In the Sahara, on the boarder of Morocco and Mali, there lives an ancient people still working caravan routes that were old in the 1st century. The Taureg, blue robed men of the dessert, take James Michael Dorsey on an adventure into their world. In The Blue Men of the Sahara James shares their food and their clothes as he journeys with them through the shifting sands.
The blowing sand rocks our Land Rover as we reach the outskirts of Timbuktu.
Mahkmoud leans over the steering wheel and peers into the hazy lemon yellow that fills our windshield. There is no horizon between earth and sky and I wonder how he can continue to drive with no reference points, yet on he goes with the instinct of a desert nomad. I realize for him, this is normal.
He tells me these storms can last for days but I do not care. I have finally reached one of the oldest and most remote cities on earth, so let it blow.
Coming to See the Taureg
I have come to see the Tuareg, The Blue Men of the Sahara, an ancient Berber tribe that ranges from southern Morocco, through Mauritania, south, here, into eastern Mali. They are regal in their indigo turbans dyed from the ink of Mediterranean sea urchins and their flowing blue robes. Astride one of their white camels they are a sight directly out of the “Arabian Nights.”
Later, at the hotel, in my hopes to enter their world for a brief time, I ask Halis, my Tuareg guide, if it might be possible to don the blue robes for a quick photo, hoping he will not take offense.”No problem,” he says as he disappears into the night. An hour later he is back at the door, arms piled high with blue fabric. “We will all travel as Tuaregs,” he says, “It will make things easier.’ I do not know what this means until he points at the wall map.
Tomorrow’s destination is his home village of Arawan, a former Foreign Legion outpost, north of Timbuctou in the trackless Sahara. This is an area my guidebook calls “Bandit Country.” It is the only speck on the map for 120 miles in every direction.
I had not bargained for this but cannot pass the opportunity. Halis has shrugged off my query about bandits, saying they will not bother us. My own paranoia will have to decide if this is simply his own hubris, or a statement of fact. I am going into the deep desert not only with, but dressed as a Berber nomad.
I awake early, tying and retying my turban in hopes of not making a fool of myself.
Just after dawn I walk through the hotel lobby feeling totally self conscious but no one gives me a second look. I am just another Tuareg in seach of morning coffee. An hour later we are bouncing over loose sand, headed north, with 20 gallons of gas and four chickens on our roof. What have I done?