I had met him the day before at our trip to ride a camel in the desert which I have to say was not great. Dozens of squawking tourists being thrown onto unhelpful camels and then marched around the nearby oasis and back. He was a Berber and he followed the tourist camel train doing ‘wheelies’ on his horse and standing on the saddle amongst other tricks. I had taken his picture and paid him a couple of pounds for the privilege. We were in Tunisia on a weeks break from Edinburgh and we were in the desert as part of a 3 day car trip around Tunisia’s cultural and environmental highlights.
We stayed at a hotel on the shifting edge of the desert and when I left the hotel in the dark the next morning it was with intention of walking into the desert far enough that I couldn’t see anything but sand and waiting for the sun to rise. I also hoped to do this without sparking a major search for my desiccated body later in the day when Lene read my note saying that I was walking out into the desert to see the sunrise and would be back by breakfast.
I walked for a few minutes to a partially covered wall where I passed him making breakfast and tending to his horse. I stopped to say hello and spoke to him for a bit before telling him my intentions. His English was good. Apparently he stayed in the desert often only coming in to town for supplies and to have the horse looked after.
He offered to take me to yesterdays oasis on the horse telling me that we would see the sun would come up behind it if we hurried. We agreed a price and when I got up and started walking he motioned me onto the back of the horse with him getting into the chair like saddle seat. Off we went.
The horse seemed to have 3 gears. First gear was a gentle trot where I sat on the back behind his sofa saddle and wondered whether the Berber culture was accepting of me putting my arms around him to hold on. Second gear relieved me of any hesitation I had of holding on to him as I would have ended up flat on my back in the sand with the horse galloping off into the distance if I hadn’t. Then he put the horse into third gear and the ground fell away. Everything just levelled out as the horse made for the nearby oasis with its legs and our body movement syncing perfectly to produce a forward motion so smooth it was as if the horse had taken to the air and was flying to the oasis. Note that I didn’t know my body was syncing perfectly. I was just hanging on to his.
We reached the oasis after maybe 10 minutes and the sun had risen just slightly to the top of the palm trees. He waited politely while I turned into a tourist with tripods and the lenses and the lightmeters. It was exciting to see the sunrise after wanting to for so long but at that point I just wanted another shot on the horse.