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Sahara

Day 64: The Ténéré Desert

The Ténéré Desert, Niger 
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One of the accompanying sheep is about to become a stew. On a long journey like this, fresh meat is a treat. The hide is valuable too and sand is rubbed in to preserve it.
Michael Palin - SaharaBy midday he has brought us to a spreading acacia, where we are to lunch and rest up in the heat of the day.

The sight of this single tree, which only survives out here because of root systems which search out water 100 feet or more below the surface, gives an extraordinary lift to the spirits. It's like coming across a house or even a small village.

Everyone gets to work. The camels suddenly become talkative, making their usual sounds of complaint or joy as their burdens are removed. Their front legs are hobbled, but this doesn't stop them shuffling nimbly off to a particularly tempting goblet-shaped bush. Soon they're squeezed around it, feeding, with heads lowered in concentration, like men at the urinals when the half-time whistle has gone.

Those camels that can't find a place at the bush, nibble away at the acacia, impervious to thorns as hard and sharp as small nails.

Today we have a special treat, the Saharan equivalent of a Sunday lunch. And it will be fresh. Omar is sharpening his knife and the two sheep and small black goat which have been brought along from Tabelot are eyeing him beadily. Harouna and Izambar drag one of the sheep over. His companions, far from shying away, follow curiously and have to be chased off.

Whilst Harouna and Izambar hold it down, Omar deftly cuts the sheep's throat. It gasps and shudders as the blood drains from its body. The goat approaches again and this time Izambar throws sand at it to keep it away. Moussa takes over now, skinning and disembowelling the sheep, hanging the carcass from a stout branch and carefully cutting it up. The valuable hide, meanwhile, is laid out and rubbed over with sand to clean it.

Wood has been gathered and a fire lit. Akide Osman is making bread, kneading the dough into a flat disc. Once the embers of the fire are hot enough, he rakes them to one side and lays the bread on the hot sand, first one side, then the other, after which he piles sand and glowing embers on top, creating an instant oven. Omar, meanwhile, slices an onion using a broken razor blade, and Moussa prises open a tin of tomatoes with his knife (memo to enterprising businessman - tin openers for the Touareg), drops them into a blackened cooking pot and mixes them with couscous.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 64
  • Country/sea: Niger
  • Place:
  • Book page no: 181

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