Before I set off on this expedition to walk 2000km across the Sahara, I had some doubts about it. Not, perhaps as you might expect, about the distance or difficulty or danger but because just under a year ago I had become the first woman to walk the Draa River in Morocco which had been a fantastic experience, and I was worried that the Sahara Expedition would fall short.
This expedition is actually a continuation of the Draa, as once I had finished, Jean-Pierre Datcharry from Desert et Montagne Maroc, who had organised it, suggested that I keep going and do two further stages – the Sahara and the north which would take me across the whole of Morocco on foot. Like a madwoman I thought, why not? And started to plan and organise.
Now, I am half way through and I can reflect on the first part with the knowledge that I still have over 6 weeks of tough journeying to go. And tough is the word. From the very start, the expedition has been difficult. We have faced high winds blowing Sahara sand into our faces for hours at a time, very hot day time temperatures and freezing nights. The landscape is often unendingly monotonous – kilometre after kilometre of flat reaching to the horizon with nothing growing on it or, at best, some small scrubby shrubs. It plays with your head.
Water has been our biggest jeopardy and it has put us under constant stress finding enough. There are not even any wells in this region where the drought lasts all the way into Mauritania. Sometimes we have had to use slightly salty water from cisterns which just makes you thirstier. It’s like some horrible nightmare where the more you drink, the more you need. We have been relying on the generosity of nomads who have giant plastic stores and also detoured to a hot spring where we could fill up all our containers and, of course, wash for the first time in a long time. The water was sulphurous so stank of rotten eggs but was drinkable and hot at source which was bliss for the washing.
So far, so hard, but in many ways this has exceeded the last expedition. ‘This is a REAL adventure,’ says Brahim, who is expedition chief, and I know what he means. The very difficulty of it is the joy of it. It has bound me and my three companions, Brahim, Addi and Lhou, close and our camaraderie and shared laughter – and moaning – keeps us going. When the good things come, we squeeze every inch of enjoyment out of them and savour them for days afterwards. No wine connoisseur in the world ever enjoyed the finest vintage as much as we enjoyed a shared small bottle of coke I had kept in my bag for a day when we really needed a treat.
Then there are the discoveries: Stone Age tools and arrowheads, a snake coiled under a tin plate keeping warm, the grave of a saint half buried in sand, hyena tracks on the dunes. Today, a hare sprang out from the scrub to our left and raced across the plain. This morning, we passed a baby camel that was so newly born it still had the remnants of its birth sack around its neck. These things make it all worth while and over and over again enforce something I truly have come to believe which is that effort reaps reward and nothing worth having is easy.