In honor of finishing my first draft of my book Travels Through Egypt I am posting a section on the guys who rent the camels, which is a favorite story – enjoy!
Everyone visiting Egypt wants their picture taken on a camel. There is therefore no shortage of enterprising young men who hover as close as the Pyramid police will allow and offer to put you up on their camel. It used to be that you could get up on the camel and have a picture taken, for free. Of course, it costs a dollar or two if you want to get down! These days, they also all carry packages of makeshift “Lawrence of Arabia” head wraps, and as you are trying to maneuver your way up onto said camel, will thrust one on your head (whether you are male or female) and ask you to pay for that, too ($5 will cover it, less if you try to give it back first).
I do not care a bit for sitting on or riding camels, though I have done my fair share. The first time I rode one, he complained. About having to kneel down so I could mount him, about getting back up again with me on his back, about being led around, and about the way I sat — which could have been no more comfortable for him than it was for me, which is to say not atall! Camels are the boniest creatures — but how would you like someone sitting on your spine? So how does a camel complain? It sounds just like Chewbacca, the giant brown Wookie from Star Wars. As deep, as resonant, and come to think of it, exactly the same pitch. In fact, this realization caused me to look up Chewbacca’s voice on the internet. Thank God for Wikipedia, which confirms that indeed, camels were among the voices used to create Chewie’s freakish sound (and bears, and a walrus… in case you were wondering.)
These guys obviously make a living getting you up on the camel and selling you A) junk — pyramids and postcards, along with the Arab hat — and B) the right to get off your camel. I think of them as camel jockeys, because they are always jockeying for position. One guy is so aggressive with us he literally grabs one of our group around the waist, and tries to hoist him up. Carter, who is from East Texas, protests the whole time in his distinctive twang, “No, Ah do not want a ride, thank you very much, cowboy!” But he ends up on that camel. Just doing some math, based on the 5 minutes and an average $2 someone spends on a camel, these guys are clearing a hundred bucks a day, easy. Which is pretty incredible in a country where the average salary is $400… a month!
If you’re a tourista in Egypt, enjoy your camel ride, but remember, it’s far safer on the ground, in several regards…