by Chris Scott
Trailblazer Publications (2004), 672 pp.
More than a decade later, I still vividly remember my first glimpse of the Sahara Desert. I was on a night bus from Marrakesh through the Atlas Mountains, and when we began our descent at dawn there it was: the endless desert, orange in full sunlight, dry mountains shimmering on a distant horizon. Desert on this scale has a sublime, seductive beauty. “Few experiences can match the thrill of heading out across a trackless wilderness,” writes Chris Scott in his exhaustive guide to off-roading in the Sahara. But travel in the desert can be as dangerous as it is exhilarating, and it demands the kind of preparation Scott describes in his book.
Sahara Overland opens with some solid, intuitive advice. If you’re planning to travel in the Sahara, don’t go in the dead of summer, when temperatures soar to a boiling 50 degrees and not even locals go out during the day; if you’re planning on driving a four-by-four overland, make sure you have a proper set of sand tires; if you want to motorcycle across the Sahara, make sure you have adequate fuel and water stored, since days can pass between wells and gas stations. And make sure you have a sense of the security in the region, since significant parts of the Sahara — notably Algeria, Libya, Niger, and Sudan — are known not only for roving bandits, but also anti-Western terrorists.
The book is a compendium of incredibly detailed advice on everything from dune driving techniques to photographing rock art in the blistering desert sunlight. But the most alluring parts are the itineraries, the various desert routes, or “pistes” — Tinerhir to Nekob in Morocco, across a basalt massif; Hassi Bel Guebbour to Illizi, through the great Algerian sand sea; Gao to the legendary Timbuktu, in Mali. The Sahara is vast and travel possibilities nearly infinite. Just bring lots of water and, as Scott recommends, be miserly about washing.
Daniel Baird is a regular contributor to The Walrus, Canadian Art, and Border-Crossings.