a community serious about adventuring
As I lay under a crescent moon watching the stars ignite, I noticed the cool air rush into my lungs for what felt like the first time. The Indians formed a ring around the campfire in resting squats sharing chai and stories. I wondered if they were talking about me and if they’d be telling my story for years to come. It was hard to think that only a few hours prior the picture didn’t paint so serene. I couldn’t believe we had made it.
It was all we could see. It was vast and all-inclusive. It was the Bikaner desert in Rajasthan, India. The six-year old camel, Rajoot, lugged my husband, Morgan, our guide, Sharwan, and helper, Gurpat, along on a wooden cart loaded with blankets, bushels of camel feed and camping supplies. English was minimal so communication was limited to ‘antelope’ and ‘fox’. I didn’t mind the silence. It was soothing and medicating; until the meditative trance was interrupted by nature’s flatulence.
Morgan and I giggled like infants at hearing camel farts for the first time and were slightly disheartened to find Sharwan and Gurpat indifferent to the entertainment.
Riding a camel is more uncomfortable than riding a horse, but less so than riding an elephant.
Trying to get as comfortable as one could get being in a straddle position with a camel wedged between my thighs, I began to settle in. I was proud with myself for having remembered to apply sunscreen that morning; I even remembered to bring a sun hat. I felt the sun’s prickle on the top of my left foot, an area I realized I’d forgotten to cover in my sunscreen application. I reached forward to grab my sarong that was resting in a basket-like area of the saddle and began draping the orange material down to my foot, but little did I know it would never get there. Suran had spotted it.
I landed hard, though I hit sand. Somehow, my body ended up in a resting position similar to what you might see at the beach; knees stacked and bent off to the left side with my left forearm angled keeping me slightly propped up. There was a throbbing sensation in my right leg, but I avoided inspecting the damage.
Skin was missing and the area was forming its expected egg. Okay, it’s just a bruise I thought, that would heal, but what about my dignity? I felt shame’s seething heat upon my face; this girl had just ticked off a camel.
I loathed being the novice. “Just jump right back up,” my dad’s words of bike-riding encouragement rang remarkably clear, although I was half a world away. I felt myself become weak with fear and contempt for the animal and began to blame myself for not knowing how to maneuver a camel.
Had she meant to do it? Maybe Suran didn’t like me? That’s just crazy talk my common sense rebutted, a camel is a camel; you can’t begrudge an animal for going animal. I’d mope about it all instead back on the cart. Letting my bum leg dangle, I went back to counting antelope, but that wouldn’t last long. Morgan, who had been a good sport and hopped back up on Suran even though he had been riding all morning, was dizzy and about to pass out.
Into the sand his face went first; his limp body followed. With my one hand I found his jaw and the other this forehead, tilting his head back slightly. His eyes had rolled back and his lips were blue. He had stopped breathing and his teeth were clenched shut.
Over many family dinners and trips to the doctor we’d uncover a family history of black outs attributed to the medical term, vasovagal syncope; a common type of fainting. The doctors ran their tests, but came up with no scientific answers as to why the episodes were occurring. “If it happens again, give him oxygen or Vitamin C” were the recommendations. But what happens when we’re in the middle of an Indian desert and there’s neither, then what? Is what I should have said when the doctor asked if we had any questions.
Remembering the doctor’s advice, I yelled to Gurpat and Sharwan “He just needs some oranges. Do you have any oranges? Oranges? They’re orange? You don’t know what oranges are?” I formulated that an oxygen pump would totally be out of the question so, instead, I dumped my water bottle over his head. Morgan groaned and blubbered, sand spouting from his mouth.
The next thing I knew a cell phone was being pushed into Morgan’s ear. “Vino” said Sharwan.
Vino was the owner and operator of the camel safari group we had chosen from our Lonely Planet. Poor Sharwan called Vino in worry while I was trying to revive Morgan and now wanted someone to explain to Vino what had happened; but that someone was going to be Morgan.
Sputtering sand and garble, Morgan was to take the call. No one handed me, the fully-functioning person, the phone. Let the man do the talking, even when man is a helpless, human baby? The timing wasn’t right to get caught up in issues of gender roles. I grabbed the phone from Sharwan, but the call had dropped. Vino rang back, but again the cell phone was pushed into Morgan’s ear.
“Maybe a Pepsi would be better” said Morgan. He informed Vino that he had passed out and, Vino, already making a trip out to the sand dunes that evening to drop off refreshments for another group of trekkers, had offered to bring Morgan a beer.
We were about an hour out from where we’d be spending the night so I’d have to submerge my camel contempt and get back on Suran if we hoped to make it there by sun fall. Morgan clearly needed the cart more than I, but the idea of Suran tossing me off again and doing more damage was stalling. I wasn’t about to let some bumps and bruises get the better of me and the outcome of what still had the potential for being a pleasurable desert safari adventure.
“Okay camel jerk,” I said to Suran as she munched on some thorny twigs. “I’m getting back up there so let’s be friends, okay?” With a mouthful of prickly cud, she held me in her peripheral. She swished her tail and let out a giant fart, which I decided was her way of calling a truce. Drawing this conclusion wasn’t entirely fantastic since this was how Morgan and I had made friends again on numerous occasions. “Camel, very happy” said Gurpat motioning towards the mini-turd mountain. “I’m jealous” was my response knowing that Gurpat didn’t compute my struggles with Indian cuisine.
Guiding Suran down to her knees for me to get on wasn’t pretty. Letting out Chewbacca-like barks, Suran resisted my mounting. Trying to work some Jedi mind tricks on her, I sent her telepathic messages of promises to feed her bushels and bushels of hay if we made it in one piece to the night’s location. She settled her belly to the desert floor and I made a successful mounting. Hind legs standing first, I was sent face-first into Suran’s neck but her front legs kicked out and up in time that I had escaped a mouthful of camel main.
As I kept a callous-sturdy grip of the wooden saddle, I couldn’t help but analyze my pervious usurping. Maybe I was permeating some negative camel vibes. Or maybe Suran had had just about enough of giving out piggyback rides to tourists? I couldn’t blame her. If it was simply the motion of the sarong at her side that startled her, then she was reacting as any animal should. I mean I flinch all of the time. I decided Suran was acting out plain old animal instinct. Good thing, because for a minute there I thought I had earned myself a new Indian name – The Girl Who Ticked off Camels.