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Trail Notes: Coffea Arabica - Out of Eden Walk

Author: Paul Salopek for National Geographic

Wadi Almaratajah, Saudi Arabia, 24°38'36" N, 37°35'26" E

“They drank coffee every Monday and Friday eve, putting it in a large vessel made of red clay. Their leader ladled it out with a small dipper and gave it to them to drink, passing it to the right, while they recited one of their usual formulas, mostly “La illaha il’Allah…”

– Ibn ‘Abd al-Ghaffar, 16th-century Arab writer.

You walk down the wadi for 12 miles pulling a camel on a rope. Under a sun that carves a slot in your head. That twists you clockwise. That drills you slowly into the molten sand.

You see white tents pitched under a kopje. You see women running to hide inside the tents. They are Bedouins, the women and their families, diehards who resist the comfort of towns. Up in the burning rimrock lurk a few wolves. They, too, are the last of their kind.

This is what you will remember:

Not the operatic space. Not the heat. Not the sharp peaks chiseled like barren Matterhorns, mountains like fangs, beacons that pilgrims once used to guide them toward Mecca. No. It is the tiny white porcelain cups couched in the mens’ palms. Polite, watchful men. Hands thickened with callus. And the hot disc of liquid within the cups—a decoction the Arab mystics invented seven centuries ago: pale green, the improbable color of sea ice. A liquid’s softness amid so much that is hard. How it pulls you up from the rug. How it re-laces your boots. How it takes you by the hand and leads you out into the desert to walk again.

Photograph by Paul Salopek

Arabic coffee pot in its native element—a Bedouin campfire on the old hajj trail.

DMU Timestamp: February 19, 2015 14:07

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