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Winter in Western Sahara
By Kevin Mc Donald
16, Dec 2012 - 16:33

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Well, the winter has started spreading its way South from Morocco and the Team Site is somewhat quieter as there is no longer a constant hum from the air-conditioning units in each room or tent. The days are no longer interminably hot and the constant heat haze has disappeared from the horizon. In fact there is a strange clarity about the desert and it is possible to see the characteristic flat topped mountains some 70 or 80 kilometres away, this has the effect of magnifying the sense of nearly overwhelming vastness that you get while standing in the middle of a virtual sea of emptiness that is the deserts of Western Sahara.
Never never travel without a camera.

Three Unhappy Campers.

I was on a long overnight patrol last week and this was one of the toughest; we had to cover over 300 kilometres each day and visit some 26 Moroccan Military units, the terrain was unforgiving and we toiled, trundled, bumped and bounced our way until we realised around 4.30 in the afternoon that we only had about an hour of daylight left. We searched for shelter in the shape of a few stunted Acacia bushes and rapidly set up the tents, started a fire and had just the meat on the grill as the sun slipped slowly over the horizon. A beautiful sunset that gave no indication of the subtle change in temperature, within minutes we were pulling on fleeces, searching in vain for gloves (no I would never need gloves in the Sahara..ya right) and as we huddled around our meagre fire I got the sinking feeling that this night would not be too pleasant. That unwelcome thought was mirrored by a vaguely unpleasant feeling in my stomach that started off with slight cramps (see my earlier post from Chad in 2010 to see what happened me the last time I got cramps in Africa, It ended up with me getting my appendix removed in a tent!!) thankfully it couldn't be appendix but as I rapidly ran out into the desert night to find a bush to squat behind, I knew that a freezing desert is no place for a dose of the ‘runs' Eventually I got into my sleeping bag and shivered on my tiny safari bed. The cold snaked its way up from the desert floor and swirled inside the tent. It seemed to hover above my face and I had this weird memory of Brother Donal (RIP) from St Gerald's College, explaining in Science class about how when hot air rises cold air rushes in to fill the vacuum. I was experiencing a miniature version of this as the warm air from my mouth rose, the cold air seemed to slide rapidly and drape itself over my feverish head. That night was harder than any similar cold night I spent in either the Alps or the Himalayas, it was relentless as I oscillated between shivering in the sleeping bag for twenty minutes and making a dash for the sole bush I could find downwind of our camp. I wouldn't mind but it was the first time I went on patrol without Imodium, which does wonders for complaints like I had. The chilly dawn saw no respite and I struggled throughout another long day before we saw the welcome sight of our Team Site on the horizon. It was only as we came back I suddenly realised that my time here was getting short, I would leave the Team Site on the 31st December to begin my out processing in the Headquarters in Laayoune prior to flying home on the 8th January 2013.

Hamada Desert in Houza.

A chilly dawn.

Looking back, the time has certainly flown, the tempo here is frenetic and there is not much time to sit back and contemplate how privileged I am in some ways to be able to serve in places as obscure as Western Sahara. Let's face it how many readers of this blog were even aware of the situation in this region before landing unexpectedly on this page!! An understanding wife is the only key to a successful career in the military and I have been blessed that my wife Clare and daughter Ellen and son Ben have been as supportive as they can be in putting up with sometimes very rapid deployments overseas ( I had 3 weeks notice to deploy here!!) Of course they themselves are no strangers to overseas deployments as they accompanied me to the Middle East, with the kids going to school in Tiberias in Israel and then in Tyre in Lebanon before the war in Lebanon in 2006 saw them getting evacuated from Tyre as the city came under relentless attack during that bitter conflict.

Sometime words just fail me.

At any time you could be using all these devices.

Two 52 year old Majors.

I would like to sign off now with a special mention to my late uncle Joe Mc Donald from Castle Street. He had a passion for adventure books that surely rubbed off on me. He would insist that I read whatever Zane Grey novel he was currently reading and I always knew that it would be a headlong gallop into the Wild West where men were tested. Joe if you are looking down now and reading I can assure you that Western Sahara may not be the location of Zane Grey's westerns but it is certainly wild and I was certainly tested. Farewell Auld Stock you were one of life's gentlemen.

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