Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Viewing life from a camel's back

     A camel plods along taking forever to get anywhere by 21st century standards. Life should be played out in the slow lane once in a while, too, for your own good.
     Actually, a dromedary normally averages about 2 to 3 miles an hour when simply walking, 9 or 10 mph when trotting and 16 mph during a gentle jog. Camels have been known to go as fast as 40 mph for a short burst. I’ll take the word of the camel driver on that, and let him manage the speed for this inexperienced rider.

    When I slowed down and took a camel ride in the Sahara Desert, I viewed the massive vistas from a different, higher perspective. Parts of the time I looked down at the camel’s feet – I named him, “Buddy” ‒ and how his hoofs dug into the sand to go down a slope, or how they stretched out and caught their footing for climbing uphill. When the thick, leathery pads of his foot hit the ground, they spread wide, preventing the camel from sinking into the sand. When he walked, the camel moved both legs on one side and then both legs on the other, rocking side-to-side. The driver would yell, “lean back” and that turned out to be the best technique for staying comfortable and eliminating potential back misery.
     Other than that, once I got into the beat of a slower pace, my mind let go and I permitted my senses to take over. I dropped thoughts of what I would be doing next – a visit to a working Roman well – and raised my head high scanning the horizon. Earlier I had let my Berber tour guide take my multicolored scarf and wrap it around my head. It made me feel part of the total scene, and in all practicality, it was shading and cool draping down over my neck. Like everyone else, I took selfies of my new desert chic style, and I even wore my turban around camp for the rest of the day.

     The camel driver was in charge and I had nothing to worry about. Well, I was a little nervous about how awkward I would look getting on and off, but it turned out to be a piece of cake. Once I mounted and I readjusted to the camel’s lurch to rise on his four legs, I shifted to get comfortable on the mounds of blankets and held on to the metal halter with my hands. Soon I was loosening my grip and relaxing into the movement. My legs dangled freely and I held my posture upright. I assumed that I would be sore and stiff the next morning. (Didn’t happen.)
     Camels are domesticated; they provide milk, meat, hair for textiles or goods such as felted pouches, and are working animals with tasks ranging from human transport to bearing loads. While in a medina (market) in the city of Fez, I saw cut up portions of camel meat for sale by vendors, and I quickly walked away from one place with the camel’s head swinging from an iron rod. That was way too graphic.
      It was only 9 o’clock in the morning and already the sun was beating down, and the dryness in the air was making my skin feel like a sandpaper. Some fellow camel riders suffered from dry eyes and bloody noses, but I was lucky in that respect. Eventually, I would purchase some of that famous Moroccan black soap and exfoliate my skin for hours under a hot shower.

     The sun’s shadows played tricks on my eyes while going up and down over the natural wonders of the dunes examining the shapes and designs. Distances were out of proportion and I could see how you would get totally lost in no time flat. Still, the beauty of the desert in all its glory was evident from miles of tan fine sand. There was a slight breeze, which kept the bugs away fortunately, and periodically we would stop to take a breather…well, mostly for more photo ops. And we literally drank bottles of mineral water supplied by our caravan leader. The desert can fool you into an euphoric high and not take dehydration into account.
     The more I moved along and Buddy followed the leader, the more I appreciated where I was in this great wide world. It was relatively quiet, too, for minutes and that made everything peaceful.  Well, we did come across a group of French tourists out with rented dirt bikes and all of us wished them to go away almost like noisy jet skis interrupting our relaxation on a lake.
     Buddy moved a little out of line and snuggled by the side of the camel ahead, and I told him that he was in training to be the lead camel. I felt his anticipation in his quicker step before I even realized our ride was almost over. He knew that he would have rest time and food.
     When the ride was over, I slipped off the camel and stood stiffly for a minute and my legs became rubbery until I walked the kinks out of them. I turned to take a close up photo of Buddy, and he ignored me. I patted him on the head, “good job.” and slipped away from a priceless moment in my journey on this earth.  
     The Sahara Desert doesn’t offer an explosion of colors, but certainly it provides subtleties of hues. Ordinary life can be like that, too.