Monday, October 29, 2012

Straddling a Pregnant Camel

Ever since we backpacked Australia, I have wanted to ride a camel. It doesn’t seem that difficult a goal, but I am finding it rather impossible to fulfill.

I actually had the chance to ride a camel in Oz, but held off because I had heard of a wine-tasting and camel-riding tour and wanted to do that instead. However, once we reached Adelaide, I was disappointed to find the tour closed for the season and I haven’t seen a camel since.

This was expected to change on our recent holiday. I had read that the Sheikh had a 600+ camel farm in Bahrain that was open to the public. Even more exciting, it supposedly offered bareback camel rides.

I convinced B to go on Saturday afternoon. We followed the directions out of town and toward Saudi Arabia. We drove across the island and eventually found our turn off. We cruised down the road, keeping our eyes peeled for a camel farm. There appeared to be no signs and no farm. We doubled back and tried again. No success. Just as we were beginning to give up, a guard flagged us down, warning us to not continue down the road we were on. We requested directions to the farm and he gestured for us to turn right at the next entrance.

An ornate entrance appeared on our right soon afterwards, but it had a huge sign stating, “Stop! Private Property!” B started to drive by, but I convinced him to turn in. I argued that we had already been stopped and turned away by one guard, what’s another.
As we parked, it was clear we were in the right place. Hundreds of camels stood before us. Some were in corrals, others were hobbled, and still others seemed free to wander. A large sign instructed us that we must not touch, stand close to or climb the camels. It seemed a simple request, but as I walked among them, I itched for the photo opportunity of standing near, touching or better yet climbing up on one and riding away.

I must have shown some of my longing, because soon after we entered, a young Indian caretaker approached us and offered to show us some of the newborn calves. He started by leading us around a large open air barn of young males. He warned us not to get too close as the males were known for biting and spitting.

Next, we approached a large corral full of mother camels and young calves. The youngest had just been born the week before. Much like a foal, it was already galloping around on shaky legs and alternating between wanting to nuzzle us and wanting to hide in fear.

Lastly, the caretaker introduced us to a very pregnant camel. She was 6 months in and HUGE. She still had 6 months to go before she would give birth. He had her lay down and then invited us to perch atop her. I was worried about hurting her, but he assured us it was fine. So we sat behind her hump and took a few photos. We looked, and felt, quite silly straddling a pregnant camel on a farm of 600 others, but that was the closest I was going to get to a ride, so I took it.
As we exited the farm I asked if the Sheikh raced the camels or rode them. The caretaker shook his head and in an aggrieved voice told us that the camel farm was just a hobby. “Just a hobby,” he said, “Not for eating, not for racing, not for money. Just costs money, lots of money. For hobby.” He gestured to the elaborate barns, well maintained sidewalks, gorgeous pools of water and the many, many camels. “All this for hobby,” he paused and shook his head, “I paid 18 BD* a month, a month! I live off that. That is all. I get 18. And this, all this, just for hobby. He comes once a year, the Sheikh. Hobby.”

I looked at him, chagrined, and offered a 2 BD tip. It was the best I could do, I had not come prepared with small change. I knew part of his spiel was purposeful, to cajole a tip, but I also knew that 18 BD was probably not an understatement. He had been very helpful and entertaining. He had earned it.

Oh. And I still need to ride a camel.

*BD – Bahraini Dinar. 18 BD is approx. 58 dollars (a month). 

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