Did you know that riding a camel for an extended period can leave you feeling seasick? The dune-dwelling creatures were nicknamed ‘ships of the desert’ for the swaying motion they make when they walk, caused by the fact they move both legs on one side of the body at the same time. This swaying motion is particularly pronounced when a herd – known as a caravan of camels – moves together.
According to the brief education session that accompanies Al Sahra Desert Resort’s new camel excursions, spending more than an hour on camelback can leave many people feeling queasy. It’s with this in mind that the trips around the Dubailand nature reserve last just 40 minutes, although it’s ample time to take in the scenery, wildlife and enjoy an early morning or evening out on an Arabian dromedary.
As you’ve probably noticed, it’s getting warm outside at the moment, so the excursions have been split into two timeframes to avoid the worst of the desert heat. Early 7am starts are available for morning people, while evening slots are offered for those unwilling to part with their pillow until later.
Being a sprightly, morning sort of person (well, almost), I make my way down to the dune-surrounded equestrian centre off the Jebel Ali-Lahbab road for the slightly later 8am start the team at Al Sahra has granted me. With 33 horses, five camels and, erm, a turkey named Henry (apparently he keeps the snakes away from the horses), there are more animals than people at the centre, and the atmosphere is all the more peaceful for it. And this is before you take into account the small groups of gazelles and foxes who scamper around the dunes while you’re out on your ride. Though it doesn’t happen on our particular excursion, we’re told when we return that curious desert foxes have been known to plod over for a closer a look at visitors.
Between clinging on to the front metal loops for life, banging my back on the loops behind (apparently they accidentally strapped on the least comfortable saddle available for me) and leaning back with all my might at every steep downhill descent, what I do spot, peering out into the sunlight from a small cave in the ground, is a small owl, rotating its head left and right. Being a city dweller, the chance to spot an animal in its rural habitat brings a small thrill. On a clear day, I’m told, it’s possible to make out the Sheikh Zayed Road skyline far in the distance, although the haze and humidity of summer will make this pretty unlikely until the weather cools.
Upon our return to the centre and after carefully dismounting my camel (not easy when your inner thighs have had the workout of a lifetime), I take a seat to sample some camel milk – part of the tour package. Fear not: it isn’t straight from the udders to the glass – they offer me a glass of chilled, pasteurised liquid from the bottle. Slightly saltier than cows’ milk, the best way to describe the flavour is as similar to soya milk. While I taste, I’m informed of the health benefits, including the fact that camel milk has three times as much vitamin C as cows’ milk, contains more zinc and potassium, and is suitable for those who are lactose intolerant. The fat content is the same, but if you want to switch, we’re warned that it’s best to make the change gradually to allow your digestive system to become accustomed.
The centre is still in its early days and there are many plans for all elements of the venue, including the introduction of air-conditioned stables and making room for more horses, as well as adding to the camel herd to accommodate larger groups. When things cool down in October, and once George, the youngest camel in the herd, has been trained to carry a hamper, the equestrian centre will begin offering ‘bubbly’ tours to make the excursions even more memorable. There’s even talk of camel-milk toffees. Until then, you’ll have to make do with a few glasses of milk – and maybe a couple of anti-nausea tablets. Not quite candy, but they’re still guaranteed to make the trip more enjoyable.