Tangier, Morocco – Camel Ride

An hour-long choppy ferry ride from Spain lies Tangier, a gateway to Morocco. You can literally see Africa from the European side. A different continent, and certainly a different world. A step into Arabian Nights.

The guide – half-Spanish, half-Arabic – leads the group of virgin Morocco tourists through the Kasbah. It’s more of a maze than a traditional city center, arranged in seemingly no order or logic.

It’s a daytrip, and organized tour, catered towards tourists that want a tiny flavor of Arabian Africa with little effort and risk. The authenticity of the sights might be questionable, but it’s nevertheless interesting. The itinerary is well composed, with just enough Morocco to entice a first-time – or even returning – visitor.

A visit to a Moroccan pharmacy is an experience in scent rather than cure. A Moroccan lunch with exotic ingredients is far from your ordinary Big Mac Meal on a plastic tray. A Moroccan souvenir might resemble a European souvenir shop, with everything from tacky key rings to expensive handmade carpets, but the concept of personal service takes a whole new meaning. The salesperson is more of a shadow than a clerk. The phrase “not interested” is not part of their vocabulary. There are just different levels of “interested”, and it’s the salesperson’s job – if not personal goal in life – to get that level of interest from “I don’t want that antique vase” through “I’ll think about it” to a final “let’s talk price”. Which inevitably leads to a dramatic negotiation of how much money the customer is willing to pay versus the – according to the salesperson – insultingly and ridiculously beneficial price they are finally willing to accept. It’s a show where price tags are not part of the props.

And then there is the camel ride. Apparently, it’s a part of every itinerary of visiting Morocco. The tour bus takes the group to a hill where a herd of camels – or whatever the collective noun is – with their corresponding camel operators – or whatever the job title of people handling camels is – are lazily waiting to give the tourist the ultimate camel experience. This unmissable event consists of mounting the kneeling camel, waiting for the animal to get up on its feet, swaying high up in the saddle as the bored camel takes a few steps – just enough steps for someone to take a photo – and then get off again. Had I had any expectations or romantic images that a camel ride would be exciting and exotic, I would have been disappointed. But I don’t. In theory – should someone ask – I can now say that I once rode a camel. Although “riding” is stretching it a bit. “Sitting on a camel back while being shuffled a few meters” is more like it. For the tour guide it’s a selling point, but for us it’s the last stop on the tour, and we just want to get it over with. Not that we haven’t enjoyed the day, but it’s a bit awkward. 

I would imagine the camels share that sentiment. It’s a cushy job by camel standards. But probably the equivalent to performing on a cruise ship. It’s a steady gig, but probably not really where you want to be in your career. Not exactly something Charlie Camel would brag about to his buddies at the oasis.

It’s Africa light, but it’s still a worthy dip into the vast continent. So close, but yet so far away.