I called my camel, “Jiggy,” referring to the punchline of an inappropriate joke I’d heard in broken English. Those chained behind me called me “La Reina” (the Queen), as I, stiff with fear, led the pack.
Somehow, in all my years Google image searching, I thought the Sahara was flat and peaceful.
The wind tosses sand in your face (hence the head and face wraps), the camels continuously slip down the dunes, and it’s worse than a bicycle on your hind parts. Yet, everyone I know who’s visited Morocco braved the camel ride. They all leave with that serene-desktop-image photo, but in the 24 hours I spent on the hump of Jiggy I got more than a picture.
I got some peace of mind.
We thought we’d be able to choose our camels, but the men lined us up and assigned us a frothing beast. I got stuck in the front, probably because I was the most nervous. I think they wanted to watch me. Make sure I didn’t cause a scene or break a hip.
Riding a camel is not like riding a horse. On a horse, there’s a saddle. The reins help you balance. When you’re perched on a hump, things are different. Humps are higher. The handle provides no stability. It’s like being on a small boat on a breezy day. You rock back and forth. I don’t know how this doesn’t worry other people. I was sure I would fall. But after my seventeenth accidental squeal, our guide, with the calmness of Gandhi and skin almost blue from the sun, turned around and politely told me to calm the fuck down. “You don’t relax, you fall. You move with the camel, is easy.”
The metaphor, although unintentional, was amusingly poignant. Go with the flow dummy, and you might actually enjoy this.
We were blindly being led, at turtle speed, into a vast furnace with one water bottle each. I tried to relax.
We stopped to sleep at a tarp set up by the locals. (Yes, there are desert dwellers. It surprised me too.) As the sun set, the heat disappeared. We hid from the cold and sand storms under the same blankets we’d used as saddles an hour prior. I told my friends how worried I’d been, but, as usual, they weren’t as concerned as I was. “Sometimes you just have to trust somebody else to get you where you’re going.”
As I sit here in a BMW taxi circa 1975, surrounded by faux-leopard, relieved to have survived the Sahara, I realize riding a camel might have just unlocked the secrets to happiness: Relax. Sometimes, let other people lead. And don’t share blankets with animals if you don’t want fleas.