late Wilfred Thesiger's travels in the Arabian Rub al Khali or 'Empty Quarter'
are well known, but the Sahara too has its barren
regions. In the east is the Libyan Desert, while the less
well known Majabat al Koubra ('Great Solutude' or 'Emptiness') explored by Monod in the 1930s spreads across the
Mauritania-Mali borders. These hyper-arid, million-square
kilometre expanses within the greater Sahara are barely touched
by human presence; they represent the essence of the place
known to the Arabs as al sahra: the desert.
November 2006 our
2000-km crossing from
Atar in northern Mauritania, across the Ouarane Sand Sea and the bandit lands of northern Mali to
Bordj Moktar in southern Algeria (click this or map left)
- was a highly ambitious project which cost me my vehicle.
In the end, by taking
several liberties with border regulations and with a good
measure of luck, we got within a day's walk of the Libyan
frontier, having crossed over half the width of the Sahara.
our crossing we collected dust samples
for Oxford University's Climate Research Lab. Dust from
the Empty Quarter (red areas, right) is thought
to have an important effect on the global climate, but has never been obtained
or analysed before.
clips from the Empty Quarter.
two-part account of the SEQ Expedition appeared
in the Summer and
Fall 2008 issues of Overland
Journal and is now online.
expedition report (hardcopy) is available to read at the Royal
Geographical Society, London.