The camel ride - Egypt Trip 5
When we first booked to ride on a camel, there as quite a bit of excitement and interest about it. But now, Pat had changed her mind, and the rest of us had got cold feet, and if we had been able to find someone to buy our places on the camel ride, we would havve sold them happily. But we couldn't There were only three of us on that Wednesday morning at 8 being picked up at the hotel.
Our tour guide was awaiting and since the group was so small, we went in taxi. We didn't know
whether we should tip or not - the usual problem with us. Then we were put on a small boat to cross the river - but this needed more courage that we had counted on, because we had to walk across a plank to get into the boat - and the plank was very precariously balanced between the boat and the dock. Zaib was really very frightened and would have liked to have backed out, there and then, but the guide held her hand and she did get on board. We were rowed by a boy of about 8, but he seemed to know what he was doing and we were quickly across the river and again having to negotiate a plank to get onto the shore.
There were three camels kneeling down and waiting for us on the bank. Zaid had asked if our guides would be grown men, and our tour guide assured her that they would be experienced and speak English. Ena, who got on first, had the biggest camel - and the smallest guide - he as only 6. We were told that his father had died and his mother was ill and he was the only wage-earner in the family. Whether it was true or not, we didn't know, but it was rather alarming to put one's safely in the hands of someone quite so young.
Then I got on my camel, which was the smallest, and my guide who was 16 and called Farouk,
came up and told ne my camel was called Cassanova. There was a saddle with a horn on the front which I hung my handbag and the plastic gag I had brought with me for my camera, and I clung onto
that little 6" piece of horn for dear life. When the camel stood up, I lurched forward and then back. The guides secured our feet in rope loops and there was a rope leading the camel - which the guide carried for the start. Zaib was the most frightened and her camel seemed to be rather awkward at the beginning and she was sort of lurching from one side to the other until she was finally balanced on it. But she was never happy on the ride and felt very insecure. Her guide was the oldest - being 21. Mine said he was the cousin of the oldest boy. They told us that school was not on because of
Ramadan.. These children were guarding our lives during the one hour ride on a foot path along the Nile. I think that this was the closest we got to seeing what real life in Egypt was like.
All along the Nile were small fields which were divided into about 50 ft patches - surrounded by shallow ditches. All of this was surrounded by bigger irrigation ditches, and these bigger ditches crossed our path about every half a block or so. The guides pointed out to us what was being grown in the fields - onions, tomatoes, egg plant (aubergine) . There were workers in some of the patches, but whether they were weeding or planting or harvesting, I couldn't tell.
All along our route, and when we first got onto the camels there were children from the nearby villages who were begging for us to buy their bits - stone scarabs, or stuffed camels, or whatever. I really intended to spend money on the children - having felt so badly that I had not done well when we saw the children by the alabaster factory - and I had even got lots of small notes so I could give lots of the children something, but my money was in my handbag, and to get it out meant letting go our the horn that was my only safeguard, and I just couldn't make myself do it. So I told the children, "Later, on the way back" and one little girls said, "Do you promise?" and I said, "Yes, I promise."
The walking was very slow and after I got used to the pace, I really enjoyed the ride. The guides would have liked us to go faster and to take control of the reins ourselves, but we were all so scared to do anything but just cling on for dear life.
We walked by a house where one woman was washing clothes in a tub outside, and another was putting flat pieces of bread on rocks in the front yard which were going to be sun-baked bread. I would have liked to have taken a picture, but that again would have involved taking my hands off the
saddle horn. Later, Farouk asked if I would like a picture of myself on the camel - so I got him to take the camera out of the bag and take the picture and put it back into the bag without me letting go of anything. I had to hold the reins of the camel for awhile, so he could pick some sugar cane and eat it. He offered me some
One little boy came and joined the party and he picked some weeds and gave them to me to hold, and obviously expected a tip for this. "Later," I said to him. "But I live in the house," he said and was almost crying. He obviously was not allowed to walk the full way there and back so he couldn't wait for his tip - so I'm afraid he missed out. And in fact all the children missed out. Because when we made the return journey and the girl I had promised reminded me of it, I was still clinging to the horn and told her I would buy her camel when I got off my camel, but she couldn't come down to the boat area, so she was disappointed in me another rich foreigner who doesn't keep her promises.
As we went along the way a woman dressed in black was working in one field. Zaib waved to her - just to be friendly, I think, but when we were making our return trip, there was she waiting for us beside the path, smiling and looking expectant. I wonder if she thought we were going to tip her too. I felt rather embarrassed about our experience in the situation and wished we had been told more about how to deal with the people. but Zaib was also clinging firmly onto her saddle horn and the lady was disappointed.
We passed two areas where the water from the Nile was being pumped up into the larger ditches. I suppose these were about half a mile apart. We were gone an hour all together, and walked at a slow walking pace, so probably didn't cover more than a mile in each direction.
When on the return journey we met another group of camel riders- perhaps 20 in all - and
certainly some were Americans, and some rode with great skill. We encountered the odd donkey - doing donkey-work - laden with sugar cane or whatever. There was a donkey who brayed most unhappily when we walked by. He was tethered in a yard, and we wondered what was wrong with him. The guides said he was just greeting us, but he sounded as if he was being beaten.
Each time we got to an irrigation ditch which was far too often for our comfort, we would lurch forward and our guides would put their hands on our legs to steady us. We dreaded each drop. but the worst of all was getting off the camels at the end.
Farouk told me to lean backwards, which I did, but even so, when Cassanova sat down, bit at a time, I lurched forward and nearly went flying over his head, except for the guide keeping hold of me. I was so grateful to be safe and down and my camel had actually behaved very well. I didn't see any of the fleas and sores on him that we had been warned we might find. I gave Farouk a big tip - E£20 thinking that somehow it would make up for all the children whom I had disappointed along the way.
As soon as we got near the boat, the tour guide took me by the elbow and quickly escorted me over the plank and into the boat - and shouted for the children to go away. I didn't realise what was happening but the others who followed more slowly said that our tour guide was in some sort of argument with the guides about payment and I think he must have found out that I gave a big tip and took it back from him, or else claimed back some of the money he had paid them for the trip. And I had been hurried away from the scene so as not to know what was going on.