A half day on our own in this ancient Nabatean World Heritage site, my friend begins her walk back along the main trail. The plan is for her to perch somewhere and photograph me as I ride gloriously by. Someone has to do it. I give my friend some time to get settled in advance. Then I haggle for a camel. I’ve had a few camel rides and this particular day is my third trek along Petra trails. A tourist woman ahead of me has just stupidly paid asking price of JD25 for a camel and heard me starting at JD10. She starts yelling nastily at me I shouldn’t do it for less than JD25. The camel owners are enjoying this unexpected advocate. Because of her I have to settle for JD20 which is more than par, wounding my hard-earned bargaining skills.
Nevertheless, I choose a large camel named Zou-Zou for her height. Like me, she shows a bit of age. Unlike me, she does not look excited about going for a walk. However, she does not snuffle or bawl which could portend well for her character. Her handler Mahmoud starts out walking behind us, or so I think. What I am really thinking is that Mahmoud recognized an expert rider. I know the back end goes up first.
A few people on donkeys are way below me. They have a boy more or less herding them. I’m trying to take photos as I go.
Capture the Bedouin women selling trinkets. Almost. It’s tricky juggling a camera since one hand is often on the pommel grip—a certain relentless, swaying, circular motion is involved (I understand this is not appealing to everyone, but that’s a big part of the whole mystique). Soon I discover Mahmoud is no longer with us. Boy tending donkeys doesn’t respond to sign language about whether he’s in charge of me too. Evidently not. I become fully aware of this when Zou-Zou ploughs right into a gaggle of tourists before we turn the first bend. Maybe she is blind? The rope in one of my other hands is connected to her primitive halter which you can see would have no possible steering effect. Therefore I must put my camera away and be alert for pedestrians.
Her pace increases. Zou-Zou my runaway camel and I spend 25 minutes on our own, scattering many people and knocking over vendor displays. Maybe her urgency indicates hunger and she’s heading for the barn? In my experience this is not a usual camel. Regardless, one is above one’s surroundings and the show must go on with dignity. Concentrating on the job at hand, I can’t look up frequently at the amazing, towering cliffs and colours, but then I did get photographs last year.
Zou-Zou breaks into a canter at one point, what absolutely great fun! Lawrence couldn’t have had it any better! Wouldn’t you know, this happens just about the time we pass my fellow travellers. They are sipping tea at a rest stop, too impressed or stunned to photograph me. No time for designated photographer to lift her camera. I hardly see them, as I am happily shouting “Watch out! Achtung! Camel coming through!” Only one swift fellow with a camera catches me disappearing ... trying to wave my hat at them.
Just before we reach the Siq, it comes to an end. I’m suspecting Mahmoud’s disappearance was a little humourous payback for not forking out JD25. Zou-Zou slows to a halt in recognition as an appointed boy comes to intercept. He seems surprised to hear that we knocked over postcard stands and wants to know if the vendors are angry. How would I know? My arthritic neck seldom permits posterior viewing of collateral damage, especially on the fly. For part of the JD20 it must be his luckless job to pacify any repercussions. Zou-Zou will go to wait at the camel station for another tourist. She shows no regret at my disembarking. They say camels do have distinctive personalities but I need still more experience for a full analysis of the evidence.
... An occasional series.
© Brenda Dougall Merriman 2009
Petra, Jordan, photographs by BDM 2007 and 2008; final photograph by a [name withheld] man from Carmel, California,with quick reflexes. Photographs in possession of author.