Skeletons on the Zahara: A True Story of Survival
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Everywhere hailed as a masterpiece of historical adventure, this enthralling narrative recounts the experiences of twelve American sailors who were shipwrecked off the coast of Africa in 1815, captured by desert nomads, sold into slavery, and subjected to a hellish two-month journey through the bone-dry heart of the Sahara. The ordeal of these men - who found themselves tested by barbarism, murder, starvation, death, dehydration, and hostile tribes that roamed the desert on camelback - is made indelibly vivid in this gripping account of courage, brotherhood, and survival.
left, he turned to his tidy stack of back issues of the Gibraltar Chronicle, thumbed down to August, and began examining the weekly listings of port arrivals and departures. “There she is,” he said to himself, as he checked the arrivals in the August 12 edition and found the Commerce, “40 days from New Orleans.” She was an American brig, then, and captained by a clever man who must have suspected his letter would end up in the hands of an Englishman. Willshire had a vested interest in seeing
the stable, the Arabs gathered on a platform that Riley believed was made of ship timbers. Here they talked and slept. At the other end, bel Cossim revealed as discreetly as possible the contents of his saddlebags and a pannier he carried. Willshire had sent shoes and hooded woolen djellabas, much needed now that they were in the hills with winter approaching. Willshire had also sent food and strong drink, which did even more for their souls than for their famished bodies. Out of the bag came
been dashed on the reef’s southwest corner. Yet Riley did not reprimand his crew, nor did he blame himself. “I mention this incident,” he later wrote, “to warn the navigator of the danger he is in when his vessel is acted upon by these currents, where no calculation can be depended upon, and where nothing but very frequent castings of the lead, and a good look out, can secure him from their too often fatal consequences.” This was the first stroke of bad luck for the men of the Commerce. The
can live here.” What they looked out on, in 1815, had never been scientifically explored and was almost too mind-boggling to imagine. They faced the western edge of the world’s largest desert. Occupying a third of Africa, it stretches more than three thousand miles east to the Red Sea and twelve hundred miles from the Sahel—the fringe of savanna in the south—to the Atlas Mountains in the north, mountains that snare almost all the moisture traveling down on the northeast winds. Relative-humidity
they could always get worse. Beside him, deeper in the shade, Clark lay barely lucid, dying. He was “a perfect wreck of almost naked bones,” in Riley’s words, “his belly and back nearly collapsed, and breathing like a person in [his] last agonies.” It would have been customary for the tent owners to offer the travelers water, but there was none. No one left their tents. The two fierce-looking men, whose haiks concealed the scars of wounds sustained on two failed caravans to Tombuctoo—both