Dunes near the Algeria - Morocco border. (Raul Santos de la Camara)
Article Words : Wanderlust staff | 01 October

'I crossed the Sahara by camel'

So how far can a British photographer travel in Algeria with a band of Tuareg nomads and box of liquorice? Jeremy Curl soon found out

Earlier this year, with little more than a Big Ben postcard and a box of Liquorice Allsorts, photographer Jeremy Curl landed in southern Algeria, hoping to make it overland to Timbuktu. His aim was to cross the 1,600-odd kilometres between Djanet and the Malian city on foot – or camel-back – in the company of the Tuareg.

“I met a lady in Djanet market who put me up for the night,” explains Jeremy. “She had a cousin who knew some Tuareg nomads, and he introduced me. The Tuareg liked the liquorice, but couldn’t fathom the postcard. Eventually one of them said of the Big Ben picture: ‘That’s a big mosque’.”

But how did a 26-year-old Brit persuade a group of nomads to let him join their caravan?

“They were sceptical,” Jeremy admits, “but once I proved I could ride a camel and would eat goat’s head, they relented. They were amazingly generous – they gave me traditional clothes, a turban, a rifle, a sword and three saddles.”

Jeremy bought five camels (“you need spares in case one goes lame or dies”) and set off on the ten-week expedition determined to learn about the Tuareg.

“I was expecting their life to be different, but perhaps not so different,” Jeremy says. “The Tuareg were almost completely untouched by the modern world – though things are changing. In 50 years this way of life will be almost gone.”

Goat intestine, anyone?

So, what does a typical nomad day comprise?

“We’d get up in the dark, maybe 5am, and spend more than an hour finding our camels – there’s nothing to tether them to, so they wander off. We’d then make tea and bake bread before walking with the camels for five or so hours, then riding them for another five until it got dark. For dinner we’d eat goat (eyes, intestine, rectum – the lot) and sometimes dance.

“We’d go weeks without seeing another person; at other times you’d see three in a day – and there would always be the same greeting: ‘What news is there?’. Most of the talk would then be about camels.”

The low point was encountering the Malian civil war firsthand: “We were staying in a Tuareg village that was about to be raided by the army – which equates all Tuareg with terrorists as a minority of insurgents are fighting for increased autonomy. We got out of the village in time – but when we returned a week later, it was to help bury the dead.”

Jeremy admits that he did little preparation for his trip, and urges anyone following his footsteps to think about what they’re letting themselves in for: “You need to appreciate how big the desert is, and really get to know the people who live there.”

This hasn’t put him off – he’d love to return, and is already scheming his next, very different, adventure: “I quite fancy crossing Greenland with the Inuit.”