The first thing you should know about camels is that they don’t spit on you – they vomit. Adding some stomach contents really bulks up the projectile for predators or overzealous tourists. I’ve never been personally victimised by camel vomit, but one did steal my hat in the Australian Outback once.
His name was Raja, and he was one elegant beast of burden, with a smooth red coat and regal, “thy hat is mine, peasant” demeanor.
This was amplified by his proximity to Murphy, another camel, who brought up the tail of the camel train, in every sense. Murphy was the loveable dope who couldn’t be bothered to brush his patchy grey hair in the morning.
I had arrived on the camel ranch in the early evening to catch a sunset ride tour, and as I approached on the red path, I saw a young woman preparing to bottle feed two baby camels. The term ‘baby’ here is relative, because at a few months old, they already came up to my ear. The woman saw my interest and asked if I wanted to do the feeding, which resulted in a resounding yes, and she handed me the bottle, instructing me to hold on to the nipple, or they’ll suck it right off. I had a flash of pity for mama camels.
Fumbling with the large glass bottle, I noticed it was actually a repurposed Yellow Tail Chardonnay bottle, now filled with sweet camel milk. Holding tightly to the Aussie wine bottle while an eager camel tugged at its contents in the hot desert air, I knew I’d have an affinity for these gentle beasts.
The camel ranchers soon rounded us up and introduced us to our steeds, which had been saddled and tied nose to tail with each other in a camel train, sitting on their knees, chewing cud and batting their long lashes.
Because Australian camels are dromedaries (that is, one-humped) their saddles can fit one person on each side of their humps. But Raja and I had already struck an accord, what with him eyeing my hat, so I got His Majesty all to myself.
Sitting on a camel while it stands up (or kneels down) is like being on an Indiana Jones ride. If you haven’t had the pleasure, know that it involves pitching back and forth while lacking any composure or grace whatsoever, with the knowledge that you could be greatly injured at any moment.
Nevertheless, we were all up and intact and ready to literally ride into the sunset.
While plodding along single file, in the hot drizzle that was an Outback rain, it dazzled me to know that many of the camels we were now riding upon were once feral. In fact, Australia is home to the largest feral camel population in the world.
In the mid 1800s, once the new continent’s explorers realised that their horses couldn’t stomach the brutal expanse of Australian desert, they brought in Afghan cameleers and their charges for the job.
The camels were a wild success, and on their backs great railroads were built. At this point they became less useful for trade routes, and so they were released into the wild, expected to perish. But these hearty dromedaries, with no natural enemies to speak of and a constitution for the desert, flourished in the high heat.
And here I was in the rain, 150 years later, riding one around distant Uluru, with a double rainbow in front of me, and a groaning Murphy behind me.
When we got back to the ranch at dusk, my eyes still burned with the red of the sunset and the oxidised earth, and my heart with the memory of sharing a scenic kiss with Murphy in front of Uluru.
I managed to hold on to a careening Raja as his knelt to let me dismount, and as I thanked him for his service, he promptly wrapped his flappy camel lips around the brim of my hat, and lumbered away.
Want to ride camels through the Outback? Check out our Red Centre small group adventures.
Feature image c/o Tourism Australia