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A day between ups and down

First Campfire — 2000-05-17

I leave the tent all whacked from lack of sleep. Again I pack up our camp, and again we drag all the equipment to the loading place. Fortunately, we have weighed the major part of our equipment and distributed the things next to the respective saddles. Although we are much quicker now, it still takes us all of 7 hours until all our camels are loaded and it looks like we are ready to leave. All we have in mind now is to leave this camp. “Shall I detach the leg ropes?” Jo asks. “Yes!” I reply, excited as usual. Kadesch, now sometimes called “Gola Badula” by Jo, has again put a big part of his precious meal behind him and hurls it above our heads with his tail. Normally, we would open the leg ropes beginning with the last camel and ending with the first, but at this early stage, we make an exception. That’s how come all camels sit there now with their legs untied, except for Kadesch. It’s his turn at last. Jo keeps talking to him persuasively while she carries out the highly dangerous work of undoing the ropes. I’m holding Sebastian again, and for safety reasons I’ve set my foot on his upper leg to demonstrate, at least symbolically, that he is unable to stand up. In a flurry, we expect the moment when Kadesch’s legs come free to see his reaction. “Now!” Jo calls, which is the order for me to make Sebastian stand up. Kadesch leaps up explosively again, and all the others follow his example. In a flash, all camels are up on their legs and nervously start marching. Istan, last in line, gets scared and performs some wild buck vaulting. “Quick, Denis, steer them in a circle!” Jo calls and I follow her instructions. A loud bang announces that Istan has burst his hobbles. Jo comes at once and takes over the nervous caravan. Istan calms down again, but being unhobbled now he is quicker than the rest. Kadesch remains in line more or less, he has apparently learned his lesson from the recent accident, which takes a weight off our minds. “Quick, Denis, run ahead and show me a way through the bushes!” Jo calls. I sprint ahead and clear branches and small tree trunks out of the way to avoid the camels stumbling over them. Hobbled as they are they appear to me like a small troop of prisoners. They swiftly move their front legs to and fro to be able to run through the undergrowth.

Since Jo and I are busy with the caravan again, Tanja has to do the filming. She protests, but without films and photographs we are unable to document this expedition with its starting problems, and without documentation we are unable to finance any projects of this sort.

We are lucky that Jo is with us, only thanks to her we have the opportunity to capture a part of the journey on film and photographs. For about 10 minutes we fight our way zigzagging and circling through the eucalyptus forest before we venture back onto Heritage Trail. On this historic trail that is lined with bushes on either side, the caravan calms down somewhat, but the camels are still under high tension. They turn their heads in all directions, tug at their nose leashes and try to overtake one another, but in spite of the enormous strain we are proud of ourselves to have mastered all problems incurred so far. Tanja and I move more backwards than forward, always keeping an eye on the caravan. “Don’t walk on my left!” Jo warns me, and explains that she has to steer the camels in a left circle and, should they panic, they might run over me. So we hurry along the way, at a speed of between 6 and 7 kilometres per hour. Jo has trouble keeping Sebastian at a slower pace, because Kadesch keeps walking up too close. Hardie, too, tries everything to pass Kadesch on the left and his nose leash stretches out long in the attempt.

The nose leashes, by the way, mare made from an old tyre tube. During the preparatíons, Jo and Tanja cut strips out of this tube, 15 centimetres in length and 1 centimetre wide. This rubber strip now forms the centre of the leash, and in case of emergency, this is where the nose leash can tear to make sure it won’t rip open the camel’s nostrils and cause a terrible wound.

Since Heritage Trail is also used by farm vehicles, I now walk at a certain distance behind the caravan so as to be able to stop them in time. Tanja does the same up in front of the caravan. This way we have the chance to eliminate one or the other danger ahead of time. After about a quarter of an hour we take the plunge and remove the hobbles from the camels. Of course there is always the risk of them all going off together like an avalanche, but at some point the time has come to let them walk under normal conditions. Since the camels now seem to have their fear fairly under control, we free them from the hobbles and are happy that it’s going so well. Within the next 20 minutes we have to cross two asphalt roads and that, too, goes well because there are no cars speeding around the curve at that moment to scare our animals. Our feelings sway between euphoria and fear. Suddenly a jeep comes towards us on the narrow lane. Tanja stops it and talks to the driver who is obviously intoxicated. He is friendly and waits for Jo to steer the caravan off the road. However, she has to cross a little ditch and Sebastian who is not yet used to his new load, slips. To keep his balance he extends his left front leg far to the front and accidentally hits Jo against the calf, scrapes it with his toes and comes to a halt. Jo goes on without making a sound.

Around 4:30 p.m., that is an hour and a half after we started, we find a place to camp between the Great Eastern Highway and a fence. We unload the camels and while I set up the tents and collect firewood, Jo and Tanja go to mind the camels. By the time they come back, the fire is going well. Jo now complains a bit about the pain in her leg. When I have a look at it I’m rather shocked at the severe swelling at her ankle. I treat it with an antiphlogistic ointment, dress the wound and hope there is no damage to the ligaments. At 9:00 o’clock, Jo and Tanja withdraw to their tents. I put some more dry wood on the fire and begin to enter my daily navigation recordings in a book. The full moon casts its cold rays through the branches of a dead tree. I enjoy sitting here and listening to the droning engines of the passing road trains that connect the west to the east of Australia like an armada of ants.

Although we have only covered 7 kilometres today, it has been a successful day, apart from Jo’s injury. Full of satisfaction with us and our camels I write these entries and around 10:00 crawl into my sleeping bag, shivering and dead-tired.

Day: 06

 

Linear distance:
06,97

Daily kilometres:
07

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