BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

Accessibility help
Text only
BBC Homepage
BBC Radio
BBC Radio 4 - 92 to 94 FM and 198 Long WaveListen to Digital Radio, Digital TV and OnlineListen on Digital Radio, Digital TV and Online

Radio 4 Tickets
Radio 4 Help

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!


Go to the Listen Again page

Click here to listen to this programmeListen to Excess Baggage for

13 May 2006 

The Sahara has held a fascination for travellers for thousands of years. Sandi Toksvig talks to two people who have recently returned from there and describe their experience of the sands.

Paula Constant spent six months walking in Western Sahara, a dangerous and disputed territory, in preparation for a full scale crossing of the desert.  She hopes to be the first woman to walk solo from west to east; Experienced explorer John Pilkington chose to go to the salt mines, 450 miles north of Timbuktu, an industrial area in the desert.  In this remote place he discovered a rat infested inferno. 

Frederick Vreeland is a former diplomat at the American embassy in Rome.  Frederick and his wife Vanessa so love the city, that they have continued to live there and have developed a different approach to exploring its multilayered history and culture.

Presented by Sandi Toksvig

Paula Constant and Saharawi guide (copyright: Paula Constant)

Photo: Paula Constant and Sahawari guide

This week's guests:

In August 2004 Paula Constant and her husband, Gary left London from Trafalgar Square to walk the 10,500 miles to Cape Town.  A year later, they completed the first 3,200 mile stage - to M'Hamid in Southern Morocco.  During the first year of the trip, they walked the entire length of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage trail through France and Northern Spain.

They travelled without sponsorship and not for charity preferring to stay independent.  Paula has written but not yet published a book on the first part of the trip.

In late September 2005 the couple began the second stage: a trans-Sahara crossing with their own camel train. They headed south down through Western Sahara towards Mauritania. Western Sahara is a disputed territory currently occupied by Morocco with a Saharawi government in exile. 

However, Gary left the walk after the first month.  Paula was now alone in the desert with her two male Saharawi guides; she modified the plans intending now to walk through the Sahara desert, from West to East, tracing back the route originally taken by the Beni Hassan tribe in the 11th century when they crossed the desert from Yemen, spearheading the second wave of Islam across Northern Africa.  It is the descendants of the Beni Hasan who today form the conglomerate of tribes in the Western Sahara known as Saharawi.

Later this year in September Paula will resume her walk with the intention of crossing the Sahara .

John Pilkington is an explorer, lecturer, photographer, author and broadcaster. He recently completed a trip to the salt mines at Taoudenni in Mali in the Sahara about 450 miles N of Timbuktu.  Every week throughout the winter, a caravan of up to fifty camels arrives in Timbuktu.  They are at the end of a three-week trek and each carries four slabs of Taoudenni salt - the 'white gold' of the Sahara.

Frederick Vreeland was Counsellor for Political Affairs at the US Rome Embassy in the eighties and in the seventies; his wife Vanessa is an artist in glass and ceramicist specialising in mosaics.  Together they have produced a guide that deals with the culturally rich city of Rome in terms of historical eras.  The history being divided into the Ancient, The Christian, the Renaissance and Baroque; Frederick and Vanessa have visited everything featured in the book and eaten in all the restaurants. There are also sections on Museums, Rome for children, Roman nightlife and a useful facts chapter such as opening times for post offices.

Key to Rome: a guide book - Explore Rome through its great historical epochs. And then go shopping
Frederick & Vanessa Vreeland
Publisher: Getty Publishing
ISBN: 0892368020

The BBC cannot be held responsible for
the content of external sites

Sandi ToksvigSandi Toksvig:
The daughter of a foreign correspondent, Sandi has been travelling all her life more info

John McCarthy John McCarthy is a widely travelled journalist and presenter with a particular interest in the Middle East.
Listen Live
Audio Help
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Tell us about your travel experiences. e-mail Excess Baggage 
Find out about the 2007 winner and listen to their programme
Excess Baggage
Current Episodes
Archived Episodes
Current Programmes
Archived Programmes
News & Current Affairs | Arts & Drama | Comedy & Quizzes | Science | Religion & Ethics | History | Factual

Back to top

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy