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The Sahara Expedition: Living Without Water

February 14, 2020 Destination Africa / Seychelles No Comments Email Email

Scottish Adventurer and presenter of BBC2’s Morocco to Timbuktu series, Alice Hunter Morrison, has just completed an epic 2000km exploratory trek across the world’s biggest hot desert – the Sahara.

Morrison began her expedition on November 26th at Oued Chbika on the Atlantic coast of Morocco and ended it on February 12th at Guergerat on the Mauritanian border. The aim of the expedition was to explore the effects of climate change on the region and particularly how the long-term drought and increasing desertification is affecting the nomadic people who live there. Desertification is claiming up to 16 % of arable land every year and the Sahara has grown by 10%.

No stranger to epic adventures, Morrison was the first woman to walk the length of the River Draa in Morocco in March 2019 discovering a lost city and the tombs of the giants en route. Morrison used reenlisted members of her Draa Expedition team for her latest adventure including three local guides: Brahim Ahalfi, Lhou, Addi Bin Youssef and six camels: Hunter (named in honour of her by his handler), Hamish, Hector, Callum, Alasdair and Sausage.

The expedition threw up challenges from the start: “It’s been tough,” said Morrison, “Endless sandstorms, the constant struggle to find water, the sheer size and monotony of the landscape and the lack of life all made it a psychological battle to keep strong and positive and keep on walking – and then there were the encounters with snakes to contend with!”

The team were only able to survive with the help of the desert’s nomadic people, the Sahrawis, who gave them and their camels water as water sources were often as far as 200km apart. The Sahrawis haven’t experienced a good rainfall since 2014 and the vegetation that the camel herds graze on is disappearing at a worrying rate. Some nomads have adapted by using giant plastic storage bags for water which they ship in by lorry, but many are moving out.

During her journey, Morrison witnessed the migration of entire nomadic communities along with their hundreds of camels towards the east in search of more water.

“Exploration is as important as it has ever been. In the UK it feels like we have too much water, with floods destroying land and homes, in this part of the world, climate change is drying out the land. Although the Sahara has been a desert for thousands of years it has been able to sustain life until now. By walking these miles myself, I have seen first-hand the life that remains and the life that has vanished. From where the acacia trees are, to where hyenas can still be found, where there are plentiful hares and desert foxes to capture them, and also where the coruscating dryness means that there is no real life at all.”

It may have been tough, but Morrison says the expedition has also been full of excitement and discovery. The team found evidence of Stone Age peoples and ancient settlements along the route, often in areas where nomads still camp. There were also more hazardous unearthings – including an unexploded bomb next to the team’s camp which bear testament to the conflict in the region.

An interesting development on the expedition has been the unexpected knowledge Morrison has acquired about the secret sex lives of camels.

“We have been walking during the mating season and all six of our male camels are in heat. A male camel in heat is not a pretty thing. Every time our lot caught a whiff of female, they would literally foam at the mouth and then blow a huge pink “sex” bubble out the side of their mouths, while making a sound like the roaring of lions. The worst thing, though, is that to make themselves attractive to the girls, they stand with their legs apart, pee and whisk it up on to their backs – and my tent and luggage! – with their tails. I have basically spent three months drenched in camel wee.”

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