Normally Fritz didn’t stink like cat piss.

For the last two weeks we had spent hours every day swimming and snorkelling in the Red Sea near Dahab. With no fresh water for washing, apart from salty skin, we were really clean.  He was intermittently snoring and gurgling in his sleep  in a strange way, as if his throat had been cut. He’ll be alright, I flicked sand off my face and snuggled deeper into my sleeping bag.

“Fritz stop doing that! If you spit on me again I am going to … Oh shizzle”,

“Fritz wake up….WAKE UP you dopey Austrian there’s a camel chewing the leaves on this palm tree.”

The date palm had become our home. We had set up a makeshift camp, during the day time we buried our rucksacks in the sand and wandered away down the endless beaches to a bay where an Israeli girl had built a shack. She had food and water that desert Arabs brought her and sold glasses of water to travellers who happened by.

I met Fritz at Nuweba, a tiny settlement in the Sinai. We blagged food from religious hippies who had a curious tented compound, they would feed us a meal if we joined in their Bible reading and hymn singing at night in a massive Boy Scout tent. Nuweba was a bit safe for me and Fritz, and when somebody told us about the Israeli girl near Dahab and the monastery at Santa Katarina we hitched a lift in a pick up truck and settled into life under a date palm.

The desert is a truly beautiful place, of course there isn’t much vegetation as we know it here in England, but there is loads to see, sort of grasses, weeds and random scruffy bushes. We had hatched a plan to catch wild camels and take tourists (we assumed that there would be tourists in the town) on camel safaris to Santa Katarina.

The few date palms around were clearly a magnet for wandering camels. The Arab owners hobbled them at night, but they could still roam enough to find food. The date palms weren’t the lovingly trimmed things we see on the esplanades around the Med, they were constantly pillaged by camels and home to roosting birds, each was like an individual oasis for the creatures there.

Things are looking up

We loved our date palm, even tried climbing up into it. Big mistake. They have evil spikes at the base of the fronds, somehow the camels got around that, but we cut ourselves to ribbons before submitting to raucus laughter from the ‘real’ camel herders. Early morning when it was quite cool we would lay in our sacs looking up into the tree watching spiders and birds, insects of all sorts wandering around happily in their private world.

One day we were laying on some sand dunes watching the foam floats we had put onto some baited line to try and catch fish for the Israeli girl to cook and sell. We didn’t wear clothes, there was no point. During the daytime it was hot, nobody else wore clothes except the Arabs, so it came as a shock when we saw two girls wandering down the beach wearing bikinis. Fritz was off like a greyhound after the rabbit, Leonie and Nurit arrived in our lives and things took another bizarre twist.

Nurit was stunning, an Israeli with eyes like melted amber, Fritz fell in love instantly so I was left to pal up with Leonie. She had been working in London and was staying with Nurit in Beersheva on her way back to Australia for Christmas. Leonie had travelled overland as far as possible from Australia a couple of years previous, her tales of pig toilets, drug dealers in Thailand, the temples in Burma and so on were more grist to the mill for my wanderlust.

Within a few days Fritz said he was going back to Beersheva with Nurit so me and Leonie kind of tagged along. We spent a few weeks in Nurit’s flat. It was nearing time for Leonie to make her way to Athens for her flight home. She said that I should go along with her and stay with her family in Australia for Christmas. So, as you do? I agreed. In Athens I had to blag a visa at the Australian embassy, saying we were going to get married in Sydney and that was it. Thai airlines had gone on strike, so when we got the airport we had to be put up in a 5* hotel in Athens for 2 days, the flight eventually took off and we had to spend another night gratis in Bankok before arriving in Melbourne.

Of course this is where the gardening and obsession with plants evolved. In Melbourne we had to exit the plane on the tarmac a long walk from the terminal. My first impression was of the humidity, heat and smell. The astringent head clearing smell of Eucalyptus, it was so overpowering that I expected Skippy to hop across the runway, and passport control to be a koala chewing a gum leaf.