The boy’s name was Larabas. I took down his specifications as he told us how he had found the meteorite while riding on camelback. Because this meteorite find originated from the Al Gada, our initial search area, we happily agreed to purchase it together with his other finds from Tan Tan.
Larabas agreed to accompany us to the exact spot of the find. His father, however, didn’t want to have any of this nonsense because much work had to be done with the camels. By no means did he want to toil and sweat while junior was enjoying pleasant rides through the countryside …?
Together with Mohamed and Hassan we spent the rest of the morning searching the specified find location for further meteorite fragments, but to no avail. After a brief lunch of canned tuna, which we took in the car because of the scorching heat, we continued our search in the afternoon together with the others.
The flat plains in this part of the Al Gada as well showed a high contamination with dark weathered sandstone as well as chert debris. Dry riverbeds thickly grown with Acacia and tamarisks separated the shallow plateaus. In comparison with the other deserts I had travelled, the vegetation was luxurious. Camel thorn bushes, the bleached desert grass Stipagrostis pungens and the toxic desert melon Citrullus colocynthis were abundant. Scrubs and dead roots restricted view and complicated our search. Covered by the bushes meter-deep gullies lurked in these Wadis which were no pleasure to cross.
On the plateaus we had to circumnavigate large fields of coarse debris the size of basketballs and larger. If and when we had to, we traversed these surfaces only at creep speed, fearing for our suspensions.
The inhospitable terrain and a three day’s unsuccessful search had left their marks on us. Our water reserves were reduced to a critical minimum and our diesel supply, of which we had carried two dozen gallons per car in spare canisters, was down to half a tank fill. After a brief council we decided to head for the seventy kilometer distant Smara the same evening.
As’Samara was founded in 1869 as a caravanserai between the oases in southern Morocco and Mauretania. Today roughly 40,000 inhabitants live in the city with Moroccan soldiers manning the important garrison accounting for a large share. Smara is the only Western Sahara city not located on the coast. We reached the seemingly deserted place at dusk. Apart from an UN-convoy patrolling the souk, hardly anyone was out on the scorched streets. Not until two hours later did the city bustle with noise and colorful life and one could hardly find a seat in the many cafes and tearooms on the main street. There we were introduced to Ahmad, Mohamed’s smart and friendly assistant with whom I had corresponded in terms of meteorites occasionally.
While Mohamed, who always took great efforts to avoid we lacked anything, went to search for our accommodation, I decided to inquire together with Marc for the coldest refrigerator in town, in order to get us a few ice-cold drinks. This was the only achievement of modern civilization which we really missed after our stay in the desert.
The only hotel in the city offering running water was occupied by solvent UN-functionaries. Luckily we were invited to stay in the home of Sidi Ibrahim, one of Mohamed’s countless friends and suppliers. Ibrahim’s house was located in a quiet neighborhood in one of the side streets near the mosque. The place was nice and clean and of Spartan simplicity. As usual in the Maghreb the rooms were windowless and furnished only with carpets.
Despite the late hour, temperatures inside were still a sudorific 104°F. With this in mind the common local habit to sleep on the flat rooftops made perfect sense. The toilet was a simple gap in the floor with a water hose dangling from the ceiling. The latter was instantly put into service as an improvised shower.