The Draa Expedition: Part Two

By Craghoppers Ambassador, Alice Morrison

The routine of my day is very set and I have found that immensely reassuring and relaxing. I wake up to the sound of Brahim chanting the morning prayer at sunrise. We then have breakfast and start to pack up camp. The camels are loaded, and I now know who carries what. I have given the camels all names, even though that is not usual here. We have Alasdair, Hamish, Callum, Sausage and Murdo.

We set off at 8.30 sharp – Greenwich Mean Time – Brahim insists that people of the desert follow GMT. We walk for between three and five hours and stop only once for a little snack of mandarins and biscuits. The camels love the mandarin peel and Alasdair in particular thinks he is one of us and gets as close to us as he can so that he has first dibs.  The last twenty minutes or so is spent making sure we get the best bivouac spot and then we couch the camels, saying «Coush, coush, coush » and tapping them lightly on the knees to get them down.

The priority is to unload them and get the weight of their backs. I am proud to say that I can now fully unload a camel in reasonable time – I always do Hamish. We race each other to put our tents up first – there are two : the big one for the kitchen and Brahim (guide and cook) to sleep in and my small one which we call Le Petit Fromage because it looks like a slice of cheese. Then the men wash and pray and I get my little bucket of water to wash with and afterwards we make lunch : bread, sardines and salad.

After lunch there are always things to do – washing, bringing the camels back when they wander too far in search of the thorny acacia tree, and writing and making little films for me. Brahim calls the evening prayer and after that we eat. For dinner, we always start with soup, bread and dates. The soup helps with rehydration and to fill us up. Then it is usually vegetables  with verbena tea to finish.

The evening is spent telling stories and riddles. The men love riddles and sometimes my head feels like it is going to explode with the effort of trying to solve a riddle told to me in a mixture of Arabic and Tashlaheet. Tashlaheet is my companions’ mother tongue and I am learning it as fast as possible!

We’ve had three days now of walking in the sand and it has brought its own challenges and delights. Going up and down dunes is not easy on the legs and also the temperature during the day has risen. I am going to have to make sure I drink enough because it is very easy to get dehydrated and sick. The men drink a lot less than me but they have a lifetime of experience in this difficult terrain and I do not.

Sand has already started to infiltrate every single thing I own and I have been wrapping all my electronics in layers of plastic bags to try and keep them from being destroyed. For the first couple fo days I could feel myself starting to get annoyed with sand in the tent, sand in my face cream, sand in my socks …. But I have come to realise that that way madness lies and I am making my peace with it.

The wide landscapes of the desert, with its bold colours of gold sand and blue sky change your state of mind. You are constantly caught between the immensity of the universe in front of you and the tiny details below your feet. Brahim stopped me yesterday to show me the tracks of what looked like some kind of large predator, « Khatar » (Danger) he said as we tried to work out what it was and followed them, to find them joined by another two. They may be a type of hyena which are found here.  A little further on, Addi turned back and brought me a perfect fossil about the size of my forefinger, which he had found on his path.

One of the many joys of this kind of travel is the time you have to really see what is around you and to consider your place in the midst of this marvellous world. There are no distractions to take you away from the present moment and the joy of travelling as our ancestors have always done – the slower you travel the more you learn.

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