Jeffrey Tayler Endures the Desert and Explores the Vast Gobi Desert in Africa
By Brian Gage
Jeffrey Tayler, a critically acclaimed travel writer who focuses his work mainly on his own journeys to distant and foreign lands. It was his mastery of the Arabic language that influenced him to write his story Glory In A Camel’s Eye: A Perilous Trek Through the Greatest African Desert about his trek deep into Northern Africa.
He has written a wide array of fascinating and engaging accounts that will make you smirk, gasp, and feel absolutely engrossed in a world completely alien to the one in which you live.
Tayler is an extremely accomplished polyglot. In addition to his native English, he is fluent in Russian, Arabic, French, and Greek, as well as a working knowledge of Spanish and Turkish which helps him tremendously in his travels, and in turn, his writings.
With the help of Arabic-speaking Bedouin guides, he undertook a grueling, 3-month, several hundred-mile journey on camelback through the Drâa River Valley and across the Moroccan Sahara toward the Atlantic Ocean.
Along their path, Tayler and his guides encountered countless dangers from the environment, the harsh weather, and the native people of the area who were embroiled in conflicts of their own.
His account of this experience sheds some light on how thrilling yet unbelievably harrowing an adventure of this magnitude can be, and no chapter emphasizes this more than the sixteenth, titled “The Great Sand Wall”.
Excerpt From Book: The Great Sand Wall
” “La ilaha illa Allah! La ilaha illa Allah! La—”
Mbari stopped singing and halted to reach under a rock. Grunting and grimacing, he wrestled out a writhing, black-orange lizard a foot long and stout, with a mouth full of tiny serrated teeth. Its tail wound around his wrist.
“Dinner,” he said.
To kill the reptile now and eat it later would have violated Islamic law (which forbids the consumption of mayta, animals not freshly slaughtered), so he stuffed it into a fold in the blanket on Na’im’s back and tied the fold with a short length of rope, forming a sack.
Unfortunately, the blanket out of which the lizard then tried to squirm, claw, and bite his way to freedom was the one on which I was sitting. I protested, less out of compassion for the reptile than fear of its bite: it resembled the lethally venomous Gila monster of the American Southwest.
However, the wind was strong and Mbari’s firwal was wrapped around his ears, so he walked on, resuming his chant, oblivious to my cries, and eventually the lizard calmed down.
We were ascending higher and higher into rocky foothills beneath Jbel Bani, hoping, within two days, to reach the restricted military zone and cross it under cover of darkness.
We had left Mghimima walking single file, but our discipline dwindled a few hours later when we came to Wadi al-Malih (Salty Wadi). There was much to the name: the wadi was a swale of salt-encrusted muck, and we trampled through it in a disorderly fashion, making squelching sounds that must’ve been audible a half-mile away.
By noon he had climbed up and over the first foothill, and we lunched at the bottom of another wadi, this one a nameless, crater-like oven. “We should not be visible,” said Hassan, crouching and keeping his eyes on the ridges above.
The wadi’s walls kept out the breeze; its stone-strewn floor was infested with wasps and spry, silver-sheened ants; and when I dozed off after lunch, magpies, black-white and bouncing on elastic legs, swept down and made off with crusts of my ant-covered bread.
The rest of the afternoon we spent traipsing up and down more hills, picking our way around waist-high boulders that looked black in the glare as we approached them, sandstone-red as we passed. Color in the desert depends on the position of the sun.
All day we walked alone, seeing no one.
As the sun fell, we came within sight of the last looming ridge of Jbel Bani, on the other side of which, Hassan said, was a pass, the army post of Khinig al-Rezzoug, the military zone, and the beginning of the Ant-Atlas range that would lead us to the Atlantic.
We camped in the flat and sandy upper reaches of a wadi that cut its way down a high slope and expired far below on the basalt tableland of the Drâa Hamada, which stretched into Algeria.
The view and the fresh, cool air intoxicated me; the sky was glowing lavender; the moon and stars came out and turned the rocks into shimmering boulders of mother-of-pearl.
After dinner, we sat around the fire.
Hassan stoked the embers pensively. “We must discuss our military operation.” “Our what?” I said. “Our infiltration. We have to infiltrate the restricted zone around Khinig al-Rezzoug.”
“Hassan, just before we set out, Ali told me he spoke to the head of the Gendarmerie in Mhamid. He gave me the Gendarmerie general’s name and said we should tell any military to contact him if there’s a problem.”
“There will be a big problem. The Gendarmerie has nothing to do with the army. The army here is its own law. The Algerian Reguibat cross into Morocco here and steal camels and smuggle, and we’re near the border with Western Sahara. Remember the war?”
If you wish to continue learning about Tayler’s voyage through the unforgiving landscapes of the great Sahara, you will have to purchase his book, Glory In A Camel’s Eye: A Perilous Trek Through the Greatest African Desert.
About Jeffrey Tayler
Jeffrey Tayler is the author of several adventure travel books, most recently Murderers in Mausoleums: Riding the Back Roads of Empire Between Moscow and Beijing.
He has been hailed by Bill Bryson and the New York Times Book Review as a star among travel writers. His work has also appeared in The Best American Travel Writing, the annual publication that provides an acknowledgment to prolific travel writers.
Tayler now works as the Russia correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly and is a contributor for several magazines and NPR’s All Things Considered. He is also in the process of writing his next book, In Putin’s Footsteps: Searching for the Soul of an Empire Across Russia’s Eleven Time Zones, which is expected to be available in February of 2019.