oh Honey, I loved our desert song together too and it will always be one of my favorite parts of the trip.