Tibesti 2010 ~ Return to Chad

Tibesti and Ennedi – 2010

Gerbert van der Aa

t-routebigVisiting Tibesti has not really been an option these last few years; an ongoing civil war made it too risky. But around the beginning of 2010 I received signs that things were settling down, which was confirmed when I read a report of a visit to Emi Koussi by Italian tour operator and Chad specialist, Spazi d’Avventura. I decided to contact Jorge, a Portuguese guy that used to live in Chad, with the question of whether he knew a good guide. He directed me to Tchad Evasion, the main operator in Chad, but when I contacted them they said a travel permit for Tibesti would be difficult. They could could only guarantee a permit for Ennedi.

I contacted Jorge again, and asked if he knew some other people that could help me. He gave me the name of an American expat in Ndjamena, who has been studying the Tubu language since 1993. The American turned out to be a great guy. The situation in Tibesti was not really stable, he said, but if we contacted the right people a touristic visit should be possible. He said he knew a Tubu colonel in the Chadian army who could be our guide. After some discussions the colonel agreed. We would pay him 150 euros a day, all local taxes and permissions included.

Together with Ab, a Dutch friend we has been travelling all over the Sahara, I decided to look for other people to come along. We wanted six people in total. I would drive my Toyota HJ61 along the Atlantic from Holland to Ndjamena, Ab would ship his Nissan Patrol to Cameroon. We would all meet in Ndjamena. From there we planned to travel north to Mao, Zouar, Bardai, Faya, Ounianga, Fada and Guelta Archei in the Ennedi, then via Abeche to return to Ndjamena. We thought the 4000 kilometers would take us about 30 days.

Once in Chad it turned out the colonel was busy with his work, which made him decide to send two of his cousins. One of them turned out to be a really nice guy, the other one wasn’t. The colonel gave our guides a Thuraya sat phone so they could call him if necessary. Before we left Ndjamena we visited the governor of Tibesti, who happened to be in town. Like the colonel he assured us our safety would be guaranteed. He hoped many more tourists would come to Tibesti in the near future, so that the local population would have a new source of income.

The first couple of days of the trip were not easy. The truck tracks north of Mao were often too deep for our cars, so progress was slow. But we enjoyed the many camels along the route and the famously overloaded trucks coming down from Libya. Unfortunately the engine of the Nissan got very hot, which caused us to stop frequently. After five days we finally arrived in Zouarké, a police checkpoint about 30 kilometers west of Zouar. The cousins of the colonel were received warmly by the police officers, also we in turn were treated very well.

The next day we visited Zouar, where we spent the night. From there we went back to Zouarké and continued to the Trou Natron, an volcano crater about one kilometre deep. The road was awful, with many big rocks, but the barren landscape was amazing. The 90 kilometres took us about six hours. From Trou we continued to Bardai, a beautiful oasis surrounded by strange-shaped rocks. The market was full of Libyan goods. We spent the night in the garden of a building that until 1999 was used by the French military who still have close connections with Chad.

We could not continue east to Yebbi Bou as planned, because Tubu rebels are causing problems there. In 2007 they kidnapped an American missionary, who was only liberated after nine months. So we drove back to Zouarké, and continued from there southeast to Faya. The Nissan, that was doing well in the mountains, started overheating again in the soft sand. To cool down the engine we drove a lot at night. At one point we passed one of the many Soviet tanks abandoned following the Libyan war with Chad during the 1980s when the Chadian Toyotas proved far more mobile in the desert.

In Faya we took two days rest and decided to sell the Nissan, after we found out we could hire a car with driver for about 100 euros a day. We continued to Ounianga, Fada and the famous Guelta Archei where we met other tourists for the first time during our trip. All my travel companions spotted the crocodiles in the guelta, I missed them because I was not patient enough. When visiting some natural arches in Ennedi we also met a French television team, making a documentary on the touristic potential of Chad. From the guelta it took us four days to drive back to Ndjamena.

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