Always in the deep woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is an ancient fear of the unknown and is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into. What you are doing is exploring. -- Wendell Berry

The TRIP: GUINEA - wonkifong --> MALI - bamako, djenne, douentza, Dogon Country --> Burkina Faso - ouagadougou, bobo-dioulasso, bala, ouagadougou --> GHANA - tamale, mole national park, tamale, yeji, volta lake ferry, akosombo, accra, green turtle lodge, elmina, cape coast, accra, hohoe and wli falls --> TOGO - kpalime, atakpame, lome --> BENIN - cotonu (transport stop) --> NIGER - niamey, tahoua, agadez, camel trek in aiir mtns, niamey --> BENIN (abomey, grand popo, ouidah, ganvie, cotonou) --> CAMEROON (douala, buea, top of Mt Cameroon, limbe, sangelima, yaounde, kribi, douala) --> MAURITANIA (nouakchott, atar, chinguetti, camels into the sahara, terjit, choume, ride the coal train, nouadhibou) --> MOROCCO (western sahara, dakhla, agadir, essaouira, marrakesh, imlil, summit of jebel toubkal, fes, chefchaouen) --> cross the Strait of Gibraltar --> Malaga, Spain --> fly to Geneva, Switzerland --> Les Grangettes, France
Click for a map. Updated April 30, 2007

mardi, mai 29, 2007

The Sahara

My body lunged forwards, backwards, forward again and backwards. Suddenly I was sitting uncomfortably approximately 6 feet off of the ground. I was again on top of a camel though instead of looking towards the Aiir Mountains of Niger I gazed out into the endless sand dunes of the Sahara.

The early morning began with prayer call a little after 4 am. Mauritania is much farther north so the sun rises earlier, leading to the sleep-shattering calls in the morning. The camels outside of the compound were equipped with the same single-hump of fat storage as those in Niger and were quite vocal. We walked the camels through the town of Chinguetti and into the dunes before getting on for the trek into the Sahara.

The dunes are amazing. Standing at different heights, they continue into the east as far as the eye travels. Sweeping slopes, fine razor-sharp ridges, and sublime humps provide the shapes for these shifting mountains of sand. The effect of the endless dunes is one of disorientation as the eye loses depth perception. Golden sand follows golden sand follows golden sand blends in with the blue sky.

I was curious to see how much life would be visible among the dunes. As I rode on top of the camel, I was provided with a good view that contained a surprising amount of green specks. Scattered in low spots among the dunes and in plains are small bushes and shrubs and I was eventually in for a surprise as my camel exited a series of steep dunes to find the jewel of the desert. An oasis. The instant flood of green among the golden-yellow is spectacular. The camels slowly made their way to the oasis, knowing that the day's work was over. The wash of green color was due to date palms. Unfortunately, it is not quite date season and the palms taunted me with clusters of bright green, unripe dates. The shade of the palms provided a cool refuge as the temperature in the sun began to soar and I enjoyed the peacefulness until the heat broke and I could venture out to explore the dunes.

"I can't believe it. It's not possible," were the exclamations around 11:oo that night. Rain. I had successfully dodged early rainy season downpours near the equator and was now getting rained on in the Sahara. It's a desert here! Locals think it's rainy season if they get 2 to 3 days of rain in a month. But here I was, sleeping out under the desert sky and having rain fall on my head. Fortunately, the rain soon stopped and I gained a few hours of sleep before being awakened by the camels for the return trek.