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Wandering the Saharan Desert

My Travel Writing Scholarship 2011 entry - My Big Adventure

WORLDWIDE | Monday, 28 March 2011 | Views [134] | Scholarship Entry

Ever since I can remember, I have dreamed of seeing the world. As a child I devoured every book that crossed my path, particularly those about distant lands. I read "Around the World in Eighty Days" more times than I can remember. My ultimate dream was to trek through the Sahara and that opportunity came when I was traveling in Chinguetti, Mauritania. A former center for trans-Saharan trade routes, the glory days of this town are well gone and it's now being engulfed by sand dunes. Walking through its narrow streets, a man called Ahmed approached me and made me an offer I couldn't refuse. He said his brother was taking a camel to Ouadane, another town 120kms away and I could join him if I paid a small amount.
Early next morning Ahmed introduce me to Sidi, a short man wearing a black turban and wrapped in the traditional blue clothing used by the Arab-Berber. His deep dark eyes observed me inquisitively, without blinking, without shifting. By the deep wrinkles in his face I guessed him to be around 40 years old. Soon I realized that Sidi wasn't Ahmed's brother and didn't speak "perfect" French as I've been told (actually, he didn't spoke a word of it!). But that wasn't a problem for me and soon we were on our way.
For the next six days we walked together through the desert, with his loyal camel Shgar carrying our water and food. We were both covered from head to toes, wearing turbans to protect ourselves from the fierce sun and the 40C temperatures. You see, as you sweat the clothes get soaked ad cool you down.
Days went by like a dream, faced by impossible landscapes that tricked my mind's depth perception. In the middle of the day, the blinding sun turned everything white and featureless, making it impossible to tell near from far. This would be a stark contrast to the orange and reds that dominated the sunrise and sunset. The silence was absolute, only broken by our conversations and activities, or the occasional annoying fly.
The first thing we did every morning was to prepare a pot of strong and sweet tea. Similar to other cultures, when Arab-Berbers drink tea, they drink three cups of it. To light the fires we used dead branches found in little patches of vegetation that Sidi somehow would find in the immensity of the desert. I was never able to figure out how he did it.
With every day that went by we became closer friends. Although he didn't speak French and I didn't speak a word of Hassaniya, we understood each other through endless laughs. And as we reached Ouadane, our 120km walk came to an end; it was time to say goodbye. He offered to walk me back that same day, but ad to keep going and so did he. We hugged and then I saw him head back into the Great Saharan Desert without looking back.

Tags: #2011Writing, Travel Writing Scholarship 2011

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