Good Night and God Bless

Exciting eBook series on pilgrim routes and overnight stays, off the beaten tourist path

On the Hoof in the Outback

Trish Clark discovers camel trekking is not all hard work

We were a small party, and complete strangers. Margaret and I both in our sixties; Olaf, a septuagenarian fresh from Finland; and Russell an experienced cameleer, author and adventurer.

But we weren’t strangers for long. In the shearing shed of the 400,000 acres Beltana Sheep & Cattle Station, 550 kilometres north of Adelaide we bonded over red wine, damper and saltbush lamb roast. We slept in the shearers’ quarters and at dawn climbed eagerly into the back of a ute to be driven to a holding area near Lake Torrens for our rendezvous with the camel train.

Wise Jack, the leader of the herd was accompanied by Sahid, Taggles, Baci, Coco, Sheeba, cranky Camilla and half-ton baby Euco. Russell instructed us on some of the finer points of desert-craft – how to make a fire, boil a billy, roll up a swag, which buttons to press on the emergency radio if he came to some sort of grief, and how to use a desert loo (find bush, check for snakes, dig, execute, set alight, cover up).
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While we trekked alongside or from a safe distance behind carrying only water and fruit, the camels did all the heavy work. With broad, padded feet, knobbly knees and full loads they glided silently over the dunes, effortlessly lugging our food supplies, swags, picnic table, gallons of water and a securely stowed rifle in the unlikely event we happened to be charged by a bull (camel).

A fly-net was a necessity – swatting an utter waste of energy.

Soon Olaf became Ollie and Margaret was Margie as each day we followed the same routine. We woke early, nudged from the comfort of our swags by a benevolent desert sunrise. After untethering the camels to roam for food we ate our own breakfast cosying up to a glowing campfire in the near zero temperatures, toasting bread and brewing tea. We packed up camp following the ‘leave no trace’ rule of the desert, lining up bundles of equipment for easy loading.

Then we set off, spreading out in all directions to round up the camels, who had often wandered some kilometres. At times we lost sight of each other, and the camels. The first time this happened was frightening. All the rippling dunes looked exactly the same; there were no landmarks. However, Russell’s sixth sense kicked in and he always knew which dune to look behind. Finally the camels were loaded and, dismissing a futile urge for a restorative cuppa, we’d recommence our trek.

Each day, the scenery was unchanging: clear blue skies, mounds of ochre sand dunes, smatterings of saltbush and shade trees. We crossed dry river beds scattered with Aboriginal grinding stones churned up by the elements and odd pieces of broken crockery, possibly from the early settler days. We picked our way through vast tracks of stone and shale.

Each day, we walked until lunchtime when we searched for a protected clearing to unload the camels. We gathered sticks, lit a fire, boiled the billy and devoured flatbread stuffed with tinned meat, slices of cheese, tomato and cucumber followed by filling chunks of supermarket fruit cake. Flies were a constant. As Russell cut up the food they rained down. At first this was off-putting, but with stomachs grumbling Margie and I soon overcame our city-girl sensitivities. After lunch we scooped out handfuls of red sand, hot on the surface and cool underneath, and lay in the refreshing burrow.

Each day, we marched until late afternoon, climbing the rolling dunes, straining as our feet sunk into the soft sand. To my surprise, the desert was keenly alive; we met shy kangaroos, curious emus, sunbaking lizards, wedge-tail eagles and more than once stepped over somewhat alarming troughs etched in the sand by snakes whose domain we temporarily shared.

Temperatures reached over 35⁰ most days, only to fall fiercely during the night. Each evening Russell found a sheltered oasis to set up camp, with trees to tether the camels, a spacious sandy area to unload and room to roll out our swags. The flies disappeared and the camels roamed for food while we set up camp. When the fire was blazing and dinner underway we would head out to round up the camels yet again.

We pulled on extra clothes and relaxed around the flames. Sharing stories, eating ravenously and sipping something hot was the reward for a tough day chasing eight dromedaries. Against all odds, Russell created delicious one-pot meals. Occasionally Margie and I made potato and onion mash to accompany meatballs or lamb shanks. Dessert was always a giant block of chocolate divided into four – what a treat!

Soon after dinner we snuggled gratefully into our super comfy swags. Each night, before sleep overtook me I shaped a peephole and was eyewitness to the kind of light show Van Gogh would have envied.

Trekking through the desert in the wake of a roaming camel train is not everyone’s idea of fun. But for me it was all about new experiences. Apart from walking across an ocean of sand, it was the first time I have gone more than a week without a bath or changed my clothes, the first time I have slept in a swag under the stars, or been wedded to a fly net. The first time I have helped care for a herd of headstrong but lovable camels.

One gruelling hot day when the herd wandered further than usual and the dunes resembled quicksand my whole being screamed ‘enough’. It was the first time I thought I had reached the absolute limits of my physical and mental endurance. But crashing through the limits of what you think you’re capable of leaves the spirit soaring.

And I met Margie who is very much like me. Her family and friends thinks she’s crazy too. We're going to hire a jeep and drive across the Nullabor next!
Good Night and God Bless
Have you ever slept in a Bishop's bedchamber or a nun's cell, or sipped Chianti in an abbey's dining room?

Travel writer, Trish Clark reports on an unusual way to holiday in her easily downloadable eBooks. The brilliantly produced ebooks could be described as a modern traveler’s bible. For those with a passion for travel and matters ecclesiastic the Good Night and God Bless eBooks series makes fascinating reading. The guides cover convent and monastery accommodation in France, Austria and Germany.

The idea for the books came to Trish accidently! As a young traveler, she couldn't find a bed in a youth hostel in Rome and was directed to a convent 'up the road' - which just happened to be in the Via Sistina, a brilliant location in Rome, at the top of the Spanish Steps. Since then, Trish has traveled to dozens of panoramic locations staying in convent and monastery guesthouses across several countries.

Suitable for tourists, the pious and the curious alike, these user-friendly guides have cassocks full of interesting snippets as the cloisters and their secrets open as accommodation. With no shortage of blessed beds, the listings include details of accommodation, local tourist information and travel titbits and anecdotes against a fascinating backdrop of history and religion.
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Monastery accommodation for tourists and pilgrims.
An invaluable online booking platform for modern-day travelers, pilgrims and groups and a guide to alternative accommodation in convents, monasteries, abbeys, religious guest houses, retreat centres and Christian hotels around the world.

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