« back       further »

Dangerous Undertaking

near Perth — 2000-01-11

Like on most days, heavy gusts of wind are blowing over the nearby steppe-like land swirling terrific jets of fine, black dust through the air. With an unpleasant whistling sound they get caught in the nooks and corners of our caravan and carry the dusty, dry earth into every crack of our accommodation. There is a frightening shake when another gust gets underneath the tent that’s attached to our caravan, and it can only be a matter of time until the tent is torn to shreds. Our camels don’t seem to mind the hot wind at all. On the contrary, it drives away the ever-annoying mosquitoes that draw off up to a hundred millilitres of their blood every day. They wallow in the sand pits, dosing and wagging their tails.

It is 5 p.m., I quit writing for the day and set out for getting our boys from the pasture and leading them to a small fenced-in area near our caravan. This is a rather complicated procedure that I shall try to explain here in a few sentences: Once again, we have moved our base camp to a new location. Here, there is only one large enclosure that is used by two camel herds as a run. During the day, the Camel man’s animals are in a fenced-in area used for tourist rides, and that is the reason why our five expedition members are allowed in the enclosure during this time.
In the evening then, the farmer’s own camels get to have their well-deserved run in the enclosure, and our five animals must take up their night quarters near our caravan.

Our daily problems is that we have to lead our new expedition members past Inspector Gadget’s herd, and that is only possible if we drag them through a dark barn. Unfortunately, camels loathe anything that’s dark, they fear nothing more than creepy nooks and corners and man-made buildings. Naturally it would be easier to simply lead them through their fellows’ territory, but chances are that the two groups would bite or otherwise hurt each other. With the barn being the only way out, we have no choice but to repeat this dangerous undertaking day by day.

Since Tanja is out shopping, I ask one of the farm workers to help me lead Sebastian, Hardy, Kadesch, Istan and Jafar through the barn. “No problem!”, he says. I open the barn gate and he takes the courageous Hardy in first. Although Hardy is otherwise a lazybones and detests anything that smells like work, he crosses the barn that is about 20 m long stiff-necked but without any problems. I follow the helpful farm worker with a nervous Sebastian. He rolls his eyes like usual and as soon as his heavy body enters the dark interior he lifts his head high up in the air and starts stalking about like a wooden puppet. It would take but the slightest unfamiliar sound to get him kicking about and heading for the other barn gate like a maniac. Every time I do this I am extremely tense because I’m aware of the enormous risk of being crushed against the wall or kicked by him. “Go easy, Sebastian. Don’t worry. You’re doing well. Good boy!” I try to calm him down. Turning his head slowly to the right and left to make sure there’s no ghost emerging from behind one of the many stable doors, bales of straw, wheelbarrows or other grotesque-looking objects, he strides through this frightening place like in slow motion. I try to pull down his highly raised head by the guide and nose leash so that I would have a chance to keep him under my control in case anything at all would scare him. As the camel man with Hardy is passing through the exit on the other end of the barn, and Sebastian and I have just about covered half the way, suddenly a deep roar and a horrible trampling breaks out behind us. Without giving me the slightest chance of a reaction, Sebastian jerks up his head and kicks out with his right hind leg in terror. A steel chair kicked with the merciless strength of a camel bull misses my upper leg only slightly. A fraction of a moment later, his massive body moves ahead at an explosive speed. The tremendous jolt has torn the guide and nose leashes through my hand. Time doesn’t permit me to think for one second about the burning pain in my palm, but luckily I only just manage to get a hold of the ends of the two leashes and, in an adrenaline rush, to charge ahead with Sebastian “Get out, Denis!!!”, I hear the camel man screaming and no longer notice how I run for my life in absolute horror. Nearly at the same time I leave the barn more flying than walking by Sebastian’s side. Merely a breath later, the huge Kadesch as well as Istan and Jafar break through the barn gate snorting with shock and race out into the open. “That’s what I call a narrow escape. They almost ran you over.” says the friendly man and smiles while my knees almost fail me. We hunt after the three runaways at once and manage to block their way to the dangerous main road. They have meanwhile calmed down again. Because it is feeding time, they walk to their night quarters on their own initiative as if nothing had ever happened. Sure, camels are gregarious animals. Kadesch, Istan and Jafar watched their mates go through the barn and they were afraid to be left back alone. They ran after them and in doing so even overcame their fear. There’s nothing worse for a camel than to be left alone. What harm the herd instinct can do is confirmed by a story the camel man Inspector Gadget read in a book about India. Many years ago, a railway track was built through the desert. The first trains crossing the desert caused a panic in a camel herd. The train separated the herd in two halves. The tragedy was that the other half of the herd ran to follow their mates and as a result one camel after the other was killed by the train.

We are happy about comments!