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Sahara

Day 65: The Ténéré Desert

The Ténéré Desert, Niger 
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'Désert absolu.' Absolute desert.
Michael Palin - SaharaAfter a few minutes of concentrated effort I look up and see Omar as far ahead as ever. I redouble my efforts, setting myself a target to pass three camels in five minutes, but make no headway at all. I've lost the rhythm, the beat, whatever it is that moves camels so easily across the sand. If I pause for a breather I know I shall only slip further back. To shout for help seems pathetic. I look ahead of me. The camel train moves on remorselessly. Akide is still lying peacefully across his camel's back; Izambar has nodded off. Omar is taking the same small, regular paces as when we started. So how have I got down here?

The last camel comes level and passes me. My mouth is dry but I've no more water. The stories I've heard around the campfire spring, unwelcome, into my mind. Of vehicles breaking down and guides dying of thirst as they went for help; of the stranded French couple who gave their six-month-old baby their own blood to drink and still perished.

In only two hours, the joy of solitariness and contemplation has become the fear of isolation and abandonment. Marine metaphors come constantly to mind. I'm out of my depth.

Like a man overboard shouting after a receding ship.

Then Omar turns and motions that there is something up ahead. I wave my bottle as high as I can, neck downwards. He doesn't move but watches the camels pass until I reach him. He hands me what's left of the water and enquires, wordlessly, how I am.

'Très bon, merci, Omar,' I lie.

There, in the distance, is a tree, and, below it, a ring of four-wheel drives and Pete cleaning the camera and, almost certainly, Mohammed Ixa lying on his back, listening to the radio.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 65
  • Country/sea: Niger
  • Place:
  • Book page no: 186

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