Dispatch, Rare

The desert as true luxury

Just a quick heads up with regards to a little piece in this month’s Times Luxx Report, in which some colleague tour operators and myself share our dream trips – not as easy to answer as one might think. I’ve had the good fortune to travel to some of Africa’s most extraordinary places, and in excellent company. I’ve previously shared walking with my father in Ethiopia, and a trip down through the Omo with Don McCullin, and most recently on a fact finding tour of Madagascar with my family.  

Of these and many others, it’s impossible to pick one over the other. However, it is possible to pick a favourite, which is why I plumped for a journey I did a few years ago with Stanley Stewart through North Sudan. I’ve known Stewart for some time, very much enjoy his company, and his idiosyncratic style of writing suits perfectly the kind of trips we tend to do together. As coincidence would have it, he appears in the same publication, on the same page, discussing his understanding of the meaning of luxury:  

‘Real luxury,’ he says, ‘is about something other than the threadcount of the sheets or the size of the pool. It is about time – time to pause, to savour, to allow things to happen, to get under the skin of a destination, time for the unplanned and the unexpected. It is about space, private space away from the crowds, away from our own culture thronging the well-worn paths of modern tourism.’ 

I quote Stewart’s definition in full because he could just as easily be talking about that trip to North Sudan. He speaks about the luxury of time, and he speaks about the luxury of space, and as I say in the piece the experience of travelling to North Sudan was a simple, old fashioned narrative, in which we sat about the fire in the desert laughing a great deal. It was slow travel, either by foot or camel, and it was a trip with very few distractions, our accommodation being tents, our entertainment the stars, the wind, and the sand. 

To travel North Sudan this way, and to visit, incidentally, the ancient Nubian city of Meroe, where once, aged 12, I stood and took a picture of three Bedouin women, a picture I still have, and to do so in the company of the likes of Stewart, is the stuff of real travel. It is more than simply going somewhere. As much a journey into the simple wonders of the desert, it is a journey into the nature of friendship. It’s special. It’s a real luxury.

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