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That was close

Clackline-Camp — 2000-05-18

As we’ve done for days now, we get up with the sunrise at 7 o’clock and begin with the work I’ve described before. We still have not got over the last days’ exertion, and each of us is already suffering from different sorts of pain.

Right after breakfast I examine Jo’s ankle. Neither the swelling nor the pain have increased. The symptoms suggest a slight over-stretching, and we can begin our day confidently. By 2 p.m., Sebastian, Goola Dadoola and Jafar are loaded. While Tanja is holding Sebastian, Jo and I are working at Istan’s saddle. He has been our most quiet camel so far, and to us appears very reliable under any living condition. Istan has to carry the saddle with the protruding steel baskets. One of them holds the approximately 50 kilograms of kitchen box and a 10-litre water bag, and the other contains shoes, tools and another 30-kilo bag of food. In order to fasten the heavy kitchen bag, I must buckle it up with a tension belt. I’m lying under the steel basket when all of a sudden, Istan jumps up. There is no time to react but luckily the heavily burdened steel frame does not hurt me. Jo who was just bending over the saddle to pass the belt to me gets hurled off and receives a kick, this time at her uninjured leg. I cannot even see if she stumbles, because no sooner has Istan started with some wild buck vaulting than she catches a grip on his nose leash to calm him down. Like an Olympic sprinter I race around Istan to come to her assistance. “Easy, easy!” calls Tanja to appease the camels that have all jumped to their feet, of course. We try at once to make them sit again, but Istan behaves like a madman. It is Jo who finally prompts him to get down. Only now we notice that a metal hook of Istan’s saddle has completely ripped the back padding of Jafar’s saddle. “We must sew up the padding before all the straw falls out”, says Jo, all calm and quiet as usual. She hands me the nose leash of Istan, who is extremely nervous for no obvious reason, looks for needle and thread and begins with the repair immediately. In order to prevent the wildly snorting Istan from biting her in the head or neck, I hold him with all my concentration, because he is still tied to Jafar with all those connecting ropes.

What happens within the next few second can hardly be put in words, but I will try to describe the situation the way I experience it.

Istan suddenly opens his big jaws wide showing his long, pointed and frightening teeth, emits a deep loud roar and my forearm disappears in his throat. Istan bites! But before his bite severs my arm in two I manage, in a tremendous reaction that I simply cannot describe, to pull it free of his jaws. Still in the motion, his teeth bore into my flesh, but before they can do the final damage, my arm is safe. In a tremendous rush of adrenaline, I instantaneously hit him on the mouth to my own surprise. “Excuse me Jo, I just had to hit him. It was a reflex.” I say. “You did the right thing. I would have done the same. He must learn not to bite any of us. I hope he has learned his lesson.” she replies. Jo turns her back to me again and continues with her sewing work. But no sooner has she set the first stitch than Istan bites again. This time he goes for my left arm. Still under high tension I snatch it away so that Istan’s mouth only gets hold of my shirt sleeve. “What the hell is the matter with him?” I wonder and feel a merciless rage creep up on me. “I think we had better detach him from Istan.” says Jo and I can only agree with her. As she leads him away she sees from the corner of her eye a woman on horseback trot along Heritage Trail. She rushes towards the stranger at once and explains to her that we have a caravan of camels here. “Of course!” she says and steers her horse in the opposite direction. Now we know the reason for Istan’s fierce reaction. It wasn’t out of malice that he wanted to bite me but because he was probably afraid that a monster in the form of a horse was coming to eat him up. After Jo has finished sewing Jafar’s saddle we set out to reloading Istan. It goes well this time even though he is still rather nervous. Tanja, Jo and I are completely exhausted before we have even started the day’s march. There is no question we feel like unloading everything again and staying here, but at least for psychological reasons I would like to at least cover a few kilometres. Before we set out, we have some hot soup and a muesli bar.

Whacked as we are we start our march at 3 p.m. The camels walk better than yesterday, but they’re still too fast. Now as before Jo has to muster all her strength to make Sebastian slow down. A quarter of an hour later, the way declines steeply for about 30 metres through a dried-out river bed. On the way back uphill, Sebastian simply sits down and injures his knee on a sharp stone. It bleeds heavily but he doesn’t seem to take any notice of it. “The camels are tired.” says Jo, and 15 minutes later we find a camp site near the village of Clackline. We steer the camels in a circle and unload them with the last of our strength. As soon as all the equipment lies scattered on the ground we become aware that we are much too close to Heritage Trail.

Since tomorrow, Friday, will be my interview day, and we have planned another day of rest for Saturday when friends can come to visit, we don’t want to be discovered by any passing vehicles. Jo and I wearily drag all our equipment plus the saddles another 50 metres into the forest to a beautiful clearing near a brook while Tanja minds the camels. At sundown we warm ourselves by the campfire and all go to sleep in the early evening.

Day: 07


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