Back in the dark ages of the late-90s, information about West Africa was rather thin on the ground, and most of my contacts came from old books with exciting covers bought at the op shop. The following describes an exchange I had with Mr Pugh, a gent from the UK.

Aucombe, Horningsham
Warminster, England
1st December, 1998

Dear Sir/Madam,
I am currently organising a solo journey around West Africa, starting September 1999. I am seeking some information from your company about the possibilities of exploring the Sahara. My itinerary is: start in Spain, journey south to Morocco, across to Algeria, south to Mali then onto the coast. I am also enquiring if you conduct camel tours in these regions. If you could supply me with some information on your tours, I would be indebted.

Dear Rebecca,
I closed ‘Sahel Expeditions’ down about 15 years ago. The Sahara is bliss but sadly today much of it is inaccessible to non-Muslim travellers. Then he goes on to suggest a suitable itinerary, full of phrases like ‘you can travel with freedom but great difficulty’. One final ‘warning’ – Australian women are very independent and used to being a match for any over-ambitious man. This is no defence against Arab men who consider any woman outside their own house fair game, and are totally untrustworthy and behave with total disdain for the feelings of women. Rape as a crime does not enter their minds, and Arab husbands accompany their wives into the doctor’s consulting room to protect them. Nothing, and no-one is sacrosanct. Please be warned.

Bliss! Thanks Mr Pugh!! There are a lot of dire warnings out there for women travelling alone, and to be honest I’ve probably heard the lot. The truth of the matter is: most of it is paternalistic nonsense. Advice thrown at the ladies is equally applicable to the gentlemen, and it is no more dangerous for a woman to go solo than a bloke! Shocking I know!!! What will they think of next? Giving women the vote??

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