Absolute Desert

Michael reaches Timbuktu along with a camel train carrying the giant salt blocks that made the city one of the greatest centres of Islamic learning up until the 16th century. He wanders through the rubble that is 21st-century Timbuktu to find the Imam who shows him original astronomical textbooks that predate Galileo's discoveries by 200 years.

Leaving one of Timbuktu's most famous addresses, the house of Alexander Laing, the Scottish explorer who had his thoat slit for not converting to Islam, Michael heads east to the land of the Wodaabe. These nomadic herders are some of the last true pastoralists of the African continent - famous as much for their male beauty pageant as their stylish cattle. Living in the bush with them, Michael watches the complex rituals surrounding this extraordinary annual pagaent, the 'Gerewol', where the girls get to choose the prettiest boy.

It is the season after the rains, a time of relative plenty for the nomads, and Michael's Wodaabe family, led by the English-speaking Doulla, travel to Ingall for the Cure Salee - a gathering of clans that takes place every year. Amidst the chaos of camel races, shopping and general mayhem, Michael meets up with a group of Tuareg for the next leg of his journey, a camel train across the Tenere desert to Algeria.

Omar introduces him to the delights and vicissitudes of life on the move in the most desolate landscape on the planet. Walking 12 hours a day, eating the odd sheep and learning the rudiments of Tamashek, the language of the Tuareg, Michael finally gets to grips with the heart and soul of the desert. The going is tough, but the sense of comradeship with both the other cameleers and the camels, who are their lifeline, is palpable.

Episode Discussion

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