In tropical climes: To keep ourselves cool, a moist fleshy plant-like material was worn next to the skin. Although initially clammy to the touch, ideally this would circulate fluids to the broad leafy appendages for evaporative heat exchange. Sunlight, body heat and perspiration would assist the plant.
In arid areas: While we lounged in the shade of the outcropping, our guides began the process of fashioing the native protective ‘cloak’. Shielding from the sun was essiential of course, and the natives had long exploited the hard, white bark-like substance which forms from a large bulbous cactus.
These particular species were slighly larger than a medicine ball, and nearly the same texture, although these a pale glossy green. The thorns were constricted to rings of aggregate clumps, the bottom sporting arrays of menacing conical spikes and it’s polar region bearing smaller, similar arrangements protecting it’s blossom pods.
The old woman indicated a mature individual cacti, her apprentice produced a small hollow reed and used it to break off several of the spikes along the base of the top cap. She then produced a blade and began circumscribing underneath, after a moment forcing the spiky toque to pop off like a cover.
Inside revealed a pale pinkish spongy material that wafted lightly of melon. She continued a circular cutting action around it’s center in some sort of coring action. Several of them then began pressing the top, so as to roll the cacti around and around, pulling it from the center fiberous bundle.
Someone produced a metal ladle and squised it into the hole at the top, slaking juice from the spongy material. This nectar, much to my surpirsem was offered to me. How could I refuse? The scent was light yet penetrating, almost like a mint but with some acrid notes. As it spilled I thoroughly expected mintysour, but was instead greeted with a light sweet taste reminescent of keylime pie. My face brightened with delight and the guides seemed to relax, as if seeking my approval. I offered the rest back to the girl and they passed it around chatting an happy for a few moments.
Now began the process of removing the lower spikes and scoring the outside of the sphere with shallow cuts in a manner similar such to resemble a globe. I wondered if they had ever seen one. This was followed by a slicing downward at the one seam. The Urui guide then proceeded to massage the fiber under the thick hide, forcing them to unfold. This then allowed the fibrous interior to be stretched with stones and to dry in the sun
That evening as the sun was setting and we were gathered at the fire, our cloaks were brought to us. A soaking wet mass was brought out by two men in masks carrying the oversize flat basket. They were replaced by a pair of masked women who would pull what was effectively a wet blanket from the pile and placed it across the shoulders of my companion. It’s weight was obvious. I wondered how on earth me and my companions would travel under the burden of these things… better to fry in the sun? Anxiety was growing within me.
Seeming to sense my fret, Uluru quietly explained how each cloak was personal, and the masks made sure there were no preferences made. Each cloak was only heavy now due to the water. We had to wear them tonight and sleep in them around the fire, so as the fibers dried they would take our shape. It was important for this to happen slowly at night, as drying in the sun caused too much shrinking and one could be trapped in their own cloak!
He also explained these things were quite tough and would protect us from animal attack, should such a thing happen. My friend an I exchanged nervous glances. Before I could ask about these attacks,
The cactus can then be used as a heat-resistant cloak. The roots will dry and strivel for travel, soaking in water once or twice a season will keep the cactus cloak flexible for many years. A thick linen cloth is typically worn to protect the wearer from the coarse interior fibers.