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Sandstorm

Jingymia-Camp — 2000-06-14

We manage to load our animals in no time at all. In order to see whether Hardie would rather walk behind Sebastian than behind Goola, he is allowed march second in line today. Perhaps he won’t overtake Sebastian on the left, which would have a quieting effect on the entire caravan. We get away at 9:30 a.m., another record. The weather presents some unknown features today. Dark clouds are moving overhead and the wind hits us from the side with a considerable force. Some of the gusts are so strong they nearly sweep us from the ground. Gigantic clouds of dust move across the land and shroud everything in a dirty grey. In the afternoon, the menacing rain clouds and the field surrounding us take on the colour of a dark brown. I observe this phenomenon in amazement. Never in my travelling life have I seen such a colour of sky. We march on at a hurried pace. The re-positioning of Hardie hasn’t changed the situation at all. It still seems as if Sebastian wanted to climb a golden podium at the Sydney Olympics. In the afternoon we have to cross the road and go through the gate of a fence that keeps the flocks of sheep from reaching the road. We are now on one of those gigantic farms. There is no fence to be seen for miles around. It is a pleasant feeling not be restricted by a manmade border. Groups of sheep can be seen everywhere on the bare ground. We follow a path where the excrements of these animals are scattered like gravel. My eyes riveted on the ground I try to protect myself from the gusts that come up every few seconds and cover us and the caravan with veils of dust. Let’s hope that the wind won’t get stronger, because then we’ll need a safe shelter. Tanja and Jo follow the quickly advancing caravan in a bent posture. Sebastian roars from time to time. Is he having some kind of pain? I look up and direct my gaze on his big head. Somehow, the caravan seems strange, even ghostly in this landscape. Although the sandstorm frightens me a bit, I somehow relish this strange moment and regularly absorb the images surrounding me.

At 4 p.m. we find a place to set up camp again. No sooner do I make the camels sit than the rain sets in. We move back and forth like some startled bees, unload the animals, drag the kitchen box to the fireplace I have looked out and put on our raingear. The heavens open and what was an interesting weather situation a little while before turns downright nasty. We manage to kindle a fire with the last dry wood to boil water for our supper. After the camels are tied up in a halfway sheltered place we sit down by the campfire with a lovely cup of hot tea. For supper we are having mashed potatoes and vegetables, but already after a few spoonfuls, our meal is cold. The persisting strong wind and pouring rain soak everything within minutes. In spite of the fire we feel the dampness crawl into our limbs and seek shelter in our tents as early as 6 o’clock. I seize the opportunity to read the diary I have written so far to Tanja. Whenever we find the time to do so, it turns out to be a special moment. Tanja listens to the report very attentively, and often we find all the things that have happened to us hard to believe. We have many a good laugh together, but some of the things make us sad, too. Tears run down her cheeks when I read the story of our Shiron. When Tanja turns over to go to sleep, I have some important things left to do.

THE TOUGHEST INTERVIEW OF MY LIFE

Today of all days in this nasty weather I’m going to have a live interview with the local RTL TV station of Nuremberg, our home town. Mike, our friend and manager, has made the appointment with the station and fixed the time for 6:12 p.m. which is no problem in Germany, but it means 0:12 a.m. here in Australia. I dread the idea of having to go outside in this horrible cold rain, but today of all days I can get no contact with the satellite inside the tent. In the rush I have set up the tent too close to a group of trees. Trees and shrubs and especially mountains and hills impair the connection to satellites considerably. Sometimes, as in my present situation, nothing works. Silently cursing to myself I slip on my wet poncho over my nice and dry pyjamas and step into the hostile night. Trembling with cold I get into my drenched slippers and shuffle listlessly through the wet grass. On the loamy soggy path next to the tracks I nearly slip and fall. By God why am I doing all this? On the other side of the path the view to the north-east is open. I set down the waterproof Pelican case, open it and take out the antennas of the satphone. Having switched it on I turn the antenna slowly from north to east and suddenly get a signal of reception. With satisfaction I turn off the phone and close the case. I leave everything as it is and find my way back to the tent by the light of my forehead lamp. Shaking with cold and wet I get back into my sleeping bag and make an attempt to sleep for the next one and a half hours but I cannot get a wink of sleep. Too many thoughts cross my mind.

By 11 o’clock I get a bit tired, but I’m afraid to miss the bleep of the alarm clock. Wide awake I stare into the black of the night until the annoying alarm sound startles me. Again I slip on the wet poncho and leave the tent. It is just before midnight when, like a mother hen, I spread the poncho over the satellite phone to protect it from the rain. I squat on my heels in an uncomfortable position and wait for the call. If it turns out that they’ve forgotten me I’ll never agree to an interview at this odd time of the day again, I swear and fight a cramp coming up in my thigh. The forehead supported in my hands I watch the display of the telephone. Suddenly, the battery display catches my eye. Good God, the charge has dropped from 80 to 20 percent. Since the standby battery is also empty I think feverishly whether there’s enough time to go back to the camp to get our big base battery. A nervous glance at the watch tells me I have four minutes to go before the scheduled interview time. My God, all the effort couldn’t have been in vain! I decide to run the risk, hasten back over the slippery path and the wet grass to the camp site. I quickly grab the 20-kilogramme car battery and race as fast as the circumstances permit back to the telephone. I connect the big battery at once and am happy to see the display switch to Charge. Pooh, one more minute to go! I take a deep breath and the telephone rings. „Hello Denis! How are you there in Australia?“ asks Elke, the producer of the programme. „As well as can be expected in the circumstances, thanks, I’m freezing terribly!“ I shout into the receiver in order to be heard well. But Elke interrupts me before I can get into detail. „We’ll call you back in 10 minutes. Then we’ll be on the air. This was only a test call to check the line!“ „Couldn’t it be earlier?" I ask fighting against the cramp that’s coming up in my thigh again „No!“, I hear her say and bite my lips to fight the pain. Then, there is a busy signal and the connection is disrupted. „I can’t take any more of this!, I grumble aloud and desperately look for a place where I can sit down. Finally I pull the battery which is also wet under my poncho and in great relief sit down on it. At 0:20 a.m., the phone rings again. I find it hard to get my shaky voice under control and sound confident When the anchor man asks about the weather and the time, I think I even sound rather authentic. After the interview is over, I am a happy man. I hurry back to the tent and crawl into the warming sleeping bag. However my agitation keeps me awake for another few hours. I spend a long time pondering whether we are already fit enough to travel on without Jo. She’s touched on the question whether she could leave us alone after we reach Cleary. In her opinion, the training of camel man and woman is concluded. Naturally we think we might manage without her, but the idea that she’s not around any more won’t be easy. After the exciting interview and all the thoughts about what the future might bring, I fall into a restless sleep at 3 a.m.

Day: 34

 

Sunrise:
07:05

 

Sunset:
17:16

 

Linear distance:
22,1

Daily kilometres:
25

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