Sunday, 2 September 2007


I've been thinking about doing a lot more travel, recently. Time I upped sticks and did a proper trip. And I have various ideas; hitching lifts on boats down the Danube; walking to Jerusalem; perhaps a motorbike trip through America.

But one of the things that has struck me while I've been doing this thinking is that while one might follow a road (to Santiago perhaps) or a river, there's something highly appealing in the sense of a crossing.  From the coast-to-coast footpath here in the UK to the crossing of theEmpty Quarter, journeys that completely traverse a landscape or  sea have a unique attraction.

I think it's something to do with ritual, almost. While a journey is just from A to B, maybe visiting C, F and X en route, a crossing returns us from strangeness to normality. So that though it goes from A to B, in a way you could say it's from A to A; we come back to where we started. 'There and back again' as Tolkien says (if you don't recognise the quote, it's the subtitle to The Hobbit).

But a crossing's not a circular walk, either. Because we don't come back exactly where we started. It has a dual nature; we're back in normality, on dry land, out of the desert, whatever, but in another place.

And it's also a ritual where we expect to have changed. So that though the journey, we have visited a strange place in ourselves. And now we're back in civilisation, but we have changed. We are not quite the same people we were.

So that has got me round to thinking about crossing the Sahara.

I like deserts. I like the emptiness. I like the way everything, because of that emptiness, becomes full of meaning; a single dead tree, a stone, a track. (I actually like camels, too; sweet, loving creatures, like cats - like cats also in the way they do what they want to do. If it happens to be  what you want to do, fine; if not, you have a battle on your hands.)

I enjoyed a trip to the Wahiba Sands when I was in Oman. We only spent a few days out there in the company of our Bedouin guide. I still regret not taking the time to cross the sands - it would have taken some weeks, from the edge of the sands to the sea coast. It's not just that I would have liked to have taken longer, got to know the camels and how to care for them, got to know the desert; I would have liked to do the crossing, to be able to score that red line on the map, to feel I had come from one side to the other.

So maybe the Sahara... I shall have to do some hard thinking about that.

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