I had heard about Camel Spiders and I am not sure if the reports made me shudder more than when I encountered one face to face. It was on one visit to Abu Lifa... (Full Story Here ) Judith and I were visiting there again to investigate the possibility there may be access to an extended part of this Coptic fortress through the top of the escarpment. On the promotory of the escarpment, the caves and cavern system had collapsed during former earthquake. It had left a system of squashed passageways beneath the huge sandstone blocks which gave access to the remains of caves, cysterns and caverns.
Our Google Earth and desk research proved correct. I crawled on my stomach and managed to get through to the cliff on the other side. On the way I found the domed remains of the cave church with fabulous iconic paintings still showing through on the plaster. Some of this is showing in the header picture behind the Camel spider, and this was the chamber in fact that I crawled out of to get to the cliff face with its sloping walkway to the rest of the fortress beyond.
As I stepped out to stand upright a movement caught my eye less then two feet away to my left. A huge camel spider had appeared over the rounded edge of the cliff. I would guess it was 3 inches or more in its spread and looked like a slightly hairy amber tarantula.
I recognised it immediately and knew its terrible reputation. It gave me a helluva scare and I didn't really know what the hell to do ! There was nothing much I could do ! I was perched on the crumbling edge of a cliff well over a hundred feet up. The spider blocked my path forward, and to retreat I would have to crawl out on my belly again.
I didn't have to wait very long. As I remained frozen, the spider set off at the speed of a mouse at full tilt almost towards me. It went past my foot by a couple of inches and disappeared into the aperture and cavern area I had just crawled out of. My heart was thumping and to be honest I nearly wet myself hehe.... especially in the knowledge that soon I would have to get down on my stomach and return through the cavern passage in pursuit of the damned Camel Spider. I did so later safely and was eternally grateful for the fact that the spider obviously had other business to deal with that day!
Whenever we went out on a visit to the Wadi Ryan protectorate and to the Western Desert we always knew to be even more careful. At the small oasis (which are called springs) in the flat of the valley, the whole area predominates with scrub bushes. Closer to the water, which can be saline and or sulphurous - where it rises to the surface, there are date palm trees. The Coptic monks who live there in their cave hermitages have no fear of any of the desert creatures big or small, but issue severe warnings to visitors to be careful in certain places. On this occasion we were visiting a sulphur spring. Our guide spotted this beauty. To date we still have not identified it, but we were told not to go near it ourselves.
On another occasion we were taken to Old Cairo. We were deliberately taken a confusing route to make it hard for us to pinpoint our destination. We know it was very close to an old Mosque. The main room of the house had been turned into an open excavation which had been underway secretly for two years. The shaft disappeared deep into the bowels of the ground. We were told there had been a breakthrough into very old catacombes and there were poisonous bugs which made it very dangerous and not safe for us to go down without protective clothes. We saw huge cockroaches near the top of the shaft. We were told that where old remains were found, the bugs were never far away. They told us there were also established webs on the walls with these poisonous spiders. One of the men went to collect this one for us to photograph. He opened the tub for a split second for us to take the photo above and jumped like hell to put the lid back back on when the spider moved. We didn't find out what this species was either.
Even closer to home there are always plenty of arachnids. This one was on the ceiling of the apartment living room. Only small but we always steered clear ! The one consolation was that they took care of equally nasty smaller bugs.....
We were out at the cave Monastery in the Western desert. The Coptic monks took us to see a snake they had found. It was now dead and I wanted the best camera shot. I picked up a straw of grass and reached down to move it around a little. A monk grabbed me by my sleeve and literally dragged me to a water outlet closeby. He made me wash my hands diligently. Aparrently he thought I had moved the viper with my finger and knew the venom was fatally toxic. There was a possibility even in death that some of its venom may be on its skin. It could still kill someone quickly if transferred to the body. The guide there told us of a camel on a treck which was bitten by one of these. Allegedly the venom took less than half an hour to kill the camel.
Down on the valley floor near to where the monks have their caves, there is a spring which supports a reasonable garden. The monks have tended it for years for some basic fresh vegetables and figs. The scrub and the palm trees are natural homes to scorpions, rodents and snakes, which feed also on birds and their eggs. The sand boa was mentioned to us along with the viper above. Also in this bounded garden there is an outlet where water under natural pressure from the ground is directed up a spout to a wash area. Attempts over the yearsd had been tried to make this a reasonably comfortable bathing area, but in truth it was a mess. I decided to press-gang our guide, and with Judith's extra help we set about improving it by cement plastering a ground basin to take the large victorian bath they had aquired many years previously. The job went well but we ran out of daylight as we were finishing. The guide was going frantic, saying it was time when all the nasties appear. As we were finishing, the ground was beginning to cover with the biggest ants I have ever seen in my life. There was distinct movement in the palms abobe, which our guide swore were snakes, and he was convinced we would be stung by scorpions. All tools were abandoned to next day and I was glad to get out of there for the night, with my arms covered in ferocious insect bites wherever I was not covered. The pics above and below, show the area before and after... and in the last section to be done near the bottom of the pics, there are a good number of ants over an inch long which will be preserved for posterity and the for next seeker to discover.
The circle shows where the improved bath-house area is in the garden. It was always necessary when moving wood or stones in particular to watch out for many different kinds of scorpion. The one above was only small and was found nearby coming from under the wheel of the vehicle after we had camped out on blankets beside it overnight. The driver killed it he said, because he did not have an antedote in his anti venom kit for it. He said, one sting and dead !
We made camp in the desert whenever we got the chance. There is nothing to compare with the spirit and silence of the deep desert provided simple precautions were observed. Wood for a fire had to be gathered from scrub areas, but the camp was always made preferrably away in a depression on virgin sand. Great care had to be taken in the gathering of wood because vipers or scorpions sometimes used hollow logs for home. We were quoted a story where a snake fled from a hollow log at one campfire like an arrow shot from a bow, between the people sitting round the fire.
Blankets protected us from sand bugs and the vehicle was our wind break. However in the morning the sand was usually covered with the tracks of scarab beetles. They obviously wandered over on top of us while asleep and unaware. We rarely saw them in daylight but they must have been everywhere at night.
We were warned to keep an eye out for sidewinder snakes on the open sand. We saw the disttinctive tracks of their passage over clean sand a few times, but never the actual snake. Locals told us the snakes felt us from a long way away and avoided us, and they could move exceptionally fast across the sand. I am still looking for a couple of pics I took of their tracks !
Well camouflaged Lizards could be found everywhere and could also move very fast. They are almost at the bottom of the food chain and could be seen especially where there were any rocks with crevices to dart into from danger.
There are lots more Bugs stories which we will bring to you soon, buit I hope this gives you a little flavour of what to expect.
Joins us back at the Personal Story Index so we can Go to the Dogs