Saturday, 20 February 2016

The 400 camels of Lanzarote

Meet Sue. Sue is a camel. One of 400 camels* living in the town of Yaiza near Timanfaya National Park in Lanzarote. Due to recent events, Sue is my friend. Her real name probably isn't Sue. She might, in fact, be a he.

I'll start at the beginning.

On a recent holiday to Lanzarote, we took a day trip to the Timanfaya National Park, the protected area known for its lunar landscape due to volcanic eruptions. Nobody is allowed to walk in the park - except camels.

So we found ourselves headed for the camel riding spot on the edge of the park. We knew exactly what we were letting ourselves in for - or at least we thought we did, until our coach turned a corner and we found ourselves face to face with rows upon rows of camels. Hundreds of them (400, we later found out), chilling out in lines (straight lines at that. Too straight, some might say, to have been masterminded by an animal whose standard greeting is spitting.) ready to greet their adoring public.

Once we'd got over the shock of SO DARNGOSH MANY CAMELS we tentatively made our way over to where we were to "board" our camel. Enter Sue, the camel we were riding. As I said, Sue probably wasn't her name - she (he?) may not have had a name at all - there was no time for formal introductions. So Sue she became, a name chosen by me for its calm, dependable demeanour.  Everything you want in a camel you're about to climb onto, basically.

And climb on we did. Cue waves of embarrassment at my naivety when I realised that I wouldn't actually be riding Sue the way one would ride a horse, one leg either side and a quick "yeehah" for luck. No, camels are ridden with special seats, one person on each side and plenty of straps to keep you where you are.

Take off is a bit bumpy. Camels get up bag legs first, stumble around a bit, and then remember they have front legs that they'd do well to straighten too. Needless to say, it was a hair-raising few seconds before Sue got into her stride and took us for a 30 minute stroll up into the mountains and back down again, passing several of her co-camels on the way (so many camels!) before bringing us back down to earth in an equally bumpy manner.

We later found out that the camels - all 400+ of them - live in the nearby village of Yaiza. While nobody is allowed to walk in the National Park, an exception is made for the camels and their handlers, for whom a special path has been carved out in the volcanic material. The walk to work takes them two hours everyday - although on the way home it only takes an hour and a half, because the camels are hungry by this time and keen to get home for their dinner. Seriously.

*Pedant's note: the eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that Sue and her amigos are in fact dromedaries rather than camels (the difference is in the humps). I guess the word "dromedary" is less marketable to tourists than camels.

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