Category Archives: Animals

05th October 2012 – No.23: Ride a Camel

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Linda the Camel

Linda the Camel

My October visit to Fethiye in Turkey had originally been planned so I could attend my long-time (since we were 10 actually) friend Jess’s wedding to her fiancé. Unfortunately this event was then postponed due to the complexities of inter-continental marriage laws; but since I already had my plane ticket I came out to visit them anyway for four days. While I was in Fethiye, I bought a beautiful book to use as a diary. It is directly from this diary that I take the story of how I crossed ‘Ride a Camel’ off my list.
05/10/12 – Cuma (Friday)
This morning the first thing that happened was that I discovered a rather large mosquito bite on my elbow. Thankfully it isn’t itching. I went for breakfast at around 9:30 and actually met another guest of the hotel (I was beginning to think I was the only one!) He is from Holland (we didn’t exchange names) and is here on business. We had a rather nice conversation over breakfast, although I suspect I did the majority of the talking.
Breakfast consisted of melon, cucumber, olives (none of which I like) tomatoes, boiled egg, bread, cheese, butter, jam and tea (English, black) all of which I do. Then I went to find Jess, who wasn’t quite awake yet, so I took her dog Sosis (Sausage) for his morning walk while she sorted herself out. Once she was ready we went to get some more money out and exchange it as most of the cash I had on me went on the hotel (£60 for five nights is very reasonable though).
Jess bought some chicken and we made a chicken curry for Jess’s fiancé, who was staying behind to work (he sells tours and excursions and does jeep safari with the tourists, who all call him Captain Jack Sparrow, to whom he bears some resemblance). Lunch was dolma (stuffed cabbage leaves) with yogurt, made by Jess’s fiancé’s mum, very nice. Then we caught the Dolmuş (bus) up to Kaya village where the ghost town and camels can be found.  The camels were lying down at first so I didn’t actually realise how big they are compared to me. Jess mounted her camel first and it seemed quite bad-tempered about it, so I was mildly apprehensive about mounting mine. Fortunately mine was much more docile.

Me on Molly

Me on Molly

I have to say being on a camel when it stands up is a very strange experience, it lurches up at the back end first and then the front and when standing they are very tall, at least from the perspective of a person such as myself who has never ridden an animal of any sort before. The camel man told us that Jess’s camel is called Linda and mine is Molly, although why they don’t have Turkish names is a mystery to me. He hitched Molly to the back of Linda’s saddle so she could follow and put a pink beaded muzzle on her so she wouldn’t bite Linda.

Jess on Linda

Jess on Linda

Once we were all ready the camel man led Linda off at a sedate pace, through the winding paths of Kaya village (the inhabited parts and some of the ruins) and the surrounding farms. There seemed to be an awful lot of goats. Passing through some of the narrower paths, a problem became immediately apparent in that being high up on a camel puts you in the way of overhanging tree branches which you then have to dodge or move so as not to get smacked in the face, and also bushes and brambles which the camel happily ploughs through without the slightest regard for the fact that your legs and bare feet (I was wearing flip-flops) are trailing through them.
I kept wondering how people manage to ride such long distances on them in the desert, for while it was a pleasurable and very entertaining experience after a while I imagine it would be rather uncomfortable. The thought also crossed my mind that it would be quite easy for the camel to throw me if it really wanted to, a thought reinforced when it came time to dismount. Again, Jess went first. Then camel man instructed her to hold on and lean back, at which point, Linda dropped to her knees so forcefully that Jess was nearly hurled from the saddle and only the camel man catching her saved her from faceplanting in the dirt.

Me on Molly

Me on Molly

Having learned from Jess, I leaned well back and was therefore able to dismount with some measure of grace. We paid the camel man, then afterwards Jess and I bought Çay (Turkish tea) and pancakes at the village, seating ourselves on one of the raised wooden platforms strewn with cushions that are dotted around the restaurant. Jess did tell me what the Turkish word for them is but I forgot it. We also shared a drink called Ayran which is a frothy, watery salted yogurt (I think). It sounds disgusting but tastes ok; I imagine it’s an acquired taste.
***
There ends the extract; the diary entry does continue for the remainder of the day but none of that is relevant to the camel-riding experience. I had a thoroughly enjoyable adventure and I got to share it with one of my best friends, which is always better.

23rd March 2012 – No.33: Have a Go at Falconry

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My fiance Elliot’s birthday was coming up and I wanted to get him something a bit unusual. Elliot is very hard to buy gifts for because he doesn’t really like getting presents. What he does like, is animals. Elliot loves animals of all kinds and I thought, hey……falconry! I can do two things here; give Elliot an experience he’ll enjoy every time he remembers it and cross something off my list at the same time. So I started researching falconry experience days online. The best one I could find locally was at Knockhatch Adventure Park in Polegate; for £180 the two of us could have an all-day one-on-one with the falconers. We would get to handle a variety of different birds and even fly them.

On the day of the experience, the 23rd of March 2012, Elliot and I got on a train to Polegate. We were both quite excited and I was happy that Elliot liked his gift. At Polegate station, we got a taxi to Knockhatch Adventure Park. Once there, we told the man at the front desk what we were there for and he went to fetch the people running our day.

Elliot holding an Owl

Elliot holding an Owl

There were two falconers, a man and a woman. They introduced themselves as J and N and started by showing us around the area of the park where the birds were kept. We saw kestrels, hawks, owls, falcons, vultures, parrots and a whole host of others. As we walked they told us all about them; what they ate, how they stayed hydrated (by bathing in water), where each bird was from and all sorts of interesting facts. Finally, they equipped us with tough leather gauntlets and after some advice on what to do, what not to do and how dangerous the birds could actually be (they can cause major damage with their talons and beaks), we walked out into the training ground and came face to face with the first bird we would hold.  N took Elliot to one side of the field and I stayed on the other with J and the falcon. N told Elliot to raise his arm and falcon flew to it. J told me to do the same thing and the falcon flew back to me. We took it in turns to do this a few times while N and J told us about how falcons hunt and fly and how they look after them. Then N gave Elliot a fake rabbit on a string and told him to run with it as fast as he could to see if he could outrun the falcon. He gave it a pretty good go but the falcon swooped after him and pounced on the ‘rabbit’. It was amazing to watch. After that we held a variety of owls and got them to fly between posts and each other.

Elliot and I holding Harris hawks.

Elliot and I holding Harris hawks.

Next, we went on a Hawk Walk. We each were given a Harris hawk to hold and we took them for a walk in the woods. N and J explained that the hawks considered that it was our job to flush out prey as we were part of the hunting pack, so we followed their lead in approaching potential hiding places. N said there probably wouldn’t be any prey as they would know the birds used the area to hunt but we should look like we were doing our bit anyway as the hawks would get cross if we shirked. Occasionally our birds would respectively return to us as if reporting their progress. The hawk I had didn’t like men and would only come to me or N. She stayed well clear of Elliot, who seemed perfectly content with his own hawk. Lunchtime arrived so we returned the birds and headed off to the barn to get our lunch. Our meal was included in the price of the experience. While we ate, we chatted about our day so far and looked over our pictures and videos. Following lunch, we were invited to the lunchtime show done by N and J, which they did every day for visitors at the park. The show involved some birds we’d worked with, others we hadn’t and animals such as polecats and meerkats. Once the show was done, we helped N and J return the animals to their homes and even got to play with the ferrets and polecats. Meerkats, however are fiercely territorial (which is why they don’t make good pets) albeit very social towards members of their own group. We were not members of their group, so N and J put the meerkats away themselves. N and J take them home at night and they sit on the sofa together and watch TV. Apparently the meerkats really like watching ‘Love Actually’ and will sit and hug each other while they watch.

Me with a Turkey Vulture.

Me with a Turkey Vulture.

In the afternoon, we helped N and J exercise a few more of the birds, including a Turkey vulture, which looked enormous on my arm but considerably smaller on Elliot’s. The whole time we’d been calling the birds to us, N and J had been giving the birds small pieces of meat to reward them. I wanted to try, so I asked N if I could. She looked a little surprised and told me most people don’t want to handle the raw meat (which was little bits of a chick) but I could if I wanted to. She showed me how to discreetly remove the meat from the pouch and slip it into my gloved hand without the bird seeing (otherwise it might go for my unprotected hand looking for food). Elliot wanted to try too and soon we were both calling and rewarding the birds without assistance. N and J then told us we had worked well enough with the birds to do something they don’t let everyone do; take a falcon through its exercises all by ourselves. We attached pouches of dead chick to our waists and took the falcon out on the field. Working together, we lured him from post to post and between ourselves while N and J watched from a distance. It felt amazing to have even that brief connection between us and the bird, and humbling to witness the beauty and majesty of the falcon as he took flight at our request.

When we were done, N and J told us they had apprentices who came every week who didn’t do as well as we’d just done, which was a huge compliment and the cherry on the cake of an incredible day. It was the first thing I’d ever done off my list with Elliot and that made it even more special. The memories and the photos I have of Elliot’s face lighting up with joy will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Elliot with an owl and me with an American kestrel.

Elliot with an owl and me with an American kestrel.

15th of June 2007 – No.40: Cure My Arachnophobia

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Me holding Rosie the Chilean Rose Tarantula

Me holding Rosie the Chilean Rose Tarantula

I used to have a phobia of spiders. The horrible little scuttling things just Freaked Me Out. I was pretty sure that my arachnophobia developed through watching various family members display a fear of spiders throughout my childhood and I really didn’t want my child to learn it from me when she was born. I therefore decided that I should spend my pregnancy curing myself of this fear. I started off with baby steps. Whenever I spotted a spider I stood a safe distance away from it and observed it. After all, familiarity breeds contempt and contempt is better than fear (Wiggle logic – possibly slightly different from normal logic). I found that shortly I could be in the presence of a spider without my skin crawling and an urge to run away. A few months later, I was visiting a friend, when she discovered a large, black, hairy spider on the wall next to her bathroom.

“You should get rid of it!” she suggested, with the air of someone who has just found a way to spare themselves misery and look magnanimous to boot. “It will help you cure your arachnophobia.” Somewhat dubiously, I crept down the corridor to confront it, armed with the prerequisite pint glass and sheet of paper. My friend and her eldest daughter (both equally terrified of spiders), tiptoed along behind me, part moral support, part morbid curiosity. Facing my eight-legged nemesis, I took a deep breath.

Step One: trap spider beneath glass -success.

Step Two: carefully slide paper under glass -oh God, oh God, where the bleep did it go?

Having accidentally dislodged the spider, eliciting screams from all present, I frantically scanned the floor, to no avail: the spider had apparently vanished…until it was spotted by my friend.

“It’s on you!” she shrieked. I freaked.

“Get it off!” I yelled, lunging toward her. She promptly took off down the hall screaming, followed by her daughter, who was also screaming. I chased them into the kitchen. “Get it off me!” I wailed again.

“Take your jumper off, it’s on your shoulder!” She shouted.

“What if it goes in my hair?” I panicked.

“Just do it!” She urged. With the same trepidation one feels before ripping off a band-aid, I tore the jumper from my body and I threw it to the ground. The spider scuttled out with alacrity, enjoying less than two seconds of freedom before my friend stomped on it. I do actually feel slightly bad about that. (However much I may have disliked spiders in the past, I have always believed it is bad luck to kill them.) After this incident, my arachnophobia-curing exploits took a back seat.

Once I gave birth, I felt an overwhelming sense of personal strength and empowerment. I firmly believe that is what finally led me to overcome my fear of spiders. A few days after I returned from hospital, I found a small, skinny spider in my bathroom. Its presence didn’t bother me. I wasn’t scared. I didn’t feel compelled to remove it. I named it ‘Spidey’ and for the next three days that it was resident in my bathroom, conversed with it. As the months passed, this extended to all spiders I came across. Finally, I decided it was time to test it out properly. I asked an acquaintance (known as Goblin) whom I knew to possess a number of tarantulas (among other things), to help me out.

I was going to HOLD A TARANTULA. A year ago, this was a thought I could not have tolerated. The day came and I took my little Emiko to Goblin’s house. While she snoozed in her carry cot, Goblin took out a Mexican Red-Kneed tarantula named Dude. He let him walk around on the bed for a while and then picked Dude up to hand him to me. I cupped my hands and held them out: I felt quite comfortable. The tarantula weighed more than I had anticipated, about the same as a hamster. His feet felt as though he was wearing tiny velvet socks. It was not the least bit unpleasant. And I felt more than justified in crossing ‘Cure my Arachnophobia’ off my list.

All these years later, has my fear returned? Basically, no. I am much happier to be around spiders. I still prefer to remove them with a glass, if I have to move them on, because they don’t take kindly to it and tend to run. Other than that I have no problem with them. A few days ago I was sitting on the beach and one ran up my leg. I simply coaxed it onto my finger and placed it on the shingles. No drama, no legging it, no screaming.

My only regret is that I didn’t think to take pictures; since I have lost contact with Goblin and don’t know any other friendly tarantulas, I can’t see me getting any soon but as soon as I do, I will post them here. UPDATE: I found a nice man who let me hold his Chilean Rose (named Rosie): so now there are pictures, yay!

Me holding the Chilean Rose Tarantula

Me holding the Chilean Rose Tarantula