We use cookies to give you the best possible experience on our site. Click here to find out more. Allow cookies

arrow Register here

Forgotten password?


Day 66: The Ténéré Desert

The Ténéré Desert, Niger 
click to enlarge 
file size
A baby gazelle, deserted by its mother, was found near the camp one morning. Gazelles are able to survive in the desert as they never need water, drawing all the moisture they require from plants.
Michael Palin - SaharaIn the middle of the morning, several hours out from the camp, there's a sudden commotion up front, voices raised, a quite un-desert-like sense of urgency and emergency. The camels have come to a halt, so it must be serious. I hurry up the line to find Moussa and Amadou skipping round, shouting and pointing down at the sand, as Izambar runs in with a stone and proceeds to beat at something in the sand. There's great excitement, halfway between fear and fun. Eventually, to gasps of mock horror, Izambar raises above his head a small, white, and, by now, entirely lifeless snake, about 18 inches long. He moves it sharply towards me and I duck back involuntarily. Encouraged by the response, he pretends to eat it, provoking howls of delighted disgust.

Omar, who has been watching all this clowning with the mildly indulgent smile of a teacher on a school outing, tells me that this is the much-feared vip're du sable, the sand viper, whose bite, relatively harmless for humans, can cripple a camel. The desert is clearly not as empty as it looks.

As if to rub this in, Mohammed, normally so languid and laid-back, gives a sharp cry as we lie on the mats after lunch. He's been bitten by a scorpion. I'm lying next to him and move pretty smartly out of the way, as someone grabs my boot and deals the scorpion a fatal blow. Like the snake earlier, the scorpion looks a pale defenceless little creature, the last thing in the world to cause trouble, but even after the poison is sucked out and sedatives administered Mohammed is clearly in serious pain, and says he will be for another four hours.

The excitements of the day are not yet over. Shortly after darkness has fallen, distant headlights stab the gloom and soon we hear a rapidly approaching vehicle and, at the same time, a high-pitched drone in the sky above us. There is some nervous speculation that we have been mistaken for Osama Bin Laden and American Special Services have come to deal with us, but the reality proves to be a pair of French paragliders. First the ground support arrives and minutes later, once signal lights have been set up and vehicle headlights switched on to pick out the landing strip, an Icarus appears, strapped to a motor attached to a wheel-like frame and swinging on the end of a yellow mattress parachute. After two or three low passes over the camp this surreal figure hits the ground to a burst of spontaneous applause.

Renaud Van De Meeren is the flyer and François Lagarde the ground crew. As they join us around the single lamp it's hard to distinguish features, but François is clearly the older man. Wiry, tall, with a boyish flop of fair hair, he has flown his machine all over the world but still regards the Sahara as his favourite desert.

'It's still alive, you know. There is authentic life, here.'
Choose another day from Sahara


  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 66
  • Country/sea: Niger
  • Place:
  • Book page no: 188

Bookmarks will keep your place in one or more series. But you'll need to register and/or log in.