The pre dawn sky is black and there is a nip in the air. But I had not bothered with a sweater knowing full well that when the sun did rise I would be glad for minimal layers of clothes.
We climb up and down dunes on our way to the vantage point; a little hurriedly not wanting to miss out on the sunrise. Around us the wind blows gently, carrying little grains of sand with it.I stop to remove my shoes. The cool sand of the desert trickles through my toes with every step, sinking my bare feet deeper into the sand. Walking the dunes is a little harder than I had anticipated. Blame the camels for making it look like a piece of cake!
After a rather difficult climb to the top of a high dune we reach our vantage point. Time is on our side.The sun is yet to rise. In a little bit the black canopy of the sky melts away in places to give way to subtle hints of blue.The shades of black and blue do their part in separating light from dark. Slowly but surely the blue overwhelms the black and forms take shape. Ahead of us lies the vast expanse of the Saharan desert. A hundred thousands troughs and crests forming a hundred thousand sand dunes. On and on as far as the eye can see.
“Over there is Algeria”, says Aziz our guide. We follow his finger to find the view unchanged.
” It is a sensitive area”, he continues. ” Drug mules use the desert route to traffic drugs into the country”.
Looking about me I wonder about the harsh extremes one would have to endure just to peddle drugs. Imagine walking for days in the heat, in the cold and to top it all with all that sand!
My thoughts on walking the desert reminds of my conservation with Baschir the owner cum receptionist at our little hotel by the edge of the dunes. His tribe is from the desert, nomads by nature. Although his family gave up the nomadic way of life, settled down and started the hotel, he still has relatives in the desert.
My first question to him on hearing his story was why nomadic? Which part of the desert was different from the one you left? He laughed and replied with a simple ” Is different”. I did not pursue it further being interrupted by a sudden burst of wind that deposited a generous amount of sand all over us.
It is hard to imagine life here,hard to imagine moving every now and then with your family and your cattle in tow. Hard to imagine each and every aspect of your life being shaped by the desert. For instance when you drink tea in this corner of the world you have to have thick layer of foam on top. Since there is no getting away from the sand you use the foam to trap the grains of sand before they seep down into your drink. Secondly take their instruments.They are percussion in nature. For one you need only animal hides to make them and two they can be heard above the howling of the wind at night.
At a distance a caravan slowly heads into the desert. The camel at the front nonchalantly walks with one hoof in front of the other.Are they going to meet relatives? What are they going to do in the desert? What can they do? Even if they were going to meet relatives how could they know where they are at the moment, you know being nomadic and all? It is not like they can send word saying they are camped four dunes to the west. Last weeks west may have a completely different orientation today.
I break away from the group and climb another dune. I sink into the sand and wait patiently for the sunrise with sand in my pockets and in my hair. Around me the wind picks up speed. The tips of the dunes keep shifting with the blowing wind. Little by little the desert is moving. A few weeks from now the dunes would have moved to another spot. Nomadic by nature. Maybe I am beginning to comprehend.