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„hurray! hurray! hurray!“ At long last, departure to the red earth

Wundowie — 2000-05-12

We can’t believe it. Today, after one and a half years of preparation time, here we go! The sun is shining and the thermometer shows 24°C. Yesterday we loaded our entire equipment onto Phill’s Yud for him to drive it to the camel enclosure so that we didn’t have to carry every single item.

While I’m carrying the solar paddles to the camels, a wonderful Idea strikes my brain. Why should we load all the equipment for the expedition onto the camelbacks now? For the first part of our way, we must walk on a dangerous road until we reach the bend that takes us on the historic trail up to Northam. So far, our camels are not accustomed to walking on a busy road, especially when fully loaded. Although we have worked a lot with our camels during the past weeks, we never found the time to test them under real expedition conditions. The risk of leading them on the road now is extremely great. They could easily be scared by a lorry rumbling past, then jump about wildly and trample the entire burden to mush under their feet. That would be the end of the beginning, but what’s worse, the end of a life dream. In the event of a failure at the start, Tanja and I wouldn’t have the strength to begin all over again. Neither would we have the financial means to replace or replenish more material. So it’s safety first, and above all we need the calmness and patience not to jeopardise this gigantic project in the last minute. When I ask Jo whether it wouldn’t make sense to have Phill take our entire material to our first camp in order to grant us a safe departure, she gives me a peck on the cheek for joy and agrees right away. “I’ve been thinking along these lines myself for some time, but I didn’t want to make the suggestion because you mentioned that you wanted to start your expedition at Wundowie with all the problems the start would involve.” says Jo and laughs, obviously relieved.

Jo, Tanja and I saddle the camels and load only a small food bag onto Sebastian. When everything is ready, our friend Phill and his kids, Jeremy and Phillip, join us. He’s bought some fresh potato crisps for us. Melinda, now eight months pregnant, their children, Phill, Tanja, Jo and I sit down on the ground in the middle of the camel enclosure and devour the delicious crisps with tomato ketchup. Even though it’s a plain meal, we relish it. Rufus lies next to us and watches enviously. Of course he gets his share, too, and then OFF WE GO. “Camels! Wake up!” I give out the order, praying to God that everything will be alright on the road. In a wide curve, I steer the camels out of the farm premises and onto the road.

Phill and his entire family as well as Rufus sit in the car, hazard warning lights activated, and block the road to warn other drivers and make sure we have a free passage out. Tanja has the job of a cameraman and films the event while Jo walks next to me and the camels, and constantly issues instructions to me on how to lead the camels. I’m jolly glad to have her by my side, because it’s not easy to guide a camel caravan and it definitely takes experience. “Careful, take a wide curve to evade the traffic sign!” she warns me. I must try to steer Sebastian like a lorry trailer in a wide curve around obstacles to avoid the last camel banging against it with the saddle. Our animals are not aware yet how far their saddles protrude from their bodies and sometimes accidentally crash into roadside trees. “Careful, car approaching from behind!” I hear her warning voice and order the camels to stop with the command “Udu”. They are terribly nervous, stretch their necks and look from left to right excitedly. The smallest thing can make them panic. All of a sudden Istan, last in the caravan, runs against a tree with his protruding packsaddle. There is a shatter and a crash whereupon all the others get the wind-up and run up ahead in a wild flight from the noise. “Quick, Denis, run a curve!” Jo calls, and I take Sebastian in a narrow curve to the right across the road. All the others are bound to follow him, and thus cannot pick up any speed. A quick rush of adrenaline makes my heart throb, but with the curve the camels calm down at once. We continue in this manner until we turn onto Heritage Trail.

“Puhh, we’ve made the first 500 metres” I say, relieved and happy to leave the road behind us for now. I gladly hand over the caravan to Jo now. She is going to lead it for a couple of days, and Tanja and I are going to learn a lot from her. Although we are following a wonderful trail now, our animals are still very nervous. For some reason they seem to think they are hunted by a monster and pick up a speed our feet are unable to keep up with. Jo has a very hard time braking Sebastian with his nose leash, Tanja is guiding Rufus and I am sprinting in every direction to shoot some photos and films.. In my guess, we are moving at a speed of approximately 6 kilometres per hour. Since the camels have not had any green to eat in the past few months, they twist and turn their heads like giraffes to nibble from the shrubs. After a short time already we are looking for a place to camp. We didn’t leave before 1:30 p.m. and don’t intend to set up camp in the dark.

Around 3 o’clock I find a good site for camping in a fairytale forest to the right of the trail. Jo guides the caravan into the forest and we make Sebastian, Kadesh, Hardie, Jafar and Istan sit. It doesn’t take us long to have them unsaddled, then we take them to their rightful feeding hour in the nearby bush. As the Australians say, we are Happy Campers in this moment. Jo and Tanja mind the camels while I set up the tents. I listen as Jo explains to Tanja: "They have to eat every morning and night now for at least one hour. It is a responsible job, because the camels only have these two hours a day to eat from the (to them) delicious shrubs. Besides, it is not easy to keep them under control. Sometimes they go off in different directions, and although they are hobbled they are able to cover great distances within a short time. You must keep a close watch on them, because it’s often happened that camels get lost on expeditions in the vast outback.

I’m very pleased that Jo and Tanja get on so well and, above all, that Jo is such a perfect and patient teacher. As soon as I’m finished with the tents I start building a fireplace, the first in a long time, and in this moment I can’t perceive any other activity I would like better. By 6 o’clock it is pitch-dark. The sky is cloudless and the stars aglow as if they wanted to congratulate us on our departure. I feel a happiness that is beyond words. Phill comes by and we unload our expedition equipment from the Yud.

After the camels have eaten enough of the lush bushes they are being tied each to another tree. Jo shows Tanja how to knot the rope to the hobbles and around the tree trunk. The rope is about 7 metres long and 12 millimetres thick and in the daytime serves to connect camel neck to camel neck,. “Some camel men tie up their animals overnight by the neck instead of by the hobbles. I have witnessed myself how with this method, camels strangulate themselves. That’s why it is much safer to tie them up by the hobbles. Although in the beginning they are going to stumble a lot, they’ll get used to it after a while and learn to handle it. The main thing is that none of them breaks his neck.” Jo explains kindly.

Only a short time later, we are sitting over hot tea and noodles with mushroom gravy, enjoying our first supper out in the open, and we decide to take a day of rest tomorrow.
“I think after all the excitement of the past months we all need a little break. The camels, too, have a need to get accustomed to this new life and the change of diet.” says Jo, and Tanja and I cannot but agree.

Day: 01

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