'EL MAESTRO DE LAS DUNAS'
AN AMAZING DRIVER LIVING ON THE EDGE OF THE SAHARA
These days he can afford to be picky. He only takes those that he likes out into the dunes that he calls home. But when he does take a group he has party pieces. In the middle of this vast, turbulent ocean of sand he’ll suddenly call a halt to his convoy of 4x4s. To those behind, the maze of peaks and troughs looks indistinguishable in every direction and there is no clear reason for the pause in proceedings. Momentarily Ali gives every impression being equally bemused. Then with sudden decisiveness he begins digging in the Sahara with his hands, the orange grains sluicing away down the slope. His guests grow bemused if not a little concerned.
A few seconds later Ali plucks a bottle of water from an unmarked shallow grave, unscrews the lid and takes a long draft. Suitably quenched he drops it back at his feet, covers it and signals that they should continue as if it were the most normal occurrence in the world. I like to think he uses an old Oasis bottle.
Ali is a legend in these parts. We met him when we stopped for lunch (during filming for a video you'll be able to see very soon) at the hotel he has gradually built over many years. There’s a picture of him with Brad Pitt hanging in the foyer, but perhaps more telling is the one of him with Dakar legend Nani Roma.
Despite being born with only one fully formed leg Ali can apparently drive a manual car faster than most with two lower limbs and his speed in the dunes is said to be unmatched. Where even experienced dune guides have to stop and assess the terrain before continuing, Ali has a such an affinity for the terrain that he can judge the subtle changes in colour and texture on the fly anticipating consistency and suitability, like a bird using thermals. That's why on another appreciatively signed photo he has been christened ‘El maestro de las dunas’.