For millennia man has relied on the camel, along with its better-known domestic contemporary, the horse, to transport people and goods, draw carts and as a comrade in arms. Both the dromedary (one-humped) and Bactrian (two-humped) camel continue to serve man in this way, even doubling as a source of food in some cultures.
The earliest traces of camels are found in America, where they are now extinct. It is believed that these contrary creatures crossed into Asia, while most other lifeforms were doing the opposite, during the Bering Land Bridge’s heyday as the super highway of evolution.
Camels have almost always played a role in the daily life of mankind, with the first evidence of their domestication dating back to 3 000 BC – they were present at ground zero when A.D. came to be, and the dromedary is still widely used today in north east Africa.
You don’t have to take a trip to Cairo for a trip on these ships of the desert, a drive out to Swakopmund, just over 3 hours from your Windhoek accommodation will do the trick. While this seaside playground is rather short on pyramids, it certainly makes up for its lack of ancient artefacts, with seaside scenery, magnificent sandy dunes, the chance to spot some unique desert wildlife and plenty of other activities to fill your days.
Swakopmund is the hub of adventure in Namibia with dune boarding, paragliding, deep-sea fishing, hot air ballooning and 4×4 excursions. Of these, you can participate in horse riding, quad biking and desert tours from the premises of Desert Explorers, on the outskirts of Swakopmund.
Camel rides of half an hour to two hour’s duration also depart from here between 09:00 and 17:00, and the nearby Swakopmund Camel Farm from 14:00 to 17:00 daily. These grumpy beasts of burden win no prizes in the personality stakes, but these camel handlers extraordinaire seem to have found a happy medium with their herds, which are placid and even quite friendly towards visitors.
All ages are welcome to participate in these rides, although small children may be intimidated by their very large mounts – an adult camel stands 1.85 m at the shoulder and 2.15 m at the top of its hump.
Little skill is required to ride a camel, apart from the ability to lean back, keep your arms straight and hang on while the animal lurches upwards from the ground at the outset. Once underway you will discover how the gentle motion of these patient animals can be compared to that of a ship on a tranquil ocean.
Don’t expect to travel at more than a sedate walk throughout your adventure, camels never run; they simply walk faster with longer strides when required. They can move at up to 65km per hour in this energy-saving way if need be.
The camel is supremely adapted for life in the desert, with large flat feet impervious to sinking in the burning sands, the ability to go without water for up to 17 days, built-in temperature regulation, long eyelashes and nostrils that protect these organs from gusts of sand. Contrary to urban myth, camels do not store water in their humps but use them to metabolise the fat stored in them with great efficiency in times of need. Their thick hides protect them from sunburn and reflect the heat to keep them cool.
As a mere mortal, you are advised to take sunblock and a wide brimmed hat along for the excursion and do not forget your camera, the views are great from your lofty perch.