The wind ripples past my jacket as I slowly sway side-to-side on top of my camel. In the distance, just on the horizon, I spot a single figure standing on the crest of a dune, soon joined by a few others.
They’re staking their positions for sunset, a spectacular display all the way out here in this endless sandpit. As we ride to join the group already in position, the sun casts elongated shadows of our camels against a neighbouring dune, making us all look like giants riding domesticated dinosaurs – or those lumbering AT-AT Walkers from Star Wars.
In reality, I barely scrape 5 feet 10 inches tall, but I’m feeling pretty high and mighty right now. I’m travelling in a camel caravan through the sands of the Sahara, en route to our desert camp where we’ll be spending the night. Led by two local guides, silent and stoics figures, both draped in blue and crowned with turbans, we’re slowly making progress. But every shifting minute on the dunes is a minute too long, and I have to admit – I’m in pain. In relative terms, we’ve only just left the desert town of Merzouga in Morocco’s eastern frontiers. Yet I’m already uncomfortable, and if I had a grain of sand for every time I’ve shifted sitting positions, I could fill an hour glass.
In truth, riding a camel is always going to be a little uncomfortable – it comes with the territory. But it doesn’t have to keep you from living out your Lawrence of Arabia fantasies. Not if you’re prepared. If you have your sights fixed on hoisting yourself up on a camel and blasting out into the sands of the Sahara, arm yourself with these riding tips and you’ll minimise the discomfort.
Make sure you stretch
Mounting a camel requires you to throw one of your legs over to the other side of the beast, which may be the biggest stretch you’ve had to do since Grade 6 gym class. Especially for guys, who, let’s face it, aren’t as flexible as girls, so getting on a camel can almost bring on a groin injury. It’s certainly the most challenging part of the whole riding experience, so you should definitely prepare for it by limbering up and doing some light stretching (your whole body, especially your groin and thighs) before attempting to mount your camel.
Dress the part
A camel trek in the Sahara ain’t the time to dress to impress. Loose, stretchy and long pants are in – skinny jeans, shorts and skirts are out. The stiff woolly fur of a camel can irritate your skin, as will the harsh desert sun, and so you’re going to want to wear pants to cover up (long pants are best as the gentle rocking back and forth and side to side will cause your pants to creep up). Socks are also a great idea, as are gloves for those early morning sunrise treks.
Sway with the camel, not against it
Camels have a particular style of walking that’s perfect for the loose sandy desert environment. It’s less perfect for your posterior. So instead of trying to resist the camel’s gentle swaying by forcing yourself to sit up-right and still the whole time, move with the camel, not against it. In other words: just relax your body and breathe deeply. The less tension you hold in your body, the more comfortable the ride. Of course, don’t zen out too much that you fall off your camel – always make sure you’re holding onto your saddle handle-bars with a firm grip. If you’re feeling more confident, place one hand on the handle-bar in front of you and your other hand behind your seat. This allow you to keep your balance whilst rocking along with the camel’s movements.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
Despite all your best efforts to make your camel trek as comfortable as possible, the fact is you’re still going to feel the pain. It may be worthwhile popping an ibuprofen 30 minutes before your ride to help. But feeling a little sore is all part of the experience, no doubt the nomads who have lived out here for centuries have learned to roll with the double-humped punches. A day in the saddle also makes the breaks and overnight stays in the desert that much more enjoyable, when you can finally dismount and stretch out on the sand.
If you put the above in practice the next time you’re out riding camels, then you’re going to have the most comfortable ride possible, and that’s all you can really ask for out in the Sahara.
Want to try camel riding for yourself? Check out our small group tours in Morocco.