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Our boys get used to the work

Ant-Camp — 2000-08-07

We load the camels quickly this morning and break camp by 9:40 a.m. Our boys behave perfectly, without bucking, attempting to overtake one another or pulling any tricks, and fall into a pleasant trot after just a few metres. They appear to be getting used to the routine after almost three months of difficulties, excitement and agitation during which we almost gave up believing that they would ever become accustomed to their new activity. But these last few days have proved that patience pays off in the end. Our ships of the desert glide along the straight, tarred road like cruise ships through the ocean waves. Sebastian has given up his fast and annoying tempo, and now happily allows me to lead him at my pace, even Hardie has stopped trying to walk beside Sebastian, doing his best to look forwards and backwards at the same time. His nose line hangs loosely in the air instead of taught, like a stretched spring, resulting in his nose taking on a normal form and giving up that of Pinoccio. We’ve cured Goola Badoola of jumping up like an explosion after being loaded, by simply tying another line around his upper and lower foreleg before undoing the main leg bind, after which he would normally shoot up like a rocket. He hadn’t calculated with the second rope and after a few days of frustration he gave up going off like a hand grenade after being freed from his leg binds once and for all. Jafar is not as nervous as he once was, his youthful shows of strength have subsided as well as his bucking and breaking out from the group. He seems to have realised that he’s better off reserving his energies for the march. Istan doesn’t ram like a tank into the back of his colleagues at the first opportunity anymore and brings up the rear very well now. He even manages to veer around obstacles such as bushes, gate posts and trees, that appear before him, just like his mates.
And so we march along in high spirits, the road is as straight as an arrow and Tanja suffers from hay fever for the first time in a long time. The bush blossoms are awakening slowly and some of the wonderful, wild flowers are poking small buds up into the spring smelling air already. We have travelled around 15 kilometres already by midday and just take a half hour break before continuing on our way, eager to reach the next windmill that Jo and Tom had found during their discovery trip to Yalgoo. Despite the rain, the camels have been getting thirsty for some time now, stretching their necks in anticipation every time we take Rufus’ water bowl out of out backpack.


After an extremely exhausting march of 28 kilometers, we reach the two windmills on the left and right of the road, opting for the one on the left as the it appears to have better camel food around it. Tanja opens the gate and moves over next to Hardie, just in case, before I lead Sebastian through the opening. Although he is a good boy on the road, he still tends to cause problems when passing through gates. ‘You’re doing well, Hardie. Yeah, stay behind Sebastian. Very good Hardie.’ She speaks soothingly to him as I lead the caravan through the open gate. I walk the animals past the troughs filled with clear water and let them settle down about a hundred meters further on. Sebastian protests loudly as he eases himself down, as is the case every evening, and I quickly pass the lead rope and nose line to Tanja before rushing to set Hardie down. He has barely seated himself before I hurry back to Goola, then to Jafar, just in time to push his behind back into line while he tries to plonk himself down at a right angle to the others. I do the same to Istan and at the same time wonder how long it will take before these two catch onto the fact that they should sit a neat row.
As soon as Istan has settled, Sebastian springs back up to a standing position, causing the others to heave themselves onto their feet once more. ‘Why haven’t you tied his legs together?’ I ask Tanja angrily, receiving only silence in return. We begin the procedure anew and I rally my strength again to push Istan back into place once more, only to have Sebastian bolt up yet again! All that work for nothing, I think, angry about the situation and feeling an uncomfortable irritation welling up inside me, fueled by weariness after the difficult 30 km march. I hurry to Tanja and snatch the lines from her hands, letting Sebastian down for the third time. He barely seats himself before jumping back up quickly, bellowing loudly like a lion. Only now do I discover the reason for his discontent, a long row of ants winds relentlessly beneath his and the other 16 camel feet and we understand why he doesn’t want to stay here. The longer we look the more ants we see, hundreds and thousands of the little black buggers have climbed up onto the animals’ feet and are ferociously attacking the poor beasts. Istan kicks wildly and Jafar forgets all his good manners, shooting into Goola like a rocket and threatening to send the whole caravan out of control. I give the command to walk as suddenly a blinding pain shoots into my calf, I spin around and a split second later suffer another kick against my right shin. I scream in pain and react by slapping Sebastian soundly on the left and right of his nose with my flat hand. He gives a loud bellow and stops kicking immediately, ‘What’s happening!’ Tanja cries in horror, then the whole thing is over in a split second. ‘Oh, Sebastian kicked me. I know, it’s because of the ants, but that still doesn’t mean he can break my shin bone!’ I answer furiously and numbed by pain. I don’t have time to inspect my leg before leading the animals out of the danger zone, limping to begin with but then feeling the pain subside after a few minutes. I check the ground thoroughly and think how lucky I am that nothing is broken, disappointed though to discover that the entire area is full of tiny holes from which numerous armies of ants appear and disappear.
‘Where are you going?’ asks Tanja. ‘Take a look at this place, it’s crawling with ants. It’s as if we’re in the middle of an anthill!’ By this time it’s already 4:30 p.m. and the chances of finding a good camping spot before sundown are diminishing by the minute. ‘Let’s take a look at the windmill on the other side of the road’ I suggest. ‘Whatever you think’ Tanja answers and opens the gate once more. We file out as before and it’s looking good until Istan chances to walk a little too far to the left, catching the big saddle bag on the gate post. We hear a terrible cracking and snapping, and the buckle ceases to exist. Istan brings the rest of the equipment in one piece through the gate, thank goodness, and we cross the road as well as the gateway on the other side without further ado, hoping for some ant-free ground under the other windmill.
Tanja takes the reins in order that I may search the ground more effectively, and as she waits I cover the area with my head bent down ‘Ants! Ants! Ants!’ I call, imagining having to march deep into the night. But finally I am happy with the ground here and we sit the animals down at last, waiting a couple of minutes though before tying their leg binding, just in case a surprise is hiding. The camels are unloaded just before sunset and tied to a yummy bush, but we decide to wait until morning before leading them to drink as it is too dark to do so now. Tanja summons the last of her energy to fix us a dinner of noodles and peas, before dropping into bed herself. I remain awake and sew a new buckle onto the saddle bag, working until 10:15 p.m.

Day: 88






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