I had been told the sand has no smell – but it does: a brittle and flaking scent which assaults the nostrils at the same time as the over-bright shimmer dazzles the eyes. My ship-of-the-desert was making me feel sea-sick and watching the ease with which Kerry was taking to it, chatting so casually to Drew, one of the better-looking of our companions, and the main reason I had been persuaded out here in the first place, only made me feel worse. Then there was the grainy residue which seemed to invade even the most intimate places, plus my hair felt like straw and I was sure it looked like it too. But worst of all was the heat – the relentless, oven-baked sensation which made me fantasise incessantly about the swimming pools and cool shower I had left back at the hotel.
Perhaps if I had been day-dreaming a bit less I would have caught the scarf, worked loose by my continual brushing away of sand, before it lifted off my head, startling my noble steed. One moment I was flying through the air and the next I made an interesting discovery: sand is not as soft as it looks when you land in it from camel-height. I lay there in an undignified heap, feeling bruised in the ego and painfully aware everyone was laughing at me. The head of my camel loomed large, looking down with an expression that was clearly condescending, as it reluctantly knelt itself in the sand beside me.
When our guide’s strong arms almost literally lifted me to my feet, I was so startled I didn’t even stutter thanks. The dark eyes that held my gaze were not laughing, if anything they were angry – probably at me for falling off so stupidly! His secure hands boosted me onto the deep saddle with a surprising gentleness and then urged my camel back to its feet. My misery was now complete.
I was only two hours into my ‘Genuine Saharan Overnight Adventure’, the supposed highlight of this Tunisian package tour, and already I wanted out.