Through Jungles and Deserts
By Gianmaria Contro
Another unforgettable memory, for Sergio Bonelli, was the encounter – dated back to 1971, on the harsh and steep track that climbed the Aïr Mountains, until the isolated town of Iferouane – with a flesh-and-blood Tuareg man.
Here’s how Sergio presented that episode to his readers, in 2008: "Almost 40 years went by, since that day, but the emotion I felt in seeing that sudden appearance still flashes sharply in front of my eyes, believe me. In the incomparable light of an African sunset, my friends and I were beginning to consume what, in Tex’s words, could be defined as a 'frugal dinner', before sneaking inside our sleeping bags; then, a huge shadow was cast over us. We raised our eyes and he was there, towering over us on his camel that had emerged from behind a rock without a sound. Oh my! He was really different from all the 'Blue Men' we had met until then, during our journey; those guys, stylish and almost sophisticated with their Ray-Ban sunglasses, looked just like the usual image that the movies and the popular books passed on to us over the years".
"This man’s head and face were covered by the veil and the indigo turban that gave the Tuareg the sobriquet of “Blue People”; hanging on his side, we could see the “takuba", the traditional sword, while on his chest he wore many leather or silver charms. Speechless, we couldn’t tear our gaze away from his eyes, that darted over the veil. With very slow but authoritative gestures, the Tuareg pointed at our flasks and moved his hand towards his mouth, clearly asking for a drink of water. I stood up like a mesmerized person, and gave him a full flask; he brought it to his lips a few times, showing off the same graceful slow movements, then gave it back to me and nodded. A second later, he disappeared behind the rock he had emerged from. He didn’t say a word. I only had the time to guess, under the folds of that veil, the fair skin of the noblemen with an ancient Mediterranean origin, who came from Northern Africa and only engaged either in warlike activities or in leading caravans...".