Captain of the desert: what life as a camel driver is like.

Captain of the desert

Captain of the desert: what life as a camel driver is like.

Captain of the desert; You need to know the fairway, navigate by dunes and stars, keep your transportation in order and always be ready to move on….

Joining a caravan in the Moroccan sands, Around the World realized that the life of a camel driver is like that of a sailor. And learned something about ships.

The camels tread leisurely, looping around another sandbar. The measured, wide strides of Scooby-Doo, who serves as my vehicle, make me feel like I’m bobbing on the waves. He turns to follow Jimmy’s flagship and the man with the rope in his hand. Dressed in a fluttering blue djellaba, wearing a black turban that makes his head look three times larger, Mustafa steers his small fleet confidently along a familiar course

Hero :Mustafa Eitrouya.

Camel chaser in the sand dunes of Erg Chebbi, Morocco. Born in 1995. Lived in the Sahara in a Berber nomadic tribe until the age of 12, when the family moved to the village of Takoge (just north of Merzouga) in 2007. He started working as a camel driver at the age of 15. Never attended school. Speaks English, Spanish, French. Unmarried, has three brothers who are also in the family business. The family owns four dromedaries (one-humped camels).

The intricacies of navigation.

How do you navigate in the desert?.

I know every dune here, every well. See that big hill up ahead? That’s Lelemerzul, Berber for “mother of Merzouga.” And over there, on the left, there are two more – that’s Bechneon, meaning “twins”. You can’t see it from here, but from the opposite side, they look like two peas in a pod.

Don’t they change shape?

No, they don’t change that big. Unless it’s very slow. But the small ones can change because of sandstorms. The desert can easily confuse an inexperienced visitor. But, say, if you get lost here, your best bet is to try to remember which way you came here and go back to the starting point. Or wait until nighttime, then you can use the stars to orient yourself. Or rely on the camel to lead you back to the people.

Can’t a camel get lost?

No, they’re perfectly oriented, even when they’re small. For example, camel cubs always remember where their mother fed them. It happens that a camel cub, having played, strayed into another herd or simply got lost in the desert. To find its own, it returns to the place where it last suckled milk, even if it has to walk for several hours.

There the camel will wait for its mother all day long. If she doesn’t come, it will go to the previous feeding place. And so on down the chain. The camel goes the same route in search of her baby, so they usually find each other safely. Camels also remember where they’ve had a good time. The place where they rest and feed will always be found.

Do work camels get a lot of rest?

During the season, from October to April, they work three times a week, for five hours. The rest of the time they graze. In summer they go to the desert even less often: it’s hot, there are few tourists. You are lucky with the weather – no heat and low wind. You know what storms are like here!

What should you do if a sand storm starts?

Look for a safe shelter. It is dangerous to stand behind a high dune, as the wind will quickly blow sand, in which you can drown. It is necessary to lay the camel on the ground and hide behind it, pressing against the side of the camel on the leeward side. Dromedaries are well protected. They are able to close their nostrils completely, so that fine dust does not get into the nose. And thick eyebrows and eyelashes save their eyes from sand. For humans, it is best to tie a turban on the head and cover the lower part of the face with the end of a cloth.

ZOOSPRAVKA/One-humped camel (dromedary)

Camelus dromedarius

Class – mammals

Division – ungulates

Suborder – calluses

Family – camelidae

Wild populations of the dromedary, unlike the bactrian (two-humped camel), have not survived in the world. There is only a secondary feral population in Australia (descendants of camels brought there in the XIX century). They are distributed as domestic animals throughout North Africa from Morocco to Somalia, the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East.

Dromaderas are smaller than bactrians: height at the withers – from 1.8 to 2.3 m; body length – from 2.3 to 3.4 m; weight – from 300 to 600 kg. Life expectancy is 40-50 years. The female carries the calf (usually one) for about 15 months. The very next day after birth it begins to roam with the herd. A dromedary can travel 60 kilometers per day with a load of up to 100 kg.

Water and sand

A tangible nudge under my elbow makes me turn around – the “ship” named Billy Marley, walking in my keel, is insistently demanding attention. He tries to put his head under my arm, squinting blissfully when I scratch him behind his ear. Looks like it’s time to rest.

At the captain’s command, the caravan lies adrift. Mustafa approaches each animal, pulls the rope down slightly, pressing the front of the saddle with his hand and saying something. The camel sinks to the sand. Now the passenger can get off too. I reach out to stroke my Scooby-Doo’s curly neck. But such tenderness does not pass with him: the dromedary jerks his head away and grins with his upper lip high.

Why is Scooby-Doo so mean?

Not like Billy Marley, huh?! All camels have different personalities, just like people. Jimmy, for example, our flagship, is very kind and easy-going. He’s over ten years old. The one with the most experience, seven or more years.

Are there only males in the caravan? Why aren’t the girls in the caravan?

No way! If those guys see a camel, they’ll go crazy! If you don’t intervene in time, everything can end badly: they will fight to the death, kick each other to death. Males are very jealous and aggressive. That’s why there are never females in the caravan. Have a rest, guys…

Don’t you need to get them drunk? You probably always have water with you, don’t you?

Why bring it with you? You see that concrete house over there with the lock on the door? That’s a well. My brothers and I go for water about once every two weeks – we take camels and donkeys and load them with jerry cans… There are other wells in the Sahara, but we usually go farther away, ten or fifteen kilometers.

It’s strange to go to the desert for water. Isn’t there enough water in Merzouga?

There’s a large underground spring in Merzuga. And there’s water in Tacoge. But there it costs money, but in the desert it is free. The wells in the dunes are deep, and there is always water in them, even in the dry season. And we don’t need to water camels now, they rarely drink.

How long can they go without water?

Depends on the time of year. In winter, up to two weeks. Less in summer. But in general, they often get enough liquid from the plants.

So how do you know it’s time to provide the camel with “liquid fuel”?

The easiest way is to pull back the skin on your neck and let go. If all is well, the skin is firm and does not sag. And if the crease remains, it means that the camel is dehydrated and it’s time to drink. But that rarely happens. Camels do not sweat until the temperature rises above 41 degrees.

They control their body temperature well: they don’t lie sideways to the sun, only with their muzzle to reduce the surface of the body, on which the sun’s rays fall. And – see? – they tuck their legs under them so that there’s a space between their body and the hot sand. And camels also eat a lot of salt to help retain water in their bodies. Six times more than donkeys or mules. We always add salt to their feeders. In the heat, up to 140 grams a day.

Captain of the desert; What do you feed them?

Camels need special feed: hay, grain, sometimes mineral supplements. See how high your Scooby-Doo’s hump is? That means he’s eating well. Otherwise his hump would hang like an empty sack. Feeding one camel costs about 1500 dirhams a month, about 140 euros. Of course, a camel may not eat for almost a month, but then it is not a worker.

If a camel gets sick, do you call a doctor or do you handle it yourself?

Of course, we call the veterinarian, and not only in case of illness. Once every six months he comes to our village to examine the camels, to clean their ears from sand. It is not that expensive, the doctor charges 200 dirhams to examine four animals.

Captain of the desert; How much do they pay you to work with tourists?

100 dirhams. If it’s an overnight trip, it’s 300. Plus 50 for each of my camels. In a year, you can save enough to buy another camel and earn more. With the nomads who live deep in the desert, on the border with Algeria, a camel costs 1000-1500 dirhams. We buy from them.

Captain of the desert; Dromader in detail

The eyes are protected by a transparent third eyelid and long eyelashes.

The nostrils are slit-shaped and have flaps that can be closed completely if necessary.

The lips, tongue and oral surface are tough enough for the camel to chew thorns.

The thick hair in the ears keeps them from getting clogged with sand and dust.

Calluses on the feet and joints of the legs protect the parts of the body that come into contact with sand when the camel stands or lies down.

The length of the legs allows the body to be a considerable distance from the hot ground.

Wide feet with two toes provide stability in the sand.

The camel’s hump, contrary to misconceptions, does not store water. Fat is deposited in it, which allows effective cooling of the body and serves the back as an additional protection from the sun.

Captain of the desert; The special folds of the stomach store water.

Blood vessels are located close to the skin and help to carry out heat exchange, so that the camel begins to sweat much later than any other animal.

Erythrocytes have an oval shape, so that in case of a large loss of water, the animal’s blood does not thicken. This also helps to withstand osmotic pressure surges, when a camel drinks a huge amount of water in a short time

Captain of the desert; A big ship sails big

I mentally calculate: from each of the eight passengers, the owner of the riad (local hotel) received 150 dirhams. That means that 200 of them go to the family that provided half the flotilla, another 200 to Mustafa’s family plus 100 for his work. And 700 dirhams remain to the owner of the riad. The usual story, tour business …

Mustafa suddenly starts fussing and shouting threateningly at the camels. Of course, Scooby-Doo! Taking advantage of the fact that no one is looking after him, the camel stands up with an independent look. All the camels behind him rise in succession: each camel is “moored” by a short rope to the saddle of the previous camel. When he straightens his hind legs, the rope pulls up the next camel. The captain shook his head in annoyance and anchored the provocateur again, followed by all the others.

Captain of the desert; Are dromedaries easy to train?

They’re smart. We usually take strong, active three-year-olds. That’s the most suitable age for training. But it is very important to let the camel know right away that you are in charge.

In the past, nomads who caught a wild camel used to let it go for this purpose, so that it felt free and ran away. They grabbed it by the tip of its tail and threw it on its side. The tail is a sensitive place, and as long as a man holds it, the camel will not kick. After that, the camel will recognize the man’s strength and will obey.

To accustom the camel to the rope, we tie a rope around its lower jaw and put it behind the male, who is already used to following the driver. Looking at his kin, the newcomer stops being stubborn. After a while it will be possible to lead him on a rope alone. And after about a month – to put him in the caravan, somewhere in the middle, between the more experienced animals. Camels quickly get used to the saddle.

Captain of the desert; Do they get attached to their owner?

Of course. Dromader never forgets anything. If he has been mistreated, he can take revenge even after a few years. And if a man has won his trust, the camel will take care of him. My friend told me how a scorpion came to him at night, but the camel jumped up and started to trample him, protecting his master. They have such calluses on their feet that no scorpion is afraid of them!

Captain of the desert; It’s tough out there: storms, snakes, scorpions–

Nothing complicated if you know how to behave. I love this place, I love this life. You travel, and I wouldn’t. This is everything I need.

Mustafa helps me “climb aboard”. It is not easy to stay on a rising camel: first it straightens its hind legs, and if you don’t lean back at that moment, you risk diving fish through the animal’s head. Fortunately, there is a kind of mast on the front of the saddle: a T-shaped iron pin, which can be grasped when the sway.

We turn around and head for home port at full sail. The captain looks ahead, beyond the horizon, where the dunes go, rippling with colors – yellow, white, bright orange. The horizon is clear, the sun is setting in the sandy sea, promising that tomorrow it will be possible to set sail again

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