The dust from the road mushroomed up around the car as we drove on, Batil and Yahya could still not find the camel auction for which we searched. It was held daily outside of Riyadh within the labyrinth of camel corrals we now passed through. They were deeply apologetic, but really it was fine because, despite the fact that earlier that day at the souq we had purchased camel saddles, and had just bought a saddle bag from a woman selling camel accessories, they were just to bring home as souvenirs. It’s not like we were actually going to bid on a camel that day anyway. My husband and I were already transfixed and entertained by our surroundings. As far as the eye could see the camel corrals surrounded us. They each held anywhere from one to ten camels and the desert stretched into the infinity beyond.
To Batil and Yahya, (who both worked for the hospital where my husband’s conference was being held and were kind enough to take us to see the camels we had asked about), this trip must have seemed mundane. Where as just the process of driving out from the center of a bustling modern metropolis, through the construction filled surrounding suburbs, that then suddenly gave way to desert and camel territory, to us was amazing. The camels in Saudi Arabia are Dromedaries with one hump. In our eyes the camels are exotic and humorous creatures, and we were thoroughly entertained just observing them as we passed by. To Saudi Arabians camels are as common as a horse is to Americans.
Batil explained that the white ones were particularly valuable and a really good camel can be worth as much as almost a million dollars. In the KSA camel racing is a form of entertainment, and a great source of pride to the trainer and owner of the winning camel. Spectators come from around the world for the big races. In the camel market men wearing the traditional long robe called a thobe, led small packs of camels through the path. Baby camels trying to make a run for it had to be chased down by these guys, and they reminded me of running after my children as toddlers when they would make a break for it (except I didn’t have that long stick they used to thwack them back into line). Finally we gave up our search for the auction, happy with what we had been able to see of the coral area itself. We pulled over at a roadside camel milk stand outside of the market to pose with the camels for pictures and I squealed as they sniffed my headscarf and neck while I tried to smile for the camera.
This was a very friendly bunch, and it turns out camels can be friendly and docile creatures if treated well. They have been domesticated in the Arabian Peninsula for thousands of years and are ingrained in the culture of the region. We didn’t get to bid on a camel after all, but loved our glimpse of the Saudi Arabian camel culture.