Facts You DO NOT Want to Know about the Sahara Desert.
Before a trip, I invariably read up a little on my proposed destination – it’s a practice I heartily recommend. I truly believe that arming yourself with a few facts beforehand can significantly enhance your peregrinations. But a word of warning: Don’t read too much, especially if you are planning to venture into the Sahara Desert. And here’s for why:-
Before heading east into the sandy nothingness with our guide, Youssef, I desired to know a little more about this fascinating place. Previously, I had learned little apart from that gleaned during my school years. Before digging deeper I knew only that deserts weren’t among the most hospitable places on earth. ‘Grannies’ and ‘Eggs’ springs to mind when I say that desert is without doubt one of the most harsh and demanding environments on the planet. This much is clear.
I now know, however, that – as deserts go – the Sahara Desert is in a league of its own. For one, the Sahara is the largest desert on earth. Covering an area of 3 and a half million square miles, or 8% of the planet, this sprawling mass of nothingness manages to comfortably divide Africa into two regions – North Africa (or at least what’s left of it) and Sub-Saharan Africa. It’s vast. To put it bluntly, if you were to get rid of Alaska (now I’m not suggesting anything here), you could happily fit the remainder of USA into the Sahara Desert without it even touching the sides. As I say, the Sahara Desert is a big ol’ place – but that’s only half the story.
I recently learnt that to be classed as a desert an area must receive less than 10 inches of rainfall a year. Now, with most of the Sahara region receiving no more than a third of this amount, this particular daddy of a desert manages to come in way under the bar. Combine this with its sheer size and you have one magnificently lethal place. It’s a wonder how anything survives at all. Curiously, however, some things do.
Despite this lack of precipitation (and I firmly maintain that most of the Sahara Desert’s share of rain falls instead on the UK) numerous underground rivers run from the Atlas and other mountains – some of which occasionally find their way close to the surface to form naturally irrigated oases. Now, although these partially fertile oases account for only 80,000 square miles of the Sahara Desert – or just 2% of the land mass as a whole – life in these areas is good, or, more accurately, barely sustainable (fact: 15 of the 16 countries with the highest level of hunger are located in the Sahara and Sub-Saharan regions of Africa).
As for the other 98% of the Sahara Desert, well, let’s just say that the area that isn’t quite the land of plenty described above. If you were to parachute in before lunch, I dare say you wouldn’t return to civilisation in time for mint tea and tagines that evening. In fact, unless you either knew what you were doing or bumped into folk that knew what they were doing, you wouldn’t return at all.
So, in short, the Sahara Desert is big, dry and deadly. Should you happen to get lost or stranded in the Sahara – and should you happen to have the desert survival skills of, say, Nathan Richards – you die. It’s a concept unsettling in its simplicity, and one that engenders a modicum of disquiet. Especially if you happen to be Nathan Richards.
As I touched upon earlier, a little boffing up on the facts can be beneficial – knowledge is, after all, a good thing – but too much information may not be. Once armed with these alarming facts you could be forgiven for asking yourself what on earth were you thinking when you chose to sign up for such high adventure. Right now, I thought, ignorance would have been bliss – for it was into this incalculably vast, desiccated wasteland that we were imminently to depart. Anxious? Not even close, mate…and that’s without the scorpions and horned vipers.