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Tuesday, 01 September 2009

Into the Sahara: Timbuktu - Page 2

Written by James Michael Dorsey
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The blowing sand rocks our Land Rover as we reach the outskirts of Timbuktu.

Mahkmoud leans over the steering wheel and peers into the hazy lemon yellow that fills our windshield.  There is no horizon between earth and sky and I wonder how he can continue to drive with no reference points, yet on he goes with the instinct of a desert nomad.  I realize for him, this is normal.


We awake early, tying and retying our turbans in hopes of not making fools of ourselves.

Just after dawn I walk through the hotel lobby feeling totally self-conscious but no one gives me a second look. I am just another Tuareg in search of morning coffee.  An hour later we are bouncing over loose sand, headed north, with 20 gallons of gas and four chickens on our roof.  What have I done?

There are no roads and few trees, only low scrub brush and moving dunes.  Tuareg boys learn every star in the heavens and can easily navigate by them, but when I ask how he does this by day, Mahkmoud points to a tree and says, “That is where we ate spaghetti,” and at another saying, “That is where we camped with the Germans.”  He knows every natural formation like I know my living room, for this is his.

We barrel along at thirty miles an hour, our wheels sometimes airborne, and Mahkmoud smiling like some demented Parnelli Jones.  He is having a great time while I must blank my mind to the obvious fact that if we break down here it could be days before anyone finds us.  He and Halis frequently argue in French and I am later told this is over Mahkmoud’s choice of trails.  Halis feels we are better off sticking to established tire tracks while Mahkmoud prefers to blaze his own way.  All I can do is try not to think of broken axles.

At one point we crest an enormous dune and Mahkmoud tells us to get out and walk down in case he rolls the car.  I am about to do so when I realize that would mean we are alone and on foot in the Sahara.  I refuse and tell him why.  He laughs, and with a loud throaty scream guns the engine sending us hurtling down a 100 foot wave of flowing sand, covering us in the process and forcing me to restart my heart.

Into the Sahara: Timbuktu, Arawan, travel to Timbuktu, Dromedary camels, Tuareg, The Blue Men of the Sahara, ancient Berber tribe, southern Morocco, through Mauritania, eastern Mali, James Michael DorseyTime and again, we “surf” the dunes and I finally learn to relax and trust his expert touch as we careen downhill at various weird angles.

After four hours we stop under a stunted mesquite and within seconds Mahkmoud has a fire going from broken branches after producing a spark with flint and adze while the wind howls around him. In this weather, I could not produce a fire with a lighter and gasoline, but he has done it as his forefathers have for a thousand years. Minutes later we are sipping our hot sweet tea and eating tinned sardines.  I sit with my back to the wind marveling that Halis and Mahkmoud are comfortable in these conditions.  When I stand up two minutes later, I leave a two-foot berm that has stacked up against my prone body.

(Page 2 of 4)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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