The part of the trip that I was looking forward to the most was getting to ride a camel across the Sahara. I mean duh! How cool right?!? I had this strange vision of me in the movie Aladdin, crossed with the experience of the occasional horseback riding trip while growing up. I was so pumped. Then I got there and let me tell you, it was NOTHING and I do mean NOTHING like horseback riding
Now I'm not saying don't go; it was one of the best experiences I've ever had. There are just some things you might want to make yourself aware of first:
1. The first thing they don't tell you is how gross the camels are:
Keep in mind this isn't some horse barn where they groom and care for their animals on a regular basis. It's the desert. It's probably been a REALLY long time since your camel bathed. When they bathed was probably the last time they took the saddle off too. Why? Because it's easier for them to just leave the thing on. Which means that the germaphobe in you will have to shut up if your going to commit to riding a camel. There might even be bugs.
2. An expansion on camel grossness:
These things have some messed up teeth that are covered in a slime of decaying hay. They also seem really into trying to lick you so make sure someone is holding their head before you hop on.
3. Morocco has bigger concerns than animal rights:
That's not to say that people over there don't care about their animals. They just don't have PETA running around the desert checking in on the camels. You aren't in America. (In case the lack of flushing toilets didn't clue you in)
This means that the people whose camels you're riding are more interested in your money than the camels safety. So don't be shocked if they try to put you on a really old or baby camel. Tell them no! During my trip, three people fell off their camels multiple times and almost got trampled because their camels were too small for them. They finally had to walk across the rest of the desert because they were too far out to get another camel. and I'm not talking like they were overweight and the camels just couldn't carry them. I'm talking these camels were bitty babies. Protect yourself (and your shoes) and insist on waiting for another camel.
4. It's gonna be a bompy ride (As the bus driver in Harry Potter likes to say):
Riding a camel is not a smooth experience. Remember, you're on top of a sack straddled on top of a hump. Sometimes sand can also fall out from under their feet on hills, causing them to trip. Don't kid yourself and be careful with that iPhone you're holding to grab a selfie of you on the camel. If it drops someone's gonna have to get it....
5. Motion sickness. Not you, the camel:
For some reason camels aren't always fans of being jerked up harshly by their nose rings (wonder why?). Their protest? Puking on their handlers or trying to reach their head around to puke on you. This doesn't always happen but seems to be common at the beginning and end of the trip when their getting up and down. You may not feel so bad about the straining nose rig when it's saving you from a shower of decaying green slime.
6. Pack light:
If you're going to stay out in the desert for a night or don't want to leave your belongings unattended (advised if you actually like your belongings) they're going to pack them right onto the camel in front of you. Careful that you don't pack too much and that whatever you're carrying has handles that can loop onto the saddle horn. Also make sure there aren't any sharp corners. Just cause PETA isn't here doesn't mean you don't care about animals right?
As previously discussed, this is a bumpy ride you're in for. But you're also in the desert, making shoe selection difficult. Any sort of flip flop, slide on situation may fall off. But closed toes trap in sand. And believe me that stuff is in there for life. My best suggestion? Go barefoot. I mean it's sand just like at the beach right? If you insist on shoes, I recommend a pair of toms or sandals that strap around your ankle and you are okay with the potential of getting ruined. If you go barefoot, just stuff your flip flops in your bag right in front of you.
8. Remember that bumpy ride? It's about to haunt you:
So when I rode a camel, we rode out into the desert, spent the night at a Berber camp and then rode back through the desert in the morning. Amazing experience. One of my all time favorite traveling memories and I would definitely recommend it! But... I suggest trying to make sure that you're only riding a camel once or that it's not for that long. After an hour riding a camel I felt fine. The next morning it was incredibly painful. My friends and I were doing everything we could to not let our butts touch the saddle. (Which is quite the feat without stirrups)
9. Do something with your hair:
If you're going to be on the camel for awhile, put your hair up or braid it before you get on. The desert has nothing to block the wind so your hair is about to get really knotted and it takes some mad skills to balance on a pillow balancing on a hump with both of your hands in the air fixing your hair.
10. Long pants:
Yes I know it's the desert. It's hot and nobody wants a funky tan, but remember you're essentially sitting on a pillow that's been stuck to your new camel friend for quite some time. Bugs can bite, my friends. Not to mention the fabric for the saddles and camels fur can be really scratchy. Worse then a bad tan is a form of camel beard burn along the insides of your legs.
11. This is not snack time:
Your camel friend likes food. And just because his nose ring is attached to his friends butt, doesn't mean that will stop him from trying to grab a bite. Don't torture the poor thing.
12. Hydrate before hand:
See #8 bumpy ride situation. You're heading into the desert and if it's for an hour and a half like my ride was, you might get thirsty. Just remember, every drink of water runs the risk of you taking an unexpected bath.
13. Put sunscreen on at least a half hour beforehand:
Or any lotion for that matter. Yes you want to protect your skin but all that wind is carrying sand and if your lotion is too wet it's all going to stick right to you.
14. But my hair's in a turban? I don't need to put it up:
Make sure you want that turban on for the long haul. Most of the Berbers will offer to help you tie a turban on your head. It can be cool to try but just make sure if you're going to be on the camel for awhile that you want the turban on the whole time. (If you do want one, make sure to pack or buy a long scarf and ask the guy to help you out). They can get kind of heavy on your head. Plus it was a guy that helped you put it on. And unless you got lucky, he wasn't gay. Chances are, he has no fashion sense and at some point you're going to wish you could take a selfie where you look like a bad ass crossing the desert not a rookie with her turban falling in her eyes. So come up with a contingency plan where your hair is braided underneath.
15. Think long and hard before you opt to walk:
Berbers make walking through the desert look easy. Like their out on a stroll in the park. In reality, if you decide to forgo your camel riding experience but still want to get into the desert, or you've already traveled too far to turn back, you're going to be walking. And sand is surprisingly slippery. It puts the whole two steps forward one step back thing into perspective.
Despite all these warnings, I would definitely still recommend riding a camel. It was by far one of the best experiences I've had abroad. Good luck!