Ooo, it hurts. I’d fallen down the steps of my snorkelling boat two days before and banged my coccyx on every step, now the positioning of the back handle rubbed right on that very spot, but my body was so tense with fear that I daren’t try to shuffle to sort it out.
You can smell camels before you see them. And these were a particularly stinking bunch. I’d been warned a few days before about how camels are dirty animals who puke up in their mouths and spit it at each other. I’d also been told to wear long trousers to stop the fleas in their fur feasting on my legs, and finally I was led to believe that riding a camel is a must do in Egypt.
I was in Sharm el Sheikh and as the youngest in the camel-riding group naturally I was ushered to mount the camel first. I chose my friend – mainly based on the bright rug holding up the seat rather than any hot tips I’d had on camel selection – and stood to its side to pose for my photo. Quick snap and my bedouin friend gestured for me to get my leg over. I knew everyone was watching so concentrated real hard and managed to position myself directly on top. It was going well.
“Hold on and lean back,” these were my only instructions. No need to be told to hold on, my freshly tanned hands were white at the knuckles gripping the wooden stump that was my only security from the hard sandy ground.
Before I could stop to check myself and get ready for take off, the bedouin was slapping the camel into action. He bought his front legs up and I did what I was told – leaning back all the way. Then he unfurled his back legs and the bones were threatening to pop out of my fists as I dug my nails in to my hand trying to stay on.
A few seconds later and I was up staring into the beautiful Sharm desert just waiting for the other 10 or so people to get up.
My camel was restless and my biggest fear was that it would sit back down again and I’d have to go through it all over again. I decided to try and establish a telepathic communication with camel and hope that it would understand my English.
“Me and you will get along just fine Mr Cammy, so long as you stay stood up, calm and relaxed. No bolting, no sudden movements and no sitting down until it’s time to get off, ok?”
After stifling a little laugh at all the other oldies trying to stay cool while being wrenched six foot off the ground by an overworked and angry camel we were ready to go.
My camel led the pack, while the others followed with children aged around 6-10 pulling them along.
The scenery was beautiful, but the first five minutes were spent awkwardly trying to look comfortable. Some of the others had managed to swing their leg over so it was bent in front of them, apparently it was more comfy, but I just couldn’t muster up the courage to give so much oomph to one side. I tried a little wiggle to see how secure the bindings and saddle were, but with quite a bit of movement I decided to play the stay-as-still-as-possible game.
During phase two of my 20-minute camel ride across the Sahara Desert I started to relax, just enough to take some photos. I started to feel soothed by the vicious rocking and bouncing, I concentrated on the setting sun and even managed to slightly ignore the wooden stump that was now ingraining itself under my coccyx. I even, wait for it, took my right hand off to take a photo of the other camels that were now overtaking all around me.
Going into stage three of the great camel ride my hips were starting to ache from my legs just dangling down akimbo with no stirrups to support them. Two of the other camels got flirty and kept pushing into mine pinning me in the middle – both legs was slammed and squashed between them. They’d bang into each other, and the warnings of fleas made me flinch and squint and try to imagine myself in a happier place. My coccyx hurt, and although I was now able to ride with just one hand I still hadn’t braved it to get in a comfier position. I looked longingly at the people who’d bailed – including mum – sat in the air conditioned van crawling along by our side. I tried to concentrate on my beautiful surroundings instead.
Minutes 15-20 and I just wanted off, it felt like we’d been on it for ages. I’d stopped caring about wether it was scary to stop and decided I would jump and roll off if I had to. I still couldn’t work up the energy or courage to cross my legs over like everyone else seemed to be doing and the constant jolting was doing my head in. When we came to a stop I just leant back and he sat down before I jumped off.
Of course the beduoin wanted a tip. Out of Western guilt I gave him one of course, although he looked at me in disgust when I handed over the equivalent of around £2. I wasn’t happy that he hadn’t even looked round to check I was ok and see the other camels barging into me – it’s scary up there, y’know.