We have finally spent a whole day with the camels and I learnt all that I’d been trying to pick up by eavesdropping others’ conversations or watching from afar when I should have been doing a hospitality job. I had been snatching a ‘fix’ of our humped friends whenever I could. When we were at the house, I’d try to ensure that I could take the scraps over to the babies before anyone else did, merely in order to get rid of them. Once we started on the school trek they were tied to the food truck overnight so I had to go over to them whenever I needed to retrieve something from the stock, so ensured I wasn’t too thorough at remembering everything at once! On one occassion it was ‘essential’ that I sorted out the upright case holding a variety of tinned foods which had become mixed up during transit which I enjoyed with my inquisitive audience peering through the bars.
The first night Trevor, now Farina, was tied next to the door and regarded me very superciliously each time time I came over. Seeming to be a little perplexed as I climbed to a higher level than her whereby she was no longer looking down her nose at me. The next evening Tanami would follow me into the insides with his enormous head and long neck which I had to gently ease back in order to get out of the door space. Unfortunately Sam saw fit to move him as he was a ‘nuisance’ which he most certainly was not, leaving me with Dinny guarding the entrance, one of the lead camels with which I was not very familiar nor comfortable. The following night, after my request to Paul to have a human-friendly camel at the door, Raji was the gatekeeper. The only problem was that he was very unsettled by the creaking sound the door gave on opening. I soon started taking an apple or banana to give to him as the sound emitted which seemed an adequate distraction. I could see him getting nervous again as I went to close the door which, fortunately didn’t make as much noise in this direction, but he still needed a bit of fuss and petting I think!
On this particular day Karen agreed that this would be our camel day and told our colleague that he was ground crew, several times, before he got the message! The children were brushing their mounts and I had, on one occasion previously, managed to steal a march on those guests and had groomed Farina so didn’t mind. I helped Paul administer their under-blankets which are used in a particular way to pad out their humps, as they are all slightly different, in order to allow the saddle to fit comfortably. Once these blankets are correct each camel had their own colourful throw which had purely cosmetic purposes but definitely helped with identification in the early days. Without their blankets I still get Dinny (Gunga-din) and Ava, the 2 leads, muddled up.
Karen showed me how their girth was done up, very much like a horse’s, after getting rid of any burrs they may have acquired in overnight, and how the neck strap was tied, ensuring no twists. I later pointed out one which had a full 360degree twist in it and was told it didn’t matter?? She had me lead Ava over to where she wanted the string tied together for mounting which was remarkably straightforward, probably due to Ava’s training. I then had to get her to sit using the ‘hoosh down’ instruction, this is where I expected things to come to a halt so was more than a little surprised when Ava obeyed on the first command!
I applied the hand-breaks which is a strap going around their bent knee which prevents them from straightening their legs. Being the lead Ava has 2 as she would bring all the others with her if she chose to get up, as they can do quite successfully on 3 legs, usually discarding the strap once up with the assistance of gravity and the fact that they aren’t done up too tightly. During the course of this day’s trek it would become my job to apply and remove these straps from Dinny, as I had been allocated to the B-string, at the appropriate times. Once they were down and braked I would sit with Dinny, keeping my head lower than her, just to ensure that she behaved and was OK as her disturbance could disrupt the other 3. She is a mutterer. Even when walking along she would grumble and growl at nothing in particular, as I quickly learnt.
Once the riders were settled and the camels back on their feet I was the outrigger. This comprised walking along at the side of the string about level with the 3rd camel to ensure that the riders were OK, no-one else was walking too close, no ropes were getting knotted or any other kind of mishap. Unfortunately this was quite hard walking as we would be off the path about 3-4 yards to the left in rough ground. This resulted in so much watching where I was walking that I could only glance at the string now and again.
Roger was carrying out the same job with the other string, so despite me giving him my camera to get photo of me in action, he was either too busy himself or poorly positioned in order to do so. On the other hand, the previous day I had still be doing the camp move when he’d been out with the camels and he walked into camp leading a string of unridden camels as dusk descended. I didn’t get a chance to lead a string but he didn’t get a ‘hoosh down’ opportunity.
When we arrived at camp that evening the truck was parked a significant distance away and after getting them all sat down Paul went over to speak to the driver about suitable parking places which would not involve the risk of getting it stuck as had happened the previous day. Karen was some way away talking to the staff as we arrived, so that left Sam with Roger and I. Gandhi, now Egor, had been detached from the string as he is a big bull, recently castrated despite his age, and set behind Mumpy who was sitting down. Camels mate when the female is sitting so it is not a good idea to have a male behind a seated female, Trevor (Farina) wont tolerate Raji standing behind her at any time on the other string. As Egor is so big Roger was holding him off to the side whilst he grazed an adjacent bush.
As time progressed with no sign of movement Sam went across to find out what was going on and we were left with both strings, late in the day. The significance of this is that it is their tea time. We have been told that as they’ve been working all day they get increasingly hungry and fractious as their evening meal time approaches. Roger had his hands full keeping a huge, slightly unpredictable, crusty old gentleman of the camel world settled. The B-string, who I had been with all day, were quite content but Mumpy decided to get up, shedding her leg brake as she went. I told her to Hoosh down and she completely ignored me! She seemed to be more settled standing and I could not observe any concern from the experienced cameleers on the other side of the camp so let her be. Snowy, her daughter in front of her, then started getting restless. I kept trying to calm her but the next minute she was up on her back legs and on her front knees. I used my most assertive voice and told her to hoosh down which she, quite surprisingly, did!
The truck was duly brought and the camels stood to be taken to it. Karen had me walk unusually on the right as Snowy kept trying to go to that side of Ava but as they are all tied on the left this is difficult and ropes can get caught . She was telling me how I could see that they were beginning to get unsettled as their food was near. She obviously hadn’t seen me already deal with the restless princess quite successfully.
After getting them unsaddled, blankets put away and helmets stored we went across to the fire to see how the tea was progressing. Karen told us that this was the best bit about the cameleering role, it is for others to organise the evening meal. However, we still had our groups to keep an eye on whilst also ending up coring, stuffing and wrapping 45 apples to bake in the coals for dessert. We stood, doing this for over half an hour on sore feet, aching legs and getting progressively colder as we were away from the fire and for some reason, it wasn’t suitable for the kids to do (??) but they were all finished just as the main courses began to reach fruition. As I sunk gratefully into a chair to eat my curried sausages and mash I noticed that the apples were already in the glowing coals. By the time we took them out, once the main was cleared away, the syrup had seeped out (they’d been turned at some point!) and the glowing embers were stuck to the foil on extraction. Once Jasmine and I had knocked this off there was very little weight to the remaining packages which we opened with trepidation and had our worst fears confirmed! There was next to nothing inside apart from a blackened skin stuck to the foil. This dessert had probably taken more time to prepare on our least equipped day and the helpful culprit, who put them in the fire too soon, had left the camp for the evening! It still didn’t really diminish my best (and only) real camel day in 5 weeks.