sand dunes were as gorgeous as any photo. The sand was strikingly clean, soft,
often cool even during the heat of day. Though the sand appeared to be
a "classic" light tan in color, our chief Tuareg guide (Mukhtar) claimed it was
the different colors of the sand (and "the hand of god"), which allowed him to
find his way across a seemingly featureless desert whose shifting sand dunes couldn't
be relied upon as permanent markers.
driving, much of the "road" had compacted sand (that did look somewhat different),
which permitted easy driving. But more often than not, soft sand would fool even
the most experienced Tuareg drivers into getting stuck. Invariably, the vehicles
were all four-by-four Toyota Landcruisers. Even with four-wheel drive, once on
the desert the drivers let some air out of the tires to provide more traction.
Nevertheless, once stuck, the wheels would have to be dug out, metal racks/ladders
(one or two feet wide, four to five long) would be slipped under the tires. All
this, plus a lot of pushing (by Tuaregs and a few of us "eclipse chasers") eventually
freed the vehicles.
was rare that we would drive over a dune because inevitably that sand was quite
soft. But from time to time, we did cut across a dune as we made our way to Bilma,
an anchor of the ancient camel salt caravan routes. It was amazing how skilled
the experienced Tuareg drivers were in navigating over the dunes and racing through
the desert, looking like a scene straight out of "Road Warrior."