Travel: There are better ways to die than by drowning in the desert, but it's a hell of a story to tell the folks back home
Sunday 14 March 1999
In fact, drowning in the desert strikes me as a pretty ignominious way to go, in much the same class as being run over and killed by an old East German Trabant, expiring from a heat-stroke in the Arctic, or dying of thirst in Cherrapunji (the Indian city which receives 40ft of rain annually).
But nearly drowning in the desert was what happened to me, and it wasn't a wholly bad thing.
For a start there were no witnesses (except for my bedouin guide) to challenge my version of the story when I got back home. I could stretch a 10-hour ordeal to at least 12. I could speak about being frozen when, in fact, I was merely cold. I could even speak about being nearly drowned when mainly I was just angry about having had to spend a night lying in a muddy trench while being pelted by torrential rain.
What helped me to survive that night was the thought that I was certainly going to have something to talk about when it was all over. In fact, this almost turned the experience of being coated in itchy, wet, cold sand and mud for an entire night into a real pleasure. While everyone back home (presumably) was sitting behind computer screens or watching EastEnders, there was I heroically participating in the grand drama of the cosmos itself.
But was there really anything remotely ennobling or enlightening about the experience? Anything at all for my friends to be envious about? Unfortunately not.
If the truth be told, lying in your squelching boots under a wet tarpaulin, not daring to move for fear of causing it to be blown away at a 100 miles an hour, deafened by the roar of rain and wind, constantly terrified of being struck by lightning or washed away by a wall of water - for 10 hours - strikes me as several notches less enlightening than watching 24 episodes of EastEnders back-to-back.
What was more, the thing that really affected me about the experience was not so much the awe and terror of being sole witness to the vastness of the elemental conflict between the earth and the heavens, but the knowledge that I'd be lucky to get a sensible newspaper to read or a half-decent cup of tea for breakfast in the morning.
In short, my slight brush with death has been a spiritual waste of time. Instead of rushing out of the desert to change the world or reassess my relationship with God, the first thing I wanted five minutes after being buried up to my neck in mud was to drive to the nearest five-star hotel where I could lie in a deep bath and congratulate myself for the exciting life I led.
So, the next time you feel a panic coming on about the lack of drama in your life, please try to relax. The only useful thing I have learnt in the last week is that the next time I lie down in a wet ditch for 10 hours with a clammy sheet on my face, I am going to have to make damn sure that the ditch is not a foot shorter than the length of my body.
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