Friday, December 07, 2007

Day 7 Karkur Tal and the Caves

We woke this morning to the delicious smell of freshly cooked bread. Last night Mahmoud mixed dough with his hands in a large plastic bowl and left it covered on top of the car overnight (because foxes like bread and we had lots of little white fennecs).

This morning he set up a system of an upturned plastic bowl on the sand, a folded plastic table cloth over the upturned bowl, flour in a thickish dredge, then a ball of dough. He used the inner cardboard roll from a finished roll of Glad Wrap as a rolling pin and carefully rolled out each piece of bread. The tree we collected yesterday was burning - hey I forgot that - that is story on its own! - and they put rocks to hold up a flat iron cooking plate over the fire. The plate was wiped several times with a wet cloth, then floured lightly in a sweep before the bread was dropped on. It is unleavened bread as they did not have yeast, but was still delicious. The mix was flour, water, salt and cardamom and the cardamom gave a delicate scent while it cooked.


Irene photographing the bread making with our tents in the background. I just looked at the photo trying to work out who was in the brown tent in the front left, and realised it was a rock!

I was interested to see that they rarely let the bread sit on what was an incredibly hot plate. They kept hold of one side and lifted and rolled it around so it would not scorch.

Have a look at a typical breakfast - there is sliced sweet orange, omelette with fresh green herbs, jams, sliced breakfast cake, two sorts of cream cheese, halva, Tang and cold Kakedeh, hot tea or coffee - a feast. There was something different offered every morning.

We were going today to the Belgian Wadi. That was Heide's name for it, and Mahmoud knew the place, but not that name. It is an easy walk but rough underfoot and I have, for the first time, dug out heavy shoes from under the seat of the car. I even have socks. I have hardly been anything but barefoot since we left.

Looking down the Belgian wadi - shoes definitely necessary!

And across a bit further down.

And the first piece of rock art as we got out of the car.

This tall rock with its platform in front looked like something special - and it was.

You can see the images above the platform here and I wonder if it could in some way have been a ceremonial place. The images were really beautiful and much larger than this sort of petroglyph usually is.

The following carvings were all on it and each animal is really big - possibly 50 to 80 cm high.




This looked to me as if it was marked out by a butcher into cuts of meat. I know that is silly - but it is so like a meat chart!

We walked on and I photographed a pretty flowering bush - all silvery with long white plumes of flowers. It is hard to believe that anything can grow here with no rainfall, and no recent water - not a drop of rain in this region in five years. However I believe the acacia can use dew and perhaps these plants can too.

This was the most spectacular rock shelter of the day. It was about twice as long as this - the photo is taken from a mid point looking in one direction, and you can see Heide with her flashes of pink well down. Most of the best work was on the ceiling, and this meant you had to crouch and look up. I am just going to roll out a string of images. Believe me - I have hundreds and am editing tightly.


I loved the crouching archer

I was fascinated in looking at this one on the computer to see how overlaid the images are. The white cattle look like earlier paintings and the red images just ignore them. Women are shown with large thighs and I find that very reassuring. The woman in the top seems to be carrying a calf. To me all these images looked like a group who husband their cattle - not like hunters, despite the bow and arrow images. If anyone has more knowledge please comment!




Not upside down - just looking across at the sky from under the roof of the shelter.

There were a lot of strange looking cows or animals with very shaggy fur around the rear like the one at the very top of this picture - I have no idea what they are?


This series looked interesting as it seemed to tell a story - mating of cattle (or perhaps a badly lost kangaroo?) and in the mating image there seems to be a with a cow with a very swollen udder (pregnant perhaps) below, perhaps some sort of assistance with the birth(?) then a cow that looks to me as if it has given birth and is cleaning its young.





Alberto was on his back in the dust taking photos. There was dust everywhere by then. I started to cough. And cough and cough. It was a very odd cough - breathless, and every few seconds and I realised it was an allergy to something. It felt like a band around my chest, tight and annoying, though not painful. I moved quickly out of the shelter area and into the middle of the wadi but continued to cough - absolutely non stop. I vomited. I struggled for air and realised that I was a very long way from any sort of assistance. In a distant sort of a way I noticed my nails were blue and realised that I was on my own and had to control the coughing somehow. I doubled over, kept very still and pushed away the need to cough as hard as I could while breathing as deeply as I could, and slowly I recovered. The attack had lasted about half an hour and was really frightening. I had not had anything like it for twenty years and no longer carry a puffer! I still do not know if it was something in the shelter or the pretty bush I had stopped to photograph.

I joined the others again and we went further down the wadi. It was so beautiful.

Here we scrambled up a 'mud bank' which is now rock from a long-ago flood to another cave - and a strongly different style of work.


The line of items all connected in the top corner fascinated me. I asked what others thought they were and was interested in Yvonne's theory. She believes these might have been household items pinned or tied to a line - baskets and fishtraps and so on.

I thought the long fine tail was beautifully drawn.

Hunting party with bows.



I was starting to cough again and realised sitting near Alberto (who had been rolling in the dust) was obviously not wise. I took a quick 'marker' photograph of the rock area opposite and then a shot down the wadi as well, intending to get out quickly.


In another area I had wondered if an image with legs spread and a blobbish figure below could be a woman in childbirth. Now I looked up as I scrambled back to the edge to leave and realised there was no doubt about this one - it was only tiny but the umbilical cord is clear. It was somehow very touching to see this recorded and I wonder if it was a specific birth or something optimistic or just a painting.

This shot gives an idea of the space available in this shelter - not a lot - and you can see Yvonne at the edge.

I left the others moving on to the end - not to see more paintings but to look at the view. I was still coughing intermittently and was feeling exhausted from it - most unlike me! I walked slowly back and met Mahmoud at the car with cold drinks, a fresh water spray to put a mist over our faces when we arrived back hot and sweaty, and chocolate hazelnut croissants in long-life packets.

We stopped on the way back to the camp to admire a lovely herd of giraffes.

And a detail.

A beautiful blue-headed lizard who moved like a chameleon.

Mahmoud, talking about another small group of paintings.

We went back for lunch and I sat next to Alberto and Yvonne and started coughing again! I moved to a rock further away and it stopped like magic.

I washed my hair. I had been starting to feel pretty grotty. I have thin oily hair and normally wash it daily. I had been pulling it back into a toweling covered hair tie and was finding that it stayed sticking out in a tight tail even after I took out the tie - it was thick with oil and sand. After lunch Mahmoud announced that there was extra water and we could have a bottle each to wash.

Somehow I managed to wash my hair with a litre of water, a cut off top of a water bottle to use as a scoop (with its lid on) and a small plastic box with I borrowed from Marita. I found the lathering was easy even though I was stingy in damping my hair. I had a box balance on a rock and within seconds of the first attempt to rinse I realised that this was not easy. I HAD to get all soap out of my hair. Most of the water seemed to have run into my t-shirt and not into the box. I carefully combed out the worst of the lather and managed to make the second rinse a bit more effective, then the third. My hair was clean and I used the rest of the water to soak and wash my feet. It looked pretty bad by the time I had finished with it but I felt so much cleaner. My feet changed colour - they had been so stained with red sand that they lightened when washed.

Actually I have been surprised that I have not felt too dirty. Sand is not like dirt - it brushes off cleanly and leaves only a little residue. It has been hot but it is surprising how clean you feel after using a handful of wet ones to 'shower' in a tent. I kept getting whiffs of what I thought was a nearby baby and realising it was me - but no-one was smelly or too distressed by dirt. Jean-Daniel had an impressive grey stubble and all our guides now had good black beards - except Mahmoud who shaved while waiting for us in the wadi this morning. Captain Mohamed shaved every day. Alberto had a beard before we left and it just got a bit longer.

I pulled my shoes into the tent - because of the foxes - before I went to sleep. Iwas fine. then I lay down and started coughing. I coughed all night. About an hour later Mahmoud brought me a hot lemon drink. I was so touched by that - he had said "Jenny? I am Mahmoud. I have lemon for you."

The coughing was not frightening as it had been in the wadi but it was unrelenting - all night. I had hardly any sleep but was too tired to think of moving. I realised later that whatever allergen I had reacted to was on the clothes I had stripped off in the tent (scattering it everywhere) and in the shoes I had carefully brought in. Worse - I was very aware that I was keeping everyone awake and Irene brought me drops with codeine in them that helped her. I was taking anything I could get my hands on.

NOT a good night and I was really exhausted next day - but the coughing stopped almost the moment I stepped out of the tent.


Blogger Lazy Gal Tonya said...

What amazing pictures. The the giraffes in particular. The whole day sounds absolutely incredible and awful all at the same time. Terrifying to think of health problems so far away from rescue.

6:52 pm  
Blogger Cairogal said...

Loved this post, Jenny. So why are there drawings of giraffes? Will we be seeing a quilt inspired by some of these drawings?

7:57 am  
Anonymous carsnquilts said...

Jenny, I LOVE your posts and I hope you are feeling much better now that you are back into civilization. I am awed by your travels.

2:16 pm  
Blogger I need orange said...

Wow. Thank you for sharing this amazing trip with us!

Worrying about your breathing.... Hope this post is as bad as it got.....

4:16 am  
Anonymous Marja-Leena Rathje said...

Olga pointed me here, knowing my deep interest in pictographs, petroglyphs and fascinating rock formations. Wow, what a fantastic trip and superb photos! The art work is truly sophisticated. Thanks for sharing. Hope that frightening cough has gone.

2:48 am  
Blogger Shirley Goodwin said...

I guess those drawings show how much the landscape has changed over the millennia. They are beautiful.

I see that you're also teaching again at Symposium 2009, Jenny - I didn't really get a chance to talk to you at New Plymouth, so hope to remedy that at Wellington.

4:05 am  
Anonymous Hannah22 said...

How interesting! You have such lovely attitude which makes me proud to be an Aussie. Hope the allergy will go away. Had a look at your paintings and earlier photos. Thank you for capturing the beauty for me

10:53 pm  
Blogger Gábor said...

Jenny, as I have been many times in the Libyan Desert (including Uveinat mountain with Karkur Talh) I know, there is a certain kind of fly there. This tiny monster splashes its larvae in the eyes or in the nose of the barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia) living in Uveinat. But it does the same with a tourist's eye and throat! According to my experience it is -let's say- compulsory to use eyeglasses and not to open your mouth in areas where trees and animals live. And this is the case in the wadis of Uveinat mountain.
In my trips some of my companions fell the victim to this fly. The larvae in the throat cause uncontrollable coughing for days. It is cruel, I know...
Probably you met with such a fly.

12:33 pm  

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