This past weekend my family enjoyed a trip out to the desert, north of Dammam in the Eastern Province. This was our first experience going out into the desert to visit a camel farm and to see what life is like, to use a modern term, off-the-grid. We joined a group adventure that is advertised here in this area. You really do need a guide if you want a personal experience to see a working farm, as it is not a tourist site, but a private family farm.
We drove in “caravan” style out on the highway, and by GPS located the spot that would diverge off the highway. From there we needed a guide for sure, as then the road is down the bank and through an area of sand and out into the desert, no markings to direct us at all. As we followed our guide, we passed an area next to sand dunes, where you can rent 4-wheelers for adults and kids, no helmets to be seen! Then we snaked our way between flat sandy desert with pigeon farms, whose areas were delineated by tires stuck in the sand, creating a type of border of the farms. In the middle were elevated metal areas. Our impression was that it is where they train the pigeons, as a man waves a stick and pigeons circle the area and then come down. Later when I asked about these at the farm, one of the men there said they train pigeons to only fly within that area within the tire barrier. I think the pigeons are used perhaps for falcon training.
So on we drove about 10 minutes into the sand and brush on a compact sand road. Really a four-wheel drive car is the best like a truck to tackle sand, however small cars were in our caravan and they did ok, as we weren’t driving into pure sand or dunes. We rounded a sand dune and there was a stick and wire fence, where the owner opened to let us all in. It is very bright, light sand, and in photos it resembles snow in a way. Even though the sun shone down on us, it is winter and very windy so we all had on layers and were glad for them. It gets cold in the desert at night, more than the city areas.
We drove past sparse palm trees and a few dogs walking about, and were directed to park ahead on a slight incline at a tent. The farm consisted of camels, some chickens, chicks, rabbits, a few cats and dogs. Things are sparse here. Lots of sand, scrub brush, sky, and views for miles as most of the terrain is flat, except for an occasional large sand dune.
The sand sunk under our footsteps and it was some work to walk up to the tent area. There we all congregated and with our guide enjoyed some refreshments from guess where….McDonald’s! Yes, they brought us folks McD’s way out in the desert. I thought it was a good advertisement for them, but I won’t endorse McD’s, as I don’t like them. We sat in the tent where there was a fire already going. It was smoky, but nice to be out of the wind. After we ate, it was time to meet the camels and hear about the farm. I learned the most by standing near some Arabic speakers and asking them what the farm owner was talking about. This farm apparently breeds camels, not for meat or milk, but for the line of camel. The owner said the camel comes from a good family, and is a pure-bred Bedouin desert camel from hundreds of years ago. It is known for it’s beauty. I’ll take his word for that. The male camels are very expensive so they are kept within their own areas and are let out with the females just for breeding.
The babies, younger camels and females are kept together. However they are all let out separately for feeding and exercise. It must be easier to control them in small herds, as the desert is vast and there are no fences except the animal’s enclosure’s and the farm’s stick and wire fencing. Also without electricity, there can be no electric fence helping to keep them in. This day the females were let out at 6am and led to an area miles away where the rains had made a good type of grass grow. We got to see them returning at 4pm, when they were fed dried grass/hay and then the babies could nurse.
The owner also told us that camel milk and virgin female camel urine are very good for health and medicinal in nature. Also the urine is supposed to be good for the hair. It is interesting to note, that this story closely matches what is reported in my former post about the Khari Camel of Kutch, India. So it is not only used this way in Saudi, but also perhaps with other camel and herder groups.
Then we were treated to a falconer who had come just for our group. He drove up and brought out Sha’ rar, which translates to “Spark” in Arabic. The name has a rolling “r” when pronounces. He only spoke Arabic so again I relied on the native speakers translating information. The falcon was 3 years old and as it was being passed around with it’s hood on, we each got to take turns holding it with gloved hand. It weighed maybe 5 lbs. Then when the falconer took the hood off Sha’ rar’s head, it had the most big, beautiful eyes, like a deer in a way. When it saw a pigeon fly overhead it started flapping and wanted to take off after it. It was nice to see the easy relationship between the falconer and the falcon. Finally I have seen one in person!
Our outing ended when the sun was setting. Most of the group stayed to drink tea and coffee, fireside inside the tent. We decided to head back to Dammam as it would get dark soon and there are no highway lights on this part of the road. It was a fun, beautiful experience and one anybody should consider doing in Saudi.