of brown and whitewashed cube-shaped houses rose up from a wadi, anintermittent stream, to the foot of a small range of ochre-tinted hills.A thick orchard of date palms surrounded the town. We stopped at thehotel, a small whitewashed one-story building, and were ushered into asimple dining area.
After a quick meal of chewy fresh bread, white cheese, and clementines, a young man appeared at the hotel. He introduced himself asSarmi Moussa, our guide from the Algerian tourist agency. He was notwhat I expected, but I really wasn’t sure what my expectations were. Hewas tall, bony, with skin of milky coffee, and came wrapped in manylayers of light-colored caftans, all dusty at the edges. He wore a whitecheche on his head, but his face was not covered. He spoke with a smile,and in the kind of French I could easily understand—slow, clearly enunciated words with rolled rs.
“Je reviens en trente minutes pour vous transporter jusqu’au plateauou on va commencer le marcher,” Sarmi announced.
I was surprised that there wasn’t a large group of trekkers, but apparently it would be me and the one Algerian man, who introduced himselfas Mr. Mustafa Sayed, a dentist from Algiers. Despite my apprehensionsat being the only woman on a six-day trek in a very remote corner of theworld, I agreed to be ready in thirty minutes to begin our journey.
The Land Rover transported Sarmi, Mr. Sayed, and me about ten kilometers on a sandy road to the base of a plateau. We were met by twomen and three donkeys. One of the men, short and round, introducedhimself as Kader Kateb; he said in clear French that he would take careof our food during the trek. The other man, tall and remote, said only“Sabah khayr,” good morning. Sarmi explained that this man, calledKande, was Hausa from central Niger. He spoke his native Hausa language and Arabic but not French. Kande was an experienced herdsmanwho had driven camel caravans across the Sahara before being hired bythe tourist agency to transport gear on donkeys for tours of the Tassili.
As Kader and Kande loaded our bags onto the donkeys, I began tonotice the flat, rocky, and desolate landscape that spread out against thehorizon, empty of vegetation and human life. In front of us was a cliff ofhuge granite boulders leading up to a vast plateau. With apprehension,I suspected that we would have to somehow maneuver our way up thecliff. Moments later, Sarmi confirmed this and led the way, showing thedentist and me how to place our feet alternately on the rocks to managethe steep ascent. Sarmi took my hand, and Kader positioned himself be