Sidi Kaouki, November 16: Late morning, walking down a grassy path to ride camels on the beach.
Zidaine is the tallest, the one I choose—or did he choose me? The color of sand, with long white legs, he towers above the others. Mounting is easy—he’s sitting down—but when he lurches up, I pitch forward like the greenhorn I am. Saved from spilling over his head only by leaning back and clutching the wooden pommel of his saddle.
To make a camel go, you say, “Arrrrr….” To stop, “Sssshhhh…”
Zidaine’s two-toed feet are large and soft. Mysteriously they leave no imprint in the wet sand. His lips are soft too, though when I get too near, he bares broken discolored teeth at me. They are enormous, almost feral looking.
But his eyelashes are long and there’s a dreamy, faraway look in his eyes. It would be easy to fall in love with this mysterious creature. The Arabic language is said to have over 1,000 words related to the camel, and, according to The New Straits Times, some historians say that “the rhythmic sway of these desert beasts as they walk influenced the metre of Arabic music and poetry.”
Here’s what the 6th century poet Tarafa ibn al-Abed had to say about a racing camel: “Her cheek is smooth as Syrian parchment…Her eyes are a pair of mirrors…Her ears are true, clearly detecting on the night journey the fearful rustle of a whisper…. “
We amble down the broad deserted beach, and I quickly grow accustomed to Zidaine’s easy, rolling gait. When the tide rushes in, he walks into it. Leans down for a long slurp of the cold, salty water. Then he stands very still, foam swirling around his ankles, and gazes imperturbably into the horizon.
Meanwhile his owner jumps up and down, waving his arms, yelling at us to come out of the water. Eventually we do.