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"This may be the time to take my red pill, or is it the blue pill? I never remember," said Burmeister, mimicking Florence.
"Soon we'll leave all this luxury behind," said George.
That evening Spike and Dick, the mechanics, made a last check of the vehicles. We were off the following morning, with three passengers to a Land Rover, for our journey across the wadis (dry river beds), reg (stony plains) and erg (sand seas). "We may see an addax in the erg," said Mike, but admitted that in 15 trips across the Tenere he had never seen an addax—a rare antelope—in the erg.
There are many things in the erg besides the addax, mainly camel dung, I noted in my journal, as we started out along an old caravan route.
The Land Rovers always proceeded in the same order, with Mike leading the way and checking to see that Brian was still behind him. Brian checked on Chris, Chris on Robin who looked for Charles, followed by Dick. Bringing up the rear was Spike, driving the heavy lorry that carried jerry cans filled with water, tea chests packed with food and kitchen equipment. Speed ranged from 25 to 35 mph. If the Land Rovers broke down or ran into trouble, the drivers blinked their lights and everyone stopped. Robin had a flat. By the expression on his face, I concluded that this was one of those times not to ask dumb questions such as "How come you stopped in this pile of camel dung?"
We were headed for savanna country. Here live primitive farmers, Wellard told us when we stopped for lunch. They belong to the Songhai tribe, a Negroid people once routed and enslaved by Tuareg warriors. Wrote Leo Africanus, a 16th-century Roman-educated Moor, "They lead a beastly kind of life, being utterly destitute of the use of reason, of dexterity, of intellect and of all arts."
After lunch we were off again, to drive until dusk, which became our daily pattern. The track was often rough, and the four-wheel-drive machines sloughed from side to side, bouncing over obstructions or into holes.
En route to Niamey
Going over a bump this afternoon, Lannan hit the roof so hard his pith helmet got jammed down over his ears. Charles blinked his lights.
As we approached Gao, en route to crossing the Mali border into Niger, Burmeister said that the animal corpses we had frequently seen along the track were members of last year's Lindblad group "who didn't make it." Mike said they were carcasses of goats and camels left to rot in the sun. The desert was also alive with bright birds and animals. Mike identified the kori bustard, red-billed hornbills, spur-winged plovers, chats, a red-billed oxpecker taking ticks from a camel, goshawks, fish eagles, two warthogs, a sand cat, the patas monkey and two red-fronted gazelles.