I am sitting in Reggio Calabria where the rain prickles slightly and the sun attempts to warm you for a few seconds. Apparently, the unusual weather continues to follow me, the wettest and coldest the Calabria region has seen in many years. I remember hearing similar words when I walked through Scotland. I'm beginning to wonder if it's me... but I'm aware that I'm just witnessing the changes on the ground that are taking place all over the planet and the pace of "unusual" is increasing. Our planet is changing drastically fast. At my snails rhythm I am feeling and witnessing our impact on this world, one that is undeniable and at times leaves me deeply saddened and searching for hope that we can still save our beloved world.
In my last post, I shared how I had decided to leave walking the west coast of Europe to join an expedition called Steppes to the West. It was a meeting of creativity between Karl Bushby, another globe-trotting walker and Baigalmaa Baikal, a mongolian girl with a dream to take camels across the ancient Silk Road. I had walked across Mongolia in the earlier part of my journey but I felt strongly about going back, as part of a team, to support Baikals dream and return to a place (and almost the exact route I had walked) that would challenge me in every way- a place that helped me discover my greatest strength. And a place that once terrified me.
I just gave a TEDx talk about it in Edinburgh. The video has yet to be released. And honestly, I may need friends to watch it and give me feedback. When asked if it went well, all I know is that I managed to remember my ten minute dialogue. But I was trembling and don't recall much of the experience itself.
From August to mid-December I gave my all to Steppes to the West. Karl and I worked hard to recruit a team that would enjoy the challenges of walking across Mongolia. We managed to pull together a team of seven of us- some experienced and some new to expeditions. I was even lucky to have two friends from my hometown of Oregon.
Now that we had humans onboard, we needed to learn more about how to work with our camels. I had found Russell and Tara with Australian Camels and loved their techniques of training and working with camels. Luckily, with all the sponsorship proposals they receive, Tara managed to hear my plea for help. Although we had gone through a few Mongolian herders, I had noticed neglect that was painful and disturbing to me. (note: it was not so much about Mongolian tradition as it was the herders themselves.)
Russell and Tara assembled a small group of camel lovers that came out to help us train our furry friends and we all fell in love (with camels and each other.)
I seriously believe in what Tara and Russell are teaching. It's gentle, loving, and respectful. I watched as Russell had Shamrock, our most nervous, mouth-foaming and anti-human camel nose-to-nose in a face cuddle within two days. I know it might sound cliche but Russell truly is the camel whisperer!
And all this was done mostly in snow blizzards!
I feel seriously indebted to these two and their entire team of clients and friends who came out to help the STTW team. They all worked tirelessly to help create a respectful and trusting relationship between human and camel. And as Tara often said, "Camel training is the best personal/spiritual training." Because I found it to be true that I learned a lot about my communications skills and the camels helped me to listen to those moments when I was scared. They are the most forgiving creatures I've ever encountered. Well, they are like big dogs- just with longer legs!
Now, the update is that STTW is a new project. All the team members have left except for Baikal, the mongolian who held the dream of taking camels across the silk road. I wish her all the best as she continues her journey.
I will refrain from mentioning all the reasons I left the expedition but I will say that all the team members, including our sponsors, Australian Camels, have completely pulled away from STTW. And what hurst us all the most, was leaving the camels.
I made a best friend on that trip. He was over seven feet tall. His fur smelled of the smoke that came from the gers (yurt) chimney. I could hum a song from a distance and his ears always found my lips.
But It all started with pain.
While I was looking after the camels early in the expedition before any training had taken place, I noticed one of our camels was caught with his guide line wrapped around his nose peg and left leg. (another important note- without going into details, it's important to say that the nose pegs were a major discrepancy and point of argument throughout the entire expedition. And was a major factor in my leaving the expedition as well as other members and AC).
I ran quickly to the camel and saw a pool of blood as the nose peg was cutting into his septum. His front leg was wrapped by his guide line- I could hear a gentle moaning- and with a desire to end it as quickly as possible- I used my knife to cut his guide line.
We both stood stunned for a few minutes.
he leaned his head towards me. I cautiously began petting him between the ears, thinking he must be terrified himself, but he kept leaning his whole body into me as if it comforted him. Or perhaps he knew it calmed me as well. I slowly assembled a new rope on his harness without any use of his nose peg.. I sang "Blackbird" as I petted him and melded into his chinny chin fur.
We were companions from then on. I had fallen in love with Harley (his name) and became a camel lover.
He's irreplaceable but to stay in my integrity I had to leave the expedition. It still saddens me today. I am eternally grateful for being invited to be part of STTW and to Tara and Russell who showed me the depth of a camels connection.
WHERE I AM NOW
I am back in Europe for a third go and walking through the mountains of Southern Italy as I make my way North. My SPOT LOCATOR is on if you want to see where I'm walking.
It's just me and Athena.
(photo credits to Australian Camels, TEDxUOE, Andy at YourArtsetFree.Com, and me and an iPhone.)