Saturday, December 01, 2007

Day 6, Karkur Tal

Today was decided as the day for the big walk. Mahmoud has found an area with unknown caves and paintings and it means a climb to the top of the plateau, followed by about six hours of steady walking, and a climb back down - the last he calls a 'hard' climb.

I have thought carefully about my almost sixty year old body and its faults and decided not to go. Some of the deciding not to go is also a knowledge of the things I like compared with those I do not like. Being high is a 'don't like'. This walk involves two different HIGH climbs - one up, one down. Heide has mentioned a group did it when it was hot and it was very bad. While this is November it is surprising warm in Karkur Tal - probably about 36 celcius - and I am aware that I would go through more water than we are supposed to be drinking.

I am also hankering for a chance to be alone and quiet - to paint, or perhaps to just explore on my own. The acacias are beautiful here. I am also feeling sad as it is the birthday of my lovely daughter Kim who was so badly burnt a year or so back, and I am missing her. It is also the birthday for my grand daughter Acacia and I cannot ring either.

So - I have pulled out of the BIG walk and will be dropped at the entrance to a Wadi by the very very quiet Hani (who has little English and laughs at my Arabic) and will set a time for him to collect me later.

Someone asked about our tents. These are the sleeping tents - we all put up our own, helping with each others' if necessary.

The rather more gorgeous coloured arrangement is the local style of 'tent' made in fabric with imitates tentmaker appliqué. this is our living quarters, and also where the men sleep if they need shelter. Sometimes they just pull sleeping bags around the fire.

Peter had been a bit concerned about putting me with a group who spoke another language as he said they had had some disasters from this. I decided that I would sit like a mouse in a corner if necessary to be able to do the trip.

Traveling with Marita and Jean Daniel in the car is an unmitigated delight. Both are clever and marvelous conversationalists - in English - though they tend to use French to each other. They both ask enough questions about the Middle East to make me feel clever that I know some of the answers. They laugh at my jokes. I badly want them to meet Bob as I know they would all get on so well, but that seems unlikely as they will go straight on to Sharm El Sheik for a long soak in the Red Sea.

Evenings around the table tend to be a bit more complicated.

Somehow wherever I sit becomes the line where the French speakers divide from the German speakers. On the whole Alberto and Yvonne sit with Marita and Jean Daniel and they all use French. This I can follow a bit - but it takes concentration and now and again it is easier to just drift out and sit quietly. Heide and Irene and Helena have been good friends for ages and speak German to each other. All are easy and uncomplicated companions.

I have taken to having my pen and diary at the table and when the conversation is incomprehensible I write instead - my theory is that it makes the others less likely to feel bad. I would rather they thought me rude than felt they should speak English. In fact one night Mahmoud suddenly said, "Where are you Jenny?" I came back immediately with "On the border between France and Germany." Everyone laughed, but I felt immediately bad in case they took it as a criticism.

On the whole it has been much less of a problem than I thought it would be as I know I have the option of asking questions and swinging the conversation to English whenever I wish.

A lot of the time I talk to the men as Mahmoud has excellent English and the other two a little, and last night I noticed that they were looking tired after the long day of driving. They were all preparing the vegetables so I walked over to the table which is the first thing they set up - two large thermoses with all the tea and coffee making things. I made the coffee -one coffee, one sugar that Mahmoud likes, and the tea that I know Mohamed likes with its three sugars and quietly put it beside them. As Hani joined them I asked if he wanted tea. He misunderstood and immediately walked to the table and asked how I wanted it. I pointed out that I was offering to make one for him and he was flabbergasted. He said something to the others and Mahmoud told me that no-one had ever offered something for him before. Now I am a bit concerned that I somehow stepped beyond the line - but it was a very Australian thing to do.

Dinner last night was lentil soup, followed by cauliflower fried with a spicy egg batter, and a platter of steamed vegetables - zucchini, carrots, potatoes. We have had a few vegetarian meals and I am really enjoying the food.

"My Wadi"

Anyway - I went off walking in a small wadi not far from the camp. My original idea was to walk the length of it and then settle and paint in time I had over. However, a gentle breeze was blowing, the temperature was fairly high, and in the wadi it was quite hot. Flies buzzed my face and neck. I had made the mistake of wearing my sandals because of the heat, and the grounds was heavily drifted with lumps of acacia branches - complete with long spear-like thorns. I was picking my way fairly carefully. There were no obvious tools and that was odd for an area that is heavily painted as people obviously were there.

As I walk I am able to think about the utter privilege of being able to do this trip. It is utterly, totally self indulgent. It is impossible for Bob to do this with me and he would have loved it so much. While in Egypt he is Ambassador. If he leaves his number two becomes Charge d'Affairs. If something goes badly wrong he would rush back. From New York this might take a day. From Karkur Tal it would take about five - four if we didn't get stuck too often. Worse - while he is in Egypt his number two is not Charge and her authority is that much more limited. Either way - it was impossible and I will be forever grateful that Bob pushed me to do this while I had a chance.

I saw a likely shelter high on one side of the wadi. It was an easy climb as the rock almost created terraces. I arrived at the shelter to find no graffiti or paintings, but a couple of well placed rocks and a marvelous view in both directions. I sat. The breeze tried to lift my hair (thick with oil and sand and unwashed now for five days) and gave up. I had a scarf firmly tied around most of it anyway. It was cooler high up and I decided to paint.

Jebel Uweinat rock shelter 1.jpg

Halfway through the first painting I caught a flicker of movement from the corner of my eye. I looked up and saw something moving lightly between rocks. The others had talked of 'mouflon' in the area and I had seen their tracks in the wadi - but this looked too small. It was high on the other side of the wadi, and I sat very still and watched for some time. It seemed not much bigger than a large dog, but it didn't move like a dog.

It was a small gazelle. It was briefly and perfectly silhouetted against the sky and its head and lines were very clear. I was enchanted - it was light and very graceful. I watched for about half an hour till a group of three walkers came through the wadi (from a French group we had seen) and frightened it away.

Jebel Uweinat rock shelter 2.jpg

I sat in the most perfect silence. I felt no need to go exploring and I just loved the place. It smelt of acacia honey and even the flies did not come this high.

Lunch on my return was ready though the others were not due back for some time. We had a great lunch though I had my doubts when I watched them start smashing the left over vegetables from the night before. However they fried cumin and coriander seeds briefly, broke up the bigger coriander seeds, and stirred it all through with a little chili and lemon and salt and pounded black peppercorns. It looked like baby food, but wedged into the pocket of rough local bread (flatbread) it tasted marvelous and I am going to copy this with the next leftovers at home.

The others came in late and exhausted and thirsty. There had been a glitch in their pickup arrangements but all is well and they are here.

They had a great day but the more they tell me about it the more glad I am that I stayed. The photos of their descent look terrifying.


Blogger Fran said...

Oh Jenny, I am enjoying reading about your trip,

8:06 pm  
Blogger Di said...

Thank you so much, Jenny, for sharing your amazing trip with us. Your photographs are mind-blowingly spectacular, but I imagine this is nothing compared with the reality of being there.

1:21 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Jenny, it is so generous of you to share your wonderful adventure with us. It has just kept me spellbound reading about the trip and using the photographs and paintings to illustrate a fantastic story. It is a rare treat, something I may never get the chance to do but can vicariously participate. Again many thanks - Andrea

7:49 pm  
Blogger Feather on a Wire said...

This really sounds like one of those 'life changing' trips. So very pleased you are sharing this, it's like getting a small view through a telescope of something quite magical.
I've just finished reading Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, always a ridiculous concept, yet compulsive. Your waddi photo just emphasized the total silliness of it all (grin).

9:25 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jenny, your water colours are exquisite!


3:35 am  

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