Saturday, November 03, 2007

Sahara safari

Saharan faux killing fields

Desert vine

Hawley with gazelle food we first thought was baby skull

What you pack into the back of an SUV when you are driving paying customers into a vast desert where you might die if you break down in the wrong place is a matter of some importance. We inventoried our load.

There were pans and tubs and tin dishes and a tea set and firewood and bedding and an all-purpose mat and canned goods and fresh produce and bread and a spare tire and 113 liters of water and 240 liters of gasoline.

The gas, Naou Naou explained, outweighed water in importance because with it you could go look for water.

One day in our travels we came upon two men seated outside a wrecked truck in the middle of no where surrounded by 100s of acres of sand and nothing else. Plastic soda bottles of water were lined up by one of the tires. A radio was set up on a stack of boxes. They'd been there out in the middle of the wasteland alone for 12 days.

They worked for a petroleum research firm and they could not leave their disabled vehicle alone, so they'd waited for someone to come along who could report their problem and now were waiting for the help they'd requested to come back.

Ahmed turned over his pack of cigarettes and one of the stranded men immediately lit up.

I think I'd go nuts. The Tuaregs laughed. The weather was good. No sand storms this time of year. They had plenty of water. No problem.

Several times we came to sections of the desert that resembled pictures of the Cambodian killings fields, but in miniature. What looked like the skulls of hundreds of babies littered the desert floor as if the infants had been left out to dry.

Actually they were bleached fruits -- the Tuaregs did not know the name of them in English but in Arabic it sounded like hedja -- Tuaregs find them bitter and won't eat them. But they grow plentifully on vines on the desert floor and sustain the considerable gazelle population of the Sahara. We saw some and were as excited as if seeing a lion or leopard on an East African safari.

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