Take on Africa – latest update from Nouakchott, Mauritania – crossing the desert.
For the best part of three weeks I’ve now been in the desert… the great Saharan wilderness. Perhaps wildness is an equally applicable term to use. And over the three weeks I’ve been cycling south, everyday crossing another small section of desert, each section of desert different to the last. There’s the flat stony hammada spanning to the horizon, the winding roads around rocky escarpments, the canyon running parallel to the coast, the windswept beaches and towering cliffs of the coastline, the shifting dunes of white, golden and burnt umber, green palms and round wooden huts along dried-up riverbeds – small oases of life in this dry, hot place. But one thing is common is all these desert landscapes…. sand.
And sand it turns out, it the inevitable, unavoidable bane of the desert cycle tourer. Wind too when not cycling, intensifies the problems. But wind can be the cycle tourer’s friend – it was the help hand of a tailwind that made the journey across the sahara so much fun.
Sand really does get everywhere. And there’s nothing you can do about it. It blows into your tent at night and deposits on your face and in your sleeping bag. You breathe it in as you sleep and it clogs up your nose. It sticks to your dirty, damp clothes when you stop for a break and sit down. It adds a certain ‘crunch’ to your breakfast, lunch and dinner as it blows onto your bread or mixes with your pasta. Attempts to remove it are futile – it sticks to your sweaty hands and all that happens is you brush it to some other part of your clothes or body.
In the end, you give up, accept that the sand is here to stay. But afterall, what would the desert be without it? And in any case, you know that at the end of it all, you’ll check into a hotel and be able to jump into the shower. Washing the sand down the drain. But never washing away the memories the desert conjures up in your mind and feelings it evokes. Like a campfire burning through the night, with the embers still hot in the morning it is easy to restart the fire – your memories may fade once you leave the desert, but they’ll never disappear and occasionally, some random event or sight or smell will re-awaken the memory of those days cycling through the Sahara.
The desert – so much sand. The desert – so much more than sand.