"Now we know what happened to the addax in the erg," said Burmeister.
We started out at daybreak. Rossi rode with Spike in the lorry, which was in the lead, peering through the windshield, occasionally glancing down to study sand ripples. At rest stops the crew played Frisbee, and we came across two nomads sitting in the sand playing a sort of checkers, using small hunks of camel dung and bits of salt. Once off the track, the terrain was easy to drive on. We made 200 miles the first day, arriving early the next morning at Arbre du Tenere, the Last Tree. It was scrawny and twisted, kept alive by a small, sorry-looking well at which camels got their last drink before starting across the wasteland. Camel ticks, spiderlike insects with a nasty bite, crawled toward us. We stopped again, before lunch, to look for arrowheads, still there after 20,000 years, a link to the aborigines who hunted game when the Sahara was a fertile valley.
By late afternoon we were into the sand seas, and plunk, the truck and all the Land Rovers sank and stuck fast. Ladders attached to the sides of the Land Rovers were removed and planted under the wheels. They sank too and had to be dug out after the vehicle gunned its way over them, only to sink again. Perspiration, which usually evaporated as soon as it surfaced, now dripped as we slogged through the soft sand from one vehicle to the other, pushing and panting. George stopped pushing to take pictures.
"Lindblad likes me to take pictures," he said, though we had noticed that Lindblad's photos consisted largely of camels posed against the setting sun.
"I wouldn't call this much of a selling point," said Burmeister, sweating and pushing. Rossi stood nobly by, arms folded.
"Are you sure this is the place? It doesn't look like the brochure," said Burmeister, peering around at our desolate, sand-swept campsite when we stopped for the night.
"Where do we undress?" asked Evelyn. It was a dumb question.
We made it to Bilma the following afternoon, after only 2� days. Robin had taken the prize for getting stuck in the sand—a total of six times.
George thinks it a mistake to stay at the Bilma Rest House. He says there is a better campsite with a nice stream farther along the track. Mike says it is a "swamp." Theo King says this is what happens when you have two leaders.
Bilma is an oasis situated behind sandstone escarpments, palmeries and gardens. It is famous for its salt mines and is a center for the forming of huge camel caravans, none of which formed as fast as the flies and mosquitoes.