A travel moment in Jaiselmer

I had never ridden a camel apart from a sedate, ten minute excursion on a dromedary at London Zoo when I was five. We walked into the camel park at the edge of Jaiselmer where about thirty camel drivers were waiting with their animals. The men started to wave and shout, urging us to choose their particular beast. By the time I had collected my wits the only camel available was the tallest one with the worst sneer and the youngest driver. I had a bad feeling about this. I was the shortest person in the group, the camel was the height of a small apartment building,and the driver looked all of fifteen. I was told that the camel's name was Johnny Walker.
'This camel is doing anything for me,' declared the fifteen year old whose name was Akim.
'That's nice!' I smiled nervously.Johnny Walker showed no inclination to kneel down and let me mount up.Akim shouted several times and wave his whip in a threatening manner. Eventually, the animal snorted and began to implode, its knees buckling gently and the rest of its body crumpling like a deflated hairy balloon. Its sneer remained intact.I clambered onto the uncomfortable saddle, clutching on for dear life as the camel reared up and I found myself staring down at what looked like the Cresta Run without the ice. Could the ground really bethat far away?
For the next three days JW tried to remain in the rear of the camel train, showing a marked preference for the other direction. Akim appeared to have no control over the beast. I suspected that he had not gained his NVQ in camel training - or whatever was the local equivalent.
By the end of the three day safari my legs were bowed, the smell of camel permeated everything and I had renewed respect for Lawrence of Arabia.
On the last day, Akim, tired of losing face with the others, decided that JW must be made to gallop. I tried to protest but he insisted. He beat the animal around the head so hard it must have seen stars. Nothing happened. Akim screamed at it in the local language, no doubt casting aspersions on its mother's virtue. Suddenly JW took off at speed while we clung on. Akim urged him on furiously. It was just my luck to fall in with a boy racer.
We passed the others who cheered us on....we were leading. Then JW skidded to a dead halt and refused to move. He gave several loud farts, turned his head, sucked in his cheeks and spat an enormous gob of spittle in Akim's face. I wondered what Lawrence would have done.

J Burnett

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