Camel spiders by night
A family of donkeys were eyyorring on the mountain side of the Wadi, fun for 10 minutes and just plain annoying for the rest of the day. Scouring ancient Broze field systems for pottery shards, flint and anything else the winter floods bought from the Nabatean plateau was all in a days work for a young archaeologist somewhere in southern Jordan.
Cut-off jeans, Debenham’s fleece jacket and a pair of ancient NHS glasses presented me to the local Bedouin who looked on with alarming interest as I counted pieces of bronze-age pottery scattered around their tent. It wasn’t my fault they had camped where they did, so I just smiled and continued to click.
As another day in the field drew to a close we returned to base camp to sort findings and prepare dinner. Base camp consisted of three muddy clay structures, a couple of wooden shacks and a few canvas army tents nestled in the mountains of Wadi Feinan. Flint was sketched, pottery catalogued, a few beers opened and a simple meal of rice and meat cooked and consumed. We recounted the days findings, drew up artefacts, allocated the next days work and then slowly drifed off to dusty books and bumpy pillows. The star fields out there were something else, a billion trillion tiny dots painting a masterpiece in the sky. Pulling my camp bed from a ratty canvas tent I settled in the middle of the Wadi, my sleeping bag wrapped up tight around me. Sleeping never felt so good.
Unsure of the time I woke to a hard thud hitting my thigh. It was dark but the stars illuminated every detail in the landscape like a lunar surface. Blinking out the small opening from inside my bag I could hear a shrill clicking noise, a kind of chirpping like a Cicada with an evil undertone. It was a heavy thing, slow moving but not lazy, moreso as if stalking a prey with each of it’s eight steps a calculated movement, clicking as it tasted the air around it. Camel Spider.
I think I developed heart palpitations at this point in my life, I hate spiders. I’d seen them a lot before, the creepy looking things littered the basalt desert but tended to sleep at day and come out at dawn and dusk, scuttling from rock to rock looking for camels to munch on. Okay, full disclosure; so every Bedouin tells the same bedtime story to their kids, that camel spiders eat camels. They run and jump fast, springing with their back legs, gripping on to a camels leg whilst injecting some kind of uber-poison and then casually drop off and wait for the camel to die. Dinner time. BUT it’s not actually true. They’re called camel spiders because they live in the desert, period, they’re not even poisonous but they are FRICKING HUGE and will bite you if threatened. Literally the day before I had also seen with my own eyes a camel spider clinging to the hind legs of a camel. I had a right to be scared.
As the spider moved over my sleeping bag it’s legs made a scrapping sound on the rough material, it’s heavy body denting my bag as it moved over my torso towards the only opening; the hood. It’s fricking cold in the desert at night so before I slept I would always draw the hood cords as tight as possible, leaving a small opening the size of an apple to breathe through, but in this case it was just big enough for an massive camel spider to gain entry for a midnight snack. And that’s all I could think of; what if it got up here, what if it got in to the bag, I think I would actually die before it even bit me. A vicious circle of anxiety, worry and fear prevails and I lay there doing absolutely nothing.
I remember the next few seconds in slow motion, maybe adrenoline took over, maybe I shook myself out of the trance, maybe the spider got too close to my face, whatever it was I made a move. Springing from the camp bed I started hopping around in my sleeping bag, screaming at my oppresser for what semed like an eternity. The spider flew off the bag and I heard a thwack on the floor a few meters away. An actual THWACK, it was that heavy. I hopped as fast as I could on to the veranda of the only tall-ish building in the Wadi and bound up on to a chair in case it was chasing me. It wasn’t.
I waiting. And waited. And waited. Finally I stuck my head out the bag, surveyed the area, nothing was moving, everything seemed normal.
The next part I really can’t explain, possibly the idiocy of youth, maybe a false image of heroism, but whatever it was I hopped off the chair still in my bag, hopped back over to the camp bed and pulled it a bit closer to a bush. Yes, a bush. Then I went back to sleep. Why? No idea. In situations like that there is no get out of jail free card, you can’t escape the creatures even if you’re in a tent or building, so I guess it was just one of those things that, at the time, you just have to suck up and get on with. The next day I went to the toilet block and there was one hanging on the back of the door as I closed it. I had to sit there, a foot away with it eye-balling me.
p.s. Sleeping bags still make me nervous, I can’t use one unless I’ve turned it inside out twice.
Barnaby Jaco Skinner
Full time photographer & publications specialist
I'm a professional photographer and artist. I've worked and lived around the world, spending most of my adult life on the run from conformity and routine; it's a lifestyle that lends itself well to exploring this vast Earth we call home. This virtual place is home to some of my latest work and acts as a portal for business and workshop clients.