While in the outback near Uluru, Cori and I hopped on the opportunity to take a sunset camel ride.
Before mounting up, we got to meet our dromedary companions and take some mug shots. Mine didn’t seem very amused, but Cori’s was showing some teeth. I thought it might be a wind-up to a camel spitball, but turned out just to be a sign of affection.
Camels are not native to Australia, but early explorers brought them there because they were perfectly suited to traverse the outback. And often, rather than load them back on the ship, they just turned the camels loose. They quickly multiplied, and today Australia has a huge population of wild camels (over 1.2 million). Folks from the middle east often import camels from Australia, because of their pure-breed pedigree.
Not having spent much time around camels, I assumed they were pretty similar to horses. But everything about them is tuned to deal with the climate they live in, which gives them not only unique physical characteristics, but also personality. The biggest thing I noticed (besides their 10’+ height) is that they are very efficient with their energy, so they take their sweet time to do everything, and can be pretty stubborn if they don’t want to spend their energy doing what you want them to do.
Some other fun camel facts that we learned:
- They can drink over 40 gallons of water in about 3 minutes. Listening to them drink sounds like a vacuum cleaner begin stuck into one of those slurpee buckets that they outlawed in New York.
- Surprisingly, they often don’t need to drink water at all - most of the time they are able to live off of the water inside of the plants they eat.
- They have huge eye lashes that keep sand from getting in their eyes, and they can close their nostrils to avoid getting sand up their nose. Very handy.
Our cameleer, Esther, was about as Australian as it gets. She grew up in Tasmania, and after reading an inspirational book about a lady who traversed the outback by herself with a couple of camels, she decided to re-create that expedition, and walked over 600 miles across the outback. She’s one tough cookie, and she had a lot of fun stories to share.
Mounting up on the camels was a lot of fun. They are trained to bend down with their legs folded underneath (like they do when sleeping). Once we hopped on, they extended their back legs, which pitches you forward, and then they extend their front legs like stilts, scissoring upwards and pushing you back upright. Reminded me of those tricked out air-ride suspension systems in a low rider. Except we were now 8 feet off the ground.
Riding on a camel was very different from a horse or elephant. Instead of stepping with opposing feet (like a horse, dog, or cat does), they move both left feet at the same time, then both right feet at the same time, causing a slight swaying motion from side to side, rather than up and down, which makes for a very smooth ride.
We journeyed for a while, and eventually made our way up a small red sand dune where we watched the sun set and turn Uluru alternating shades of orange and red.
Afterwards, the camels knew it was time to head home, and began sauntering back to the camel ranch. Sitting up high and contemplating the stillness and vast expanse of the outback was an experience we will treasure for a long time to come.