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Steve Savage Publishers Ltd
CoverIsland of the Dragon's Blood

Douglas Botting
sample extract...

A few days after our arrival in Hadibo we began to reconnoitre a suitable site for a base camp in the mountains, where most of our scientific work was to be done.

August 8th. This morning Neil and I, and two donkeys and Thani bin Ali and a guide whose name I do not know, set off across the plain and into the mountains. We wanted to look for a suitable site for the mountain base camp which we must establish soon. Last night we asked Ibrahim for two donkeys and a guide, and when the guide came this morning he asked us where we wanted to go in the mountains. We weren't sure, so we looked at our map and mentioned a few places at random -- Gow, Redahn, Grunhin. The guide, a pleasantly quiet, good-humoured, sensible, middle-aged man, knew none of these places. He did not know where they were and there were no roads to them, he said. We detected a note of desperate illogicality in his argument but said nothing. We were not particularly bothered where we went so long as it was in the mountains where the bedouin lived. We wanted our mountain camp to be near a bedouin settlement so that we could study them and take blood from them when the time came. I remembered the name of a place which had been glowlngly described by a previous visitor. Did the guide know Adho Dimellus? Adho Dimellus? Adho, Adho? Yes, he knew Adho. Were there any bedouin at Adho? Oh, no there were no bedouin at Adho. There were no bedouin in the mountains at all. He didn't know where they were but they were certainly not in the mountains. Yes, he knew who the bedouin were. But they were not in the mountains.

I got the idea that the guide did not want to go into the mountains, and Thani, who last night willingly agreed to accompany us, this morning seemed most surprised when we asked him if he was ready. 'Ready for what?' he asked. 'For the journey to the mountains,' we said. He was very loth to come with us. It seems the custom of this island that decisions reached after hours of discussion on the previous evening are completely forgotten by the next morning, so that one has to begin all over again. Eventually they both agreed to take us into the mountains, for the agreed fee of nine shillings per donkey. We pay for the donkeys and not for the men.

We left Hadibo about seven and crossed the plain in a south-east direction towards a great split in the mountains where a wadi comes down and crosses the plain to Suk. This wadi is the only way up into the mountains on the north side. When we were out of Hadibo the guide suggested that we might like to ride on the donkeys. We tried this but found that our legs trailed along the ground and were scratched by the thorn bushes. So we got off and walked humbly behind Thani and the guide, who sat comfortably on the donkeys.

After an hour and a half we came to the foot of the wadi. It stretched upwards in front of us, its upper reaches hidden in cloud and driving mist. It was an impressive entrance to a lost and unknown world. The wind blew cold and strong down the chasm and drops of rain fell on us. We felt very intrepid as we started up the mountainside, following a vague track on the right of the wadi. This wadi has cut deeply into the mountain over the millennia, so that now a narrow stream-bed falls precipitately down to the plain between steep mountainsides. The path often led high above the wadi, which appeared to be dry. Sometimes we saw what we thought was a waterfall, tumbling over great slabs of rock in the wadi bed, but when we came close we could see that it was only a kind of white chemical stain on the rocks, glistening in the sunlight. Probably limestone from the dried-up stream, precipitated on to the rocks.

As we climbed slowly up the track, picking our way between the large stones, slowly winding between the huge slabs of granite that seem to have been flipped all over the wadi-sides, we became more and more conscious of the lowering temperature, and of the cool blustery wind that blew down the gorge. All around us towered the spires of the Haggier, very grey and gnarled and majestic. The lower peaks had no clouds round them, but when we looked up the wadi we could see the clouds hanging about at about 3,000 feet and not coming any further northwards, so that all the bottom of the wadi and all the lower peaks had the sun on them. There were a lot of trees on the mountainside; I wish I knew the names of them, but they were mostly leafless, and the track wound between them. The plain lay below us like a relief map, criss-crossed with wadis green in the dirty yellow of the plain, and we could see the heat bouncing off it, like dust.