The Sahara desert is the largest hot desert in the world. The only deserts larger than it, are the polar regions. It covers the top part of Africa and is around 3.6 million square miles in area. It hasn’t always been a desert as every 41,000 years or so it changes back into grasslands before reverting to desert once again. It is harsh there too, the temperature in the hottest part of the year can reach 40 deg. C with the sand reaching 85 deg. C and the night time temperatures can drop to 13 deg. C. The surreal landscape has attracted all sorts of people of the millennia, the people who managed to survive there became nomads, travelling from waterhole to waterhole, eking a living from the shifting sands. The cities became places of legend, centres where the merchants who brought a substance more valuable than gold from the arid land, salt and it is the place where the richest man who ever lived made his fortune.
Even with the threat of jihadists, it is a place that still attracts travellers. Nicholas Jubber is one of those who is captivated by the region and is hoping to follow in the footsteps of the 16th-century traveller Leo Africanus. His journey will take him from the sands of Morocco to the markets of Mauritania and onto the city of the sands, Timbuktu. On his journey around these countries, he wants to be involved with the locals; help them, learn from them and discover the secrets of the desert. He ends up helping in a tannery, wandering the sands alone while friends that he has made keep an eye on him, ride camels and glean the ways to look for water in a landscape that surrenders very little.
By travelling with the locals he immerses himself in the culture. slowly they come to accept this man who mangles their language, shares their food and camps deep in the dunes. He absorbs the peace of the desert, understanding the people that choose to live there and why they would not swap this life for anything. Not only is he a sensitive traveller, it is really well written too, describing what he sees with the excited eyes of a child. But it is a place of danger too, the journey into Timbuktu was fraught and the stories that he heard when he arrived were horrific. Can really recommend this for those that want something a little different from regular travel books and it is about a part of our world that is rarely written about now. 4.5 stars.