Category Archives: Camels

Algeria Camel Trek 2020 ~ FAQ

Two-week camel trek, Algerian Sahara
£1695 + flight to Algiers + visa
Departs Algiers Sun 29th Dec 2019 – Returns Sat Jan 11

Availability • FAQ
February 2019

tas18-headerWhat am I actually paying for?
Algerian invitations and permits before departure.
Internal return flight from Algiers to Djanet
.
All transfers, food and lodgings in Algeria, except snacks at Algiers airport.
The services of the crew and guides during the trek.

What expenses are not included?
• Visas. Applications will need to be made two months before departure.
• Flying to Algiers airport from where you live.

• Travel insurance.
• Leaving the caravan early and waiting for us in town or flying home early (most probably for health reasons).

• Tips for the crew (optional).

What is the estimated cost of the expenses not included?
• Visas fees in the UK are currently £85, plus agency fees (if used). For other nationals it may be more or less. Living in London, I can apply to the consulate on behalf of Brit passport holders for a token fee.
• Getting to Algiers airport before 6pm on Day 1. An Air France flight from London via CDG is currently well under £200 return. If coming from outside Europe with no direct flights to Algiers (Air Algerie schedule), it may cost you less to fly there via Madrid, Paris or Frankfurt.

skyscan.jpg
• Travel insurance. About £50.
• Leaving the caravan early (this may be difficult to organise).
The costs of hanging out in town waiting for us to return, or rescheduled flights home, if possible.
• Optional tips for all the crew, about €10 per crew member or whatever we decide.
• Spending money down south. Won’t add up to much or indeed anything, unless you can find souvenirs to buy.

Is Algeria safe?
Algeria is a huge country and our region is the only province that is currently open to desert tourism. Our itinerary is a route approved by the security authorities and we will be travelling with an accredited local agency with many decades experience in the area.
Have a read of the British FCO advice on Algeria or the equivalent of where ever you’re from. If you don’t feel comfortable with what you read there then this tour is not for you. There is a threat of terrorism in Algeria as there is all over Europe, but our trek is about as low profile as it gets.

For you information
I have never hesitated to cancel fully subscribed tours to the Sahara when the situation changes for the worse, as it can happen these days.

What is our route?
I no longer give exact details of route on the internet, but it will be a circuit starting and ending near Djanet.

Can I get travel insurance?
Yes, especially now that the FCO has lifted their blacklisting on Algeria.

I’m not from the UK, or even the EU. Is that a problem?
Anyone is welcome, as long as you are eligible for an Algerian visa (Israeli nationals are not eligible). I expect at least half the applicants to be non-Brits and an equal spread of men and women. Be warned, it can take weeks to apply for an Algerian visa, which will be based on an invitation supplied by the local agency. Sometimes these applications are unsuccessful because your country may be at odds with Algeria. I will apply for Brits in the London in late October. Your passport will be with the consulate at this time for up to two weeks.

What is the maximum size of the group
Maximum 10 + me
.

What will the weather be like?
In January it won’t be more than 28°C (82°F) by day, while the nights may get down to freezing in the dunes. It is faintly possible it will rain, but not hard and not for long. Full blown dust storms are also unlikely in the middle of winter.

Do I need to be fit?
You certainly want to have experienced walking up to 20kms a day, but as long as you’re in good shape, whatever your age – 27 to 72 – you will get fit on the trail after a few days, and by the end will probably be fitter and leaner than you’ve been for years.
The good thing is this trek is not like backpacking when you have to worry about the weather and nav, carry all your gear and then do all the chores like cooking and so on. The desert, the camels and the crew see to all that so we get the all-important time to recover in the evenings.

How far do we walk a day?
I’m guessing between 10 and 20 kilometres – some days may be longer. Our walk will be largely on a sandy plain below the plateau with no rocky ascents, but it may involve crossing some big dunes.

I want to ride a camel
Most like to have a go to say they’ve done it and got a photo, which they’re happy to return to walking.

What gear will I need?
Most enjoy sleeping outside so you’ll need a good sleeping bag if you feel the cold. A thin foam mattress is provided and tents may be available (I will check), otherwise bring your own or don’t bother and enjoy the shooting stars.
On top of that you want boots or trail shoes that are not so much broken in, as well used and therefore reliably comfortable. The terrain will mostly be firm sand or soft sand – lighter than what I’m used to and so lighter footwear like trail shoes or even sturdy trainers will do. The ankle support of boots is not necessary as you’re not carrying a heavy load and lighter footwear is less tiring.
IM555My feeling is most blisters occur between toes which get squeezed and rub against each other over rough terrain, possibly as the foot expands over the days. A soft, trainer-like shoe may constrict a foot less than a stiff leather boot, but of course such a shoe won’t last as long on rough rocky terrain. Another good thing with trainers is that they’re not lined with an unneeded waterproof Gore-tex-like membrane. This better ventilation may assist foot comfort. If you wear thick socks bring, a thin pair to accommodate expanding feet. And bring some back-up footwear to walk in should your regular choice be uncomfortable. There is more on footwear in the ebook.
You’ll also want a water bottle or hydrator; 2 litres will last a day. A change of clothes as well as a waterproof cag or poncho in case of a shower. A torch, plus a wash bag and all the usuals that don’t add up to more than 15kg. A suggested kit list will be sent later.
By day your main bag (soft bag, not a hard suitcase) will be roped to a camel packsaddle and will not be accessible, so you’ll need a small daypack or satchel to carry your day items, including water. I recommend bringing old holdalls and old clothes as it will all get ground down by the desert.

What happens if I get tired?
In my experience people don’t get tired as we walk steadily and rest frequently. And anyway, they realise this isn’t a ride from which it’s easy to get off. People do strain muscles or get painful blisters which can wear them down. In a couple of cases old sports injuries have also disabled otherwise fit young people. Trekking poles are a good idea. I prefer a long, 3-part staff. Pain killers might also be useful for general muscle soreness, as well as undertaking stretching exercises in the mornings.
If you do feel you need a break the only option is to ride a camel, but as you will find, it’s not so relaxing until you get a feel for it, which takes a few weeks. If you can’t walk another step we can call in a car on the sat phone to take you back to town. It’s never happened yet.

…or I become ill or have a serious accident?
The route will be about half a day’s drive to Djanet where there is a hospital. There an air evacuation under the terms of your travel insurance can be organised, if necessary. I do not carry a full medical kit; you ought to carry your own, including blister plasters. If you or I don’t have what is needed, someone else will. I have found Compeed or similar work very well for blisters. Apply them at the very first sign of soreness.

What happens to our tour in the event of such a delay?
We carry on walking, though we may lose a couple of days or have to rush to catch up.

What will we eat?
Breakfast will be real coffee and UK tea bags (brought by me) with bread and jam or cheese triangles. Milk will be dried powder. If you need more energy in the mornings bring your own granola or similar.
Eventually the town bread will run out and we will eat flat bread baked on embers.
Lunch (left) is often a highlight: fresh salad with cold pasta or rice or beans and maybe tuna. There will be a jug of drink and an orange or dates for afters, plus very sweet mint tea.
Dinner can take a while to cook so on arrival we get served tea or coffee and biscuits or some other snack. The meal might be a soup followed by a meat-based stew with pasta or rice or potatoes. Fruit will follow and more mint tea.
With strict vegetarians it gets a bit complicated but you can be accommodated. Once the cook gets his head around the concept he can prepare a meat-free side dish, but you may not eat as well as the meat eaters.
No daytime walking snacks are provided so bring energy bars, nuts, sweets, dried fruit and the like. Or do as I do and just eat what your given. One thing that’s worth using are sports rehydration tablets like Nuun or Zero (right). Put these in your day drinking water or add half a tab to a big cup. A tube of Zeros does 6 litres so 3–4 tubes will last you. Gatorade powder is the same. I will also carry sachets of Dioralyte (pharmaceutical rehydration salts; Rehydrat is another one) for when people need reviving after a hard, hot day, but you may like to bring your own.

What about drinking water?
Bottled water is not practical so we rely on wells or more commonly rock pools or gueltas (left) and sometimes even soaks or tilmas where you dig into a creek bed, just like in the movies. You want to carry at least two litres to drink by day. On this walk out on the sand plain there may be no natural water sources so we may be resupplied with town water by car.
Important: to purify natural drinking water for a bunch of people has proved to be too much work and not strictly necessary. You will be responsible for purifying your own drinking water if you feel it is necessary, using either pills or filters
. We have found that, while being occluded with silt and algae, natural water sources don’t cause stomach complaints. Filtering is more of a psychological aid as the appearance of natural water sources does not relate to the presence of harmful microbes. We have also found that handpump filters like the MSRs or Katadyn get clogged with silt within a litre or two. The fact is, after a couple of camel trips I just drank it as it comes and felt fine.

Can we expect stomach problems like diarrhoea?
Not in my experience. We are eating freshly cooked food
and not too much of it, but everyone’s intestines are different.

Is there enough water for washing?
Yes, but it’s good form not to waste water and learn to wash in just a bowlful with the aid of baby wipes. You will find the arid climate makes you feel less grubby and in need of a wash than elsewhere. At waterholes (if present) unless specified, it’s also good form to fill a bowl and wash away from the water source, not in it. A folding bowl an Ortlieb is a good idea.

Tell me about the crew
I don’t know this lot but in the past we had half a dozen Tuaregs including a cook, a guide and camel handlers. They’re desert nomads chosen for their skills but are used to interacting with tourists, even though most won’t speak much French, let alone English. In my experience the crew tend to keep themselves separate from the group. You can be sure they will spend the day discussing us and our odd ways, just as you will be intrigued by them.

What are the dangers
Aside from the usual perils of walking on rough ground, not many. Scorpions and snakes are dormant in winter. I’ve barely seen any in nearly 40 years. You’ll get sunburn if you don’t use head wear. Riding a camel may also not feel safe, although the animals themselves are selected for their docility.

Do I require any special inoculations?
No

What are the hotels like?
There are none. We will arrive early in the morning and probably head straight out into the desert. On the way back to catch the 3am plane, we may repose in one of the agency’s basic town houses.

Will my mobile work?
Probably not once we’re over the dunes beyond Djanet. If you need 24/7 comms rent your own Thuraya satellite phone for around £100/week.

How can we recharge electrical gadgets?
Short of battery packs, the only way I know of is with a solar charger like a gadget, right. A better, 3-panel one costs about £50.  Whatever method you choose, make sure it works before you get to the desert. A simpler alternative is to take enough spare batteries and switch off the phone. There’s no one to call.

What language do they talk out there?
Arabic, Tamachek, French and some English. Our crew won’t speak anything you know but the guide may speak French or English.

Can I leave the tour at any time?
Yes but this may be difficult to arrange promptly and all costs incurred will be your own.

Will I need maps and GPS?
In all cases the group walks together with the guide so keeping track of navigation is not necessary. Details of relevant maps will be issued on signing up. The IGN like the 1:200,000 (right) is your best bet. I can supply a full size digital file to print off.

Is ‘sahara-overland.com’ a registered tour company?
No, it’s just the name of my website. The booking form includes a disclaimer that you’re undertaking this tour at your own risk.

What legal guarantee do I have that you will not just run off with my money?
None, but with my prominence on the Internet and in travel publishing this would be a dumb move and I want to enjoy organising a few more tours yet!

My question is not addressed here?
All the info that I can think of is on these web pages, but they get updated from time to time. Please email me with any questions and I’ll do my best to answer them.

I’m keen to go, what do I do next?
Email me and I’ll email you a booking form. Send me your completed booking form, including details of your vehicle with the deposit of £395. If all is in order you’ll get a confirmation email, telling you when the balance of £1200 is due. Please note, I reserve the right to decline your booking and return your deposit without reason.
If you cancel late, your deposit can only be refunded if someone takes your place. If the tour is cancelled (most likely due to security issues) all the money you paid me will be refunded.

Why is the deposit so high?
In the past I have found requesting a small deposit has resulted in people booking tours on a whim, thinking there’s little to lose if they change their mind. This has resulted in a false impression of interest and late cancellations at a time when it’s too late to fill places. I now set high deposits on all my tours to discourage this. Doing it this way separates the dilettantes from genuinely interested clients with a real commitment to the tour – something which always improves the quality of the group, especially when things go wrong.

Fortnight’s camel trek in Mauritania

Just back from a two-week camel trek in Mauritania, walking with a mostly French group of 14 from Chinguetti (‘la Sorbonne du desert’) to Terjit (map, left), about 150km. For the first two days over the rim18 - 11dunes we were accompanied by a crew filming a report for a French TV station on the return of tourism to Mauritania (see below).
Of course tourism never really stopped for independent travellers (compared to Algeria)  and despite the killings and kidnap
pings of a few years ago (including an rr21entire French family in 2007, right). But the recent resumption of charter flights bringing much bigger groupsrimadvmaps from Paris directly to Atar (not via Nouakchott) was something for local tour operators to celebrate. It is probably the result of revised travel advice issued by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (left). You’ll see they critically (and imo, correctly) extend the ‘travel if you must’ orange imontheplanezone further east compared to the British FCO. It makes all the difference for local tourism because in that orange zone most of what most people want to see in Mauritania is easily accessible. Our weekly plane chartered by Le Point (with seats sold on to other operators) was packed out.
rim18 - 53The Vallee Blanche is the longest trek Le Point offer, but in terms of landscape and pace, maybe not their best depending on your previous experience. Horror des horreurs, we even walked along a road for a bit. Our guide recommended the 8-day Amatlich Erg walk – fewer interminable rocky plateaux he said, but then that’s all part of the deal in the desert. Wherever you go, it’s a variety of sand, rock and passing landforms that’s the key to a satisfying experience. I got the feeling that by day 8 or 9 most were counting the days, partly because the 25km/day pace had dropped by over 50% (as planned) by which time the 6-hour lunch breaks were exceeding walking times.
The fact it was unseasonably hot, with temperatures of over 40°C in the shade, may have tempered enthusiasm, but actually the morale and ambience of our group was very good; most had done previous tours with Le Point, including Chad which can be a tougher call. rimshaderThe Adrar at this time is usually in the low 30s – as it was on our very last day to Terjit, but most days it really was too hard to move or even stay awake for long, while lying under an acacia between noon and 3pm.
The plus side was that being on the trail before dawn was great fun, although I’m not sure what shape I’d have been in had we walked 25km/day for the full two weeks. So in fact the long siestas were the right thing to do. We’re not all huddled round that meagre shade tree on the left just because someone has cracked open their stash of Haribo Yellow Belly Jelly Snakes. We’re gagging to cool down a bit. Much depends on the terrain of course – is dodging trackless rubble worse than sinking into ankle-deep sand? They’re about the same once you add your daily endowment of aches, pains and cumulative fatigue.
All this was eased by a hard-working crew (left) plus our guide Mohamed who, it must be said, was feeling the strain after a busy season tramping around the desert with us nasranis. (There was no French-domiciled accompagnateur, not a need for one; with a Brit group it might need to be different.) I was just relieved I had a fully charged Kindle to help pass the long hours hotmaninching along with the shade from 11am till 4 or 5pm. By then it wasn’t going to get hotter, or the remainder of the day’s walk was short enough to not matter so much. One night it felt like it didn’t drop below 30°C and after a week of this everything, even your toothpaste buried in your bag, is hot and stays hot. I’ve not been in such heat for so long since an early-80s moto trip to Algeria, rim18 - 22mistakenly taken in September fun-hot-libwhen it was hotter still. Oh, and Libya in April 1998 (right); also very hot. Both were quite shock and yet watching our Mauritanian camel crew stride along in their flip-flops from camp-to-camp without rests and after spending over an hour locating and laboriously loading over a dozen camels makes you wonder what you’re whining about. You got to take your cheche off to these guys.
As it was, a couple in the group chose to ride when weary, and another couple had reserved camels to ride whenever possible. If you take this option, good saddle padding is essential, especially on the backbone. Me, I like to walk – some days more than others.
Sleeping out, I was a bit concerned that le chaleur might bring out the spiders and snakes everyone talks about in the desert. I heard later that the guides had indeed spotted a snake on night one, and again at Berbera guelta, but I never even saw any tracks. I suppose the good thing is that, besides being too big to eat, at night a reposing human is not much warmer than the surrounding desert and so not that alluring.
rim18 - 47Compared to my Algeria camel trips (here and here) I have to say the service was as good if not better; it’s only a shame the fresh lunchtime salad couldn’t last beyond day one out of Chinguetti. After that it was cous cous/rice/pasta with tinned fish and hard veg at lunch, and the same but with veg stew in the evenings, plus soup and tinned fruit for afters. That said, rim18 - 39we got two goats (right) which we didn’t have to buy, sandbread baked every night and pancakes every morning. And there was never a shortage of water, even for washing. After a while you do crave fresh fruit and veg as well as cool, clear water, but despite what you might call a ‘high-carb’ diet I managed to lose 4kg which I happened to have going spare. Heat kills the appetite which is why I’m currently dressed in three ski suits while doing Hot Yoga next to the radiator.
giftshopOne thing that spoils the Mauritanian desert vibe for me is the endless ‘gift shops’ unrolled at many desert stops and every nomad camp. In this way Algeria feels more sauvage; on the Immidir treks we might come across a family  of feral goat nomads in 11 days and never ever see car tracks. But as I recall from the late-90s, wayside trinket markets were always the way in the Adrar, as it was in the Aïr of Niger. And anyway, not everyone may have as replete a collection of cheches, stone tools, teapots and other desert souvenirs like me. At one place I noticed a women selling an unusual fulgarite necklace among her collection of silver jewellery.
The large group size didn’t really bother me, perhaps because much of the chat went over my head, but probably because it was a good group and anyway – resting or on the move there is plenty of space, it’s not like comfychairbeing stuck in a bus. Plus you imagine people who choose to take a two-week walk in the desert in March aren’t going to be complainers. Having said that, you do wonder if Homo Sapiens’ mysterious Great Leap Forward; the so-called advent of behavioural modernity 40,000 years ago is attributable to the invention of the comfy chair. Or maybe that’s where it all went wrong.
cropped-cam2dins.jpgIt’s interesting to observe how the Frenchies (and the few Belges) are much more casual about desert walking than some Brits brought up on the exploits of tormented ex-public school masochists like Thesiger, Lawrence and maybe Michael Asher. Le Sahara to them is just a holiday destination like Vanuatu, not necessarily a place to pit yourself against the elements to within an inch of your life.

tik
Straight out of Atar into the desert.
rim18 - 26Great value at €1200 + €55 airport visa
Pre-dawn starts. Feels like a proper desert trip
Sand-baked goat x 2, merci beaucoup
A shady acacia just when you need it
Great crew from Mauritanie Voyages
Wheat flour sandbread, not heavy tagela
Afternoon at Berbera oasis
You’ll get plenty of dune walking in

cros
luncharnLack of prolonged remoteness (to be expected in the Adrar)
Flatish landscape out east
Trinket stalls every day
Pace slowed too much (but just as well)
Nescafe – in the end, undrinkable whatever you try
Missed fresh lunch salads and fruit, too
Oued Abiod; the better places were off it

You can watch the 4-minute French TV report here. We didn’t encounter the army patrols featured in the film – they were up north shot later (so to speak). But it reminds me how brilliant drones are for desert filming. Makes me want to do more walking in the Sahara, but maybe not in a springtime heatwave.

How to navigate by the stars

ahbI recently hasbey24mapread Ahmed Hassanein Bey’s 1924 National Geographic article about his six-month camel journey from Saloum on the Mediterranean coast to El Obied in the Sudan. (You can read an online version here). Two years earlier he’d travelled as far south as Kufra, then the centre of the xenophobic Senussi sect. And in 1925 he published The Lost Oases which the NG article summarises and which is still available in print at normal prices.
hblo
On that 2200-mile journey he located the ‘lost oases’ of Jebel Arkenu and Uweinat (see map). At Jebel Uweinat he speculated correctly that the ahbjurock art depictions of animals he saw there must pre-date the 2000-year-old camel era which were not present.

northstarAt one point in the latter half of the trip when the caravan is forced to travel at night to avoid the intense heat, he interestingly describes how their guide navigated by the stars when there were no faint landmarks to aid orientation. It surprised me by being rather less intuitive than I thought.

The manner in which a Bedouin guide find his way across the desert at night is a source of wonder to the uninitiated. In a region which provides no familiar landmarks he depends solely on the stars. As we were proceeding in a south-westerly direction during most of our night trekking the pole star was at the guide’s back. He will glance over his shoulder, face so that the pole star would be behind his right ear, then take a sight on the start of the south in that line. He would march for perhaps five minutes with his his eye riveted on this star, then turn and make a new observation of the pole star for of course the star to the south was constantly progressing westward. He would then select a new staff of guidance and continue. 

He goes on to explain that the technique floundered around dawn and dusk when the stars weren’t visible and at which point he took over with his compass.

star

L’Atlantide ~ more artwork from Paul Élie Dubois

As well as illustrating Chants du Hoggar, French painter Paul Élie Dubois worked on a version of a celebrated novel of the time, L’Atlantide (Atlantis) by Pierre Benoit. It describes the vicissitudes of two French soldiers searching for lost compatriots in the Sahara and who end up in Atlantis, ruled by the beautiful Queen Antinea who seduces and then entombs her lovers. There’s more on the book and films here.

To the Lost Oasis of Ihreri (one of these years)

LPB coverEven before I turned to camel trekking, one of my favourite Sahara books was a translation of Philippe Diole’s The Most Beautiful Desert of All (reviewed; aka: Sahara Adventure in the US).

dioleDiolé was an adventurer, author and underwater associate of Jaques Cousteau. You can watch an aged Diolé interviewed here with none other than Alain Bombard, an equally interesting character about whom I wrote this post on another blog.

Attracted, as many of us are to places off the beaten track and obscure historic routes, I always thought it might be fun to try and retrace Diolé’s route across the plateau to Djanet, although even when reading the book 25 years ago I had a feeling it was a little-used path. Now it’s doubtful anyone’s been that way for decades.

P1020423It’s a well-worn Saharan cliché, but Diolé’s route included a visit to a genuine ‘lost oasis’ that I’ve long been curious about: Ihreri, some 80km NNW of Djanet (often mistaken with the well-known but accessible Iherir on the Fadnoun).

P1020417Ihreri may well resemble the similar, virtually abandoned oasis we came across on the Amguid Crater trek one time (left), set in a region prolific with Stone Age megaliths. The grassy patches as well as the sudden density and rustle of date palms were quite unexpected after a week out in the open desert with nothing bar a thorny acacia for shade. I’m also sure I watched a documentary in the mid-1980s about some people trying to get to a very remote oasis in the Tassili and getting a hostile reception. For some reason I think this may have been Ihreri, occupied by the grumpy vestiges of its date-cultivating villagers. Now, it’s unlikely anyone lives there.

tassili-1964On and off over the years I’ve tried to get the Diolé plan off the ground but without success, being told among other things it was too hard or there was very little herbage on the plateau that year. But recently I made contact with an Algerian agency that seems keen to try something out of their well-trodden comfort zone. Perhaps the easy ‘fly-in’ work is drying up these days, but sadly the price they wanted to charge was double a normal tour so that idea has gone back into storage for another few years.