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Published: March 25th 2019
One of my big goals for this trip to Kazakhstan was to learn more about camels, explore the camel industry and experience a dairy. My real hope was to tour the dairy that was affiliated with SYDYK, the camel milk restaurant and get an understanding of their practices.
I did my research and reached out to some contacts. Each turn resulted in less answers and more questions. I started getting concerned that this was a loftier goal than I realized and started to wonder if any of it was going to happen. I employed the assistance of the hotel staff and appreciated that they spoke English, but it still wasn’t smooth sailing.
There was the day I hired a guide to take me to a dairy, but the roads had flooded and couldn’t be traveled on. And there was the small dairy that allowed us to come and visit, but wasn’t really understanding my purpose. Each step was a little progress, but I started to understand that the message still wasn’t getting through when the woman from the hotel front desk called me in my room and asked, “Why don’t you
just go to the zoo?”
The good news is that ultimately it all paid off and the experience I was given turned out to be more than I had ever hoped for when I hopped a plane to Almaty.
My eagerness must have been evident to the owners of SYDYK after my countless visits trying to meet up with a family member or an employee that spoke English. One night I got a WhatsApp call from one of the owner’s daughters and she said she would take me to the dairy. This was great news as they don’t often do tours for less than 10 people and they rarely have anyone who wants a tour during the winter months.
It turns out, being persistent paid off and what I got was the VIP tour. I spent the entire day one-on-one with the family touring the hospital, eating lunch and touring three of the four farms that make up the dairy. It was nothing short of perfect!
We started out milking at the camel milk hospital where we walked through the
facilities, interacted with the camels and ate lunch in the hospital with the patients. That experience alone would have made for a fantastic day, but that was only the beginning.
We traveled out to the steppes of Kazakhstan, did a little off roading through some very muddy “roads” and arrived at the first farm. Immediately, I knew we had just arrived in heaven.
There was a small herd of new mothers who were being shepherded out to water with their tiny babies who were only a week old. Just as you would expect the mamas were all business and the babies were bouncing around trying out their incredibly long legs. The mamas managed to keep the little ones in sight while I tried to manage my sheer excitement.
My hosts instructed me that there were many more babies and they did not exaggerate. We walked through the maternity ward of several hundred pregnant camels, stepped around a camel in labor and entered a barn that can only be desribed as magical.
The barn was full of babies that were only
24-48 hours old. The air was full of baby cries and mamas’ instructions. There were wobbly legs and there was a lot of nursing. There were curious babies and there shy babies. There were even some babies that were so new, they were struggling to get up for the first time. Little play groups had formed of excited babies who were overly confident in their running and jumping skills.
It was honestly nothing short of heavenly.
Then the farm managers motioned for me to walk through a little wooden door into a small enclosed room within the barn. This is where the really newborn babies and their mamas were hanging out. The room was heated and the babies were kept in there until they had dried so they would be protected from the cold.
The babies looked confused. The mama’s looked uninterested. There was afterbirth on the floor. And everyone was toasty warm.
I could not get enough time of just existing among all this wonderfulness and energy. The babies moved around and the mamas kept an eye on me.
And I just soaked it all up still in disbelief of all that was happening.
As I was enjoying the babies, the owners’ daughter was talking to me about horse riding. She preferred horses to camels. Can you imagine?? She hadn’t ridden in awhile and continued to discuss the horses.
At one point she said, “Do you know how to ride...oh wait, of course you know how to ride. I saw your hat.”
I wasn’t wearing a hat, but it quickly dawned on me she must have done a little background checking on me and stumbled upon some photos from Shamrock Farms where I was wearing a cowgirl hat.
“Well, do you want to go riding?” This quickly shook me out of my baby camel watching haze. “You mean now?”
She did mean now and all I could think of, what is more dangerous than riding a horse in a a foreign country...still haven’t come up with an answer.
Before I could talk my way out of it,
she informed me that when people go overseas they should try to experience everything they can possibly experience. Well, what do I say to that? About that time, one of the ranch hands comes racing to the barn on horseback herding two wild eyed 2 year old horses. All of a sudden, I felt the need to double check my will and insurance policies.
There was no turning back now. The farm hands saddled up the two horses for us and one handed me the reins. I took a deep breath and channeled that inner younger self who fearlessly rode her horse as fast as the horse would go through the Flint Hills of Kansas.
The saddle was tiny and without a saddle horn and the stirrups were more of the English variety than of the western variety, but once I settled in, it instantly felt easy and familiar. We rode our horses into the steppes to check a herd of around 400 camel mamas and new calf pairs. It was exhilarating and the scene was beautiful.
The sun was shining and warm enough we
hardly needed jackets. The calves were running about and the mamas were grazing while they kept an eye on us. The ranch hands’ dog decided to join us for the journey and ran alongside our horses. It could have been home, except, of course, for the huge herd of camels.
I hadn’t even fully dismounted from horseback riding and one of the dairy employees was handing me a rope that was attached to a large Bactrian bull camel. “You want to ride the camel?”
What a silly question. Of course I wanted to ride the camel! With the nod of the head, I was holding the single rope rein and climbing aboard this big boy. Without instructions or directions and only a hand direction of where I should I go ride, I was off on my own.
I suppose this would have been the most opportune time to mention that I have never ridden a Bactrian camel and had no idea what I was doing, but I did not take that opportunity. Instead, I signaled for him to stand up, turned his head toward the
horizon and acted like I knew what I was doing. In the end I realized I actually did know what I was doing.
I rode out and surveyed the vastness of the steppes and the small herd of grazing Bactrian females and all I could think was, it’s just another Saturday in Kazakhstan.
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