August 8, 2011

Befriending Camels at the Pyramids of Egypt


There are two types of Camels.  One-humped camels are native to the Middle East and the Horn of Africa and the two-humped type (the Bactrian camel) is native to Central Asia.  Contrary to popular belief, these humps are not sloshing around with water, but are instead filled with fat reserves for energy storage.  This is a great adaptation that concentrates the fat away from the rest of the body so that camels do not contain much fat in other areas which would cause too much thermal insulation.

Height: 7 feet tall at the hump for adults
Weight:  900 - 2200 lbs
Life Expectancy:  40-50 years

Population:  14 million, the vast majority of which are domesticated.  They are used to make dairy products, used for meat and used for transport.   The largest herds are in Ethiopia.  The only truly wild camels left are the Bactrian Camels of the Gobi desert in China and Mongolia, with a population of less than 1000, they are endangered in the wild.   The wild camels of North America went extinct 10,000 to 12,000 years ago with the expansion of humans on the continent.

Special Adaptations:  They can live in a huge range of temperature and water conditions that would kill most animals.  For example, they can withstand a 25% loss in body weight due to water loss.  Most organisms will go into cardiac arrest before even losing 12% of their body weight in water.  If water is available, they can drink 150 litres (40 gallons) of water in one sitting.  They don't even begin to sweat until it reaches 41 degrees Celsius.

Beauty or Beast:  The word camel comes from an Arabic word meaning "beauty".  I will leave it up to you to judge in the pictures below.


If you're in Egypt, you "have to" see the pyramids.  However, I was told by people who had visited there before that the experience would be a let down because it would be crazy touristy.  There would be no way to even get a picture of the pyramids without hordes of people in the background.  However, being the opportunistic disaster tourists that we are, we decided to benefit from the lack of tourism in Egypt due to the aftermath of the Arab Spring.  So off we flew.

Take a gander at this photo.  Unheard of sandy emptiness.  It's like we rented the pyramids for ourselves!

Optical illusion, yes. Photoshop no.

Yes, yes, the pyramids were pretty cool, but it was the camel, our one super mean and super ugly camel, that brought all the drama.  I did not chose the camel even though I knew full well that I and my chosen little horse would look pretty wimpy next to the camel and Calvin.  I think my horse even looks a bit demoralized.

Us and our rides.

But in all seriousness, the camel kept on baring his teeth at me (which was all covered in green vegetable slime bits) and flapping his lips every time I got near.

It`s hard to make friends in the desert.
He spat at me shortly after the shot above.  Luckily only a bit of the green goo got on my sleeve.  Still really gross.

I guess I was pushing my luck.

Trying to fight fire with fire.

Eventually I was convinced by Calvin and my guide that if I didn't try riding the camel I would be deemed a wimp forever.  They seem easy enough to mount, until they pop up suddenly before you've even got your balance.  I think though they are domesticated, they seem stubborn and independent minded in the end.  I guess I wouldn't want to carry people on my back all day in 40 degree heat either.

Not close enough to see his yellow teeth.

That's the money shot.  We look fearless and the camel even looks regal.

It is hard to see in these photos, but this camel was covered in what seemed like tattoos, or inked brands on his skin that made him look like a decorative plate.  You can see the star on his cheek.

The pyramids were a 8.5 out of 10.
The camel gets a 3 out of 10.  At least this one does.

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