Clients can ride camels in Cabo with Cabo Adventures.// © 2011 Cabo adventures
Sidi-Amar Taou is a camel whisperer. A Tuareg tribesman from the African country of Niger, the charismatic nomad has spent the bulk of his life leading expeditions through the Sahara desert. But with a little help from his eight dromedary friends, he's feeling right at home in Baja.
Taou teamed with Cabo Adventures in Los Cabos to beef up the company's former 4x4 Desert Safari with camel rides along a pristine stretch of Pacific beach where whales frolic offshore in the winter.
"By revising our 4x4 tour and adding camel rides on a beautiful beach overlooking the Pacific, we're confident that this tour should be a highlight of a Cabo trip," said Mark Watson, sales director for Cabo Adventures.
When I first learned about this new Outback & Camel Safari Tour, I thought it might seem a bit contrived for the Mexico destination. After spending an hour with Taou, my one-humped camel Slim and my saddle-mate Vanessa, I'm convinced it's a natural, phenomenal complement to an already engaging eco-excursion.
It was just another day at the office for Slim and the docile, long-lashed gang. For our group, it was pure awe. Taou led us up the steps to the top of a platform where Vanessa and I slid onto the tandem saddle straddling Slim's hump.
While I was up front in the "driver's seat," both Vanessa and I were both extremely relieved that one of Taou's capable guides took command.
As our caravan was slowly gliding along the beautiful strand of beach, we all knew that we were in good hands, and the ride was surprisingly smooth despite our height atop the camel and the jaunty movement of their legs.
Once we were at the end of our trail, the adventure was even more up-close and personal. As a former guide with Nomade Sahara Expedition in Niger, Taou shared his passion of indigenous cultures and his knowledge of our reliable transportation.
As we cautiously approached another camel, Powder, for some post-trek photo ops, Taou dismissed our fears that camels are prone to spitting and we might be their targets.
"That's what llamas do," he said, "not camels."
So, we all fearlessly cozied up to mug it up for the cameras.
"People are always surprised at how docile and clean the camels are," said Watson. "And Taou adds a special element as well."
The camel encounter is merely a sliver of this 4.5-hour outing. And, while it was my favorite aspect because of the novelty, it by no means diminished the rest of the excursion.
Well before I met Slim, we took off from Cabo Adventures' headquarters for the Baja outback in a Mercedes-Benz off-road Unimog. The unusually crisp winter air whipped into the open-sided vehicle, so we bundled up in blankets to cut the sting. Tall cacti stood sentinel along sandy roads that lead into private areas of Rancho San Cristobal and are off-limits to independent explorers.
Our animated guide, Jose Luis Chicas, made learning fun as he educated us on the indigenous flora, fauna and wildlife that give Baja its distinctive character. We hiked along a mellow path that left us smack dab in the middle of the desert with turkey vultures circling above. Chicas assured us that we were safe even as he faked an expression of panic -- there was never a dull moment with him.
Post hike and camel ride, Chicas demonstrated how to make tortillas so we could chip in on the authentic Mexican feast that was in the able hands of our chef, Rosa. While we were having all the fun, she was prepping tortillas, chicken mole, rice, beans, guacamole and salsas. Her kitchen was immaculate and surprisingly well-equipped for a palapa-style pavilion.
Naturally, Chicas' tequila 101 lesson added even more spice to the day. We learned a bit of etiquette (sip, don't shoot), then, we taste-tested smooth blanco, aged reposado and infamous mezcal. Naturally, there were no takers for the worm at the bottom of the mezcal bottle. And as wild as he seemed, Chicas wanted no part of it either.