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DISPATCHES

EXPLORE

but then when you stopped and looked, the sands came alive. The long, dragging tails of the lizards, the delicate footprints of the mice, and the three-pronged forks of bird feet were drawn everywhere and I took pictures and made notes of all I saw. We were walking along early one morning when suddenly Brahim, the expedition leader, stopped short pulling up the camels with Hamish in the lead protesting strongly.

“These tracks, it’s something very rare.” I bent down and tried out all my options. “Is it a dog?” “No.” “A fox?” No. “A wol‹?” “No.” I’d exhausted my entire Tashlaheet (Berber) vocabulary for animals with paws. “It is that animal with very strong legs and a big head that laughs like Addi.” Ifis - a hyena! We’d found hyena tracks and I was filled with excitement to have proof that they still exist in this land that hasn’t seen good rainfall since 2014. Water was our constant preoccupation. The camels could carry enough for our needs for around six days but we had to be able to refill en route as the next known well was over three weeks away. The camels could possibly survive, but we could not. That water stress was always with us.

Sahara snapshots (clockwise from top left) The dunes; Alice and Arthur; sunset camel close-up; Stone Age tools

~ VI p C SI

Water was our constant preoccupation. The camels could possibly survive, but we could not “”

A couple of days later, it was coming towards the end of our day’s allotted walk when I saw something glinting up ahead. I assumed it was just a patch of particularly quartz-like sand that was catching the sun and kept on trudging towards it. As we got closer, though, it looked more and more like a little lagoon of water. “It’s a miracle,” said Brahim and it was. Sweet water in the middle of the sands. Do you remember that feeling when you are six and you wake up and it is finally Christmas day? Double it. We took the halters off the camels and they slurped down litres, shaking their heads and showering us. We filled up all our containers and I stuck my swollen hands in up to the wrists and then my aching feet and sat there feeling as though life could never get better than this. We continued on and within about 15 minutes, we’d found 11 Stone Age tools: knives, arrowheads and cutting tools. Days later when we met a nomad from the area, he told us that this lagoon has always existed; it fills with rainwater or some underwater spring. The tools we found in the area bore out his story and the realisation hit me that I was walking in the footsteps of my Stone Age ancestors – an unbroken chain of history.

That evening as we sat in our tent in the bivouac at the foot of the dunes, Lhou, our oldest team member, a farmer and a very good tea maker, poured us out a glass of hot, sweet tea. “This is the right water to make good tea,” he said. “This rainwater makes the tea taste really delicious.” He smacked his lips appreciatively. I took another swig trying to get the image of Alasdair the camel taking a very long pee in the middle of the lake as we were filling up our containers out of my head. Cheers...

wanderlust.co.uk May/June 2020 35

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