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The Horny Camel

Camel

I have had a handful of what I consider near death experiences and this is one that tops the list (although I don’t think such experiences can truly be ranked).  It was 1998 and I found myself in Morocco.  Yes, I just woke up one morning and I was there…you see, I had been kidnapped.  No, no, no…that’s my fictional romance novel…let’s get to the factual non-romantic one shall we?  But before we do that, yes, I used horny in my title to refer to a camel – I know that does not sound very appealing but it is very relevant to my story!  And let me just say it was very “not” appealing but I am sharing it because I was able to survive the ordeal.  And, although I am claiming it to be a non-romantic story, it is actually a story of romance (for one of the characters at least)!

The Kingdom of Morocco is found on the North East of the African continent and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to explore this fascinating country for a full month with my love-interest at the time.  After getting our fill of Fez, Meknes, Ourzazate, Merzouga and Marrakesh, which all had their special magic and charm, we decided to head for the North Atlantic coast to a city called Essaouira (the Lonely Planet refers to it as coastal serenity).  It was Ramadan and let’s just say that things were a bit tense.  We ate foods from the markets daily as restaurants did not open until sundown and many people around us seemed to be struggling with the fasting.  Abstinence from a number of human activities can make the heart grow fierce and the mind a bit moody.  The coast sounded like a more chill and beachy option to just relax at before we embarked upon the long trip back home to Vancouver.  Essaouira was indeed quite an excellent choice with its picturesque quaint spaces, historic fortress walls, lively fishing port and long stretch of sandy beach.

We decided to take a stroll along the beach the first morning to breathe in the fresh salty air and get the feeling of limitless space again.  We had been so overwhelmed by bustling crowds and movement until then (except in the Sahara!).  It was very windy but warm and inviting and we managed to finally slow our pace.  About fifteen minutes into our walk, we were approached by a cameleer with his huge dromedary camel (one-humped) in tow.  Delighted and surprised by this sudden opportunity (I am enamoured with spontaneity and the unexpected), I squealed out a “YES!”, much to my partner’s chagrin.  You see, I’d been on a camel before so I was almost a pro.  Honestly, you would say that too if you’d travelled by camel into the Thar Desert in India on a three day camel safari!  Although, quite clearly I had long forgotten how uncomfortable and hard on the body it really was!  My partner, who was always game for new experiences, actually halted and placed his butt in the sand to hang back and just observe for a change.  Undoubtedly, he intuitively detected that there might be some shenanigans!

I haggled a decent price with the cameleer and confidently mounted the enormous beast.  Now let me just say that dromedary camels are typically good-natured, gentle and patient creatures.  They can be a bit smelly and farty though.  I have had enough close encounters with these beasts to know that they quite frequently emit an odorous methane gas.  I’m serious.  Try sleeping beside them or cooking your food on their dung and you will know exactly what I mean!  But, as I was saying, they are lovely creatures and I was enjoying my slow-paced jaunt down the beach with the cameleer holding the reins for safety.  Up ahead in the distance (you could see for miles on this beach) was another camel just hanging out with its Master but I paid less attention to this fact than both the cameleer and the suddenly apparent male camel I was riding.  All of a sudden, without notice or command, my camel got extremely excited, let out a loud groan and began to trot.  I became immediately confused and had no time to wrap my head around this situation because then, just as quickly, he started to gallop.  The cameleer yelled something in Arabic, had no choice but to let go of the reins and was only able to run after us waving his worried arms.

As I hung on for dear life and tried to put into practice my implicit skills of riding a galloping horse, my imagination produced a series of graphic images all relating to my death.  Not only that, while fearing the possibility of getting thrown off the beast and either shattering bones, severing my spinal cord, or falling to my death, I had to contend with witnessing a camel sexual practice and getting hit with some of the fluids involved.  It was only then that I realized what was going down. Such a practice involves the unusual formation of a giant grotesque balloon that protrudes from part of the camel’s mouth which gets filled with foamy slobber.  And (of course) as he ran, this foamy green substance was leaking and splattering all over my screaming face and hippie clothing.  Yes, it was green and mucous-like! There is a more scientific description of this balloon or sack-like protrusion but my explanation will have to suffice.  Nonetheless, I am pretty certain that the one-humped camel mating ritual tops the list of all weird mating rituals of the animal kingdom.  He was groaning and moaning and hot to trot as he neared the female camel and all I could envision was me on top of him as he was on top of her.  Well, actually I also saw myself splattered on the ground and under their large leathery feet!  Not the kind of threesome I would hope for!

But, as miracles happen, the cameleer had caught up with us a few metres before female camel contact occurred and he managed to calm the beast, get him to kneel down and let me off.  (Wo)man, was I lucky!  What happened to the gentle and mellow creature I knew him to be?  Desire and instinct to procreate surely transformed him.  Traumatized, I jumped off awkwardly all the while yelling, god(dess) knows what, and the beast was free to get it on with the lady.  By then, my partner had reached us too but I have no recollection of what words were exchanged.  I’m pretty sure there was a sense of relief, amazement, confusion, panic, and surrealness.  I’ll have to get in touch with him to add his perspective to the story!

So, you would think that by now I would have a rational and even healthy fear of camel riding, wouldn’t you?  But no, apparently not!  I hopped up on one again in the Australian outback recently.  I just trusted that this could not happen a second time.  I mean lightning never strikes the same place twice, right?   Actually, it does!  That is just a myth.

 

Posted in Travel

Notes from the Red Soil

red soilMy recent adventure in Australia has left me head over heels for this fascinating one-and-only island continent.  I mean who would have thought that the dusty red soil and ancient desert landscape would have so captured my heart when I am such an ocean-lover!  I am just at the beginning of my love affair with Australia.  So I guess you could say we’re in the honeymoon phase.  Have you ever had the experience of travelling and falling in love with a place because it feels like home and just fits with your personality and lifestyle?  Yes? No? Maybe?  Well, anyway, I’m officially attached – or some might say, obsessed – but why pathologize what I consider a healthy obsession?  I mean, after all, Australia and I are in love and I’m focused on being an attentive partner and, since I don’t have a romantic human partner in my life right now, I might as well devote myself to a big piece of land sticking out of the ocean!  It’s not doing me any harm, unless of course my New Zealand family finds out!  Sorry, mates!  For one thing, Australia has inspired me to write this blog, and I haven’t felt inspired in quite a while!  I reckon (insert Australian accent here) Australia has given me a gift (although I am not exactly a gifted writer and this is my first blog!).  Australia has reminded me that I have stories to tell and I’m starting with this one…

If your heart and mind are open, the desert will bring you gifts – gifts of knowing and seeing.  Many writers have expounded upon how a desert landscape can be a numinous, magical and mystical place of strange happenings.  Our amazing Mulgas Adventures tour group of fifteen adventurous souls was long out of hot and humid Darwin in the van and, as I gazed sleepily out the window, I suddenly saw a tall thin Aboriginal man in blue jeans and a bright blue and white checkered shirt leaning up against a knarly gum tree close to the side of the road.  I wondered what he was doing out here in this remote part of the landscape but then it seemed logical that there may be a village or community nearby that was just out of sight.  As the van drew closer, I stared at him carefully until he disappeared and all I saw was the beautiful white bark of the gum tree splattered with dark markings.  He literally dissolved into the tree.  I attempted to dismiss my unusual observation but the experience refused to leave me alone.  After some time, as I continued my relaxed gazing outside the window during the bumpy ride, more people appeared to me randomly along the way – a child and three others walking in a line, one behind the other.  I saw water where it wasn’t (and I’m not talking about the mirage effect on the roads) and objects like cars and animals that shifted into scrub, stumps, and trees.  I had the eerie feeling that I was seeing things that existed in the past.

While exploring at Karlu Karlu (Devil’s Marbles) I read on an information board that spirits in these sacred desert areas can appear to some people.  There are even stories of them capturing children.  I opened up about my experience to our (attractive, knowledgeable, sensitive, caring, fun) Aussie tour guide and he somewhat casually reminded me that spirits can be visible in human form but then can shape shift into the natural flora and fauna of the region.  His non-chalant response demonstrated an acceptance that this was just a natural part of the way things were in this territory.  Indigenous peoples in Australia (and all over the world for that matter) have been sharing such stories for thousands of years!  Two days later we found ourselves in the care of another (attractive, knowledgeable, sensitive, caring, fun) tour guide.  As an aside, these tour guides are special men for sure!  I mean they have a zest for life and so much passion for what they do – they can cook, organize, tell stories, manage and entertain unruly wide-eyed tourists, identify flora and fauna, speak to Aboriginal culture and explain geological processes, and drive for hours all the while spotting camouflaged blue tongues and bearded dragons at the roadside!  Anyway, to continue my story, I fell into a lucid sleep state in the van as we were on our way to Alice Springs and an old Aboriginal man clearly appeared to me and woke me up with a startle asking me to follow him.  He disappeared as I came into full consciousness.  He was a short and stout Elder with long ropey silver and black hair, had clay markings on his body and carried a spear.  What?  Intuitively, I knew he was telling me to follow my heart.

Later on, as I settled into the magical town of Alice Springs, I bought a book called Songlines and Faultlines in which author Glenn Morrison talks about the Aboriginal concept of time being most appropriately translated into English as “everywhen”.  Think about it.  It’s brilliant!  Past and present are interchangeable.  They are coexisting dimensions.  We see the ancestors and we become the ancestors in the here and now.  We are their footprints and they are ours. “Everywhen” – such a beautiful term for understanding Aboriginal ways of knowing and being.  This, of course, struck me profoundly as it seemed to perfectly fit with my own experience gazing out the window and falling into a dream state.  Perhaps I was witnessing other dimensions, seeing the spirits or connecting with the ancestors of this sacred ancient land.  I don’t know what is real or true but I am happy to embrace the mystery of my personal experience.