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The devil’s garden

Stony Camp — 2000-09-18

It’s already 35°C in the sun by 8:30 a.m. and we’re sweating madly even before the sun’s rays have reached their full strength. Hardie’s saddle has sunken and is weighing on one of the iron bars on his back, so I remove the front cushions and beat them with the rod. Then I try to treat Rufus who could barely walk before we set out this morning and who is now just staggering. I check his forepaws and he yelps in pain the moment I touch the tender pads, even snapping at me at one stage. I put a muzzle on him and get some special anti-inflammatory cream from the animal medicine bag, then I rub this into his paw pads. Rufus tries with all his might to escape from my vice-like grip and I have a very hard time keeping him on the ground. Once the treatment is over, the poor thing lays himself down on the blanket and shakes like a leaf. I stroke him but he is so terrified that he urinates all over the blanket. ‘What’s going on?’ Tanja asks as she returns from feeding the camels. ‘I’ve rubbed some cream into Rufus’ injured paws. All four have been cut up badly on the stony ground, they don’t look good at all,’ I explain. ‘Even the camels were petrified by his howling, Istan shot up the steep slope of the embankment. He must be in great pain,’ she says, stroking our distraught dog.

We are underway again by 10:00 a.m. and our hearts almost break at the sight of Rufus limping along beside the caravan. It’s come to the point where every last one of us is suffering some injury and the camels are so thirsty after two day’s march that they all try to drink from Rufus’ bowl. We had to beat them away this morning to protect his water. ‘I think we should water them at the Worthington Well,’ I suggest. ‘Okay, I think that’s a good idea. You never know when we’ll have the chance again,’ Tanja replies. But upon reaching the Worthington Well we find it out of order. ‘Didn’t that bush man tell us that all the windmills around here are in working order?’ I cry in anger. We follow the path that continues north behind the still windmill, checking the map regularly but plagued with the ever growing certainty that we’re on the wrong track. ‘Camels udu!’ I call the caravan to a halt. ‘I have to establish our position,’ I tell Tanja and give her the lead rope. I kneel down in the sweltering heat to pore over the maps on the stony ground and to draw our position onto them with the help of the GPS co-ordinates. ‘I thought so, we’re on the wrong track. It must have forked after the windmill, see the two parallel tracks leading in the same direction? This one makes a sharp curve to the west whereas this one bends to the north east. We have to take the other path. I think we should go in a straight line cross country and then follow the path when we meet it to the road that leads to Peak Hill,’ I declare.

As soon as we leave the path we are faced with yet another stone desert, broken every couple of hundred metres by a dried creek or river bed. Just keep calm and don’t despair, I tell myself. I stop regularly to check our position but the other path is nowhere to be seen, although I check and recheck the data and am positive that we should have reached it by now. ‘I don’t think this path exists anymore,’ I whisper. ‘What does that mean for us?’ Tanja asks nervously. ‘It means that if we’re unlucky we’ll have to put up with another 30 kilometres of this hell before we reach the dirt road.’ ‘Oh God, hopefully the camel’s feet will last,’ Tanja exclaims. ‘Hopefully,’ I reply and start marching over the sharp rocks again. The Red Earth Expedition winds itself through this incredibly hard terrain hour after hour and the camel’s do a terrific job walking one behind the other in my wake. I would have been proud of them if I’d had the energy. Occasionally I catch myself glancing up into the sky and wondering if there really is a God. I pray silently and ask that we may escape from this stony hell in one piece. In the same breath I curse the bush man that caused us to walk into such danger with his incorrect information. It’s too late now to turn back and our water reserves are shrinking faster than we can think, for the first time on the expedition we only loaded 100 litres of the precious stuff. We believed what the bush man had told us and were anxious to lessen the weight on the camels. The heat wave has caused us to require an extra five litres per day, which means we only have 55 litres left now. Even Rufus is drinking huge amounts, which we hadn’t bargained with either. We are busy calculating how much he needs on average, it looks to be about three litres. This is quite a shock for us and we hope that we will be able to carry enough water for our four-legged friend when we cross the Great Sandy Desert and the Tanami Desert next year.

Another problem that we are faced with right now is our relatively slow pace over the stony ground. We are walking past our limits in order to get out of this dangerous situation as quickly as possible. It’s not worth even thinking of what would happen if we had an accident out here or something unforeseen occured. 55 litres are enough for about four days, and we could survive a maximum of one or two days without water in this extreme heat. I am constantly tortured by these thoughts. The GPS shows just 2 ½ kilometres to one of the path crossings I marked with the number four. We’ve been walking at a pace of 2 km/hr for the last hour over this rocky ground and an end is not in sight. The fist thick, sometimes foot ball sized, quartz stones are lying so close to one another that it looks like a stone garden from hell that the devil made by throwing millions of rocks over the land.

At 5:00 p.m. we still have another 1 ½ km to the crossing which probably doesn’t even exist. ‘We wont make it to number four tonight. I think we should set up camp here,’ I suggest and Tanja nods wearily in agreement. We find a spot with just a few pebbles in this sea of stones and shoo the camels down to unload them. ‘Take a look at this. I don’t believe it!’ I cry, pointing at Goola’s saddle. The frame is completely broken on one side. ‘Despite his load weighing almost nothing,’ replies Tanja in disbelief. ‘Yes, strange. It appears that the whole frame is a piece of junk,’ I say in disgust. ‘Can we continue our march with it tomorrow?’ ‘We don’t have much choice. I’ll make a thick cushion with one of the blankets and stuff it under the broken bar, that should hold until Peak Hill with the light load,’ I explain while checking the soles of the camel’s feet for injuries. Luckily only Jafar has a few cracks which don’t look very serious. Our movements are all very slow as everything we do is painful. Tanja goes in search for something green to feed the camels and I get to work setting up camp. The sun disappears in an inferno over the white stones and the air is heavy. The barometer reading is low and I study the reddened sky, wondering if something is brewing. I sit on my chair and am too exhausted to enjoy the natural wonders around me. Before crawling into our sleeping bags we decide to get up at 4:00 a.m. tomorrow morning so as not to be grilled by the sun before we’ve even finished loading.

Day: 130






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