Friday, November 30, 2012

Camels in Tunisia

The one-humped camel dromedary (Camelus dromedarius) was first domesticated some 4000 years ago. In Tunisia, the Berber tribes of the south used it for their transportation. Then in the beginning of the first century BC, Romans started using camels to explore the hinterland of Tunisia. The camel was represented in Roman artistic works such as mosaics and reliefs in the second and the third century. The camel was also depicted on Roman coins.
A mosaic exhibeted in El Jem museum depecting Silenus riding a camel
One of the most significant mosaics is the “Dyonisiac Procession” in the El Jem museum where Silenus the foster-father of Bacchus is riding a camel instead of donkey and Bacchus is riding an African lion instead of panther.

The dromedary has a special status in the life of nomads because it is the base of their economy. The Bedouin classification of the camel notes four basic varieties based on the color of the coat. The Mehari is a small, white camel used for races and hunting and can reach 70km per hour. The Tunisian border guards in the Sahara desert in Tunisia’s south are known as the Mehari troup due to the camel that they use. The second is the red camel which is used for goods transportation, especially heavy goods. The third is the yellow camel that is usually bred with females from other varieties, and the male is consecrated as a stud to produce other varieties of camels. The last variety consists of a dark-coated camel that is often used for smuggling and is called a Lazreg by locals.

Camel milk is healthy and rich in proteins that can’t be found in cow or goat milk, and is regularly drunk by Tunisians. The milk is particularly rich in insulin and is recommended for people with diabetes. The milk mustn’t be boiled because it loses its nutritional value. Camel milk tastes similar to cow’s milk. If a traveler wants to try the milk they can ask a local camel guide.
Mixed breed camels are the best for eating. Many restaurants in central and southern Tunisia serve camel meat at good prices. Kairoaun is one of the best places where you can try the meat. Its mild flavor makes it well-suited to dishes such as couscous.
The camel is the base of the economic life of the Bedouin tribes. The hair is sheared in April and May. Since it is light and durable, the hair is then used as an insulator and to make clothes that protect from the extreme heat of summer as well as the cold nights and winter days. Nomadic tents are also made from the hair. The traditional north African coats Qashabia and the Barnous are made of  camel hair and can be purchased from handicrafts shops in traditional Tunisian markets.
Driving through the Sahara, foreign visitors can see wandering herds of camels that are usually assumed to be wild. But each camel in these herds have an owner that they go home to.
Today, the camel contributes to the development of cultural tourism in the Tunisian south. The camel ride is one of the main attractions of the Tunisian Sahara that gives the visitors the opportunity to experience the life of a nomad.
Camels waiting for riders Douz

Douz, known as the gateway to the Sahara, is one of the most frequented resorts in the south. Visitors have the opportunity to ride camels thanks to specific stations built for that purpose. Ali Arouri, a manager of a camel station in Douz, said that the best time to enjoy camel rides is in the spring between March and April, when the weather is cool and the temperature doesn’t reach over 30 degrees.
Independent travelers can organize multi-day camel treks through the desert. Appel du Desert is one of several companies that organize à la carte trips. The average price range for a week-long trip is 500 euros per person for a group of ten people.