the llama poop incident
How is llama poop relevant in Dubai? A very fine question.
To start, let me set the scene by explaining that one of the most interesting things about moving to Dubai was discovering that very little of the population is actually Emirati – 13% or so to be exact. So who does live in Dubai you may well ask? The majority of the population, at about 34% currently, is people from India, mainly the southern states. This has been an interesting learning and one of the unexpected benefits has been that you can get great Indian food here.
One of the staples of Indian food is dahl/dal, a dish of lentils or some other pulse, usually eaten with rice or roti bread. Whenever I get offered dahl, I have a little shiver and I’ve always just gone with it and chosen something else, but I was reading through some of my travel diaries the other day, and was suddenly reminded of why my instinct is immediate dahl rejection – the infamous llama poop incident of Peru!
Let me take you back to circa 2003, buried deep in the Peruvian Andes. It was the end of a long day of high altitude trekking from the summit of one of the peaks, and we had finally made it back to the altitude level where there are actually plants and grass growing. We enjoyed a fun, celebratory evening around the fire sipping cheap cask grapes, singing and enjoying a feast of curry and one of the best dahls I have ever tasted. I couldn’t stop eating it…it was fabulous!
We eventually retired to our tents to rug up in our 3 layers of pants, two thermal tops, long-sleeved shirt, fleece, scarf, beanie, double socks and then into our thick down sleeping bags on our thin camp mats. The temperatures in those mountains can get as low as -20ºC overnight and it hadn’t taken us long to realise why the Aztecs were sun worshippers! We snuggled in for a well deserved rest.
Some time later, I was awoken by a distant rumbling… was it an earthquake? Was there a llama stampede coming? It took me a moment to rustle myself awake enough to realise the noise was emanating from deep within my own bowels somewhere.
It was time to try to extract myself from the layers and the cocoon of my sleeping bag and find that damn toilet tent!
This was an urgent situation.
I fumbled around and found my tiny night torch, slithered out of the bag, trying not to disturb my tentmate – the lovely Miss T whom you met in Lessons in Jordan Part I, 2 and 3. I managed to find my boots and somehow jam them on my overly socked feet, and then I quietly tried to unzip the tent to emerge into the freezing night, all the while trying to suck in some deep breaths and cross my legs as these cramps were really starting to kick in.
Most nights I would fight back the urge to use the toilet tent to avoid having to get out of my sleeping bag and I was shocked to see how little my torch actually helped with seeing where I was going. My eyes had not fully adjusted to the lack of light but this was an emergency. No time to wait. I tried to remember the path from the afternoon, and vaguely pictured how the path skirted some big pits which looked like they were filled with piles of llama poop – we joked about how you wouldn’t want to take a wrong step at night in fact. Ah the irony.
So I started walking blindly, determined not to take a wrong step. I shined my torch over towards where I thought the pits were and saw the glinting eyes of the troop of llamas that had come with us on this leg of the trek. Somewhat freaky in the middle of the night but at least I knew that was not the correct direction of the pits. I was sure the pits were somewhere to my right and the tent was up the path about 30 metres to the left. I gingerly took a few steps, then felt another massive groan in my belly and had to move a bit faster. The situation was becoming urgent! I could see through the dim glow of my torch that there was a small ridge ahead and I knew instinctively that if I stayed to the left I would avoid the pit.
One more step and another. I felt a surge as I was sure the tent wasn’t too much father.
And then… disaster – ahhhhh.. SPLOODGE…ick!
I had fallen sideways into the pit. I was lying on my back, in the pitch dark, sub-zero night and completely immersed in a gigantic pile of llama poop.
My torch had fallen out of my hand as I fell and was now somewhere in the pit too. My instinct was to start crying but then my belly reminded me that there was no room for self-pity, I HAD to make the toilet tent, and soon!
I groped around in the poop, not caring that I was further being covered in more poop until I found my poor dim little lamp. Somehow I pulled myself up to standing, knee-deep in the sludge. I was more surefooted now at least – what could possibly be worse?
I trudged further down the road and could vaguely see the tent coming into view. It felt like angels and beams were going to come from the sky and light up this blessed site… I started hobbling faster in my poop coated legs, not even worried about the poop trickling down the sides of my face
I had made it to the tent!
Even though I had made the tent, the crisis was not over. I had so many damn layers on, all of which were now coated in a thick oozy layer of poop, it was a struggle to get to the point where relieving myself was even possible.
I was so grateful to make it to the tent that I ripped everything down and barely noticed squatting with my poor poop coated trackies around my ankles, smearing more poop on my legs and butt – such was joy of the toilet tent. I started to giggle, dizzy with the relief but then realised this could be a long, cold night – the toilet tent is not heated after all!
After a good 45 minutes or so, I thought it was probably safe to try to head back to the warmth of my sleeping bag before I got pneumonia. The dahl ravages seemed to have subsided for the time being. I did my best to clean off what I could with some of the thin, damp paper provided.
By now, I had started to grow a thin crusty layer and everything was wet and cold. I hobbled back to my tent by the dim and increasingly faded light of the useless torch. Miss T had stirred by this stage, no doubt wondering what had happened to her tentmate and so of course, there was another few minutes of whispered, raucous laughter as the llama poop incident tale was officially born.
It was a long, cold night in the remaining layers i had to wear and I felt an immense sense of relief as I felt the warmth of the sun shining on the tent in the morning. We got up to inspect the damage to the trackies and the fleece and I stood up and emerged from the tent to see how I had gotten the path so wrong.
And there it was, the little hole in the pit where I had sadly missed the path. Only by centimetres had I veered off course. The llamas were still there in their little herd looking at me… I’m certain I saw one of them wink before they all turned to trot off towards their breakfast.
And so, here I am, living in Dubai and surrounded by every kind of dahl in India, instinctively refusing it each time. One of the guys in my team offered me some the other morning (yes, he eats that for breakfast with garlic paste(!)) and I paused for a minute, thought about the fact that there’s a nice clean toilet right next to my office, and gladly accepted. I now realise that there is no need to fear llama poop any longer – not a llama in sight in Dubai!
So, what are the two big lessons – avoid dahl when trekking in sub-zero temperatures, at all costs. And take a decent torch when you go trekking in the mountains!
Live and learn people! Have a lovely weekend!