Thursday, September 29, 2005

Who Gave Him The Hump?

It's a very touristy thing to do. To ride a camel. For years my proud if somewhat pretentious boast has been that I'm a traveller rather than a tourist. Tourists are after all: vulgar, ignorant creatures; all beach burning, day old tabloid reading, cheap plonk boozing, no language learning, non cultural-philistines. But sometimes you just have to go with the flow. Toss your Berlitz guide aside and burn your lazy beached body through the day, salivating, instead, over yesterday's news-printy, black and white titty showing nymphets, whilst shouting at the funny foreigner waiters in broken English to bring you yet another beer. Or to go on a tour, specifically to ride a camel.

The pursuit of the humped one. The one humped camel: the dromedary,(Camelus dromedarius )only found in the Arabian deserts. Not the two-humped camel: the bactrian (Camelus bactrianus ) an Asiatic animal. The two humped camel was not making an appearance. Not even guesting. There was to be no Camelus bactrianus at today's show - this was strictly a one humped affair. This was not good news for the nervous. This was not good news for me. For miles I had imagined myself straddled comfortably between humps on what I guessed would be an accommodating flat bit in the middle of its back. Thoughts of front hump hugging for additional security added to my image of safety. A hump to the rear, one of God's clever little tricks this - a back rest.

The dromadary: 'humpus singluarus.' Why would anyone wish to ride one? Who was the first person who took a look at the triangular growth on its back and said " I reckon I could sit on that thing quite comfortably and, if needs be, cross a desert?" But someone did, and they do, and it had now become my duty to try it out.

Once adorned in Arabic dress - I could hardly believe my eyes as attendants fussed around me like deviant dwarf tailors swaddling me in all manner of wraps and gowns in the hope of the authentic look and no doubt a generous tip, I was escorted to my steed. Actually I schlepped with about twenty others towards a herd of them, and once in sight of this grunting and farting flotilla of beasts I began to think that I'd made a big mistake and that the cowardice that had always served me so well in the past should have been allowed to prevent me from coming. Why the hell was I being brave - these things were huge, though I had to admit they seemed serene enough resting on their knees like young tots in front of the telly and their carpetty backs and wooden handle bars making them look like giant, slightly worn toys.

Then one - a huge brown one, the colour my mum's old settee, decided he'd had enough time on his knees thank-you, and started to suggest that he (or she) wasn't really in the mood for another trundle around the same old sandy course. Right on cue, during the safety, and for the feint hearts, emboldening brief, he dragged himself up and grunt-roared showing the world rows of brown, really surprising looking sharp teeth. Leathery-skinned herdsmen struggled to tame the beast dragging at its nose and whipping its quarters whilst shouting Arabic imperatives at him, all of which sounded like hack-hack ack-ack whilst skillfully avoiding its stamping feet and snapping jaws. Still it roared, and seemed to want to make a break for it, a bid for freedom, an escape from the tyranny of daft tourists (like me) with all their nervous giggles and fake friendly pats.

For a while the scene reminded me of one of those comic or cartoon scraps, when everyone pitches into the melee which is just a cloud of dust with the odd hand or foot poking out from it. Eventually he was brought, sulkily, under control - only a bit of scuffed up sand and a few hand rubbing herdsmen to show for this little act of defiance. Once the hubbub had died down one of the guides shouted out in passable English: "Who wants to go with turbo-charged one?" There were no takers. And nerves were now a little more frazzled.

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