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Meeting in the Desert

Coen van Wyk

Posted on May 5, 2018 11:06

1 user

Fear keeps people apart. Yet, in the deserts of life we are all nomads, and sometimes we meet friendly people everywhere. Our humanity is what makes it possible to survive a savage environment.

Our time was running out. We had to cross the equator before the rains, and we were still in Mauritania. But we could not miss the fabled Chinguetti. How to get there? Easy: Turn left 127 kilometers south of Nouadibou and head across the trackless desert until you strike the railway line from Zouerat. Don’t cross it, there are landmines.

We turned left: three vehicles, six adventurers. Trackless it was not, and that was the problem. Numerous tracks crossed in every direction. We followed the majority; at least there would not be landmines. Nomad tents appeared from time to time. The thermometer indicated 58°C (136°F), the acrid air stung our nostrils.

Turn left follow the tracks

A loud bang, and the Cruiser lurched. One of the air springs, installed in a hurry, had broken a bolt. The jack slid in the loose sand, and the spring unit had to be dismounted, the broken bolt extracted, new ones installed. Then we went onward into the actinic wasteland.

Trouble in the high Sahara

Our target of 500 kilometers was wildly optimistic. The railway line emerged from the shimmering horizon, and the iron ore train to Nouadibou passed in the distance, a distorted monster from nightmares.
 
We were warned to keep clear of the nomads, but that police kept the border safe. The only police we saw came chasing after us, machine guns at the ready, but lost interest when we stopped and proffered passports.

The westering sun impressed on us that we were not going to make our target. Driving at night is never advised, and in the desert it is foolish. We turned south to get some way off the track. We were warned: Find a safe place to hole up. If they cannot see your lights, bandits won’t come to bother you.
 
Ten kilometers south we circled the cars in a small hollow. We were exhausted. The glaring sun was a little tempered now, but the air still sapped your strength. Food was almost ready when Hans, perched on his Land Rover, binoculars in hand, called, “Someone’s coming.”

Miles from anywhere, but not alone.  

What to expect? Strange people, unknown lands. But he was not threatening at all: A smallish sunburnt man, dressed in a dust-stained while shirt and black, embroidered camel herder’s trousers. No turban despite the harsh sun.

He extended a hand: “Peace be upon you. Mohammed.” We responded. He looked at the vehicles and nodded. “You traveled far. Come over to my tent, I have meat.”
 
We declined politely, our dinner was almost ready. We shared a glass of fruit juice, then he shook hands, and left with the greeting: “Go with God.”
 
I often wondered if we should not have taken up the invitation to dinner. Despite our differences, our being worlds apart, we were all nomads, meeting in the middle of the Sahara. And all we had against that blinding, crouching monster of a desert was our common humanity.

Coen van Wyk

Posted on May 5, 2018 11:06

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Source: HuffPost

This is Part 2 of a 3-part story. If you missed it, you can read Part 1 here . *************************** We headed...

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