All sunshine makes the desertA.B.A. ▼ | Tuesday June 8, 2010 6:01PM ET
Sahara, or "the desert" in Arabic, covers more than one third of Africa, and we could put whole United States in it. It splits Africa in two parts: its eastern border is the Red Sea, the west border is the Atlantic Ocean and on the north it stretches all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. If you plan to visit the biggest desert on Earth, the best time for that is October or November when daily temperatures are not at their highest and at night they won't be below 0C. From June to September temperatures are very high and people who are living there survive staying in their homes or tents almost the whole day.
The first that come to mind when talking about desert are "hot" and "there's no water". And indeed, Sahara is hot - temperatures of 55 C have been recorded, but in some places, especially at night, frost is a usual scene. In some areas years may pass before rain falls, but in other areas rainy local storms are usual. However, sandstorms, mostly in March to May, can come from the blue sky and they are dangerous.
So, pay attention to your guide and if he yells "Sandstorm!" take that as a serious warning, get into your car or tent, seal everything airproof and pray God that your temporary home is not too light, otherwise the powerful wind will land you a few kilometres away. Sudden winds are normal in Sahara and they are mostly totally unpredictable. Sirocco, shahali and khamsin are winds that bring relief to travellers and you will learn to love them just as your hosts.
Some 75 percent of people lives around oases, the places where fruits, vegetables and other crops can be produced. At those places you will meet blue-faced Tuareg Bedouins, Moors and almost black nomadic people Toubou, and they all will wish you a warm welcome. Don't be surprised if a kid goes out in the sand and catch some small animal just for your lunch. After all, they never know when they will need your help in this harsh desert in which nobody can survive on his own. While their primary sources of food are sheep, goats, rabbits and pigeons, Bedouins also eat animal milk, vegetables and fruit.
Shortly after the lunch is caught a Bedouin's family will prepare a fine meal for you cooked in the open fire which adds a unique taste to every meal. Couscous is known even in the other parts of the world, but dates mixed with milk, rice, and berries make a very tasteful lunch. Those mixes give a lot of energy needed to survive during the long journey. Several kinds of bread, like pita, shraak and taboon are on the menu every day. So either you are a "meat lover" or the vegetarian, as a guest in Sahara you will be served like in the best hotel. And remember, Bedouins eat with their hands, so don't think that's a rude habit, just join them and enjoy your lunch under the open sky.
At the first sight Sahara may looks as the place without plants. But there are plants in almost whole Sahara, small plants with shallow roots that shortly after the rain produce seed that waits, sometimes a few years, until the new rain comes. However, there are some kind of plants, such as date palm, with roots deep enough to reach underground water streams. Here you will also find any imaginable kind of insect, but also bigger animals like lizards, desert foxes, snakes, gazelles and antelopes located just along north and south borders of the desert.
But, your most faithful friend on the travel will be camels, the animals perfectly adapted to the desert. Their soft feet keep them on the surface of the sand, and their humps are storage for water. A camel can travel two weeks without eating and drinking, and still going 15 km/hour - 18 hours a day. And when she spots a small and dry plant or grass she will stop to eat because even she knows that new food can be very far away. So, enjoy the sunset on her back and let her take you where no camel has gone before. ■