This is a beautiful narrative by a young anthropologist on
the first automobile expedition across the Sahara in 1925. The small caravan
traveled in specially built Renault cars, making their way from Algeria
south to the mountains of the Hoggar.
Now we began to learn the true meaning of the word “desert.”
Our trail led for hours through the most hideous waste imaginable. We
could compare it only to gigantic dumps and ash heaps, mountain piles of
slag from the fires of Hell.
The expedition was organized by two men: Count Byron de
Prorok, an American who claimed a Polish title and was looking for
sensationalist material for his next lecture series, and M. Maurice Reygasse,
an amateur archeologist and minor government official from North Africa. It
was not a match made in Heaven. Pond, a graduate student from the University
of Chicago, was the only member of the expedition with any formal training
in the sciences.
When they reached the Hoggar Mountains, they stayed with the
Tuareg people, a mysterious, matriarchal society where the men wear the
veils. Pond gets invited to a night-time Ahal or courting party; he learns
their songs and poetry, and discovers that the Tuareg are unrelated to the
other peoples of the desert:
The Tuaregs belong to the Mediterranean group of the
white race. Despite their veils and full robes their arms and faces do
acquire a certain amount of tan. To get their true skin color I held my
color chart next to the skin under the left arm. All six men showed the
same shade of white as the average southern Italians.
Count Byron de Prorok also wrote about this trip (see Digging
for Lost African Gods and In Quest of Lost Worlds) but the Count
had a reputation to protect, and Pond's account is less like a dramatic
public lecture and more like a conversation with a poetic friend just back
from a most wonderful adventure.