Whoa Camel

While most people envision a trek through Wadi Rum atop a camel, fearlessly ridingWadi Rum Camel Ride through the desert at high speeds, covering vast distances on the “ship of the desert”, in actuality it can be a lot more difficult than it appears. Wadi Rum… vast, open, and sandy was seemingly endless during our camel riding experience. An ordinary riding camel will normally saunter at about 5 km/hour; perfectly doable, right? But what about when it unexpectedly runs? Could you control it? Could you stay on? Would you know what to do? We were given the opportunity to find out and it wasn’t as joyful as you’d expect. 

When I wasn’t given a “how-to” guide before my camel ride, I assumed it was because it was pretty straightforward. You sit on the camel, someone guides you through the desert, you look around, take photos, and arrive safely at your destination. It’s not as adventurous as say bungee jumping but it’s a unique, beautiful experience nonetheless; I was in for a different type of ride than I expected.

We were told to plant ourselves in the seat quickly because when the camel feels your Wadi Rum Camel Rideweight, it stands up. I approached a camel without any apprehension. It looked docile and relaxed. It was chewing something and moving its jaw from side to side. Even with large teeth, it looked gentle and friendly.

Noticing that there were two different kinds of saddles, I chose what looked like the better one. It had a higher back and a handle bar on the front. I wasn’t sure how fast we were going to go, but I wanted to be prepared. It looked more stable. That turned out to be my best decision of the day.

Wadi Rum Camel Ride

There were about 4 camels per Bedouin guide and we were tied to the camel in front of us. Our group led the caravan with my good friend, Nancy of Family Travel Network, on the lead camel. Even when the Bedouin guide was behind the camels taking photos or chatting with the group, the camels followed the trail. They knew the way.

I moved from side to side when its leg bent at the knee. It wasn’t as graceful as a horse, but I rhythmically found my stride with him. (I’m not sure if it was a male or a female but I found they all looked like males so I’ll call it “him” for now on.) I felt at ease and I was surrounded by astounding beauty. The only problem was that my camel seemed to have a problem with the camel next to him, ridden by Liz of Young Adventuress. They kept banging into each other and knocking our knees together every time. At first, it was cute because we thought they were being friendly with each other, but after about ten knee knocks with Liz, she asked our guide if she could be moved somewhere else.

Wadi Rum Camel Ride

He released her camel from the group and it trotted closely along freeing Liz and I from bruises and sore legs. We didn’t think much of it when it happened, but it made a huge difference later on during our journey.

We were about one hour into our hour and fifteen minute ride and we were all feeling stable in our saddles. A few of us even asked if we could pick up the pace a little to add some adrenaline to the adventure.

My camel perked up and doubled its speed for about 10 seconds while we went down a hill. It was exciting, but I didn’t feel quite comfortable enough to have him run. When he, and the other two camels tied to my group, stopped for a nibble on a bush, I was relieved. I was having a great time but I looked back and noticed we were far ahead of the group and our guide was lagging behind with them. I turned slightly more in my saddle to ask the guide how to get the camel to stop when I saw Liz’s camel darting down the hill.

It was like watching a movie in slow motion. I saw her fearful expression and I could see her shifting in the saddle. “Please hold on, Liz” I though as a sickening feeling filled my stomach.

Nope. She was gone. She had fallen at least ten feet from the camel. It was still running and just missed stepping on her. She wasn’t moving. The group still hadn’t caught up to her. She was alone on the ground and still.

As a mother, you see everyone as someone’s child. I imagined Athena falling from the camel while in mid run. I wanted to run to Liz, pick her up, and carry her to safety, but I didn’t know how to get off the damn camel. All I could do was gasp and sit there. I thought the emotional, crying, panic stage of being a new mother was over, but I’m starting to think it’s something that stays with you for the rest of your life.

The group had caught up to her and almost instantly a truck appeared. I saw her move. I Wadi Rum Camel Rideheard the group talking. She got into the truck. She was alive and nothing appeared to be broken.

I was a mess. I thought about if it had of been worse. I thought about if it had of been me. What if something happened to me in the desert away from my beautiful daughter and loving husband? I had to distract myself so I picked up my camera and took a photo of Leah of Leah Travels. I must have appeared heartless as I snapped photos and asked her to pose but it was all I could do to stop myself from crying or jumping off the camel and running to Liz.

Our camels started to move again and I was acutely aware of the growing distance between us and the group. We did everything we could to get them to stop. We yelled, we pulled on the reins, we pulled harder… nothing worked; they were moving and picking up speed.

Wadi Rum Camel RideThen, it happened. They started to run. I held on with my hands gripping the bar and my legs bent and digging into the side of the camel. I thought about falling off and smashing my camera. Rather than worrying about breaking a bone or dying, I thought about breaking my camera. It’s odd where your mind goes in bad situations. I tried to get lower against the handles to get more stability but I only succeeded in hitting my ribs off of the bar, knocking the wind from my lungs. I worried about getting hurt then and leaving my daughter without a mother. Tears were streaming down my face; I couldn’t control it, but what I could control was my balance on the camel. I wasn’t going down without a fight.

With little control from us, our camels slowed to a walking speed and we hadn’t fallen off. It seemed like a lifetime had passed but in reality it was under a minute. Nancy, Leah, and I were all shaken but fine. Our guide must have run at full speed to catch up to us but he was there and slowing the camels to an almost stop.

I didn’t speak to anyone, except to say that I was fine and everything was okay, repeatedly, for the rest of the ride. I finally caught my breath and calmed down but I was far from okay.

I got off the camel and went to the bathroom, still not speaking to anyone. I thought it would be an uneventful camel ride through Wadi Rum but instead it left me shaken and worried about a new friend.

Liz returned to the bus about 20 minutes later. Luckily, the way she fell was perfect. She hit the forgiving sand rather than rocks and didn’t break anything. I wanted to hug her and tell her how frightened I was but I held back. I said, “I’m so glad you’re okay. I was sick thinking about you,” and left it at that.

The day could have gone a lot differently. I think we were the exception rather than the norm. Most groups travel by camel through Wadi Rum and have an uneventful experience.  They take their photos and relax atop their desert ships, oblivious to any possible harm. That’s how our day started out; that’s how it could have ended. It didn’t go that way though, and Liz was dramatically thrown from a camel and we were given a scary ride that reminded me just easily life can be taken away.

Even with everything that happened, I’d still recommend riding a camel through Wadi Rum but ask questions and be aware of your situation before blindly jumping on a wild animal. Do you know how to ask it to stop? Do you know how to slow it down if you feel uncomfortable? Do you know the best position to sit if your camel does run? I didn’t ask anything or check the “how to” manual before taking the journey and it was almost costly. I should have known better, but now you will.

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67 thoughts on “Whoa Camel

  1. Travel Tip: beware of unruly camels. Check. That is right up there with beware insolent monkeys. Glad no one was seriously hurt! What a great travel story to remember — “the time the camel almost ran off with me.” Thanks for sharing!

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  2. I rode a camel during a touristy stop when I visited Morocco. It was around a parking lot and I was only on the animal for about a grand total of 30 seconds. I’m not sure if I would ride one in the desert–always wanted to, but always been kind of leery. Camels are a domesticated species, but like any animal, they are unpredictable and act up. I remember being terrified when the camel I sat on stood up (we got on them while it was sitting down). It was so awkward and like a mini roller coaster! I’m glad Liz was okay–I saw something on FB about the camel incident, but I didn’t realize how serious it was.

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      • I did one of those short weekend trips to Morocco while I was studying abroad in Malaga, Spain. It was through a tour group that does weekend trips to Morocco every weekend targeted toward students studying abroad. We visited Tetouan, very briefly Tangiers, and the tiny town of Chefchaouen up in the Rif mountains. I only got to see the very northern part and I would love to go back and visit Marrakech, Fez, Casablanca, Rabat etc… I felt kind of gypped by the whole thing but there were some cool moments–crossing the Strait of Gibraltar on the ferry and gazing on the Rock of Gibraltar at sunset, getting to see where the Mediterranean and Atlantic meet, and walking through the medina in Tetouan was incredible. Next time I go, it’ll be less structured tour. 🙂

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  3. Harrowing to think of the possibilities for injury and, yes, serious accidents could have happened. I did the whole camel thing in Egypt and found the animals to be rather unsettling creatures. Literally. They’re grand and exotic, in their own way, but I preferred to leave the riding part to the locals after one go-’round. Vivid account, Lesley. That’s adventure … Up at the sharp end. (Or would that be the lumpy end?)

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  4. Amazing! So glad you were okay. FYI…I think you are right, once a mother, always a mother! I even find myself mothering stray injured animals! Looks like an incredible trip.

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    • I thought it was just because of post-baby emotions, but I’ve totally become “my mother” and a cry baby over the simplest things, even watching tv gets me sometimes now. Oh well, it’s all worth it 🙂

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  5. This reminded me of the time in Greece when my donkey went running. I hung on for my dear life. Funny how the mind copes in situations like this. Mine simply went blank.

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  6. Wow! What a story! I’m so glad your friend was alright. I rode a camel while I was in Egypt but only for a few minutes. I was a bit afraid, but it was something on my list that I wanted to do. Working in Saudi, in the first city where I lived, we used to drive through the desert to work, and every morning we’d see some, beautiful creatures they were. I thought they were so docile and cute! However, after mentioning them to my students, they told me of the dangers such as being able to remember if someone was mean to them years later and killing them by kicking the. One student even told me how her father raised them, and one bit off a piece of his finger! Whoa! Then, my sister told me about a show about vacations gone wrong when a lady was thrown off one and had some broken bones as a result. So, I had all of this in my mind, but I still wanted to do it. So, I did. I had my guide take pictures and video for me which I unfortunately deleted by mistake later. However, at least I have the memory. Lol…I limited my ride to a few minutes only, not wanting to be led far out into the desert, though because of those stories. If I get another chance, I think I’ll go a little longer. Thanks for sharing your story!

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  7. Camels have got to be the most unpredictable animal. They seem so docile and easy to get a long with and for me, my family spent many years relying on them. However, you wouldn’t catch me relieving my Bedouin roots as I m petrified of the speed they can get up to (watch a camel race to understand). Very Brave of you and I m glad Liz was ok ……. I guess stories like these are what make our travels that much more interesting!

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  8. My friend came off a camel when it suddenly decided to get up too quickly and tha did enough damage. It make me a lot more aware that other countries don’t have the same health and safety (that we ofen think is over the top) as we have in the west.

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  9. I went on a camel trek in Rajhastan towards the border with Pakistan. I enjoyed the experience, right up to the point when the camel I was riding suddenly spun its head round to bite me. Whilst I was sat on it!
    I have never been so scared in all my life. I’ll never forget its enormous mouth and massive teeth, had its neck been an inch longer it would have taken a big chunk out of leg. It also made a sickening noise whilst doing it. I should have punched it like Conan the Barbarian.
    Everyone took the piss, joking that it was so annoyed with having my bulk sat on its back. Getting drunk on moonshine that night certainly helped.

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  10. So glad you and Liz were ok. There is nothing like a scary experience like that to truly appreciate life. I certainly feel like that after my horrific car accident 9 years ago. Life is not to be taken for granted, but keep trying new and exciting things, otherwise it is not worth living.

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  11. I rode a camel in Kenya and found it to be terrifying. And also, camels are so spiritless and unfriendly. But it was an adventure to remember, and yours sure was too–I guess that’s all part of living your dreams–some don’t always turn out exactly as you hoped. Thanks for the vicarious adventure.

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  12. Pingback: The Red Sands of Wadi Rum | Nakita Audrey

  13. Been on a camel in Giza and riding them is tough, even when they are only walking. Didn’t find them smelly, but they do spit & sh*t, so stay in the middle and avoid both ends.

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  14. What I’m really curious about is what is the liability in the event of being maimed or death? Are there warnings for the unwary?

    It sounds like a common event and I wonder how many people get injured or killed from these type of things.

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  15. I’ve had just one opportunity to ride a camel, somewhere near some pyramids in the mid 1980s, but my experience was quite different to yours. I’ve never got on with horses at all but I just loved the camel ride. At a walk it was like sitting in a small boat on a sea with a gentle swell, almost rocking me to sleep. At full tilt, a very fast ‘gallop’, it was still like a small boat but in a larger swell, but not at all harsh as I have found on a horse. I just loved it. Maybe mine was a different race of camel?

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  16. Great and nerve-wracking post. As a kid about 6 our new and mean pony ran off with me on it’s back and in hindsight at my mother’s urging I came to think it was pretty cool, None of my siblings got to ride it without being on a lead while it walked. I got ride clinging to the horn of the western saddle at full pace while my father chased the thing up the street. I too basically had a photo op in Morocco where I sat upon a camel, the getting up was as dangerous as that little adventure got. And as for monkeys – I was at the Rock of Gibralter where everyone is told “Do not touch the monkeys, if they touch you stay still” And some parents let their kids sneak up from behind the monkey to get closer so they could get a picture of the kid with the monkey and without so much as turning its head the monkey sensed where the child was and suddenly reached out its fully extended arm and smacked the kid. It can reach farther than you’d guess. And that kid maybe about 8-10, was wailing. And the parents were outraged at the animal. My outrage was directed toward a primate but the ones that were supposed to be more evolved.

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  17. OMG what a hair riasing camel ride.. I went on one with my brother in Tunisia when we were teenages and we both toppled off as the camel suddenly decided to kneel down. It is weird, they just drop away under you.. My sister went on one again more recently and there were no accidents just a camel with a laaarrrrrrrgggggge digestive wind problem.. smelly! I don’t know how people can ride them for more than half an hour I find them so uncomfortable. Give me elephants any day! Thanks for sharing x

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  18. Oh, my!…that was an adventure…and so glad it turned out OK… but, I did find it quite insightful as to how camels act …Sound pretty stubborn… and like doing things their way…
    Maybe they are just tired of their routine and need to liven it up a bit…

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  19. Hi, Lesley nice work and Congrats for your rich-in-content and wonders Blog. I have noticed newly your different articles about trips to Jordan and its culture, It seems you have a nice story to tell?!

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