Africa's Ocean

Trip Start Mar 23, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Morocco  ,
Friday, May 23, 2008

     The road ends at M'hamid.  There's a sign as you roll into town stating that the furthest place of my imagination is 50 days to the east by camel.  A town named Timbuktu.  But the times are a changin and the Algerian border put a stop to the ancient camel caravan routes of the Tuareg people.  The locals aren't insane either.  Of course they prefer their new Landcruiser to the old beast of burden.
     So I hop in the 4X4 and head out to the waves of the Sahara, Arabic for ocean, and they are waves, constantly changing.  In the blazing horizon you can see the illusion of them breaking into white surf like a set coming into the shore.
     It's not hard to imagine the surface of Mars when heading from M'hamid to the dunes.  This is well done earth with nothing around.  If you took a picture of this place and said it was of the Red Planet, I would believe you.  A few minutes later due east the sun has made sand of the Earth's rocks and I get my first vision of the Sahara's peaks and valleys.
     The driver points out a desert nomad to our right.  I look at him like a creature because it seems no human could exist in this inhospitable terrain.  Here you are like an ant under a child's magnifying glass.  The heat will paralyze you, without relief from the wind.  A breeze here feels like the air rushing up from the oven as you open it to check on your casserole.  Your only hope here is the shade, but shadows are hard to find with the sun at its zenith.  The Yoruba people are said to believe that if a man's shadow abandons him he will die.  This person has to be an animal, some creature that has evolved over thousands of years to live off this vast nothingness. 
     Then our jeep stops.  The tires can't grip the sand.  They are spinning us deeper and deeper into the earth.  We are not on any real trail so who knows if someone else will pass by.  We have four bottles of water so we should be fine.  Without water you can last only 24 hours until the sun takes your mind with fever.  However, the driver is well versed in pit stops and soon enough, after digging some tracks and using dried brush for traction, we pull out and make our way to camp, about 30 miles away from the Algerian border.
     Gina and I make our way up the tallest peak and lay in the sand looking east toward Egypt.  The sun sets allowing the sky to show off its infinite desert stars.  We join the others for some traditional Tuareg music and dancing.  Omar plays a classical guitar with only 4 worn out strings to some tuning I have never heard.  In fact, the songs them self sound like he is constantly trying to tune the guitar, but with the call and response lyrics, the container drumming, off beat claps, and footwork it fits.  
     They hand me the guitar which I carefully try to tune the fragile strings without breaking them to a sound I'm familiar with.  I wounder how Johnny Cash and the DAH-CHU-CA-DAA rhythm of Folsom Prison Blues hits their foreign ears.  I get if nothing else a round of charity applause.  The moon rises wiping out the stars again with a blue sky and we sleep. 
     It seems to me the suffering of the days here are rewarded by its nights.  After enduring a sun that takes nearly all life from you, a night appears with a breeze that you never take for granted and a sky more moving than any art you find in a European museum.  Every day is a constant reminder of suffering and relief.   
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mistahall on

that why we travel
Moments like this day/night are what make all the painfully exhausting hours on busses worthwhile.

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