Many visitors from the West come to Jordan never having laid eyes on a camel, yet almost all arrive with received wisdom about the creatures; myths about the simplicity of desert life, the nobility of the bedouin and the Lawrence-of-Arabia-style romance of desert culture all seem to be inextricably bound up in Western minds with the camel. In truth, the bedouin long since gave up using camels either as a means of transport or as beasts of burden: Japanese pick-ups are faster, sturdier, longer-lived and less bad-tempered than your average dromedary. However, some tribes still keep a few camels, mostly for nostalgic reasons and the milk, though some breed and sell them. The bedouin that live in or close to touristed areas such as Petra and Rum have small herds of them to rent out for walks and desert excursions. There are no wild camels left in Jordan: any you see, in however remote a location, belong to someone.
If you’re in any doubt about whether to take the plunge and have a camel ride, then rest assured that it’s a wonderful experience. There’s nothing to compare with the gentle, hypnotic swaying and soft shuffle of riding camel-back in the open desert. Wadi Rum is the best place in Jordan to try it out, with short and long routes branching out from Rum and Disi all over the southern desert. Take as long as you like, but anything less than a couple of hours’ riding isn’t really worth it.
As a beginner’s tip, the key to not falling off a camel is to hang onto the pommel between your legs – the animal gets up from sitting with a bronco-style triple jerk that flings you backwards, then forwards, then back again. If you’re not holding on as soon as your bottom hits the saddle you’re liable to end up in the dust. Once up and moving, you have a choice of riding your mount like a stirrupless horse, or copying the locals and cocking one leg around the pommel.