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  Field Notes From
Surviving the Sahara



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From Author

John Hare



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From Photographer

Carsten Peter



In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Carsten Peter
 

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Surviving the Sahara

Field Notes From Author
John Hare
Best Worst Quirkiest

After 12 days crossing the desert, we had just come through one of the worst parts of the whole trip. We were terribly cold and miserable as evening approached, but we continued riding south of Tajarhi through southern Libya. Suddenly we came across a mobile customs unit parked on top of a hill. Libyan soldiers serving as customs agents were set up to catch people smuggling alcohol into the country. They stopped and searched us, but when they didn't find anything, they told us to camp nearby and to leave in the morning. After we set up camp, Argali, one of our Tuareg herdsmen, spotted something lying in the sand a short distance away. He walked over to it, and then returned grasping something under his long robe. I asked, "What have you got there, Argali?" "Something for you infidel Christians," he joked. Then he opened his robe and revealed two bottles of Johnny Walker Red Label whiskey. I think a smuggler had seen the customs post, panicked, and thrown away his sack of whiskey. And we were the lucky ones to come along and find it. It really cheered us up. Finding whiskey in the desert is quite remarkable.



As we were leaving Niger headed for the border checkpoint, several jeeps full of soldiers armed with AK-47s rushed toward us. They jumped out and formed a half circle, pointing their guns at us. They looked rather fierce, and I didn't want our group to appear intimidating. So I told everyone to get down from their camels. Then I asked them to give me their passports. Once they did, I walked a very long 50 yards (50 meters) into this semi-circle with about 10 guns aimed at me. I stopped in front of the man I thought to be the leader and spoke to him very politely in Hausa. Luckily, he spoke Hausa as well. Within a couple of minutes he told the others to put their guns down, and he took our papers, even laughing a bit. Until that point, it had been quite a tense moment.



The last desert we crossed was an expansive plateau called the Hamada al Hamra. Hanns Vischer, the explorer who made this journey a hundred years ago, had written a lot about it. To enter the plateau meant making a difficult trek through a gorge. But by the time we reached it, we had traveled 1,400 miles (2,300 kilometers), and I was quite worried because the camels were getting weak. Just as I got into the gorge, I had this extraordinary feeling that Vischer was very close to me, saying, "Don't worry! It'll be all right." Miraculously, the worry seemed to slip away, and I felt much lighter.





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