I was very happy to discover that I made it to the Long List for the 2013 Bradt Travel Writing Competition. My name is on the Long List on the Bradt website.
I did not make to the final six entries who are invited to an awards ceremony in London. One of these lucky people will be announced the overall winner and they receive a holiday in Croatia and a commision to write about the trip for The Independent newspaper:
Still, I am very happy to have made it to the Long List of 21 writers selected from 200 entries.
My entry was nothing to do with cycling or Scotland, but having no other place to let you see my entry I have put it on the Cycling Scot website. My blog and website is all about travel writing and I decided to focus it on Scotland and cycling despite having travelled in other places and written about them.
The theme of the competition was "Narrow Escape". This was my entry:
Alone in the Sahara
“We came very close to being lost with no food or water” Abdul whispered to me and turned to the crackling fire, the only source of light across thousands of miles of Libyan Sahara.
The Tuareg drivers were preparing tea and I was so mesmerised by the process that I did not register the shock of what Abdul, our guide, had just confessed. Kalifa held the bashed copper teapot as high as his arm would stretch up to the sky of twinkling stars. He gently tilted a long, thin waterfall of liquid from the spout, which landed exactly into the tiny glass. He then poured the contents of the glass back into the pot and held the teapot high again to create another mini Niagara to the glass. This was continually repeated until a layer of froth magically appeared on top of the glass. It was a desert cappuccino with a distinctive bubbly texture.
“How? When? What happened?” I snapped out of my tea trance. Until now I never gave it a thought that there was a risk of getting lost. You see, I had become comfortable with the routines of desert travel. Bouncing around in our Toyota Land Cruisers, nicknamed “Japanese camels” by the drivers, became just as normal as taking the number 35 to work. A real camel occasionally running alongside the vehicles was now expected. Not seeing another human being was taken for granted.
Tea was served and Abdul motioned to the glasses and a bowl of lemon salted pistachios. Not even a tale of near death and disaster could interrupt the ceremony of tea drinking.
Today the Sahara had been an exhilarating place to be. We laughed and whooped in delight as the drivers pummeled the dunes with fairground ride jolts and Grand Prix speed. The vast emptiness and untouched beauty of the place had a euphoric affect on me. Normally a reserved person, I found myself leaping out of the vehicle at the top of a dune to shimmy to the Libyan pop music coming from Mohamaddin’s tape deck. He cranked up the volume and Abdul joined in with his snake hips, much to the amusement of the rest of the group. I felt as carefree as a child in the garden on a summer day.
I had treated the desert as a vast private playground and I loved that there was nobody around to share it. I could not wait to make the first footprints on the sand around the shores of the Ubari Lakes. These deep blue lakes were so unlikely in a land of dry yellowness. I plunged in and enjoyed feeling the coolness of the water on the surface and the bathwater warmth below my knees.
“Well,” Abdul continued, “after lunch the kitchen truck, with all the food and water, drove ahead. But we forgot to tell them where the evening camp would be. We didn’t realise this until it was too late to catch them up, so we had to...”
The gentlest humming marked the beginning of the drivers’ nightly musical performance. Omran, with his indigo tagelmust wrapped rigid around his head, tapped out the beat on the plastic fuel canister that was their drum. Mohammed had the nargileh going and I devoured a cloud of apple scented tobacco. Mohamaddin shrunk out of the fire light worried about a repeat of the solo performance he had been teased into last night. I adored this time of the evening when the drivers relaxed with their tea, smoking and songs of solitude.
“We had to guess which direction the kitchen truck went,” Abdul spoke into my ear as Omran’s percussion grew louder. “Luckily we found their tyre tracks and followed the tracks to the camp.”
I became aware of the blackness all around us, with only the fire and Kalifa’s emotional vocals penetrating it.
When I retired to my tent and snuggled under the camel-hair blanket I listened intently to the complete silence. My city ears were throbbing and working overtime to try and pick out something.
There was nothing.
I pictured myself, among endless dunes of mountainous proportions, struggling to place one foot in front of the other as the death ball in the sky beats down. Beneath me is a narrow tyre track, the only sign of humanity, which I must follow to make my escape. I gasped when I remembered that I hadn’t asked Abdul how he could be certain that those tracks belonged to our truck.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.