We arrived at the new camp site in the middle of the night. After the dust stirred up by our heavy vehicles had settled the waxing moon illuminated a pale white depression surrounded by a circle of shallow limestone cliffs. The bright gravel reflected the moonlight with such intensity, one could have taken it for snow, had it not still been 85°F. Jagged rocks enclosed the place like some ancient fortress wall half tumbled and sunken into the sands. The site offered proper protection against the howling winds and in its centre a broad sandy furrow provided soft underground to pitch our tents. It was the ideal spot.
The strenuous three hour night drive through challenging axle braking terrain had taken us to our limits. After the camp was set up everybody soon went to sleep. In the tent next to me I could hear my team mate Thomas cursing the incompetent outdoor shop’s employee who sold him his kit mat. To Thomas’ greatest disapproval the device had a broken valve and could not be stopped from deflating. In my doze I overheard him picturing thousand and one unpleasantness he planned to do to the unlucky guy once back home. Several among were quite creative. Frequently I thought he had finished but he was just drawing breath to continue with ever wilder threats to his virtual scapegoat. I took a mental note never to sell Thomas malfunctioning camping equipment and dozed off.
In the morning the wind had died. I got up with the rising sun, woken by excited voices and a strange snarling sound, originating in the corner of the camp occupied by our two Russian team mates. When I dozily peered out of my tent I saw them busy extinguishing a huge flash flame originating from their kerosene stove. Due to pertinent experience on occasion of a previous expedition, the tricky device had already earned the name “Tunguska stove”. Chernobyl-stove might have been an appropriate designation too, I thought.
After they regained control over the hazardous instrument Ivan began to brew us a coffee. The two Russians were lounging lazily in the early morning sun in their camping chairs, their cooker lurking between them. I joined the two for a cup, but much to their amusement I kept a considerable clearing distance to their cooking pit.
We still hoarded plenty of supplies so I went through our storing boxes to compile an opulent desert breakfast when Thomas walked over, pointing to the imprints the gravel under his tent had left in his aching back. “The most comfortable inflating mat for rocky desert surfaces on the market” he grudgingly quoted the seller. “What can not be cured must be endured” I observed, obviously not an adequate comment to cheer him up.
To plan a joint course for today’s search we unfolded our maps and started to arrange a number of meeting points along the way. Thomas and Pjotr were hacking coordinates into their GPS devices, when a sudden buzzing sound distracted me from plotting our traverse on the map.