Sahara calling

On a trek across the desert, a Tuareg tribesman proves refreshingly resourceful.

It had been a long grueling week. I was crossing a desolate part of the Sahara desert in Mali, West Africa, by camel, on a photo shoot of the Tuareg people.

For 2,000 years the Tuaregs have operated the trans-Saharan caravan routes in a nomadic existence, living mostly in temporary yurts constructed out of whatever debris they could scrounge in the wastelands.

They are known as the Blue Men of the Sahara not only because they favor blue robes, but mainly because they dye their indigo turbans with the ink from sea urchins. The prolonged wearing of these turbans eventually permeates the skin, giving it a permanent blue tint, and thus their name.

They look very dramatic, especially when perched 10 feet up atop a camel. Most of them would make a good poster for old Africa, and they are among the last people one would think to be affected by modern technology.

We were about 100 miles north of Timbuktu and had not seen a road or car for the past six days.

I had spent the week sleeping in the sand wrapped in my own robes, having gone totally native, and while it had been a satisfying trip, getting all the photos I needed, it had also been very physically demanding.

It was late afternoon on our final day, my camel had been giving me grief, and I was muttering to myself how much I missed my wife and how I wished I could talk with her.

My Tuareg guide asked what her number was and I gave it to him, chuckling, and knowing he was kidding around with me.

A second later he had produced a satellite phone from beneath his robes, placed it to his ear and then handed it to me.

"It's your wife," he said.

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