In the southeastern part of Algeria lies Djanet, a vast land I never thought I’d find myself. Nevertheless, Westerners zip by in crowded jeeps, and covered faces trudge through the powdery sand led by a single Touareg. A smaller group of adventure-fueled travellers set out on a more demanding excursion by camel. Almost no tourists will venture the limitless sandy land without four wheels or feet under them; I was about to embark on a journey beyond my wildest imagination.
In an effort to connect with the most mysterious oasis in the Sahara, I set out with Hassani Mohmmed, a guide of the Touareg tribe. My desire to discover the desert and its traditions led me to exhaustion and tunnel vision, but in my quest to be closer to nature, I found the nature in being free.
The Tuareg are an ancient Saharan peoples and I wanted to experience in some small way what these men and women saw on a daily bases for centuries.
Our travels took us well beyond the astonishing plateou of Tamrit, where we ventured in solitude to Tin Mansonsin, Safra, Allar Endman, and Jabbaren. We also completed the decent of Agba before returning to Djanet for the discovery of the city.
I’d been so taken by the oddity of my existence in the surroundings that I had forgotten to look at the natural beauty of the desert. The beautiful oasis was lined with a peace and tranquility that only such a desolate area could provide. The everyday worries of work, traffic, crowds, and business were blown away with the sand. I felt a sense of relief and comfort even though there was nothing in sight but sand and sun.
“Have tea,” Hassani insisted with a smile. He poured a tiny glass of tea for both of us. He made the whole process so natural that I was completely at ease.
After the exchange of typical, generic conversation, we discussed family, friends, travel, and even future plans.
I sipped my tea slowly and said, “Hassani, how many brothers and sister do you have?”
“There are six in my family. Three boys and three girls.”
“Your parents have been busy,” I said with a smile. I too come from a family of three boys and three girls, but it is very uncommon in Canadian standards. “Are such large families common here?”
“Yes, most Tuareg families are much larger.”
Even in such dramatic surroundings, it’s easy to find similarities between cultures and people. Hassani saw his family with the same respect and appreciation as I saw my own.
We reached our first camp several hours later. A friend and fellow Tuareg drove out in his Land Rover to prearrange a place where he built a fire, spread a woven plastic groundsheet, and prepared an end-of-day feast. Carrying all of those supplies while on foot would have been impossible.
While darkness fell, we ate hummus with our hands and ripped off pita bread that had been laid directly onto the smoldering ashes of the fire to warm.
I spread my sleeping bag on the barren ground and wrapped the headdress or keffiyeh around my mouth and nose for protection against sand and insects.
The tranquility of the desert night was surreal. As I stared at the vast, silent, star-lit sky, I drifted off to sleep.
Being in such a place was the nearest I’ve ever come to feeling the exploration of another planet. My adventure had only just begun, but I already had a new perspective on the culture and environment of Algeria. I discovered an exceptional universe in a strange, charming landscape.