UPON returning from an eighteen day cruise Sydney to Perth via the top end people have been asking me what was the highlight. Well there were many highlights but one very memorable event. My daughter Jennifer had asked me to send her a card from Broome and while buying one in ‘The Camel Shop’ we decided that the camel ride on Cable Beach at sunset would be ‘something to remember’. It turned out to be ‘something never to forget’.
The tour operator dropped us off at 5 pm with the promise that he would return for a pickup at 7.30 sharp. The ship was scheduled to depart at 8 pm. “No worries”, we were assured. “It is a ten minute walk across the sand from the carpark so give yourselves plenty of time”. Booked for the 6-7 pm ride we were there with plenty to spare, paid for the obligatory photographs, and chatted amiably with the lady from the Broome Camel Shop with whom we had booked. Friends from the ship, replete with our own camera, promised to catch the moment.
Listening avidly to the advice ‘hold tight and lean back’ given those mounting one line of camels we stood patiently as our line returned from the half-hour 5 pm trip to dismount. Time seemed to be getting away but the proprietors assured us we would be back in plenty of time. So as you do, when you have no choice, you submit to the occasion. I followed the advice of my son Jim – ‘Enjoy the moment’.
As mounting began from the back of the line and we were in the lead it was well after six o’clock before we followed the instruction ‘put your left hand on the front of the saddle and with your right hand on the back lift your leg up and over the pommel. I had no idea that the girth of a camel is so wide that it demands a rider to perform the splits and I was still wondering if indeed I could cope when the instruction to ‘hold tight and lean back’ came before I was prepared. No one adjusted my stirrups and with my dangling legs desperately trying to gain leverage for my feet, I tried to raise my body together with the help of my left hand on the pommel and my right on the back of the saddle, to mitigate the ‘splits’, when a rather gung ho young man of about fourteen quite nonchalantly tossed the lead rope over his arm and we set off.
As the first ‘string’ was a few yards in front, following the water’s edge, we set out to catch up and in fact overtook, riding parallel but higher up on the beach. At this time a photographer was running beside us taking individual shots while admonishing the young man to slow down ‘It isn’t a race.’
The camel following behind me now decided to come abreast. I chatted to it in my most friendly voice upon which he leant his head into my lap. I scratched it behind the ears but when they lay flat, which normally indicates an animal is cross, I decided to stop. “Remember they bite and spit” was the advice from my daughter Caroline earlier in reply to my text that I was booked to ride a camel. Now completely out of my comfort zone I decided reducing the ‘splits’ demanded my whole attention.
It was now nearly 6.45 and being within earshot of the young man I suggested maybe it was time to turn around. He ignored me but to my relief the photographer took control, gave marching orders to the young man telling him this was the last time he would lead a group. The pace slowed which made riding easier. We turned for home and fell in behind the other line. I estimated we would be back by 7.15 with every chance of making the deadline.
As we looked into the sunset and the camels formed this famous line at the water’s edge my camel made definite leanings to the left. This meant I had to lean purposely to the right to maintain my balance. Looking back the gentleman with the lead rope opined that “Sarah doesn’t like getting her feet wet so not to worry.” “Not to worry”!! Couldn’t he at least lead the lot back from the edge. Anyway we were facing in the right direction; I was actually on a camel at Cable Beach; there really was a sunset of which I was part; so why not enjoy it. And I did.
We got back at 7.15 and I counted the minutes as the dismounting began from the back. When it got to me, once again I was completely overtaken by the sudden lurch below but with some help I managed to ease my leg back over the pommel and slip with a thump to the sand. Aware that John was being helped out of his saddle, and willing my knees to come together, I took off to the tray-back vehicle with the photographs. It was then I saw John being helped into a 4-wheeldrive which promptly left for the car park.
The first few yards on hard sand were easy but I soon bogged in the heavy dry sand higher up the beach. Remembering that people had been left behind in Darwin an urgency overtook me and I was propelled up the beach, onto the rocks and into the carpark, arriving with minutes to spare. ‘How did you get back so quickly?” John asked. “I thought you wouldn’t make it and was just preparing to lie down in front of the bus”.