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The Camel Caravan Experience

 The Camels

For centuries the Nabataeans moved goods in the desert by camel caravan. The camel was the backbone of their merchant enterprise, and so we will need to learn a bit about camels before we can set out on our caravan trip.

The camel has several features that make it ideally suited to desert life. Its feet have wide pads with slimly built legs that help it move easily over the desert.

<Camel in Wadi Rumm

 Young Camel

It can tolerate thirst for long periods, and can eat the tough thorny shrubs in the desert that even sheep and goats pass over. This is possible because their lips have tough stiff hair that permits it to nose through thorny plants and root them out or break them off. Its mouth is also specially adapted to chewing and digesting these thorny bushes.

 Below are some of the Arabic names for the parts of a camel.
 sanaam  hump
 sulb  back
 ghaarib  shoulders
 farsam  the foot
 khuff  soles of the feet
 'arnuun  the bridge of the nose
 khashm   nose
 hijaaj  forehead
 manhar  lower part of the neck
 shabiib  tip of the tail
During the winter, the camel can go fifty days without being watered, while in the heat of the summer it may only go five days without water. In the winter the camel can graze on the many green plants which contain enough moisture to enable the camel to go without water. However, if it had a choice, the camel would water every couple of days in the winter and every day in the summer. When a thirsty camel smells water, it rushes to the water, fights, and struggles to overcome anything in its way. Sometimes watering troughs are broken or knocked over from frenzied camels rushing for water.

 Camel in Wadi Rum with Arab

Camel Rider

Many of the desert Bedouin water their camels only every three days. When a camel goes too long without water, its eyes fill with tears, they refuse to graze, and they begin to moan. When they try to urinate and cannot, it is essential that they are taken to water.

As the camel dehydrates, part of its hump wastes away. The hydrogen contained in the hump is released, combining with oxygen to create water for the camel. When the hump is wasted away, the camel dies.

A thirsty camel can drink up to eighty liters of water in one session, and can drink up to twenty liters in one minute. The Bedouin often sing or chant while the camels drink, as they believe it helps them drink to their full.

It used to be rumored that the camel had a special stomach for holding water. This idea, however, is not true, but in the first and second stomach of the camel, there are cavities which can hold a certain amount of water which is not mixed with food, since most of the food immediately moves on to the third stomach.

A a very ancient historian, Ashurbanipal, wrote about how some Arab traders, dying of thirst, slit open the bellies of their camels to get out water and thus survived!

 Camel at Sunset


The camel is a strange animal. It seems to lack the ability to find its own food. Often a shepherd goes with the camels to show them where to find food. Other times, when the camels are reasonably well fed, they are simply allowed to wander. They may go for several days, before they return to their master for water.

When the heat becomes intense, camels like to roll in the dirt. When they pass a patch of land with soft earth, they kneel down in it and begin to roll back and forth on their backs. In many cases, these places become common for camels to roll in, and a passing camel may roll, just because it is a place of rolling. First they will sniff the ground, then kneel down, and then begin to turn over on their back and necks, with their feet up in the air, as if trying to bathe in dust. Camels will frequently crowd together in a single-rolling ground, so expanding its size that in it sometimes covers an are of more than 100 meters in diameter. The Bedouins claim that this rolling strengthens and soothes the joints and has somewhat of a cooling and relaxing effect on the camel's body.

Female camels go into heat in late fall or early winter. Pregnancy lass for an entire year. Usually a single camel is born, however, camels have been known to have twins. Two or three years may elapse before the female gives birth to another young.

Young Camels


Right: Each year of the calf's life, it takes on a new Arabic name.

 Year  Male  Female
 One  Hiwaar  Hiwaar
 Two  labanii  labanii
 Three  Hajj  Hajj
 Four  aJadh'  aJadh'
 Five  thanii (because it changes its teeth)  thanii (because it changes its teeth)
 Six  rubii (and here its growth is complete)  rubii (and here its growth is complete)
 Seven  jamal,  naaqa also known as a rub' when it can bear young
 Seventh  sudaas  sudaas
 Eighth  Shaqq  al-naab
 Ninth  qaarih muTir  qaarih faTir

2 Camels in a pcikup

 The camel also supplied the Nabataeans with a ready supply of meat. Often camels were slaughtered for an occasion, and the whole tribe would partake in the meal.

When a Bedouin wants to show the highest level of honor to a guest, a camel is slaughtered for him. Often the fat from the hump is kept, and rendered down into ghee or and used for cooking or frying later.

Meat from the camel can be kept by cutting it into long thin strips that dry in the sun, usually draped over a bush. (More on this later!)

(Left: Two camels get a ride in a pick-up truck!)

The Nabataeans often lived off of the milk of camels. The milk of the camel contains a higher proportion of Vitamin C than cow's milk, and a higher ratio of fat, protein and mineral content that either cow's or goat's milk.

While it is possible to make milk and cheese from any milk, the Bedouin do not usually make butter from the milk. Bedouin traditionally use milk from sheep and goats, dry it, and keep it in fist size balls that resemble white rocks. This is known as jamiid cheese. When they want to use it, they simply break it up, add water, and grind it until it makes a cheese soup that they cook their meat in and pour over rice. (We may get one of these meals later.)

 Camel and Arab man

Camels prefer to live in groups of their own kind, and like to travel in herds, as sheep and goats do. If it gets separated from the herd, a camel's first concern is to rejoin the herd.

If a camel caravan comes to a river or a dangerous area, the herdsman only needs to force one of the camels to proceed and the others will readily join it. Even the camel that had been the first to refuse to cross the spot in question will, when it sees the rest of the herd crossing, cross in turn behind it, so as to keep up with the group and remain part of it.

The camel is also a mild-mannered animal, except in certain cases during the mating season, or when it is being loaded. Free roaming camels in the caravan are usually well mannered, while camels tethered to a tread mill or used for plowing and other hard work sometimes are ill mannered.

Camels can be led to the point of stupidity, and is often prone to mishap in dangerous places. It cannot be trained as a donkey, dog, or horse, and is much less attentive that these other animals. The camel is also a coward, especially when compared to other animals its size.

 Camel Rider


But how do get on a camel?


First let's check out the food we will take and then we will see about riding camels...




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On to the food...
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