20 August 2014


A question arose of interest only to myself, or possibly to the world’s small band of amateur camel fanciers. Why was every camel saddle in Tunisia very different from those I’d experienced before? Placed behind the hump, and of strange construction, it nagged at me. My disinterested companions dismissed my queries as frivolous and vexatious. The saddles looked logically arranged to them. Sitting on the hump would “hurt” the camel they say, and what was my querulous (boring) problem anyway?

Little did I know in advance the abundance of camels Tunisia would offer. You just have to know where to look. We’re not talking safari treks here. Those too are always available. (Much to my regret, I’m past my expiry date for packing/loading saddle bags and sleeping overnight on the desert sand. A few hours six or seven feet high on a good animal in dreamy peace is all I require.) Camels are available on the beaches and in the small towns where individual entrepreneurs hire out for as long as you want.

At Frigua Animal Park, I encountered my first Tunisian camel. There I understood the saddle arrangement was set up for adults taking children with them, but the entire saddle was behind the hump. The wooden harness contraption for safety sits on the hump with the blankets for seating arranged aft. The unexpected opportunity was not a time to question or argue, just shut up, get on, and — after a year’s absence — familiarize the feel again for a little while.

But each encounter with the saddle business puzzled me more. They are not at all what I remembered. The language barrier precluded intense discussion with camel handlers who — obviously — used the model they were born to, unaware of other variations. In fact it seemed to me the primitive wooden safety rig took precedence. 

It took my Texas friend Doug to clarify, post facto. Gratuitous photo of Doug, Texas Camel Corps leader and Middle East guide extraordinaire with his special Bactrian friend Gobi. See Doug's camel ranch and travel activities at http://texascamelcorps.com/.

North Arabian saddles (Petra, Jordan)
Turns out I was accustomed to the North Arabian saddle commonly used throughout Jordan and Egypt, placed on top of the hump. Tunisia uses the South Arabian style, a much different construction and looser arrangement that can vary seating from the camel’s shoulders to the hips (Doug can be much more technical). All the Tunisians I dealt with placed it behind the hump on the hips in their traditional way, but would often amiably make slight adjustments for me — let me just say there was a certain amount of discomfort in the basic wooden structure.    
South Arabian saddle (Tozeur, Tunisia)

Speaking of saddles, how about such ornate trappings as this. Probably for special occasions only. For instance, most camel handlers of Rajhastan and Egypt go all out to decorate their animals with colourful trappings for festivals or even for tourists. But this full-size saddle at a shop high in the mountains of Jordan was mesmerizing. What royal images it conjures!
But back to my original introduction to Tunisia. Tunisians speak of dromedaries, not camels. Quite so. An enjoyable visit to the Animal Park that day sprang a dromedary surprise for me, icing on the proverbial cake!

On the desert road between Tozeur and the the oasis village of Chebika, Tunisia

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

BDM said...

The original post (this is quite revised)over a year ago on anotherfamdamily had a comment from Sheri:
OMG! Sitting like that on the camel is almost obscene! Or you look like you are a "low-rider" like those guys on motorcycles. You do have a smile on your face and so as long as you were happy, that's all that matters!
And I said:
Low rider is right. Like sitting in a Formula 1 car with no seat and no pedals, bwahahaha.