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Footsteps: around the World in 80 Countries

A collection of short stories from the road less traveled

 by Adam Rogers




March 1983 – Two large trucks rumbled north along the Route de Tanezrouft, their engines roaring like distant thunder as they ventured toward the border with Algeria, leaving contrails of dust in their wake. In the local Tuareg language, the name of this unforgiving land means “Land of Thirst,” and I could see why. The area stretched before us, notoriously flat, featureless, and without any sign of water – one of the most desolate and arid parts of the Sahara Desert. It was as if we were crossing a vast ocean of sand.


I stood tall in the back of one of the trucks, the harsh desert sun bearing down upon us. My head was wrapped in a Tuareg’s headdress, a practical shield against the incessant sand that seemed to find its way into every nook and cranny. The nomadic people of the Sahara were seasoned travelers of this challenging terrain, and their attire provided valuable protection against the elements.


In the bed of the truck, my fellow travelers and I were an eclectic group. Three Germans, their rugged “Paris-Dakar” BMW motorcycles, and about a dozen ragged sheep accompanied me. Our paths had converged in Gao, an outpost of civilization in eastern Mali. This place had witnessed the rise and fall of numerous African empires throughout history, including the illustrious Mali Empire in the 13th century and the mighty Songhai Empire in the 15th century. Its rich heritage was a testament to the power and resilience of those who once called this land their home. As this book goes to press, Gao is


My journey had begun in Senegal, and I had traveled westward, captivated by the allure of the African continent. The Germans, on the other hand, were homeward-bound with their motorcycles, having ventured courageously across the vast Sahara from north to south. As we exchanged tales of our adventures, it became clear that the Sahara was a formidable adversary, a majestic yet treacherous expanse that demanded respect from all who dared to traverse it.


Their desire to avoid repeating the challenging Sahara crossing led the Germans to approach the same truck driver I had sought out. They requested passage to Adrar, a city situated in central Algeria, and the southern end of the paved road. This road, once we reached it, appeared like a mirage amidst the endless desert expanse – a long wharf extending into a brown sea of eternal dust.


As the trucks roared onward, each mile seemed to blend into the next, making it challenging to distinguish the passage of time. The desert's vastness and unyielding nature had a way of humbling even the boldest of adventurers. Yet, with each bump and jolt along the rugged terrain, I couldn't help but feel an overwhelming sense of awe and respect for this magnificent landscape and the ancient civilizations that had graced its sands.


Together with my newfound companions and the resilient Tuareg drivers, I embarked on a gripping odyssey through the heart of the Sahara. The desert's whispers and the shimmering dunes seemed to hold secrets and stories of a bygone era, captivating my imagination and stirring my soul. In the Land of Thirst, amid the shimmering heat and swirling sands, I felt a profound connection to the intrepid spirits of those who had come before me, seeking adventure and solace in the timeless beauty of this extraordinary land.


As the afternoon sun began its descent, painting the endless desert canvas with hues of orange and gold, I realized that we were now alone on this vast oceanic sandbox – the other truck had vanished into the shimmering distance. The isolation in this boundless landscape felt both humbling and eerie, as if we were a tiny speck adrift in an immense sea of sand.


Soon, we approached a military checkpoint that emerged like an oasis in the middle of nowhere. The command to disembark and enter a small trailer came with stern gestures from the guards. Inside, I presented my passport, its pages carefully flipped to reveal the Algerian visa, which I had obtained a few weeks earlier in Bamako. The Germans followed suit, and the immigration official scrutinized the visas with meticulous care, finally imprinting them with a rubber stamp and adding his signature in black ink.


Our Tuareg driver handed over a carnet of documents and an envelope to the official. An inexplicable feeling of unease washed over me when the envelope seemingly disappeared from sight. However, not wanting to raise any suspicions, I kept my thoughts to myself and quietly hoped for the best. While we waited, the guards served us green tea in small, weathered glasses, the sweetness mixing with the gritty desert air.


After what felt like an eternity, we climbed back into our truck and resumed our northward journey. The sun dipped lower on the horizon, casting a celestial glow upon the vast expanse of sand. Under the brilliant night sky, the stars shone with an intensity that seemed to erase any barrier between us and the heavens. For a moment, I felt as though we were floating among the constellations, untethered from the earthly realm.


As darkness descended upon the desert, we made a stop for the night. The rugged Tuareg driver skillfully sacrificed one of the sheep to provide sustenance for our journey. With precise movements, he separated the skin from the animal's body, which he then hung on the side of the truck to dry. The dried skin would be later filled with water, its precious contents essential for our survival in this unforgiving environment.


Meanwhile, the driver began mixing flour, water, and baking soda to create a dough. Once the consistency was just right, he carefully poured it into a hole he had dug in the earth, covering it with sand. A fire was ignited atop the sand-covered dough, at first a modest blaze, but it soon grew into a roaring campfire, filling the night air with its crackling and sparks.


With improvisational mastery, the Tuareg fashioned a makeshift rotisserie over the fire, skewering the sheep's carcass from mouth to orifice. As the mutton slowly roasted, the men took turns turning it over the fire, the aroma of sizzling meat intermingling with the warm desert breeze. The tantalizing scent carried across the dunes, awakening the senses and stirring appetites.


Finally, when the meat was cooked to perfection, the fire was brushed aside, revealing a surprising treasure hidden beneath the sand – a perfect loaf of bread. The hot, soft bread was carefully extracted, filling the air with its inviting aroma. The combination of the succulent roasted meat and the freshly baked bread was a feast fit for the desert wanderers, a testament to their resourcefulness and skill in adapting to the harsh environment.


Under the celestial canopy, we shared a meal that tasted like triumph over the challenges of the Land of Thirst. The camaraderie of the desert travelers and the surreal experience of dining under the stars in such a remote corner of the world imprinted memories that would stay etched in my heart forever. In the face of adversity, the human spirit found ways to thrive, forming connections that transcended language, culture, and the vast distances that separated us from the familiar comforts of civilization. As the night wore on, I laid down under the blanket of stars, feeling a profound sense of gratitude for this unparalleled adventure and the chance to witness the raw beauty of the Sahara in all its splendor.

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