Do you know, I think as much as anything else, the world is made of stories? They run like hidden streams across continents or like fantastical tree roots under oceans. They shape and bind what we see, what we feel, the whole dreaming devilish dance of life picks up their rhythm. Songs are just stories made musical.
A while ago standing on the top of Mount Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa, I looked eastwards towards the Sahara Desert over 300 miles away and was struck with the absurd but totally compelling idea to walk from these high peaks towards that remote mystical wilderness. Setting off with a Berber friend, Moha, two mule boys, and two mules, exchanging them after 200 miles for three camels, I wandered through one of the least visited parts of North Africa.
I was on the trail of a lost tribe of dwarves and the echoes of the Glaoui warlords. These were the puppets of the French; who had ruthlessly controlled the region and were still displaying the heads of their enemies on the gates of the fortresses in 1947. I was also on the trail of the old camel routes, which snaked in and out to the Atlas and Anti-Atlas Mountains and to understand more about the Berbers, whose very name for themselves, the Amazighs, means free men.
On the way, I was possibly arrested for vagrancy, followed by the secret police on Velocette motorcycles, attacked by an Egyptian viper and protected by a spirit dog called Black.
But all this paled into insignificance when, after 450 kilometers, dirty, dehydrated, and thoroughly disoriented, I made my way out of the sand dunes to a place called M'hammed, a rough-and-ready village on the Algerian border, a kind of no man's land of history with too many bored soldiers for my liking. M'hammed is next to the last major oasis on the way south into the great Sahara, where trade caravans gathered before setting off to Timbuktu and beyond. Some as many as 5000 camels together would have made this trip.
But there are some hotels here for intrepid tourists who think the mystery of the desert can be discovered by traveling at high speed through it in a four-by-four or a dune buggy. And there being hotels meant there was a distinct possibility of a shower and even more remarkably a bed. Both of which had been missing from my life for too long.
We walked into the first one we saw. It was old and cheap tiles covered adobe walls, deeply dark inside and cold. The reception was empty. But in the corner, a young couple sat staring at PC screens. And that is how I met the girl from California. Now I don't know why, but there is a simple rule of travel that wherever you go, no matter how far off the beaten path you have wondered, eventually, you will meet a girl from California. When I asked her what she was doing there, she said she was painting hotel signs. And when I asked her what her, I assumed, her boyfriend was doing, she said, "Oh, he mends the shades." No backup information being offered, the conversation turned with the now customary incredulity over why we had walked from the top of the Atlas mountains to here. Eventually, we did meet the hotel owner, who turned out to be a Dutch car dealer from Amsterdam.
For various reasons, we didn't stay there. But my head started to create a backstory to why and how this particular California girl was where she was. Amazingly, a few days later, on the streets of Zagora as we made our way back, we bumped into the two of them. We talked more this time. And I had the amazing realization that this backstory I had created was more and more true. She said to me, "I feel we're connected somehow. We should stay in touch." She took my email address and said she would write. But of course, being Californian, she never did.
This is blog is based on a trip from the High Atlas Mountains into teh Sahara which forms the subject of the book I am working on at the moment. Stumbling Over Eden which I hope to publish in the Spring of 2021 - watch this space! Cheers Steve . Patreons will be able to get early chapters and drafts.