Yes, We Have Camels In This Desert

Outback tour is educational, but not in a boring way
BY: LACEY STORER

You know the old phrase “learn by doing?” If you want to learn more about camels, one of the most fun ways to do it is by riding on them. If learning about animals had been like this is grade school, you’d have paid more attention, trust me.

This intrepid reporter had ridden horses on the beach before, but never camels, so I jumped at the chance when I was invited to go on the Outback and Camel Safari from Cabo Adventures. And while I expected the tour to be fun, I was surprised at how educational it was as well.

camel.JPGYou’ll learn a lot about camels, but it’s not in a boring lecture. Ok, there’s still a bit of a lecture, but you can see the camels as the guide is talking, which makes it much more interesting and easier to pay attention. And knowing you’re going to be riding one of the animals makes you want to learn more about them. Just in case, you know, as we've all heard about the spitting and biting part.

One of the first things we learn, for safety reasons, is that we shouldn’t get too close to any of the camels that are roaming around. Although they are gentle, they are also large animals who can get spooked. We’re instructed to keep a safe distance from them, not to try to touch them or feed them, and just generally not disturb them in any way.

We also learn that these camels are actually rescued camels, taken from circus life in the States and Mexico. These bargain basement critters come from Wisconsin, Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma, as well as Puebla and Mexico State. When they first arrived in Cabo, a guide was brought in from Africa and he spent three years here training the staff on how to handle the animals.

Our guide, Enrique, tells us there are strict regulations on how much the camels can work. They can only work four to five hours a day, for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. The camels get every other day off, with half of them working one day and the other half working the next. When they’re not working, the camels are free to roam around the property. Yikes, that's better than people hours.

The trainers don’t make the camels kneel down for the riders like in the movies because this can be very hard on them, since they can weigh around 1,700 pounds. Instead, there’s a platform with stairs that is built to the camels’ heights. Riders just have to swing one leg over the camel and sit down. Enrique also says that each two-person saddle is custom made for the camels, because their humps are different sizes.

Our camel is named Billy, and as he walks up to the platform we can see that he’s foaming at the mouth! We’re assured that Billy is not suffering from rabies. He’s just chewing some food, which makes him generate a lot of saliva (the foam). Later we learn that the camels eat about 17 to 18 pounds of food a day. They’re vegetarians, with a diet of alfalfa, grains and apples.

As mentioned earlier, the camels can only work for 15-20 minutes at a time, so the actual camel ride is only one short part of the whole day. Basically, you make a big circle from the camel pens to the beach and back again. It’s a nice, relaxing ride; the guides lead the camels so you don’t have to worry about steering them and can just enjoy the sight of the waves crashing on the beach while you play Lawrence of Arabia.

You do, however, have to keep ahold of the saddle’s handles. The camels gait is different than a horse’s, and even though they are walking slowly, it’s a bit of a tilting ride. Ships of the desert and all that, you know. Later, Enrique tells us that camels have an ambular gate, which means they put their back feet in the same spots they put their front feet. This makes them more sure-footed on the sand than horses, and helps to pack down the sand. Since camels walk in a straight line, they are literally following each other’s footsteps. The packed down sand helps the camels at the back of the line save energy.

Although the temperature was in the high 90s and there wasn’t a cloud in sight during our ride, it wasn’t unbearably hot. The ocean breeze kept everyone cool, and the helmets we were wearing were outfitted to look like Middle Eastern turbans, with white fabric draping off them. The fabric kept our necks and shoulders covered, which helped keep the heat away. Helmets? Really? Well, the white scarves covered that up in the photos for facebook.

After the camel rides, everyone has the chance to “kiss a camel” for the photographer. By gently pulling the camel’s reins, you can guide their lips to your cheek for the perfect, Instagram-worthy vacation photo. And, if you really want to get close, the photographer gives you a carrot to stick between your teeth, which the camel will eagerly pluck from your mouth, giving you a “kiss.” Although we are reassured over and over that the camels won’t bite us (and they don’t) watching a camel come face first at you is a bit intimidating.

While the camel ride itself is short, it’s accompanied by two other activities. The first is a little nature walk through the desert. To be honest, this part sounded really boring before we started but, just like with the camels, it’s more fun to learn while doing. The guide points out different plants and how they can help you survive in the desert, like the barrel cactus that is a source of clean drinking water and the lomboy tree whose sap has coagulant and antiseptic properties.

And don’t eat a big meal before the tour, because the last part is a Mexican buffet that features everything from cactus salad to chicken in mole sauce to beef with salsa verde (green sauce). This is also the part where you can enjoy a cold beer, before the staff comes over and tries to entice you into sampling some tequila while they talk about the different kinds of tequila and mezcal.

The Outback and Camel Safari costs $79 USD for kids (must be at least five years old) and $109 for adults. You can book online at www.cabo-adventures.com.