For Caroline Joy, the Sahara is the place where heaven and earth meet. Here are just 10 reasons why the Sahara is so special.
1. The beauty and tranquillity
…of the Sahara is unsurpassed, and the scale and sight of a clear 360° horizon is awesome. The landscape changes constantly and is anything but bare and barren, with high dunes, low dunes, wells and dry oases. In certain places there warm springs feeding into a warm lake, abandoned villages and an ancient ruined palace at Ksar Guilane.
2. Sunrise and sunset
…simply defies description, spectacular over that wide horizon.
3. Sky at Night
Sleeping under the stars, the desert sky at night is an evocative and awe inspiring visual phenomenon. Many times I have lain on the sand looking up at the night sky and sometimes, when my gaze returned to earth, it seemed as though the entire horizon was shrouded in mist. Impossible to distinguish between earth and sky, it looked as if the stars had come down to earth and were hanging in the bushes all around. Another night the sky was masked by one large black cloud leaving just the stars around the horizon showing. They looked like large, bold lettering. Later, the cloud had gone and the half moon was so bright and high, it seemed as if its light had scattered the stars to the edge of the universe. Every night is breathtakingly beautiful.
…always tastes good in the open air and Bedouin men are excellent cooks. The food is organic and natural, freshly prepared on an open fire in the traditional way. The diet consists of fresh fruit, salads tossed in oil and a variety of dishes made from meat, vegetables, pasta and spices, and of course, cous cous. Bread is freshly baked in the embers of the fire each day. Delicious.
5. Close companionship
…develops quickly, fostered by living the Bedouin lifestyle and the sharing of the daily chores such as collecting wood, finding and rounding up the camels and eating from a communal bowl. It is a life with laughter and evenings talking round the fire, often with traditional music and singing.
A trek in the Sahara is never dull and is as physical as you want to make it. When away from the camp alone it’s very easy to lose your bearings as, even at a short distance, the camp can be concealed by sand hills and low bushes. Developing a sense of direction is important and if getting lost is a worry, comfort can be found in the knowledge that the Bedouin will soon come looking and easily find you. If it’s a challenge to find the way back to camp in daylight, when you accompany a camel driver tracking his camels in the dark you appreciate just how skilled they are. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself learning a traditional dance on a dune at sunset.
7. The Bedouin
…are friendly people and although a lone female traveller, I am made to feel safe and well cared for. The tourist – guide relationship is a good one, relaxed and spontaneous and helped by their enthusiasm to share their culture. They have a remarkable philosophy of life where everything is shared and each person has a role to fulfil, supporting the common good. To stay at a Bedouin camp is a privilege and a wonderful experience of community life and work, which includes tending goats and fetching water from the well, which you learn to carry Bedouin style.
…are placid creatures, with personalities of their own but can be troublesome and headstrong. They can provide a comic element too, enjoying a role in the sand, often while fully laden and crushing the provisions they are carrying, much to the alarm of their drivers. They are also great scavengers, often coming into the camp at dawn looking for leftovers and even taking the lids of cooking pots in their search for tasty morsels. Any preconceptions of the camel are quickly banished.
9. Alternative medicine
I have had several personal experiences of this and can vouch for its effectiveness. Using only what nature provides I have had cuts, crush injuries and pain from old fractures speedily and effectively dealt with. The cure for sickness is fascinating, involving what we might call ‘magic’ and incantations, and the fact that, although all Bedouin know the procedure, only a few have the power to make it work. Believe me, it does.
10. A Saharan trek
…is responsible tourism at its most ecologically friendly, making maximum use of scant, natural resources. Provisions are purchased locally and the guides and camel drivers are local men, so supporting the local economy. Living the Bedouin lifestyle, trekkers are totally dependent on the knowledge and skills of their guides and so any impact on their traditional way of life is minimal. It is more an experience that challenges the values of our own society and the things we have hitherto accepted as the norm.