Trekking the Algerian Sahara
Taghit’s finest had agreed to supply a camel caravan to take me and my three traveling companions out into the depths of the Grand Erg Occidental — the portion of the Sahara Desert that most resembles an ocean — and come back for our remains, as they put it, in one week. Payment had, of course, to be made in advance. No explanation was forthcoming, and none was needed.
After the appropriate greetings, I oversaw the loading of gear, food, and water onto the camels, then turned my back on the oasis and headed out to sea. I was apprehensive, not only about being dropped off in the middle of nowhere for a week, but about being stuck with myself and only myself for that length of time.
The heat of the day could only find competition from the glare of the sun on the sand. This fine sand, which appears a soothing salmon color in the evening, is far too bright a white even to look at by day. My canopy offered protection from the rays; shadows cast by the edges of the nylon became barriers not to be crossed, as with their sisters between the dark and light sides of the moon.
As the sun set each night, I felt liberated. The sand cooled with the passing of the sun, and I could venture out to explore the remarkable environment. I placed a red cloth banner on a stick at the highest point of the loftiest dune in the area, as a lighthouse to guide back to camp anyone who wandered out into the endlessly repeating theme of the desert — wave after wave of sand.
When I stepped out from underneath the canopy to look around, it was a bit overwhelming — the silence, the beauty, the sand, and the sky. When the sun was completely gone, the sky became sprinkled with stars. More and more appeared, like I’d never seen before. No pollution, no lights mute this show in any way. It’s as if all those who had ever lived and will live were staring down in all their permanence.
One evening I wandered into the dunes and sat atop a mound of cool pink sugar. Knees bent and eyes open, I looked out at the vista — mile after mile of desert. I felt a quieting sense of solitude, of being totally and absolutely alone that was quite profound. Aside from my breath going in and out, I heard no other sound, just an amazing silence. It made me think of the color white — how supposedly it is made up of all the colors. So too was the silence — as if it contained all sound. In moments it was almost deafening. In this great expanse and under the vast sky, I felt very small, like the grains I was sitting on.
I stretched out my legs and played in the sand with my bare feet. I dug down into the warmth and softness. I raised one foot and watched the grains fall off to the pink sea below, like passengers jumping overboard from a sinking ship. Sometimes a triangular ridge of sand would be left, like a tiny replica of Mount Naceur. I would shake it off and begin again. I spent the next blissful hour skimming the peaks of wind-sharpened ridges of fine sand with my toes. That I am able to spend time like this is certainly evidence that the intricate forms of entertainment to which I normally gravitate have gone a little too far. As I sat there sculpting, I pondered this decrease in my level of neediness. I wondered if perhaps in my future some of the simple pleasures that have fallen by the way might be resuscitated.
Written by: J. Jaye Gold
Jaye has traveled extensively and is the founding
director of the Center for Cultural & Naturalist
Studies, a charitable organization that focuses on
relief projects http://www.CCNS-INC.org. He lives
in Northern California and has authored four published books that
are available on amazon.com:
Another Heart in his Hand
Highway of Diamonds: An International Travel Adventure
The Roca Group
Photo Credits: J. Jaye Gold