MEN OF SALT by Michael Benanav


Across the Sahara with the Caravan of White Gold
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Travel writer and wilderness instructor Benanav crosses a thousand miles of desert.

It was sandy. And hot. And not an easy trip, either, traveling by dromedary through the Sahara. Starting a trek worthy of Indiana Jones, or perhaps the late Lowell Thomas, the author begins his adventure in Mali’s major metropolis, Timbuktu. His goal was to follow a camel caravan to the desert salt quarries of Taoudenni and back to Timbuktu before trucks took the place of these legendary ships of the desert. (He didn’t realize then that camels, more efficient in this trade than vehicles, are not likely to be replaced soon.) With his wise and faithful guide Walid, Benanav set out to find a caravan at Araouane, an outpost so remote that even Coca-Cola hasn’t found it. They pursued and missed connections, got lost and ate goat offal roasted over camel dung. Our roving tenderfoot walked miles in nomad sandals, recovered from saddle sores and rode miles more mounted on Lachmar, a faithful camel. He yearned to be, at least for a while, an azali, an inhabitant of the desert. The romance was enhanced by fellow travelers in full costume: for example, “a gray djellaba over a blue boubou, cinched around the waist with a rope into which was tucked a long sheathed knife.” The trek back in the company of salt-laden convoys was sleepless and miserable, evoking thoughts of death. But readers can rest assured that Benanav’s ordeal was worth the travail. In closing, the author waxes philosophical about East and West and humanity. The camels were okay, too.

An engaging account of proudly going native, enduring and prevailing on a rugged road.

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 2006
ISBN: 1-59228-772-7
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Lyons Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2005