Mali & Niger 2006 > Desert Eclipse Expedition > The Camping Trip >
The Campers

Some pictures of the guests on the expedition.
The first meal was a "welcome dinner" in Agadez at the headquarters of Souleymane Icha, the Tuareg tour operator conducting the expedition. This layout would prove to be typical of all the meals on the whole trip. I'm thinking the little circles visible against the back wall are dust particles suspended in the Agadez air.
Gavin Bate, the expedition leader from Northern Ireland. Read about his other expeditions.

Gavin climbed the tallest mountains on all the continents as a treat to himself in 2000. He has stories for all occasions. On September 11, 2001, he was returning from a camel trek in the Sinai, and found the town of Dahab watching televisions perched on chairs in the street (a common mode where TV ownership is not universal). The tourists were petrified, the local residents celebrating. "I turned my camel round and went back into the desert."
Steve Pinfield, a very experienced guide, who did some recon for the expedition about six months earlier. Afterwards, he led a trip to the North Pole. He would tell good campfire ghost stories.
We board the vehicles in Agadez.
Lisa, a real estate developer in Cheltenham, England.
Paul, a programmer for a bank in Essex.
Dave and his camel.
In our turbans.
Steve on his camel.
Brian and Caitlin.
Ellen, the only Nederlander on the trip. There were more women with high-tech jobs on this trip than in the entire engineering department where Dave works, and she was one of them.

Ellen is considerably more than high tech. I mentioned geocaching in the context of I don't know what, and suddenly she regaled us with the tales of all the geocaches she manages near her small town in the Netherlands. Unfortunately I have forgotten the details, such as URLs (send them to me if you come across this page), but it seemed there was a lot of numerology involved and interdependencies and other true geek design work.

She is also an eclipse buff, and a true realist which of course nets you the reputation of pessimism, which is why on the dusty, hazy morning of the eclipse when everybody was grooving unconcernedly at the campsite and I was hanging out with Ellen up on a sand dune wondering if I could steal a car and outrun the dust clouds looming off of Lake Chad.

I don't know why people want to be shocked by how bad things get. What kind of points do you get for a sunny attitude?

But the altitude of the sun was high enough. Ellen had a bunch of good cameras to take photos. I just watched.
Relaxing in the shade at the spring near Temet.
Listening to the latest English football scores.
After this trip, Shay (who lives in Ireland) had an exhibition of his photography in Germany. He lives in such a small town in Ireland that he isn't bored with people yet; and invites them to visit. Eithne is like that too.
Shay specializes in close-ups.
Lisa taking pictures from the top of the Temet dune.
Solve, a mechanical engineer from Oslo, taking pictures at the top of the butte.
On the other butte that same afternoon, Solve took this great picture of a desert fox. He said he didn't get a good look at the fox until he saw the photo. The den is under that big cubical rock.
Richard, a lawyer from Reading (he sues insurance companies that don't pay claims!). I thought it was very sweet that he came on this trip with Paddie, his ex-wife, because she was someone he knew would like to travel here.

He also tells stories in dialect, though not the kind George Ade is self-conscious about. The evening before the eclipse, conversation turned to Weirdos I Have Known, mind you as a point of reference that the people making this judgment are spending two weeks in the middle of the Sahara Desert to see the sun to go out for 4 minutes. Steve told of Antarctic pilots who do jigsaw puzzles with the pieces upside down in between playing hopscotch with Death, many examples given; Ellen described eclipse chasers even more autistic than the run of the mill; and Richard held forth on Trainspotting. The real kind, not the pop movie. Richard had sat across from two trainspotters on a train in the UK. His particular brilliance is that he was able to recount at least five minutes of their conversation in full dialect, with full trainspotting lingo, whether verbatim or improv obviously I can't know, but I do remember enough about trains from my youth to recognize that it wasn't gibberish purely. Either he has a photographic memory or he's enough of a trainspotter himself to riff with the jargon.
Eithne, an incredibly sweet biotech engineer from Galway.
Caitlin, who hated us. I admire her for that. Hating people is such bad manners, and I loathe manners. She was angry here at Achegour for some infraction so seventh-grade (I handed her shampoo without saying "thank you" when I had got it from somebody else and didn't know it was hers, so she said Icily (people from the British Isles actually can say things Icily, like you've read in murder mysteries — and in the middle of the Sahara, no less), "You're Welcome" . (I told you it was seventh grade — the height of manners is to not notice bad manners, or even to assume them to make your uncouth guests feel at home, like if Robert Horrocks gets drunk and pulls his penis out of his pants, we all should too, especially Dennis; but Caitlin hasn't quite ascended to that summit, she is of the younger generation after all and I forgot to notice about her, but at least one of the older ladies on the trip actually sips soup out of the side of her spoon — and in the middle of the Sahara, no less. I swear I saw more manners on this trip; how many of you have seen actual sand-washing before prayers? You always knew it was legal, but out here, they do it.)

Caitlin is a greatly accomplished woman. She plays bass and sings and she's been to all sorts of countries and took a Russian icebreaker around Antartica (you've probably seen that advertised on the World Wide Web and wondered who takes them up on that offer.) There is not much we could have talked to her about. Maybe she have figured we were paparazzi but I didn't know she was anybody until we left the tour. She probably gets her picture in Interview and everything. But not this one.
Setting up the mattresses on the sand.
Mary, a psychologist from Michigan.
Michelle, a programmer from Seattle, and Lisa.
Dave and Solve during a travel break.
Steve under a blanket at lunch.
Jonathan, a manager at a geographic information company in Newcastle, who explained stuff to me about my GPS. He was polite enough to speak in such a way that we could understand him at all times. There weren't any other northerners there to talk to, anyway.

It must have been Andrei or Dennis who mentioned to me a couple of years ago that English speaking people have no "code language" in which to speak to each other so as not to be understood by others. English is the language everybody understands; when an aside needs to be given during negotiations, or planning to leave a boring party, it's easy for other people to slip into Romanian or German or (to choose examples from this trip) Tamashek or Hausa or Fon and not offend outsiders with snippets of inappropriate opinion or fact. Or Geordie. Dave and I unfortunately speak the most common dialect, the California kind which is heard on television by the entire population of the world, and our opinions must ever be revealed.

Caitlin behaved sometimes as if she thought Jonathan was the pick of the litter but I suspect that everyone on this expedition is just a little bit too mature to do what they want to do in that respect. It wasn't a reality TV show populated by vacuous supermodels. Even allowing for such handicapping, he is, as you can see, a tolerable hottie for an Englishman and a super nice guy by any metric. Since we got back (as of 11 July 2006) he's raised over 1700 for the hospital we visited in Bilma. Anyway, Northern accents are appealing in their incomprehensibility. By the time we post this he'll be atop some mountain in the Russian Caucasus.
John, from the Isle of Guernsey. Now you know the travelers under these tents have hoisted themselves up peaks on all the continents and dived in all the seas but everybody knows that John is the most intrepid of them all, because despite having cerebral palsy he has been on nine expeditions with Gavin and Steve. Being Inspired by Cripples is cheap; but unlike for us, for John it's not just a matter of writing a check to do all this stuff. Also he beat me to the top of the dune in Temet. Also he has a PhD in math.
Pam, a semiconductor engineer from Idaho.
Here's a group shot taken by Steve Garren just after the eclipse.
The farewell dinner in Agadez.
Other groups of astronomers having their farewell dinners at the same restaurant. I wandered around a bit wondering if I would see anybody I recognized. I didn't. Statistically speaking I should have; or maybe there are just too many hundred thousand eclipse chasers now and running into any particular lot of them is just unlikely.
The Wodabe dancers at the restaurant. Somewhere under this yellow paint are the chaps we talked to at the shop the next day. Once again I have to wonder, if they really do this as part of a mating ritual any more; or if they dress up for the tourists as a day job and submit their resumes to at night.
On to The Tuaregs

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