The "Ship of the Desert"
By: Cara Zanta/Arab America Contributing Writer
Few animals serve as useful to mankind as the camel does; an animal which has long been associated with the Arab world. In fact, a trip there is not complete without an authentic and exciting camel ride through the desert.
Arabian camels are unique in that they have one hump instead of two. This hump can store up to 80 pounds of fat, which can be broken down into water and energy when needed. As a result, camels can travel up to 100 miles through the desert without water. Camels also rarely sweat, allowing them to conserve their fluids for a long time.
Arabian camels were first domesticated around 3,500 years ago. Since then, they have served a variety of purposes around the Arab world. Historically, they were a sign of wealth and status; the more camels you owned, the wealthier you were. Camels have also been used as a form of currency. Some bride dowries were paid with camels, while others earned profits if their camels won beauty contests or races.
The camel is considered a magnificent creature in some parts of the Arab World. As mentioned, beauty contests for camels are often held, rating the animal on the size of its lips, cheeks, head, and knees.
Camel wool has played a key role in the development and creativity of Arab nations because it is used as a multipurpose fabric. Specifically, the wool is used to craft clothes, rugs, and tents. Elaborate and decorative camel saddles are also an attribute to the camel that Bedouins take pride in.
For some nomadic Bedouin tribes of the Arabian deserts, camels are essential for the transportation of people and goods. They are able to carry large loads for up to 25 miles a day.
Much of the success of early Arabian armies’ ability to quickly conquer and establish empires were accredited to camels. They were also used for Arab nomadic groups during the battle for their agility and speed; they can sprint up to 40 miles an hour! Camels can also run up to 20 miles per hour for over an hour without any rest. They were also a food resource, as they were used for milk to supply energy to their owners, and nowadays, it’s used for beauty products.
If you want to experience everything a camel has to offer, you might consider attending one of the prestigious camel festivals Saudi Arabia holds for about a month every year. The festival puts a spotlight on Saudi Arabia’s heritage, and even as the country modernizes, camels still remain a prominent part in its culture.
The festival is split into a few parts, including a commercial area, desert park, and a village center where activities are held. There is even a planetarium that demonstrates how Arabs rode camels through the desert guided by nothing but the stars in the sky.
Experience it for yourself
There are two countries that are known for giving new timers a fulfilling first-time camel riding experience:
Egypt: Riding a camel through Egypt includes beautiful landscapes and a vast array of ancient and historic sites. Camel treks include those through the Great Pyramids and the Nile River. It is truly an experience like no other!
Morocco: In Morocco, there are still plenty of travelers, workers, and locals who basically live on their camels. In this country, you could have the opportunity to enjoy multi-day excursions on a camel and explore all the desert has to offer.
All in all, the camel is no doubt a fundamental part of the Arab World’s past, present, and future. Should you ever travel there, take the time to learn more about the animal’s fascinating presence in the Arab world. Be sure not to leave without having taken a ride on the “ship of the desert”.