While most people envision a trek through Wadi Rum, Jordan atop a camel, fearlessly riding 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 in Wadi Rum and it wasn’t as joyful as you’d expect.
When I wasn’t given a “how-to” guide before my camel ride in Wadi Rum, 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 weight, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Then, 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.