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The first time I rode a camel was when I went on holiday with my Mum to Tunisia. We rode camels over sand dunes in the Sahara Desert dressed in Arabian attire; it was quite the experience.
More recently I went camel riding in the Negev desert during my 6-day trip to Israel. We checked out of the Isrotel Dead Sea and made our way by car to Sfinat Hamidbar; a bedouin camp located opposite the Golda Park on Route 40 in the heart of the Negev.
The bedouin camp is a good base for exploring other attractions in the area, offering lodging, meals, Bedouin hospitality, and of course, camel rides.
We only dropped by for the afternoon, but it is possible to sleep here on a mattress in an authentic Bedouin tent or, if you require something a little more comfortable, you can stay in one of the bungalows. Kosher Bedouin meals are served for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the camp is frequently used for social events such as Bar Mtizvahs, weddings and company functions.
On arriving at Sfinat Hamidbar we were presented with a small cup of mint tea, followed by a tiny cup of coffee, before making our way towards our start point for the one-hour camel ride.
Negev Desert Camel Ride
The most difficult part about camels, is getting on and off the damn things!
If you’ve ever ridden a camel before, you’ll know that they aren’t the most comfortable of things to sit on, and they move very awkwardly when they stand up and sit down!
The camels were all tied together and sitting on the floor in a row waiting for us. The front camel gets up first, followed by the one behind it, and so on and so forth. As mine prepared to get to it’s knees, our tour guide instructed me to lean back as far as I could, and I held my breath as the camel slowly stood up, pulling me forward.
Nicknamed the “ship of the desert”, camels are funny things indeed. We trekked along a path through the desert wilderness, then after half an hour we turned around and headed back towards the camp, stopping for a view of the Golda Park, which is a leisure area with a lake and gardens.
Dismounting the camels proved to be a bit more of a fiasco! As Lyn (one of my fellow travel writers on the trip) tried to get down, her camel decided to stand back up again, so she literally fell into the arms of the man who was leading us!
After our camel ride through the Negev Desert, we sat down in one of the tents for the Bedouin coffee ritual. Coffee is a big part of the Bedouin way of life and is always given to visitors when they arrive at a Bedouin camp. Now I usually I try to avoid caffeine because it makes me shaky and restless, but in this case I knew there is no decaf alternative in Bedouin coffee culture, so I accepted!
Our host sat crossed legged in his white tunic, grinding the roasted coffee beans with a large pestle and mortar, and invited us to ask questions about the Bedouin culture. He didn’t speak English, but our guide translated for us.
It is tradition for the host to serve three cups of coffee to a visitor; one cup in honor of the guest, one for enjoyment and one for the sword. If the host likes you, he’ll serve three half-full cups, but if you are distrusted or considered an enemy, he’ll serve three overflowing cups, which is a sign you must leave.
Bedouins were once nomadic tribes that travelled around, moving their flocks from pasture to pasture, but these days most of them are settled or at least semi-nomadic. The Bedouins organize themselves around clans of extended family members and live in tents, which are divided into separate male and female tents. The women are responsible for milking the goats, making the bread and looking after the children, while the man has one major responsibility; the coffee. Oh…and maybe the camels.
We chatted about the way modern life has gradually seeped into their nomadic lifestyle, and the effect it has had on their culture. These days some of the girls go off to university in the city, but it can’t be easy for them to fit into modern day life and respect the traditions of their tribe.
Our host also told us that it is quite normal for a Bedouin man to father many children with multiple wives. He joked with us that the first wife gets a bit annoying, so the man takes another wife, and initially the first wife dislikes the second wife so they fight, but then eventually both wives become friends, and then he has TWO headaches.
While we struggled to relate to some of the aspects the Bedouin way of life, it was an interesting and thought-provoking conversation.
I was invited to Israel by the Israel Ministry of Tourism, but all opinions expressed are my own.