Category Archives: Sahara News

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.

How to be safe in Morocco

Like most people, I am shocked by the brutal murders of the two Scandinavian women camping in the High Atlas this week. Sadly it is another attack being attributed to young men seeking to show solidarity with violent Islamist causes.
One assumes the two women were stalked by the perpetrators from Marrakech, and so the attack might as well have happened anywhere once an opportunity presented itself.
Morocco has been largely free of the types of the attacks which have become commonplace in western Europe in recent years, and yet tourists who’ve long been targets elsewhere in North Africa and the Sahara, are thick on the ground in all the usual places because they feel safe. The last reported terrorist attacks were a bomb targeting tourists in Marrakech in April 2011 and a bigger wave of bombings in Casablanca way back in 2003, mostly aimed at Jewish interests. Unlike the rest of the Sahara, to date no tourist has ever been kidnapped in Morocco.

firstimeHow to be safe in Morocco
As a tourist, maintaining your safety in Moroccan cities is no different to any other unfamiliar place. Hustlers are common in certain areas; traffic appears chaotic and driving erratic; pickpockets exist, cheap hotels may feel insecure and mountain roads are not velvet-smooth Alpine super highways. All these have long been far greater threats to visitors in Morocco than Islamist violence.
Being a Muslim country does give Morocco an edge to those unfamiliar with Islamic culture, particularly women, but the Islam practised here is a lot milder than that found in Saudi or Iran. Read the blue box, left, extracted from by Morocco guidebook published in 2017. Also read the sensible guidelines given on the British FCO website, to give one example. They spell out all how to avoid or be aware of the most common risks.

toubkaIn a crime sense, the popular hiking area below Mt Toubkal (right) where the women were murdered is not dangerous compared to a big Moroccan city. It is probably its popularity and proximity to Marrakech which made it an easy, adventurous destination.
Occasional unnerving but actually harmless encounters over the years have long led me to advise the following: when wild camping, do so unseen and completely out of sight if possible, and if not then camp close to or in a settlement. This way either everyone knows you’re there or no one does. I give similar advice in both my global overlanding books and act like this anywhere in the world, just for peace of mind.
In Morocco many have found undisturbed wild camping can be quite hard to achieve. Even in the desert, travellers commonly report someone popping up out of nowhere, usually a curious nomad or villager, or sometimes police checking up on you. It should be understood that in North Africa and the Sahara, camping alone in the middle of nowhere away from other people is regarded by locals as suspicious or odd.
m17-P1210574For us Euro-tourists camping has long been regarded as a money-saving adventure, but because hotels and auberges can be so numerous and inexpensive in southern Morocco (from <€10), I’ve long preferred the comfort and security they offer to all the clobber and faffing required with camping, especially if not travelling in a spacious car, or when travelling in the cool season when mountain nights get chilly and drag on for 12 hours. In a cozy auberge you get to meet local people or fellow travellers, eat well, rest properly and recharge your gadgets.

Another practise desert travellers like me have adopted since the deep Sahara became FUBAR’d, is not to share detailed travel plans with strangers or online, especially on publicly readable social media. I don’t do Facebook or Whatsapp, but by all means keep friends and family in a closed group appraised of your movements. In Morocco the reach of the mobile network is far greater than you’d expect, not least in remote rural areas where locals depends on it. A local SIM card costs from €2 which includes €2 of credit. You may need the vendor’s help in setting it up.

No one could have anticipated the appalling murders in the High Atlas any more than crossing a bridge in London, backpacking in New Zealand, visiting a market in Strasburg, attending a Baltic island retreat or a school or place of worship in the US. Morocco remains one of the few countries in North Africa where tourism continues to thrive despite anxieties about ‘Muslim countries’. It helps sustain the local economy, particularly in rural areas where the true level of poverty is much greater than it looks. Don’t let this tragic event unsettle your plans to visit a wonderful country, any more than any of the other places listed above.

P1310022

The Spiral Tunnel of Tagountsa

spirtunaHigh up on the side of a remote High Atlas valley is an engineering marvel – hewn through the cliff face a spiral tunnel manages to curl down through the rock and emerge underneath itself.
spirmohaI was told about this curiosity in 2012 by the chap at the cozy Chez Moha auberge (right) in Aït Youb while researching the second edition of Morocco Overland. Riding a BMW F650GS, I followed his directions with the usual route-finding issues and then, beyond the last village, hacked up a stony disused track to the 2250-m (7340′) Tagountsa Pass. From the cliff edge I recall the timeless view stretching east up the Plain d’Amane valley towards Rich, pictured below and on p128 in the current book. A short distance later I spun through the tunnel and rolled down a series of switchbacks back to the valley floor and a tasty tajine back at the auberge.

tang

Spiral tunnels have been a long-established solution to constricted route building challenges across mountains. You could even say that your typical complex freeway intersection where the road winds back under itself to change direction tightly is the same thing in flyover form. But you must admit that hacking out any type of tunnel – let alone one where there’s no room to dig out a regular switchback – is an impressive task.

spirplakyvromNot for the first time on this website, I’m able to benefit from research of Yves Rohmer (right) on his always fascinating collection of old Saharan curiosities at Saharayro, including the Tagountsa tunnel. Viewed on Google Earth, the big picture is more vividly rendered setting View > Historical Imagery back a few years.

spir

spirplanspirtunaEven then it’s hard to visualise what’s happening until you look at the old plan, right. You can see the anticlockwise descent of the bore and just work out that it starts with a short separate concrete bridge over the lower mouth of the tunnel. The daylight streaming down the gap can be seen in the image repeated on the left (and as a slim shadow in the round inset, above)

spirimitBuilt in 1933 over a period of just three months by some 3000 labourers from local and French regiments, few realise that at this time the French were still fighting to subdue renegade Berber tribes in the mountains of Morocco.
As you can see on Yves pages, the engineers, sapeurs and legionnaires passed their spare time commemorating their achievement by engraving regimental emblems in and around the structure. I was told the motivation for all this effort was to enable a secure, high transit of the valley, so avoiding protracted Berber ambushes at the narrow Imiter Gorge (left; ~KM70) with legionit’s Mesa Verde-like dwellings.
The same crew probably built the better known 62-metre Tunnel de Legionnaires five years earlier at Foum Zabel now on the main N13 highway north of Errachidia. A plaque there boldly states:
The mountain barred the way.
Nonetheless the order was given to pass…
The Legion executed it.”

spirtunThe Tagountsa tunnel the Legion helped build is at KM102 on Route MH13 in the book, though if you reverse the route it’s only a 10-km off-road drive off the Rich road just east of Amellago, turning north onto the dirt at KM113. Depending on storm damage, an ordinary car or a big bike should manage it, but note that you’ll be negotiating all those hairpins on the Google image above. From the west side (as Route MH13 describes the loop) it was a rougher and slightly more complicated ride on the BMW up to the pass.

spirdramPerhaps because trains can’t negotiate hairpins or climb very steep grades, it seems that spiral or helicoidal tunnels have been a much more common feature on mountain railways than roads, particularly in the Rockies.

Norway’s Drammen Spiral (left), some 50km southwest of Oslo is a notable example, dug we’re told, as an alternative to disfiguring effects of open quarrying on the landscape back in the 1950s while at the same time producing a revenue-producing tourist attraction in the process.

Morocco Overland, new route: MH20

M3acoverTrans Atlas: MH20 • Talat n Yacoub > Ouneine > Ouaougdimt > Aoulouz • 88km
April 2018 – BMW G310GS, Honda XR250 Tornado


Description
mh20Another High Atlas piste crossing to try alongside MH19 (also in addition to the guidebook). This one only rises to 2200m, climbing some 500m in 8km after leaving the road SE of Ijoukak. (below right). From the pass the incline abates and the track smoothes out as it rolls down towards the villages of the Ouneine basin and the P1735 whose nearly finished extension eastwards may be open by the time you get here (red line on map). You carry on SW along the P1735 and at Sidi ali ou Brahim village swing sharp left off the road, cross the stream and follow the Ouaougdimt valley piste 24km SE (not fully shown on most paper maps) to join MH6, the road coming down from Aguim on the N9 Marrakech–Ouarzazate road.
If you’re in a rush or heading towards Taroudant, at Sidi ali ou Brahim carry on 23km south on the P1735 to ‘Sidi Ouaaziz’ (according to Google) on the N10. Otherwise, it would be a shame to miss out on the scenic Ouaougdimt valley stage, as it rises onto a terrace high above the valley floor.

mhh20Mapping
Parts of the route are just about legible on paper maps, least badly on the inset ‘High Atlas’ panel on the Michelin. But none show the full Ouaougdimt valley route. It’s all on Google, Olaf and the OSM digitals.

Off Road
The climb up to the 2200-m Tizi n Oulaoune pass from KM11 is a little steep and loose and about as hard as it gets, but we saw local 125s two-up and minivans, albeit heading the other way (ie: descending). From the pass a310-7the gradient eases off while you’ll find the Ouaougdimt valley stage no harder than anything you’ve just done. Carefully ridden, a big bike could manage the loose hairpins; so could a 2WD with clearance, though as always these mountain tracks require concentration. On an MTB it will be a slog if not a push up to the Tizi n Oulaoune, followed by your freewheeling reward and no more steep grades.

Route finding
mh20-igliEasy enough. We winged it just by studying Google satellite imagery carefully beforehand, jotting down some distances between junctions. That’s now all listed below. Download MH20kml file.
At the old ‘Afra’ sign at KM23 you may like to try the 46-km track running east. Looks like it leads to Igli on MH6; see map right. Presumably the new road now in the valley is replacing this high-level route which rises to over 2550m or 8300 feet, although I hear it’s sealed from this high point down to Igli.

Suggested duration
Half day will do you.


Route Description
0km (88) Talat n Yacoub fuel station on the R203 Tizi n Test road. Head north to Ijoukak.

3 (85) Pass through Ijoukak, cross the bridge and turn right up the side road. Soon you’ll pass a nice-looking auberge.

11 (77) At the fork before a village turn right, drop down over a bridge and carry on. Soon there’s a sign right: ‘Ouadouz/Ouneine? 24km’ (it’s something with ‘O’). The 500m climb to the pass begins.

19 (69) Tizi n Oulaoune 2200-m high point. The track now eases off as it descends. (Photo, bottom of the page.)

23 (65) Fork with sign (photo below). Left at this fork is the old track to Igli as mentioned above. Keep right to continue descending to the villages in the Ouneine basin visible to the west. Eventually at a junction around KM35 you join the new extension of the P1735 which is continuing E probably towards Igli following a lower route. The P1735 crosses the basin to the SW and threads through a small pass back into the hills.

mh20km23

mh20ouaval54 (34) Sidi ali ou Brahim. Turn sharp left, drop down to the stream and up the other side. The track is a bit rough to the first village, but that’s why they invented suspension. It then eases off as it rises above the valley on a terrace (right) with great views down to the villages below. You could be in the Cevennes or the Pyrenees, but you’re in the High Atlas. It could be worse.

78 (10) Join the tarmac (MH6) by the reservoir.

83 (5) Roundabout on the N10.

88 Aoulouz fuel station/s.

mh20desc

 

2 is for: the 2CV Motorcycle Survival Story

Pictures from Emile Leray’s website and the web

2cvcartIn July 2012, a couple of years before fake news had become a thing, online media tripped over itself to syndicate a compelling Saharan survival story evoking the gripping 1965 desert drama, Flight of the Phoenix.
And now, five years later, a video has just appeared on youtube (below) where the aged and batty-looking adventurer again recounts his incredible desert caper.

2cvtilemsin

Back in 2012 full details and motivations were skimmed over, but the story goes that in March 1993, 43-year-old Frenchman Emile Leray set off from Tan-Tan to drive his Citroen 2CV east to Zagora – more or less MW2 from the book (right), followed by MS8 from Tata.
But with the Polisario ceasefire just 18 months old and frequently being broken, at Tilemsen the Moroccan army stopped him from continuing south towards Mseid, the former Polisario front line. Leray turned back towards Tan-Tan, but not before incurring some animosity from the army by refusing to give a soldier a lift back to town – a common request at remote Saharan checkpoints.
2cvmapJust west of Tilemsen, Leray ‘had an idea’. He decided to circumvent the checkpoint to the north (see MW1 KM22), and rejoin MW2 eastwards. But once on the piste (or off-road, as claimed) one of the 2CV’s suspension arms broke after hitting a hole too hard. With ten days’ provisions on board, but reluctant to easily walk-out and leave his car vulnerable to theft, he decided to strip his crippled Citroen down to a rudimentary motorcycle and ride out as if nothing much happened. The powertrain and suspension of a 2CV makes such a conversion plausible.

2cv1The way the story was initially reported in English – using images shot in a quarry (left) – Saharan know-alls like myself were initially sceptical. If it really happened why not just walk back half a day to the road? But while researching the yarn more closely for the Morocco book, reading his own account published in a 2CV enthusiasts’ magazine a decade after the events , a faint ring of truth came through. Perhaps he did make the 2CV bike, but not in quite the circumstances he claimed.
As the TV show, Mythbusters proved for themselves, his contraption was 2cvbustbarely rideable (left) and within a day Lalay says he was caught by a desert patrol camping in the desert and instructed to lead them back to the car’s remains to corroborate his story. Ironically, he goes on to claim (with convincing documentary evidence) that he ended up paying a 4500-dh tax for driving a  vehicle which did not conform to the one he originally imported to Morocco a few weeks  earlier. vehicle, even though he’d taken pains to tack on his ‘Steel Camel’s’ original plate.

Below is the translated story as posted on Leray’s website so you can form your own impression. Bear in mind there’s no reason to believe this account told it like it was, but it may have been the original version. My feeling is the 2CV bike was indeed built in the desert, much as Leray claims, but that he set out with the explicit intention of performing this task. Otherwise he’d have walked out like any normal person in such a situation. His unease about leaving the stricken car seems disingenuous. All experienced Saharan travellers accept that if there’s absolutely no choice, their vehicle is a disposable asset.

2cvthenIn March 1993 Emile Leray set off to follow a route from Tan-Tan to Zagora. He left Tan-Tan with the required reserves of fuel and provisions as well as tools to keep his old 2CV on the road.As soon as the Royal Gendarmerie arrives, it strongly discourages him from continuing further, because the zone beyond Tilemsem is prohibited, following new developments in the conflict between Morocco and Western Sahara. Emile must obviously turn around and the soldiers are asking him to take a passenger back to Tan-Tan.
Analyzing the situation, and seeing his project thwarted, Emile claims an insurance problem that does not allow him to take passengers, arguing that his 2 CV is already very loaded. He knows full well that in Africa it’s seen very badly to not take passengers aboard his car in these circumstances. He claims naivety and misunderstanding in adopting the attitude of a tourist not familiar with local customs.
Emile then returns to Tan-Tan under the disgruntled and disapproving look of the soldiers. He starts off at a good pace as he’s afraid he will be followed and he wants to remain out of sight of those whom he has just left. His plan is to bypass the area off-piste and return to his original direction … After a few kilometres he leaves the track to the north and traverses uneven and rocky ground.
After bouncing more strongly, the car jumps and brutally strikes a rock. He must stop because the 2CV does not respond very well. And for good reason – a folded wheel arm and broken spar …
2cvpantsÉmile organizes his encampment around the broken 2 CV and reflects on the situation. He is a few miles from Tan-Tan which he could reach on foot, but he runs the risk of leaving is car certainly in bad point but still able to attract theft, including its equipment. In the desert nothing is permanently lost, especially for the one who knows where to look… 
He has enough food and water so makes a decision which is to say the least, amazing: from his wreck, he will build a two-wheeled machine! One by one he carefully considered all the technical obstacles that this entails, and this master of African bush mechanics has all the tools and the elements to succeed in the task.
The next morning he began to dismantle the 2CV, first removing the body which he will use as shelter against the cool nights and sandstorms. Having no long-sleeved shirts, against the burning sun he makes sleeves from a pair of socks.
With what remains of the car, Emile Leray will try to build a motorcycle. Overnight he mentally reviewed all the stages and difficulties involved in this rather crazy project … A project that he had probably imagined for a long time but without having had the opportunity to realize it.
The wheel arms (to be removed with a hacksaw) are nested upside down on a reduced chassis of the front and rear side rails. The engine and the gearbox are then placed on the chassis, in the center. Space should be reserved for the battery and the fuel tank and to keep space for luggage without neglecting the layout of the steering system.
2cvdriveThe most surprising thing about this 2CV motorcycle is the transmission. It was inspired by the Vélosolex moped idea: the engine drives a drum which in turn turns the tyre by friction, and which, by 2cvvelosothe laws of physics and mechanics, obliges it to roll with the reverse. Disassembling the gearbox to reverse the differential would have been too risky in this universe of sand …
It seems unthinkable to assemble this machine in the desert without the help of a drill and welding station. All parts were assembled by screwing. When drilling, it will be done in the African way: the piece of metal is folded to 90 ° to form an edge. At a fixed point this edge is weakened by a hacksaw or round file. At the limit of the drilling, the piece must be replaced flat to perforate the filed point with a hammer or a needle. The assemblies were made as much as possible according to the original holes of the chassis or engine-box unit.
The rest is only a matter of time dependent on the quantity of his provisions. Émile believes he must spend three days building his bike – in reality it will take twelve …
There was a great deal of uncertainty to carry out this project and it wasn’t so easy to realize as one might think. The possibility of failure remained present throughout the adventure, giving some anguish to the stranded mechanic.
2cvvThe 2CV motorcycle was obviously not conceived for the sake of comfort, it is a rather secondary notion that was not imperative in what we can call the specifications. The prototype has therefore not benefited from some desirable improvements. It should be noted that, for example, the exhaust is free, so the nose and the ears benefit greatly from the engine’s gases. The bike does not have a brake, nor does it have foot rests which allow some control of the trajectory with the feet, because the craft lacks stability. On the first test the bike fell over, causing a great scare to Emile, who almost found himself crushed under his 200-kilo machine.
The arrangement of the clutch and accelerator controls were particularly tedious. It was necessary to dismantle, adjust and reassemble the parts for optimum operation. Similarly, the tests were punctuated by frequent falls. To lift the two-wheeled steel camel proved particularly physically difficult … All these circumstances contributed to prolong Emile stay in the desert. The final day was be spent adjusting and testing and cleaning the bivouac site.
It was an occasion to immortalize the moment thanks to a small camera with the trigger connected by a long string. Émile poses in the middle of a place that in March 1993 was the theatre of his unusual feat.

2cvdezHe leaves the next afternoon leaving the parts that he will not use in the body shell of the 2CV. He takes with him the rest of his food (more than a litre and a half of water), the bed, the tool box, not forgetting maps and compass. A small foam mattress and a towel sewn together will serve as a tent.
After a bumpy ride and a few stops for mechanical improvements, he encamped and slept at the edge of a track. In the night, he is awakened by three soldiers in 4×4, one of which immediately recognizes the “tourist” of Tilemsem. Very irritated to find him in the forbidden zone, he strongly doubts Emile Leray’s explanations; an accident followed by the transformation into a motorcycle. Intrigued by the machine, but totally incredulous, the soldier demands to see the carcass of the 2CV to have proof of this incredible story.
The officer puts an armed guard by the tent and the motorcycle, then embarks with Émile in the 4×4. After an hour of research in the dark, the remains of the 2 CV cannot be found. Back at the camp, Émile is allowed to rest near the motorcycle until dawn, guarded a hundred meters away by the military in their 4×4. The next day, the carcass was found and the soldiers relax. Émile will learn later that his interlocutor wanted to recover the abandoned pieces for his brother-in-law …
2cv2In the early morning, Emile was ordered to take his motorcycle back, and ride in front of the 4×4. The convoy sets off slowly towards Tan-Tan but several falls seriously annoy the soldier, pestering against this unstable machine. Eventually the soldier calls by radio for another 4×4 to come to recover the 2CV motorcycle.
Arriving at Tan-Tan on April 6th, things get complicated with a lot of bureaucratic hassles. At the provincial governor’s office, a report is drawn up, as well as by the Royal Gendarmerie. The vehicle is impounded.
Emile has the disagreeable surprise of learning that he has to pay a tax of 4500 dirhams. He is very unhappy because the customs officers had spoken to him on the eve of mere formalities. The vehicle is regarded as dangerous and no longer corresponds to the description of the registration documents.
“Delay in importing a non-conforming vehicle” is the charge, and by paying the fine he can
 regain his freedom and recover his contraption, but not be allowed to drive it. One could say a lot from this misadventure about the complicated relations between Africans and Europeans on the issue of money …
2cvmailThe next day Emile is summoned to sign the forms to exit the territory, and leave for France. He thinks he should come back as soon as possible to get the bike back, but by then he must find a place to park it. There is no question that he leaves her in the pound, it may cost him dearly, and the place is not guarded. A customs officer who is more sympathetic than his colleagues offers to take the steel camel home while waiting for him to return to Morocco.
A month later Emile made the 3500-km journey between Rennes and Tan-Tan with another 2CV to pick up his motorcycle, now dismantled in three parts …
Since then, the steel-motorcycle camel has enjoyed the honors of the press and participated in a few events such as the Aventure and the Inventors of Rennes, the fiftieth anniversary of the 2 CV in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, Without forgetting the Motards have heart.
Émile returned several times to Africa, and in 2006 took a new opportunity for the Doctor of African mechanics to exercise his transformational talents on the steel camel [below]… For more information: full story and technical details in 2 CV Magazine March-April 2003

2cvmbotIn 2006 Leray went on to build a 2CV boat in Mali. He clearly likes mucking about with 2CVs.

Sahara by 2WD Fat Bike

Some images and info from Cyclo Long Cours and Blida Nostalgie

fatfatIn 1986, long before the current fat-bike fashion, Jean Naud, a 55-year-old Frenchman set off to ride his three-wheeled bicycle 3200-km across the Sahara from Algiers to Timbuktu.
Brought up in Blida, just south of Algiers at the foot of the Atlas mountains, Jean Naud had made two previous cycle tours in the Sahara. One, as a 23-year-old way back in 1954, from Algiers as far as Ghardaia where he was born in 1931. And another in 1980 from Zinder in Niger, north via Agadez and across the Sahara to Tamanrasset – a distance of some 1300-km. This time he was riding a bike running prototype, low-pressure Michelin fat tyres (below left). At that time this route would have been just about all piste, but he recalls passing some Brits stuck in the sand near the Algerian border in their Peugeot 404, as he cycled silently past.

Although the Sahara isn’t all a wasteland of soft sand dunes, the thin tyres of a regular bike would easily sink or damage the rims on rocks under the required loads needed for desert travel.
I’ve met the odd cyclist in the Sahara. The big problem with off-highway pushbiking is the load needed to maintain autonomy, not least, water. On a conventional bike it’s barely possible without relying on passing traffic, because the tougher the terrain the greater your water consumption. Even in winter in the central Sahara, I’d guess you’d need five litres to cover about 60 kilometres on a sandy piste. And that would be a long day.

An automotive engineer, Jean Naud’s initial solution was to run fat tyres in 1980 in NIger. This time he added a second driven rear wheel to improve traction and aid flotation at pressures as low as 7psi. He then went one step further and devised a hefty hinged subframe (above right) which could both raise and disengage drive from the middle wheel to reduce the drag and pedalling effort on firmer surfaces, or when running lighter loads. Mechanically, disengaging axles (as well as hubs) was commonly done on pre-electronic 4x4s in the 1980s, for the same energy-saving reasons. And today on lorries we commonly see lifting axles (right).
naud-bobUsing the modern Bob trailer on a fat bike (left) is a similar and probably more efficient solution. The added effort in towing the loaded-down third wheel, rather than powering it as Naud’s 2WD bike could have done, is negated by the weight savings and the lower centre of gravity. You get the feeling Naud was merely experimenting with novel engineering solutions, as he discusses in the video below.

Naud’s three-wheel ride to Timbuktu (left) included at least 2000-km of piste. The route he took to the Mali border across the Tanezrouft is actually a firm gravel plain, about as easy surface to ride or drive as you get in the Sahara. Naud reckoned 20kph was easy. Beyond that, it gets progressively rougher and sandier down towards the Niger River and, having ridden it on a moto in 1989, it’s hard to believe he managed to cycle the final section west along the Niger’s north bank to Timbuktu. It’s very sandy.
Even then, the Tanezrouft was the preferred route of the earliest Saharan motor crossings from the 1920s onwards by Citroen and Renaults (right; also using a ‘double-wheel’ idea to spread loads). The only problem in Naud’s time, was the Tanezrouft route lacked regular wells compared to the sandier but shorter Hoggar Route which Naud rode in 1980.

After visiting his childhood home in Blida, early in the trip while still unfit, it took Naud no less than eight hours to cover 14km on the climb to the 1300-m Col de Medea where the N1 tops out in the Atlas, before descending to the Saharan peneplain. Once fully loaded with 72 litres of water and another 60kg of gear, his 50-kilo monotrack three-wheeler weighed in at 180 kilos. That’s at least three times more than a modern touring bike, or five or six times heavier once fully loaded. Or, about the same as a small lightly loaded motorcycle ready for the desert. Imagine pedalling that!

Jean Naud died in 2011 aged 80. You can find his 1987 book covering all his Saharan cycling adventures, on amazon France for €11.
His bike may still be on display at the Museum of Sport in Paris.

Garmin Topo North Africa Map Reviewed

Updated December 2018
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This review compares an updated Garmin’s Topo North Africa v3 Light map with easily downloaded and free OSMs, Garmin’s basic global base map and other digital maps, where available.

Navigating the Sahara
Having relied on them since before the advent of GPS, I’ve got to know my Sahara paper maps. well. Then when GPS came along, I could pinpoint my position with an accuracy that was more than adequate for desert travel. Some of these colonial-era maps such as the IGN 200s are cartographic works of art and unlike current nav technology, in the deep Sahara topography changes on a millennial scale. Tracks may become roads and villages become towns, but the desert itself remains relatively unchanged. Is there a benefit in having a tiny map on your GPS rather than simply a waypoint to aim for or a tracklog to follow, even if your position on the map is displayed live? That’s essential for navigating a busy city with a Nuvi. But the Sahara is more like the sea where more often what you want is…

… the big picture
garminmapA typical handheld device like my Garmin Montana (right) has a screen a little bigger than a playing card and which is hard to read on the move – especially on a bike. For me a ‘GPS’ (as opposed to a ‘satnav’ like a Nuvi – see below)) is best at displaying simple data like how far, how fast, how high or which way, not fine topographic detail. A paper TPC map can display six square degrees over some 18 square feet – what you call ‘the big picture’. That’s what you need travelling with a vehicle in an expansive area like a desert, while at close range concentrating on negotiating the terrain.
mushOn top of excellent paper mapping (now widely digitised), we also have the wonder of Google sat imagery (among others) providing a clarity that varies from stunning (being able to follow car tracks) to a brown mush (both shown right).
Google sat is great when planning, and now for a reasonable annual subscription, Garmin offer Birds Eye satellite imagery for the whole globe; the long-sought after ‘Google sat in your GPS’. With all these resources navigating in the Sahara couldn’t be easier.
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Garmin Topo North Africa v3 Light

garmin-coverageShort version
Even though old Olaf still measures up well, the similar topographic detail of the Garmin means it’s well worth the £20, certainly over the plainer but also free OSMs. In 2018, following a refurb/repair of my Montana, the v1 2016 version of this map was lost or could not be reloaded. I had to buy the v3 version for another £20. A quick scan shows that not much has changed, but if it has anywhere (based on OSM user updates), it will be in Morocco – the place where most users of this map will visit.

Long version
You download the Garmin Topo map directly into your device (takes about an hour) and only once your GPS is plugged into a computer, will it display on BaseCamp. Unplug the GPS and the map disappears from BaseCamp.
gar-atarSwitching BaseCamp between Olaf, OSMs and even the Garmin base map which comes free with a GPS unit, it soon becomes clear that the Garmin Topo has a level of detail and refinement that’s superior to the next best thing: Olaf. Occasionally at village level the OSM’s street-by-street detail is better, but that’s hardly vital. In towns and cities the extra shading distinguishes the gar-tantanGarmin from the plainer OSM, as shown for Tan Tan, right.
The chief difference is in the desert where the Garmin depicts relief and surface with more detail and clarity using shading, contours and colour where OSMs only use colour, and Olaf only uses contour lines which can be distracting. Look at the Atar region (RIM) above left – an area of escarpments, canyons and dunes – all are reasonably accurately shown on the Garmin Topo. There’s an anomaly on the Topo map on the left (bottom panel) in that the (presumably automatically recorded) elevation variation in dunes depicts them as lots of small hills (which in a way they are) – but only once they’re above a certain height. Identifying dunes with contours is not helpful, nor a cartographic convention. Shade is best
gar-msdThe piste and road detail on the Topo is pretty good: yellow for national highways, twin lines for secondary roads or piste, and a single line for a less used piste. A quick check in Morocco shows they’re all there; most of the ones I know are there in Mauritania too. In southern Algeria only a few main pistes are shown and certain ‘national highways’ are actually remote pistes never likely to be sealed. The Topo map would not be so useful here and in Libya is thinner still.
In any country dashed lines may well be walking tracks, but as far as I can see, there is no key or legend with the Topo map. Some POIs are there too – just fuel stations and post offices as shown on the Tan Tan map, above.
gar-pxIn places the Garmin copies the OSM’s annoying habit of again, marking high points (automatically?) as mountains which is a distraction, let alone inaccurate – for example when an escarpment gets shown as a string of peaks. If you drop the detail level enough notches on BaseCamp, these peaks (left) only disappear once all the useful tracks and place names have gone too. It’s great (and a bit puzzling) that this stuff is produced for free at all by OSM supporters, but the quickest flip to sat imagery would reveal the true nature of the relief.
So does the Topo map mean I’ll stop using Google Earth imagery in the planning, or paper maps on the piste. I don’t think so. In places like Morocco the extent of marked pistes can be (hopefully) converted into accurate tracklogs, but with better surrounding detail than OSMs. And, unlike Olaf, there’s no aggro importing into a modern, touch-screen GPS. When I want to quickly verify where I am, a glance at the Topo map may be adequate.

I’ve been using the Garmin Topo map quite heavily on Basecamp last couple of days, preparing a new edition of Morocco Overland. It’s an intuitive-reading map and I’ve found one benefit of using a Garmin map on Garmin software, is that when stringing out a track with the ‘create a route’ tool, it automatically snaps onto even the thinnest track on the map just like Google maps. But the Basecamp tool won’t do that with other installed maps like OSM or Olaf, or even the basic Garmin base map. Sometimes you have to trick the tool to go the way you want, but it makes stringing together hopefully accurate routes (as well as distances) very easy. Occasionally only Olaf will show a route you want to follow, in which case you make the route with lots of short, straight lines. No so hard.

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