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Trained and Ready to Ride

Beside my driver’s license in my wallet, I have a new license that states, “The carrier of this card has personally been trained to ride camels professionally.”

To get this training, I travelled with a tour group to Tel Aviv, Israel, and then we rode a bus to the Judean Desert, near Mavo, Jericho and the Dead Sea. A metal sign outside a small building welcomed us to Genesis Land, advertised as where the patriarchs of the Old Testament lived. We saw the Jordan Valley, one of the deepest land trenches on earth, stretching to the horizon.

Six camels lay ten steps from the building’s entrance. Chewing their cuds, they ignored us tourists as we admired them, and I marveled how their legs folded and they lay with their bellies flat on the sand. Inside the building, we were given riding directions. Climb on and off a camel only under a guide’s instruction. Hold on tight to the metal bar with both hands at all times. And choose a tunic to wear while riding.

Marilyn, my traveling friend, and I chose green tunics and raised our hands when asked, “Who’s ready to ride?” The camels, dromedaries, were outfitted with double saddles. Over each camel’s one hump, was a metal and leather saddle with two seats and raised metal bars for riders to hold. “Just throw your leg over and hold the bar,” the guide said. “When the camel stands, she’ll raise her front legs half way up, then her back legs, so hold on.”

As our camel stood, Marilyn and I were thrown backward and then forward, and I spontaneously named her when I shouted, “Whoa, Nellie!” We settled into the flat saddles, and Nellie was the third camel of six tied together with ropes.

A guide led only the first camel so Nellie had some leeway. She wandered from the center of the twelve-foot wide path to the edge that dropped off at least 500 feet and sitting astride Nellie, it looked like 5000 feet. Nellie’s hooves were inches from the edge while she nibbled leaves of a palm tree and when the tied rope became taut, she moved quickly to the side and forward at the same time. Marilyn and I clutched the metals bars tightly, knuckle-white tightly. “Does she think she’s a Kentucky race horse?” Marilyn said.

Camels aren’t graceful. Because they walk using the legs on the same side of their body at the same time, it creates a swaying motion for riders. Marilyn and I were just getting our movements in sync with Nellie’s when our ride ended.

“Hold on and lean back. Her front legs go down first,” the guide told us. Marilyn and I leaned as far back as we could and we both stayed centered and astride Nellie as she lowered herself and us.

There was only one thing I didn’t like about riding a camel. The ride was too short. But now that I have a license to ride camels professionally, I can ride again. Maybe across a desert, a very small one.

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