It’s a calm Friday around 4.30pm. Searing sun rays are dying in the western skies as I take a leisure walk. Thuds of sandals hoofing into the grains of sand are audible.
A few more paces, orders from a distance can be heard.
“Move, Tony, move!”
As I edge closer, silhouettes of two giant animals with humps on their back come into view.
Surely they are, except there are no desert sand dunes in sight.
The setting is Mangochi, the country’s tourism paradise on the southern shoreline of Lake Malawi.
Such is the solitary encounter on Sun ‘N’ Sand’s picturesque 750-metre beach.
The camels have been here since 2010, giving visitors a breakaway from the ordinary and adventures to remember.
Their presence on the golden sands gives photographers limitless postcard views.
I give the mighty animals a stare that says: “I am coming for you.”
But they march on, step by step, with a man majestically saddling on the back of one and a woman on the other’s.
Quite a treat it is for the youthful couple!
It brings to mind the setting of Paulo Coelho’s bestselling novel, The Alchemist, in which a camel driver escorts a desert caravan and shares his encounters with life and virtue of patience with Santiago who learns how to do each thing in its own time.
It is time for a ride.
Every adventure ignored becomes a regret.
I am determined not to fluff this one.
“Stop, Tony, stop!” the driver of the camels says when they come to the finish line.
“Down, June, down!” roars the other.
To these camels, their minders’ screams are their command.
They stop and go down on their knees when told so. They take a while, but they do.
Tony and June stand at almost 2.5m high.
If either crashes to the ground, what a fall would it be?
This is the commonly asked question.
Fear makes harmless adventures become missed opportunities.
But Coelho’s book teaches readers not to fear inner fears.
“We are afraid of losing what we have, whether it is our life or our possessions. But this fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand,” says the alchemist.
Every adventure begins with the beginner’s resolve to give it a try, then keeps going with an enduring spirit to see it through and ends with the ‘aha’ thrill when a triumphant soul is severely tested.
As the male camel rises from the glistening sands, I whisper to the driver: “I want a ride, please.”
Fortunately, there is no queue. The group nearby merely comprises spectators contented with taking photographs and selfies as well as providing wows while their mates take the ride.
“Go down, Tony! Down!”
The animal kneels, a knee at a time.
It’s my turn.
I sit on the saddle cushioned with mattresses and place my hands firmly on the handles. I bite my teeth, telling myself there is nothing to fear.
“Up, Tony! Up!”
As the humped animal slowly stands aloft, a turbulent awakening that leaves a twitch down my spine, it is clear that the ride has already begun.
Every time its hooves pound the sands, the strength of the camels is unmistakable.
“Camels are resilient,” says the man driving the pair. “They walk millions of paces and carry heavy loads, but never seem to get weary.”
My journey, almost twice the length of football group and back, testifies to this.
Suddenly, the animal stops and kneels as if it is going to drop dead soon.
“Don’t worry. You won’t fall. Tony knows your K3 000 is over,” says the assistant who has been taking photos throughout my sojourn.
Such are the unique rides exclusive to Sun N Sand that those who dare take chances go home with memories worth immortalising.
“Camels are beautiful and friendly,” says Sun N Sand managing director Suleman Munaf Rashid.
The confessed fanatic of the massive animals was not contented with just a few rides in Tanzania, Dubai and Saudi Arabia.
When G4S security company put four on sale seven years ago, he could not resist the urge to own some for his convenience and visitors’ leisure and pleasure.
Now the leafy resort with 300 rooms is home to 11 camels, but only Tony, June and Chikwawa are available for the rides awaiting visitors to the sprawling palm-fringed oasis ranked the continent’s third-largest freshwater lake.
“We started with the four we bought from Nchalo in Chikwawa where G4S was using them for security purposes in the sugarcane fields. The rest were born and bred here. They are still being trained,” he says.
According to the businessperson, the introduction of camels to Sun ‘N’ Sand—just like the establishment of the largest swimming pool and a well-stocked children’s entertainment park—reflects a corporate desire to offer people who visit the tourist hotspots an experience like no other.
“Any animal that can survive in a desert can survive by the lake,” he says, explaining: “Having the camels is a fulfillment of our dream to give our customers a service that no one else offers.”
With camels and ostriches in the stable, the brains behind the tourist destination has set sights on introducing horses and donkeys to the ever-green beachside ecosystem.
The K3 000-per-head adventure runs six hours a day, ending 5pm.