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It's the landscape that makes an impression in Niger. There's black volcanic mountains towering over green oases, cascading waterfalls, desert cities with wide tree-lined boulevards, camels, camels, camels!...and the dramatic, if lonely, beauty of the desert.

The landscape is almost matched by its inhabitants. It's a country of aristocratic desert nomads, skilled artisans, silversmiths with magical powers, and a race of tall, lithe, people so physically beautiful that even the men enter beauty contests.

Despite its end of the world otherness, Niger is a country perpetually on the brink of ruin. There was a brief moment in the late 1970s, after the discovery of uranium, when the country glowed with economic good health but after the bottom fell out of the market, it reverted to its hand to mouth existence. The desert, for all its beauty, is swallowing large chunks of the country at the rate of knots, there are ongoing and often bloody skirmishes between the government and Tuareg rebels, and the country is still recovering from the devastating Sahel droughts of the early 1970s.

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