Transcending sand dunes

I first met Sath Kandaswami at the Windsor Hotel in Cairo.  We had both just arrived into that city and immediately struck up a friendship over breakfast, identifying each other as fellow adventurers.  Sath had come in overland from Morocco and I had arrived via plane from Cape Town.  

Eager to experience the country, we booked ourselves onto a bus bound for Bahariyya Oasis, Western Egypt, where we heard rumors of a dusty frontier museum full of golden mummies.  From Bahariyya we continued onward, hiring a duo of Bedouin guides who took us out into the proper desert for a good handful of days. Here we experienced the Black Desert, Emerald Mountain, the Mummies of the Magic Spring, and the White Desert, camping out under the stars.  The sand dunes stretch forever.  Sath would climb one and I would climb up the next, sitting there at sunset, surveying a most glorious land.  You look and you look and at the exact moment when the sun disappears, there’s a magical puff of air.  You sit there on the dune and it blows directly into your face.  From the desert back into Cairo, we again joined forces for a trip down South – hopping on the Wagons Lit Sleeper coach.  I jumped off in Luxor while Sath continued on to the end of the line – Aswan.  

From Egypt, Sath travelled down into the Sudan, crossing the desert between the countries in a rented 4×4, later taking pictures on the streets – a practice that was banned and thus brave.

I met up with Sath again in Washington DC – a city we traversed in the odd down time between working actual jobs.  From here we shook hands and went our separate ways.  

The moment I realized I was going to canoe the Mississippi, one of the first people I contacted was Sath, who was now based in Dallas, Texas.  At that time he thought he’d either do the first half or second half of the river with me, but as I reached St. Louis, Sath said he might be game for Oxford, Mississippi.  I had given him the hard sell a couple of times and didn’t want to push him, so when I got to Oxford, I didn’t contact.  

Two days ago I got back on my canoe from Quapaw Landing, Mississippi, and paddled south.  From the river I found a sand dune, right out in the middle of the mighty Mississippi, and readily made for shore.  The dune was highlighted by the sun and even though it was an hour before sundown, I thought I’d stop here and make camp and enjoy the sunset.  My map said Island 67 and after setting up camp I checked my email and found a note from Sath’s sister, Chithra.  The sun was on its final descent when I read the news that Sath had died suddenly, in Texas, back on October 30th.  

I couldn’t sleep that night and I couldn’t contact anyone from where I was.  My phone had no reception and my email became spotty.  It was a hard night, full of memories, and as the sun rose the following morning, I shouted out, “You could have been here…  Look at this sunrise…  You should have been here!”  Which was when I realized that I was a fool.  Of course Sath was there. 

First light on Island 67, Mississippi River


Filed under Wanderlust

5 responses to “Transcending sand dunes

  1. Wynette


    Sorry for your loss. Embrace the journey that he is on with you right now. Your writings inspire so many of us and we are allowed to see things through your eyes. Thank you. Peace be with you.


  2. flashriversafari

    Thanks guys — really tough couple days on the river here. Trying to deal with it via my writing and of course all the great memories. All best – Neal

  3. Dear Neal — “Close to heaven on Island Sixty-Seven” is our motto — May your friend always journey with you! — God bless and may the river be with you! — see you in New Orleans I hope —

    Love & wishes, John

  4. Teresa


    Sath often spoke of his excitement at joining you on your journey down the Mississippi. It is unfortunate that he won’t be able to make the physical journey with you, but for those of us who knew and loved him, a part of Sath will be with us on all of our adventures.

    Safe travels,


  5. aric

    Growing up as a child my family would spend alot of time with family on Mt.Airy La. We would walk over the levee and play and fish off of what to a child a desert of sand dunes left be the water current of old man river.

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