Sometimes life hands you a trip to Jordan (wahooo!) and sometimes life throws you off a camel in the middle of the desert in Jordan (oh crap!)
Travel isn’t always rainbows and unicorns.
As much as travel bloggers love to paint the world as a technicolor bomb of beauty, friendship, and once-in-a-lifetime-experiences, let’s be honest here, shit happens. Shit ALWAYS happens. In fact, I’d go as far as to say shit is 10 times more LIKELY to happen when you’re on the road than when you’re safe at home. But isn’t that why we love to travel? To test ourselves, to push our comfort zones and get outside the proverbial box?
And when shit strikes, it makes for a great story later, right? Right?
But I digress. Speaking as one who attracts incidents like moths to a flame, at this point in my traveling career, there are some activities I should JUST not be allowed to participate in. Riding animals that have a mind of their own should be at the top of that list.
Now I’ve been called many things in my life – motivated, smartass, quirky- but graceful? Um, never. Not once. Ever. Nope.
As much as I wish being poised, balanced and elegant was part of my character, unfortunately, I was handed other talents at birth – like talking myself out of tickets and having double-jointed knees, neither of which have been much use to me on the road.
It was a miracle I survived riding donkeys around Petra, so I know I was pushing my luck thinking I could go two for two and riding camels in the desert, though I feel like I should preface this by saying that I actually have camel riding experience, which is why I didn’t see this coming.
Expert camel riders over here in Giza
Exhibiting my gracefulness or lack thereof in Petra – in indication of what’s to come
Let me set the scene for you
The end of our trip in Jordan took place in the magical desert of Lawrence of Arabia, the famous Wadi Rum.
We spent the evening before exploring this lunar landscape in the back of a 4×4 followed up with a sleepless night of cooking and dancing at a Bedouin camp, smoking hubbly bubbly (hookah) and watching the stars twinkling in the inky black sky.
While the boys had an impromptu soccer match the next morning after breakfast, I snuck out behind the tents to take photos of the camels tied up waiting for our morning jaunt around Wadi Rum.
I should have known shit was going to hit the fan later when one of them tried to bite me.
As we were assigned our respective camels, I hefted myself up with as much grace and poise as I could muster (i.e. none) and tried to situate myself as best I could for our walk, while holding on for dear life. If the fact that this camel tried to bite me a few minutes before wasn’t enough of a sign, I should have noticed the look it gave me while I wiggled around trying to get comfortable.
Great, I got the cheeky camel. Typical.
Biting back a yell as my camel awkwardly stood up, I started to get excited to see more of the desert in the daytime. And off we went!
All the girls started ooh-ing and ahh-ing over a baby camel that trotted along beside us. Baby camels are cute and fluffy and look like they have little poofy mohawks. Adult camels? Not so much. They are sneaky bastards that will spit on you or bite you as soon as look at you. And they don’t smell so pleasant either. Don’t trust them.
Since we were in such a big group, at least 20 people or so, they split us into two camel trains, with everyone tied up behind another camel, with one of the camel drivers leading us on. Unfortunately, I don’t think they were paying attention to the fact that I got assigned the mischievous camel, and since I was the last in my train, they had tied my camel and another camel to the back of the same camel in a triangle, instead of three in a row – understand that?
This meant my troublemaking camel kept bumping hard into the one next to me to the point I was afraid I was going to get knocked off.
Eventually I motioned to the camel director to try to explain what was going on to ask him if he could untie me and then tie me to the back of my friend’s camel instead. As per usual when I try to explain some with one hand (other hand gripping the saddle for dear life), there was some miscommunication and he just untied me and handed me the reins and ran off to the front again.
Clearly he hasn’t read my blog and realized he was flirting with disaster by letting ME be in charge of a camel.
Little did he know my camel had a mind of her own.
After a second I just sort of went with it, thinking two (incredibly stupid) things: firstly, I have expert camel experience since I’ve ridden a camel three times in my life, and secondly, all these camels do is haul tourists around day in and day out. If they are anything like the donkeys and camels at Petra, they just trod along after each other, no matter what direction you give them.
Boy oh boy, WHAT IN GOD’S NAME WAS I THINKING?
Talking to myself, “be cool Liz,” I thought, “people ride camels all the time, you’re fine.”
Going with the flow, I tied my camera bag to the saddle (thank heavens) adjusted my camera around my neck and held onto the reins, trying to channel my inner Indiana Jones or Lawrence of Arabia.
Lulled into a false sense of security, my camel and I plodded along at a nice, leisurely pace for a solid hour or so, taking in the beautiful rock formations, the rose-colored sands, the cute baby camel. It’s one thing to explore a historic, majestic desert on foot or by car, but it’s another experience entirely to witness it on the back of a camel, just like the adventurers did hundreds of years ago.
Along we went while I occasionally snapped photos or shot some video with my GoPro – see? I can multitask while camelriding. Skills people, balance, I got this.
By this point my camel had drifted aways from the group, not much, but enough so that we weren’t in line anymore. It’s fine, I’ve got an independent camel – I’m independent too, maybe we were made for each other after all.
Eventually I noticed the ground started to gradually slope downhill. Not by much but when you’re 8 feet off the ground with nothing to hold onto but a saddle and tighten your thighs, it’s a lot.
Photo via Seattle’s Travels
Suddenly I think my camel got a whiff of freedom and started to gain momentum down the hill.
“Oh shit, oh no, oh shit, oh no, oh shit,” I started bouncing up and down really hard on the camel trying to hold on for dear life while it started running.
Now just take a second to imagine a camel running. If there ever was a creature to match me in terms of gracelessness, it is in fact a camel. Trying to run. Here’s a video if you don’t believe me.
Two awkward animals paired together without adult supervision in the hot desert is a match made for disaster.
About three seconds later I go flying off the right side of the camel while it makes a bid for freedom.
White light, white light, white light.
Am I dead?
Flat on my back in the sand, blinking, I slowly open my eyes and look up at the bright sun.
Woosh, then the pain hit me with the force of a gunshot. Nope, definitely alive. “AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH~ HEEEEELLLLLPPPPP!!!” I howled incoherently laying on my back like a turtle.
A minute later a swift Bedouin boy, one of the camel interns, comes running up to me and tries to pull me to my feet. Not happening. I try to stand and fall right back over.
White light. Nausea. White light. Oh god.
Photo via Jessie on a Journey
Laying in the red sand, I eventually get on my knees holding my throbbing head and gingerly touching my lower back, while the rest of our camel brigade surrounded me. Fabulous, an audience, just what I wanted.
Covered in red sand, they tried clean me up, asking how I was and giving me water. And you know the first words out of my fool of a mouth?
“My camera? My camera?”
Still on my knees, I fumbled around and picked up my beautiful, brand new, 2 week old Canon 60D baby, covered in sand – and I realized the screen was cracked.
If that doesn’t give you any insights into my personality and priorities, I don’t know what will.
Groaning and blinking back tears, it was just too much, and it was all I could do not to collapse back in the sand like the drama queen I am – though in my defense, I had a big concussion and therefore I was allowed to resort back to childlike behavior.
Eventually, they pulled me to my feet, and luck was on my side, and a 4×4 passed by at that moment headed towards the main camp. Climbing in the front seat, I rested my head on the dashboard and tried not to barf, cry or both, clutching my broken camera and whimpering like a wounded animal.
As I stumbled out of the truck back at the camp, I was met with several of our Jordanian guides and some of the journalists who decided to ride ahead and forgo the camel ride (wise ones). I had managed to keep it together til this point but as soon as I saw the jolly face of Ibrahim, our guide, I lost it and started sobbing.
Moderately concussed, mildly confused and bordering on hysterical, it took several bottles of water dumped on my head and 3 Advils swallowed down with a big cup of tea before I started to calm the heck down and literally regain my senses.
I can’t believe I’m letting these photos see the light of day, but I figured I had to share
Thoughts on getting sick or injured on the road
Quick disclosure, I have a pretty high pain tolerance owing to a childhood of being a total klutz and a penchant for tattoos and piercings growing up. That being said, this is the most pain I’ve ever felt in living memory, and even now it’s difficult for me to put it into words here to fully describe it.
My head had a knot on it the size of an orange for weeks and my lower back to my upper thighs were bruised a veritable rainbow of purple, black and red, and I couldn’t move my neck side to side properly for several days.
Once I got back to the US and since my back wasn’t getting better I eventually ended up in the ER. I’m a stubborn ass and refused to go to the hospital in Jordan, and after talking with doctors in the US, which was a giant waste of my time and money, I realized it wouldn’t have made a difference.
That being said, I count myself incredibly lucky – talk about looking on the bright side. What if I had landed on my face? Or on my arm? On my head? More or less I think I landed on my ass and back then smacking my head on the ground after. Thankfully I loved Jordanian food, and if I hadn’t eaten all of the kanafeh, all of the hummus and all of the falafels in the ENTIRE COUNTRY, and have, as one of the guides so delicately phrased it, a bit of a cushion to land on, it would have been worse. Um, thanks I guess.
If Jordanian hospitality and friendliness could ever ben questioned before, it’s quietly squashed now. I have never been so well taken care of or looked after. Once our group arrived back, everyone was trying to help and make things better and give me little talks to make me feel better, which actually made me cry MORE, you know, because I’m a weirdo and don’t know how to manage my emotions.
I almost always travel alone, and I’ve gotten sick before on the road but I always took care of myself. To be surrounded by people taking care of me without even asking, and doing everything they could to make me feel better when I was in a huge amount of pain made all the difference.
The wonderful Ibrahim
Most likely tempting fate, for the first time in ages I made a grown-up decision right before going to Jordan to finally invest in international property insurance. Jordan was the first stop of what would become several months of traveling on the road before moving to New Zealand for a year. It was also the first time I bought a travel insurance package with World Nomads.
Two things prompted this decision; firstly I’d just splurged on a very expensive new camera, two lenses, gear, GoPro, a laptop and an iPhone (check out this post about what’s in my camera bag!) And secondly, a close friend had his backpack filled with electronics stolen right in front of him. Two and two together finally clicked in my brain; that if someone were to steal all my shit, there would be nothing I could do about it and I couldn’t afford to replace it.
I needed something to cover all of my expensive toys while traveling internationally long-term that wasn’t going to cost me a fortune. After digging around for a while, I finally settled on Clements who had packages fitting what I wanted.
Now, I don’t know anything about insurance or whatever; I just winged it for the past 6 years. Dealing with Clements was easy, I didn’t have to make a lot of phone calls, it was mostly done via email, and boom, I paid for a great policy insuring around $10,000 worth of my crap for year for $17 a month. Now that’s something I can afford. And the best part is that most of my stuff is insured individually which means I don’t have to pay anything as a deductible on it, only for small stuff.
As soon as I got home I mailed my camera into Canon to get repaired. As soon as I got the $300 charge to fix the screen, I emailed a claim off to Clements and had the money deposited back into my bank account within a week. That’s right, the policy already paid for itself. Boom.
Disclosure: I was NOT compensated in any way by Clements for this. I paid full-price for my policy, and I intend to do the same next year.
Photo via Jessie on a Journey
Do I regret riding camels in Jordan?
Nope, not at all.
What happened was a pain in the ass (literally) but it couldn’t be helped. Ultimately what happened was nobody’s fault, except probably mine for not insisting to be tied back up in a camel row in the beginning.
Am I saying that you should never ride a camel while traveling? Absolutely not. Go for it!
I loved (the experience of) riding camels in Morocco, Egypt and even in Wadi Rum in Jordan, as you can see from my big smiles before the BIG INCIDENT.
Like I said, shit happens, and the chance of a normal person falling off a camel is pretty slim. I’ve checked with Google. If you’re accident-prone like me, then well, I suggest asking the camel driver for the most docile camel out there, and making sure it’s being properly led.
Will I ever ride a camel again? Hell no. Three time’s enough for this girl. The only way you will ever get me on the back of a camel again is if you stun me with a stun gun and throw me on its back and tie me down. Or give me a million dollars.
Actually now that I think about it, I probably would ride camels again, since I never seem to learn my lesson while traveling. It won’t be for a while though. I need some space to recover.
The only downside now is I have acquired a irrational fear of camels, and now every time I see one, I also see that white light. Shiver.
Have you ever ridden camels before? Would you, given the chance? Have you ever been injured or seriously ill on the road? How did you cope?
I was in Jordan as a guest of the Jordan Tourism Board and My Jordan Journey, though as you can probably guess, all opinions here are my own haha.