Tag Archives: Algerian sahara

Desert Travels • Bénélé 1984 Part II

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Did you miss Part 1?

Recap: I’m taking a two-week touring holiday in Algeria, late summer 1984 and it has become very hot indeed. I’m riding a 200cc mash up of AJS, Honda CD200, VW and Yamaha with enough ground clearance to become an Olympic event but barely enough power to stir a tea bag.

Yesterday I rode through a tornado and right now I’m just south of the Tademait plateau: Day 3 in Algeria.

This is part two of a bonus chapter which does not appear in the book.

I got up before sunrise but it was still warm a hot summer’s day in the UK. I packed up and rode towards In Salah, a hour or so down the road. Soon I came across a French guy on a Z750LTD – that’s a Kawasaki early 80s mock-chop in case you’ve forgotten. Clearly 1984 was the year to ride the Sahara on dumb bikes.
He was sat by the side of the road looking a bit how I felt: shell shocked. Yesterday on the Tademait, the satanic sand storms had also freaked him out and he was beginning to realise his bike, a spine-wrecking ‘factory custom’ (as was the fashion at the time) was not such a cool highway cruiser after all. He’d had enough and was heading back north.


I carried on south, passing the denuded outliers of the Tademait plateau. The old fuel station in In Salah was always fighting to keep its chin above the sands, and I pulled in to fill up for the next stage: 270km along the Trans Sahara Highway to Arak Gorge with not so much as a well on the way.

A short distance out of town I passed another fallen truck, as I’d done near here in 1982 in the XT, only that time it was flat on its back with its wheels were up in the air.
As before, the road perfectly flat and straight. You presume the driver had dozed off in the heat of his cab and jack-knifed.
It’s not the greatest picture I’ve ever taken but you’ll notice there’s someone camped by the truck – maybe the driver. He’s watching the wreck so it doesn’t get stripped bare before someone comes along with whatever it takes to get it back on its wheels.

Time for a quick pose why not. Young kids these days think they invented self obsession and selfies! We were doing that years ago! And probably our parents before us, if they had a camera.

I liked my trusty Bell Moto 3 but I’m sure glad I never had a crash in it. The padding inside was about as inviting as the inside of a cylinder head. I also see I’m wearing a natty nylon British Airways cabin steward’s scarf picked up in Laurence Corner’s army surplus ‘boutique’ in Camden, just up the road from our Blooomsbury squat.

They say the Beatles bought their Sgt. Pepper outfits there, and the likes of, Adam Ant, Kate Moss (possibly still in nappies at the time) and Jean-Paul Gaultier (older, but probably also in leopardskin nappies) have all rummaged around in the junk at LC, looking for something to cut a dash. As trendy despatchers looking for the ultimate outfit, we did too, and I think the scarf was an impulsive £1 purchase.

Back to the desert where the only fashion was to get from water to water before what you had ran out. The low elevation hereabouts meant it was becoming exceedingly hot. I’m guessing about 45°C or over 110 F.
That’s nothing unusual at these latitudes I’m sure, but I’d never experienced temperatures hotter than I was. I was being baked alive by the air I was riding through and so I wrapped up tight to keep the blast from turning me into a shrivelled Peruvian mummy.

In this pre-Camelbak era, every half hour or so I just had to stop for a drink. I was getting through water at a rate of 2–3 gallons (10+ litres) a day which was all I could carry. As I rode along, by the time I could stand it no more I’d feel the desiccation creeping down my throat, and realised how fatal dehydration actually gets you from the insides out as you helplessly breath in air at well over body temperature (36°C). It was clear that the survival manuals were right all along: without water or shelter, consciousness could be measured in a matter of hours in this sort of heat.

At one point I thought I simply must cool myself down and poured a helmet’s worth of water into my Bell and put it on. The delicious effect soaked down through my clothes with a steamy hiss, but half an hour later I was again throat-parched and dry as a roadside baguette.

The Trans-Sahara Highway that had finally linked Algiers with Tamanrasset just a couple of years earlier was already breaking up, and in this heat, you could see why. Black tar which sizzled as you spat on it wouldn’t stand a chance as another over-loaded lorry hammered the scorching highway to a pulp. Diversions shoved traffic onto the sands so repairs could be undertaken, and I had my first chance to be forced to ride the Benele off road. All things considered it managed well enough, even with horsepower barely into double figures. The trials tyres and light baggage all helped.

Then, as I neared Arak something changed in the ride, the suspension seemed to tighten up. I hopped off, dreading some problem with the Honda motor which could surely not handle such heat for much longer. It was a simpering commuter hack brutally abused by being thrown into the deep end of a Saharan summer.
A quick look revelled the chain was as tight as a bow string. On this trip I was experimenting running a non-o-ring chain dry to avoid oily sand wrecking the seals. I can tell you now that was a bad idea. years later rode a BM in Morocco with an o-ring that got plastered in sand and even with daily oiling it needed adjustment once in 4000 miles.

Modern chains are incredible, but back then I was worried my hyper-taught chain and bouncing suspension – three times longer than any CD200 had imagined in its worse malarial dream – might rip out the engine sprocket and ping it across the desert floor. I soothed the creaking chain with engine oil and watched it sag before my eyes. Now it was way too slack but the AJS frame had some nutty eccentric swingarm pivot like 1970s Ducatis which was a faff to adjust in the state I was in.
I was out of water and the mercury was again pushing at the end of the dial. Just as I’d panicked when my XT500 had leaked away half its fuel on the way to Niger in ’82, I felt the compulsion to flee towards shelter so rode on to Arak just a few miles down the road, with a slap-slapping chain.

Relieved that I’d just caught the bike in time, I decided to remount the barred blacktop under repair to save any extra strain on the transmission. The gorge walls of Arak rose up ahead but then the tar suddenly took on a darker shine and I sunk into a sludge of thick, freshly laid bitumen as the gutless Benele lurched to a crawl. I yanked on the single carb to spur the slug onward, the tyres pushed a trench through the oily slush and bitumen sprayed across the mudguards with a clatter of sticky gravel. What a mess. I steered off the unset mush and continued to the roadhouse, hoping my tar trench would melt back smooth, like divided custard.

Now safely at the roadhouse I crouched in the shade clutching a drink and looked forward to a rest before the final stage on to the Cone Mountains, 100km down the road and just where the desert landscape begins to bet interesting. As I pondered my near miss with wrecking the bike, an army jeep pulled up, two guys jumped out and marched up to me.

‘Is this your moto?’
‘Yes.’
‘Why did you drive on the closed road!’
I may have pathetically tried to play dumb until they pointed our the sticky black splat coating the undersides of my bike.
‘I am sorry. I was panicking. You see my chain was…’
‘Did you not see the signs ‘Road Closed? and the stones blocking the road’
‘Yes. Sorry. Look I will go back and repair it myself’, I reasoned, thinking I could smooth it all back with a plank of wood.
‘Shut up! You will pay for this. Give me your passport!’

One of them snatched it out of my had and they stormed off back to the fort in a flurry of wheel-spin. The other people in the roadhouse looked down at me with the pity of one who was rightly in the dog house, gagged up and tied down. Another heat-frazzled wannabe adventurer disrespecting locals regs.
There began my three day ‘hut arrest’ in Arak.

Everything I had was hot all the time. Nothing had cooled down for days. As I unpacked my stuff I found candles had drooped into Dali-esque blobs and weirder still, opening a tin of luncheon meat or ‘Spam’, the contents poured out like water, flecked with pink particles of fat-saturated gristle. I’ve not eaten that stuff since!
I spent the days reading J. P. Donleavy or chatting with other similarly heat-struck bikers passing through, while dust storms periodically ripped through the gorge. By night it was just too hot inside the hut, so I slept outside in what little breeze there was.
Even then, I’d wake up once in a while with my lips and throat parched fit to crack, and struggle to remoisten my mouth from the water bottle.

As the days passed I knew I was running out of time to visit my goal: the mini massif I now know as Sli Edrar (left).
Then one morning the jeep returned and my passport was returned with nothing more than an admonition no to do it again.
Ashamed of my stupidity, I’d got off lightly and vowed to oil the chain as often as it damn well liked.
I packed my ragged bags and set off on the 1000-mile ride back to Algiers port where a boat left in four days time

A day or so later I wasn’t feeling well. I got past In Salah and was lightheaded, stumbling and weak. Just up ahead was the climb back onto the dreaded Tademait plateau, not a place I wanted to tackle in the shape I was in. So halfway up the switchback climb I pulled off the road and crawled into the shade of a metre-high culvert.
What was wrong with me? I was surely drinking enough: 10 litres a day and a couple more by night. Then it struck me. Water was not enough. I needed to ingest salt and other essential minerals flushed out in my sweat which evaporated unseen. That must be it. I made myself a salty-sugary drink and lay back while it took effect, wary that this was just the sort of place snakes and scorpions might also like to pass a siesta.
Despite, or perhaps because of my dozy state, I clearly thought a picture of my other camera on a tripod would be a fitting souvenir of my in-culvert recuperation.


The drink did the trick and revived and I set off across the Tademait, tensed up in readiness for something bad to happen – a piece of the sky falling on my head, perhaps? Nagging me were the 1100km that still lay between me and the Algiers boat that left in two day’s time. It was time to put some miles in.
For once the 400-km crossing of the the Tademait passed without event and which in itself felt creepy. I filled up in El Golea and another 250 clicks got me past Ghardaia, the gateway to the Sahara. Only now it was late afternoon, time for the headwinds to kick up. At times the feeble motor strained to reach 25mph while I crouched over the bars, crippled with stiffness, watching the odometer numbers click by in slow motion.

By now the UV had seen paper-thin Times delivery bag had fallen apart. I lashed it to the bike with a piece of plank and some nice 7mm climbing rope.
Around Berriane the wind sucked in a dust storm and visibility dropped to a few feet. I edged to the side of the road, wondering what would be thrown at me next and if I should get off the road altogether, not least because cars still rushed past me, confident that whatever risk they took, it was OK because All Was Written.
By Laghouat I’d caught up with myself and had taken a good 1000-km chunk out of the map. I unclawed my hands from the ‘bars and tracked down the only hotel in town. But the uppity ponce behind reception had no room for the likes of me, so I rode out to some edge-of-town wasteland more suited to my kind. As I slumped against a litter-strewn, shit-riddled ruin, an old guy living in a cardboard hovel I’d not even noticed hailed me over.

I’d never actually met a regular Algerian civilian before. He invited me in and we chatted as well we could while his unseen wife prepared a meal. He proudly told me how he’d fought in the recent Western Sahara war against Morocco (Algeria lost that one), and when the time came I was invited to sleep on his living room carpet.
Sadly, it turned out to be agonisingly flee-ridden and try as I might, I could not drop off as another bug took a jab. I moved out into the donkey yard but it was too late, the fleas had latched on and in turn went on to infest my lovely old mattress back in my London squat for many months. I did everything I could to delouse it, repeated dousing of flea powder and even gently torching it with hairspray and a lighter. But as the flames licked over it, those Algerian bloodsuckers just yawned and sharpened their mandibles. Eventually I had to chuck it.

Thanks to the killer, 12-hour, day from Arak, only 400kms remained. I was well on target for the boat the day after tomorrow,. After a week of relentless day and night heat, the temperatures finally began to drop as I rose back into the Atlas mountains north of Ain Oussera. Unready to face the congested capital, I bought myself a roadside melon and bounced over some roadside scrub down into a ditch, stalled the bike, and passed the night there.

Another big mistake. I’d carelessly left the ignition on (something I’ve caught myself doing since, when dirt camping). Next morning the battery was as dead as roadkill and, try as I might, no amount of jump starting could get the Benele going.

It was just 100km to the port and hours before the ferry left. I pushed the bike into a layby, made a sign ‘Alger port SVP’ and eventually two kind blokes responded to my plea and loaded the Benele into their pickup.
’What’s with all this tar all over the bike?’
Don’t ask, mon brave
Following a battery acid transfusion and a cafe noire injection in Medea, I was good to go. I spun down the Atlas bends into Algiers and blundered my way to the port gates. I was late but so was the ferry.

Even today I can tell you: nothing beats the feeling of a ferry steaming away from a North African port. Did I say that already about the 1982 trip? Well it was even more true in 1984 and on most years since. Let Somali pirates steal us to their thorny lairs; let sudden storms hail down brimstone and flip the ferry. I was out of Algeria. Yippey–I-yay!

A day later the boat docked in Marseille. It was probably Friday, I had to be back at work on Monday. So I’m still not sure what possessed me to make a casual visit to the Bol d’Or 24-hour endurance race set for that weekend nearby, at Le Castellet raceway, except that Bike magazine had enshrined it as a biker’s rite of passage – France’s one-day equivalent of the Isle of Man or Daytona, as much a moto-carnival as a race spectacle.
I rode in and watched the 3-man teams flip their slick tyred UJM’s from bend to bend and also enjoyed some baffled looks at my odd bike, battle scarred from its recent desert detour. The trail-bike loving Frenchies who went on to buy more Ténérés than anyone at least would get some like Le Bénélé.

I even had the presence of mind to check out #53 on an RD500LC popping in for a fill up. I bet the team spent more time filling that tank than he did on the track.

But my abiding memory from the ’84 Bol was a vision of my desert biking future. In fact it was a future that was already two years old, and its name was Yamaha. XT600Z. Ténéré.
On the Sonauto Yamaha stand was TT-Z Dakar factory racer looking slick in the sexy, pale blue Gauloise livery which we never got in the UK. It has it all: 55-litre tank, discs all round, 12-volt lights and a side stand as long as a pool cue. Even if the road-going XT-Z was less extreme, what was not to like?
My Bénélé joke-bike had been a cocky imbecile’s two-fingers flicked at the Yam. Why? Search me but 30 years later I found myself engaged in a similarly pointless project.

More pix of that bike – or one just like it – here

OK, I concede. The Tenere ticked all the boxes, but it had been fun doing it my way. I’m sure there’s some pithy Armenian proverb that spells it all out, something like:
The eagle never lost so much time as when he submitted to learn from the crow‘. Actually that’s William Blake as quoted in Dead Man movie.

Anyway, a Tenere could (and did) come later, right now It was time for the final haul, another 1100 clickety-clicks to Calais and a boat back to the UK.
I spent that night in some slug-riddled fores and Sunday morning saddled up bright and early to get a good run up for the ferry ramp. Tonight I’d be back home, but as I’ve learned so well over the years: it’s never over till it’s over.
I don’t know where I was – the middle of France somewhere – but within an hour or two of setting off a slate-grey death cloud crawled up onto the horizon, unzipped itself with a shrug and proceeded to empty its bladder straight in my face. My desert desiccated leathers soaked up what they could, before dutifully passing it onto my next layer of clothing, until within just a few minutes I was a sodden spongebag of saturated rags.

Splashing through a village, I overcame my reserve, swung into a farmyard and rode the bike into a barn. Inside was an old steam powered lettuce thrasher. There I slumped, dripping on a workbench, exhaustion welling up from the previous fortnight’s moto mania. I was dropping off and ready to tip over in a heap when the farmer wandered in and said coolly:
Fatiguée, eh?’
Damn right mon ami.
I perked up with glazed eyes and luckily looked the part of a road-weary, waterproof-scorning wayfarer, rather than some deviant trespasser. He let me be.

By late afternoon the P&O disgorged me at the end of the A2 which reeled me back into London. Spinning along at 45-50, clogging up the inside lane, I snapped this defiant shadow shot as I went by.

Back home, what the Germans call the durchfall began to form, as my shrunken stomach reacted violently with longed-for snacks. My drenched leather coat fell to the floor with a thud and I was surprised to see there were still dry patches on some parts of my clothes.
I had just enough energy left in me to glare at the camera and snarl like an alcoholic on New year’s Day:
No more sodding motorbikes! Ever again!
Well, not until 8am tomorrow, that is.

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Desert Travels • Bénélé 1984 • Part 1

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This is part one of a bonus chapter which does not appear in the book.

You’d think I’d have learned something after my 1982 Saharan fiasco on the XT500. Well I did. Despite it all, I was still fascinated by the Sahara and wanted to go back and do it properly this time. When it was good it was epic and other-worldly, and if you came from one of the less edgy suburbs of South London, the Sahara made quite an impression: nature stripped back to its raw bones of sand and rock. Across it lay the frail ribbon of road they called the Trans Sahara Highway which I’d ridden off the very end of a couple of years earlier on the XT.

By 1984 I’d settled for an easy way of despatching for a living: working long but steady hours for a London typesetting outfit, delivering advertising copy on the one mile between Holborn and the West End. (You can read all about that and a whole lot more in The Street Riding Years.)
There was no longer a need to ride an IT250 or a 900SS should you get sent to the other side of the country on a wet Friday evening. For this job a dreary commuter bike was sufficient. And none came drearier than Honda’s CD200 Benly twin (below left), a single-carbed commuter ridden by stoical Benlymen. Riding up to 12 hours a day on a hyper-dull CD can drive you a bit crazy at 24 years of age.

Knowing I was into dirt bikes, a mate put me on to a mate flogging an AJS 370 Stormer (right) for fifty quid. The Stormer was a vile, shin-kicking British two-stroke motocrosser that was the polar extreme of the Benly. In a flash of brilliance which years ago had given birth to the Triton cafe racer cult, I figured I could marry the two and make something more desert rideable and less boring: a Benly-engined, MX-framed desert racer!

Over the summer of 1984 the machine took shape in my artfully appointed bike design studio in London’s literary Bloomsbury district. It took two goes to get a bike shop to correct the engine alignment mistakes of the former. But here it was, suspended by some Honda XL250S shocks as long as truncheons, and silenced by VW Beetle tailpipes, a cunning, lightweight trick you may recall from the BMW I rode with in Algeria in 1982.

Later on, the job was finished off with gearing more suited to horizontal applications, and an RD250 tank with a sexy ‘Moto Verte’ sticker so there’d be no mistaking what an international, Franchophilious guy I was. I took it out to the woods near Addington to see what it could do.
The answer was similar to dragging a dead dog around on a lead. The VW pipes reduced the power at the rear wheel to quite possibly single figures. The foot of clearance needed a running jump to get on the bike. And the AJS conical hub brakes where a requirement by the then powerful Ambulance Drivers’ Union to ensure their members were never without work scraping Stormer riders off the sides of buildings.

I dubbed the bike a ‘Bénélé‘ in envious recognition of Yamaha’s near-perfect XT600Z Ténéré which I’d spotted in a Sydney bike shop a year earlier, and which was itself based on Yamaha’s Dakar Rally desert racers. More about them, later.

So what do you do with a dumb-arsed desert racer? You ride it to the Sahara of course, in a little less time than was available. You pack a 3500-mile trip to North Africa into two-weeks and you schedule it for September when you imagine peak summer temperatures are on the wane. This time there’d be no fear of enduring the mid-winter transit of Europe and the northern Sahara, as in 1982.

My goal that year was a mysterious massif of conical peaks which I’d passed by, south of Arak on my way to Tamanrasset in 1982 and which I’ve since learned is called Sli Edrar.
The Bénélé’s top speed was no more than 53mph, and even at that speed it felt unsafe, should a squirrel run out in front of me. So to get a good run-up I rode straight from work on Friday night down to a mate’s in Canterbury, close to the port of Dover, ready to catch an early Dover ferry next morning.

By maintaining momentum, Monday night found me camped back among the magical limestone outcrops of Cassis, near Marseille, ready to hop on the ferry to Algiers the following morning.

You can see I had an all-new soft luggage set up. No more sawn-off chemical tins poorly lashed to Dexion racking.
This time I had a small canvas pannier hanging on one side where a 10-litre jerrican slipped in; a thin cotton Times newspaper delivery bag dangling off the other with 10 litres of water, and an over-huge tank bag which sat on the flat-topped RD tank. A sleeping bag in front of the headlight – Easy Rider style – kept the bugs off the Benly headlight. Cunningly, I lashed a tool bag with other heavy items under the lofty engine. If my mass had been any more centralised I’d have become a Black Hole right there and then.

hi-res-c-scott-1984

My first memory of Algeria that year was being a little unnerved that as far north as El Golea it was already 35°C by 9am. If you live in Yuma that’s probably no big deal in September, but for a South London boy it was a bit of a shock.
I filled up in in town and set off across the Tademait plateau which had spooked me on my first transit in ’82. The town (or anything) was 400km away. I buzzed along at 9.8hp/hour and by early afternoon dust devils or mini tornadoes were whipping across the baking gibber to either side. I recalled how a mate said he’d been knocked off his XS650 by one in Turkey earlier that year.

I was already tired, thirsty, sore and hot when up ahead what looked like a huge wall of sand hundreds of feet high hurtled right across the blacktop. Only as I neared it did I realise it was the mother of all whirlwinds, a huge cauldron of rotating sand. I turned the wick up and and the motor droned as I punched the Benele into the sand wall.
Inside, all visibility was lost as grains pelted me from all directions and I struggled to keep upright or even know which way it was. And then, as I slipped into the windless eye of the maelstrom, the sand grains briefly turned into pelting raindrops. WT jolly old F was going on!? Search me but before I knew it, I’d blasted out of the tornado’s far wall, this time shoved left onto the roadside gravel. Now I knew how those roadsigns got flattened into the dirt…

Just as in 1982, the Tademait had terrorised me and I vowed I’d ride into the dark to be off the plateau before stopping. I rode into the dusk, pulling up briefly with the engine running to remove the sleeping bag off the headlight, before pushing on into the big switchback descent from the Tademait to the desert floor.

That night I stripped off and lay in the dirt by the bike, listening to what sounded like the oil boiling in the crankcases, hours after switching off.

I wasn’t hungry but I drank and drank and soon fell asleep where I lay. Tomorrow I was heading past In Salah, the hottest town in Algeria, before heading deeper into the Sahara.

Benele 1984 Part II

Algeria Fly & Ride 2018 – FAQ

Start/end Algiers • €3950 + flight + visa + insurances
January 20 – February 3 2018 *
Minimum 6 – Maximum 10
About the tour • Availability

Read the Wuestenfahrer tour page – online translated

KONTAKT / TELEFON
WÜSTENFAHRER REISEN, THOMAS TROSSMANN
Diessener Straße 36 D 86935 Rott / Lech
Telefon/fax 08869 / 912622  Mobil 0151/ 58549686
eMail info@wuestenfahrer.com

What am I paying for exactly?
You are paying Wuestenfahrer for delivery and return of your motorcycle from Rott, Bavaria to Algeria and back, all food, water, fuel and accommodation in southern Algeria, guiding and vehicle support, visa invitations and travel permits.

What is not included?
Transportation of your bike and bulky gear to and from Germany from where you live, flight via Algiers to Illizi and return from there or Djanet via Algiers. Travel insurance including cancellation cover (Wuestenfahrer recommends ADAC or Europe Assistance.). Note: UK and other travel insurance may not be valid in southern Algeria due to UK FCO travel advice. Algerian motor insurance (€110).

Read the Wuestenfahrer tour page translated.

So what will the tour cost me in total?
The tour price plus flights (around £500 return) and other expenses plus getting your bike to Rott and back. So call that about £4500 at current rates.

I don’t read or speak German
Me neither, but Thomas speaks English and you can translate his webpages and brochure to get a fuller picture of what’s involved.
Fwiw, I’ve travelled in the Sahara before with German outfits and Germans, not read any T&Cs or understood what was going on, but had no regrets at all. This tour will primarily be an English-speaking group.

Is Algeria safe?
According to the advice given by the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs Wuestenfahrer currently considers it safe to run tours in southeast Algeria. The UK Foreign Office (along with other overseas government agencies) may not agree.

Are motorcycles available to rent?
Yes. contact Wuestenfahrer.

What is the riding like?
The full range of sand and rock in all its combinations, with an accent on sand. See the video.

Do I need to be experienced in desert riding?
With off road riding certainly, but everyone has to start in the desert somewhere, and with vehicle support is safer than alone, as I know well. All of the riders booked so far have ridden in Algeria and the Sahara before, either alone, or on my tours. Much depends on the bike you choose to ride and your level or experience. The less experienced rider will want a lighter bike. I myself will probably ride my 250 WR.

What sort of preparation will my bike need?
You won’t need a massive tank – the truck can top you up every day. A fresh set of knobblies and chainset will do and a spare air filter is a good idea.

How many actual days riding?
I would guess 12–13 out of 15.

How far will we ride in total?
At least 1500km.

What will a typical day be like?
We have breakfast, gear up, fill up and ride off two hours after dawn, stopping here or there for photos, repairs or rests. We stop for a cold lunch then carry on as before, getting to our camp with a couple of hours daylight to spare. We’ll then repose or otherwise occupy ourselves until the evening meal is served, after which we’re again free to do as we wish.

Read the Wuestenfahrer tour page translated.

What will the weather be like?
January in southeast Algeria will be sunny and warm by day and chilly by night. Rain is unlikely and the hot windy season (as in the video, shot in March) has not have yet begun.

I’m not from the UK, or even the EU – is that a problem?
No, as long as you can get a visa and meet the other criteria. You may have to hire a bike.

How do I get my bike to Germany and back?
It’s down to you. Rott near Munich is nearly 1000km from Calais. I may van some bikes from the UK for a few others, but this is not part of the tour.

What is the support vehicle?
A MAN 9150 4WD, similar to one I once ran and with huge petrol and water tanks, a compressor and internal racking to carry all the bikes.
We will also be accompanied by the local agency escort in a pickup.

What gear do I need to bring?
You will need armoured off-road riding gear: helmet, gloves, boots, as well as a light daypack with a water bladder. A change of clothes, toiletries and the usual gadgets. Sleeping bag, bike tools, puncture repair kits and so on. I am hoping local, thorn-proof foam mattresses can be supplied. Drop the big bag with your bike in Germany, carry a smaller bag with valuables for the flight.

How do I organise the flight?
As far as I recall, internal Air Algerie from Algiers to Illizi leave in the afternoon or evening. So you will need to arrive from wherever before that time. We will all meet  at Algiers airport, if not before. Flying back from Djanet (ideally – or Illizi), the flights get in very early to Algiers, giving you all day to fly on out. When flight schedules are known, I or Thomas will advise when the internal flights come and go.

Read the Wuestenfahrer tour page translated.

What is the accommodation and food like?
There will be basic hotels or camps in Illizi and Djanet and a more modern hotel in Algiers (not included in the tour price) for those needing to spend the night there for flight connections (ideally not necessary). Elsewhere we camp in the desert where most don’t bother with a tent.
For details on the food, translate the latter pages of the Wuestenfahrer brochure. It looks pretty tasty to me.

What happens if I damage my bike or it packs up?
If your bike cannot be repaired, it will be loaded into the MAN and you’ll have to sit out the tour in the pickup. If there is room Thomas may bring a spare bike, but it will have to be rented.

Or if I hurt myself and can’t ride?
Same thing, or arrangements will be made for your hospitalisation if necessary. This is where your travel insurance will be needed. The remote nature of this tour means that getting to a hospital may take a day or two.

What happens to our tour in the event of such a delay?
It’s happened before and the entire group became involved in the recovery and accepted it as part of the experience.

Can I leave the tour at any time?
No – we must stay with our Algerian escort at all times down south.

Do I need any inoculations?
No.

Read the Wuestenfahrer tour page translated.

Will my mobile work?
In towns. Elsewhere I will have a sat phone to rent per minute. As may Thomas.

Is there lightning-fast wi-fi at the lodgings?
Dream on.

What routes from your out-of-print Sahara Overland guidebook will we follow?
It will include parts of A2 – A7, A9 and A12.

What is our route?
See the provisional map here.

Do I need a GPS and a map
No, but some like to keep track or record their location.

When will I know if the tour is confirmed?
When there are at least five confirmed bookings. Booking status here.

My question is not addressed here?
Email me or contact
THOMAS TROSSMANN
Diessener Straße 36 D 86935 Rott / Lech
Telefon/fax 08869 / 912622
Mobil 0151/ 58549686
eMail info@wuestenfahrer.com

I’m up for it. What do I do next?
Email me so I can keep tabs of interest then ask Wuestenfahrer for a booking form.

Please note the tour arrangement is entirely between you and Wuestenfahrer. You are advised to acquaint yourself with their terms and conditions, including cancellation policies. I highly recommend you download their ‘Prospekt‘ (brochure) and laboriously translate the last three pages of this document. Not all of it will make sense so clarify any queries you may have with Wuestenfahrer.

Back to Algeria 2018 page

Algeria Ahnet 2011 4WD

alg2011hdr

It’s only the middle-west side of Algeria that is widely open to unrestricted off-highway driving at the moment. Just as well as it coincided with my interest in that area, having done most of the canyon-bound routes in the Tassili N’Ajjer. Great though the Tassili is, the more open Ahnet and western Tefedest also have their attractions, primarily the granite monoliths and the surrounding glare of the white sands shed by those rounded outcrops. You can pretty much point your car in any direction and drive to that place across a trackless, sugary sand sheet.

My group was composed of 7 Scottish off-roaders who’d done a self-organised trip in Libya as well as the usual Morocco. The fifth car was a Dutch guy and mate who were going to come on a similar tour I’d pulled a year earlier in what was probably an over-reaction to security worries at that time. Now, things aren’t looking so good in southern Algeria while the Maghreb goes through political upheavals.

4x4x4

A different last-minute panic this time: big changes in obtaining Algerian visas in London (full details here). Luckily the guy there recognised me from previous years so I got our visas in days rather than weeks and the passports got delivered to the Brit contingent as they headed for the Eurotunnel while I lay in a bed with an ear infection, throwing up, dizzy and unable to walk straight. A week later it had mostly cleared and I caught to group up in Adrar, four days in, flying in over the Grand Erg – you would not want to drive in there. On this trip I was sitting in the agency escort’s Hilux. There’s an 8-minute movie above, a gallery at the bottom of the page and a write up in the July 2011 issue of 4×4 magazine.

Click to enlarge and see the route

ORAN FERRY

I wanted to try the Oran crossing as an alternative to petty shake downs in Tunis, slow processing in Algiers and high prices on both routes. Of course you pay more in fuel to get down to Alicante, but my route in Algeria was down the west side through Taghit, Timimoun and Adrar; so it seemed worthwhile.The El Djazair II ferry works out around £700 for 2 people in an en suite first class cabin with dinner and breakfast included, and driving a <2.3-metre high 4×4. The ferry is comparable with any sub-Carthage ferry serving Tunis or Algiers. It leaves Alicante 7pm 2-3 times a week and returns from Oran at 6pm. Of course you can count on it leaving from 2 to 5 hours late, but on both stages it arrived on time about 7am.
Oran is about the size of Ceuta and once there, it’s a police form per person and one for the car, a TVIP, customs declaration, money exchange (10eu = 1 dinar official) and insurance – 3000d for a month. All listed here. On the way back they asked about diesel but those with up to 4 jerries got away with it. Either play dumb or say it’s only 60L, no big deal. In Alicante a token bag per car was put through a scanner but there was no jerry grief. In both directions we were the only 4×4 tourists on a half-full boat of Algerians.

NORTH ALGERIA
Calais to Alicante is 1000 miles; it’s the same distance from Oran to In Salah before you can get on the piste. The Tanezrouft agency car was 2 hours late arriving in Oran and without me there to reassure the police and so on, the group speculated that this delay may have given the police the idea that they needed an escort. Then again, there had been rioting in Oran a few weeks earlier and perhaps as a result of the whole North African situation, the group ended up with escorts all the way to Adrar where I caught up with them. And on that day the news of the Italian woman’s kidnapping hit the local papers which made things worse.
On the way down the group stayed in Saida (rough hotel) then late to Taghit camping, short village tour next morning then slow gendarmerie green & white (G&W) escort to Beni Abbes (overpriced hotel), then Timimoun camping, then very slow escort to Ardar where they met me for lunch, by now all thoroughly fed up with Algeria.
We carried on to Aoulef where we met Mohamed and our desert guide but were then told we had to go on to In Salah, another 160km, to get permission from the brigade to go into the desert. It was arriving in In Salah in the dark or camp by the Aoulef police station in the cold wind. Luckily Mohamed had a mate with an auberge for the night (see below).
I had heard that there were G&W escorts around Adrar with slow and frequent change overs, but to get led down 1000 miles from Oran for 5 days and told where to stay was not in the plan and was not helped by me not being there to at least try and manipulate things in our favour. Unfortunately the group never got over it.

Coming back, the plan was always TSH from In Salah up to Ghardaia (8+hr), town tour then off to Laghouat and back roads via Aflou to Tiaret overnight (6hr) for Oran next day (5hr). Plenty of checkpoints (CPs), and up north, plus more traffic and speed humps at each village make it slow, but it took 2.5 days with only a few awkward CPs requiring a stack of fiches.
My advice: use Oran port if you like, but stay clear of the Bechar-Adrar axis. Instead, take our return route from Oran via Tiaret to the TSH at Laghouat.

Driving through north Algeria is pretty grim or just agriculturally dull. Don’t kid yourself that the appeal of this country is anything other than the desert in the deep south, far from half-built towns swamped in their own rubbish.

ACCOMMODATION (that I used)
Algiers airport
Ibis hotel, £80 booked online from Expedia (same rate posted in reception). Free unmarked shuttle van for the 10-min drive to/form the airport. Room like anything in Europe for £50. Breakfast an extra 900d! The Mercure rates next door (same shuttle) are nearly double.

Aoulef. Unmarked auberge north end of town  26°58.568′ 1°05.159′
Walled compound, dorms, OK ablutions, 200d per car and about 200d? per person. Tidy enough.

Tamanrasset
Camping Dassine southeast end of town over the newly bridged oued. My usual place since 1982 and still a good spot. Plain, two-bed cabins are 1000d a night with nice breakfast next day in the salle. Car RTT camping 500d. Hot showers get hit and miss, sit down toilets and all clean enough. Good grocer 10 mins walk to town opposite a cheap cafe. Town itself is 25 mins walk. Traffic and parking is getting worse in central Tam.

Assekrem
Dorms at the auberge 600d pp. Toilets pretty good. No food to spare do we DIY’d. Tea and bikkies served at dawn from the monks up top.

In Salah
Camping Palmerie. The same place it was in the 80s but with 30 years of added neglect; a semi-derelict scrap heap for 300d pp or 1000d for a 2-child bedded a/c cell. Smelly toilets, junk all around, but the auberge in town is always full I’m told and the Hotel Tidikelt on the highway is 6-7000ds.
IS itself is not exactly Palm Springs; the only reason you’d stay here is that it’s hundreds of kms to anywhere else, the desert around is pretty exposed and Tanezrouft agency are based here, change drivers and may offer a free dinner.

Ghardaia
Hotel Atlantide in the town centre. 32°29.215′  3°40.678′. A lovely old tiled joint from 1800ds or a bit more for en suites, all with TVs and heating. Small breakfast room plus plenty of restos on the street below. Secure garage parking 10 mins walk away for 100d a night (32°29.473′   3°40.907‘).
Good unmarked resto leaving Ghardaia to the north at 32°31.501′  3°40.237′ by a roundabout.

Tiaret
Hotel Bouazza (35°21.284′ 1°20.252′). Five storey, south end of town, can’t miss it. Single occupancy en suite with TV and wi-fi from 2020d. Resto dinner for 900d, breakfast buffet included and secure parking round the back. Probably the best value place we stayed in – almost normal but still with plumbing issues. Allow 4-5 hours for the 220km to Oran port.

OTHER PRICES
Diesel still 13.7d, petrol 22-25d. A one-way flight to Adrar with an overnight in Algiers cost about £320 booked a week before with Trailfinders. At the airport btw, I was not asked for my escort as I’ve been done before, and walked straight through. Exchange was 100 dinar to a euro, or 113d to a pound.

Despite the talk of riots over ‘food prices’ up north, they seemed much the same down south as a year or three ago. In Tam imported things can cost more than in Europe. Up north not so bad. Lots of fresh fruit and veg in In Salah market (oranges 70d a kilo), bread 10d (great bakery in In Salah with more than the usual baguettes). Interestingly with desert bread, sealed in a bag it just goes dry but never moulds like bread back home which ironically is full of ‘preservatives’. Desert bread can last for up to 5 days sealed in a roll top dry bag.

Meals: omelette frites with loubia (chick peas in sauce) plus drinks was <200d pp, roadside in Outoul. Chicken and chips 400d in a ‘workers’ café in Tam – all with bread. Same price for an evening meal in Tam with drinks and salad – and meat stew or chops with pasta or rice or potatoes in Ghardaia. Salad in Ghardaia 150d.
The Brits in my group were very enterprising with cooking and bought frozen chickens and meat to make great stews. We even had bruscetta one night with dry bread – as well as dry bread soaked in eggs (250d for a tray of 30) and fried for breakfast – a trick I picked up on the camel tours. A young goat bought from desert nomads was 3000d and lasted the guides a few days.
Internet. From In Salah south don’t bother. In Ghardaia it was 50d an hour of which at least 15 mins was waiting.

WEATHER
We had it all. The group had snow over the Atlas, then we had windy nights, days up to 30° and nights down to -2°, an all-day dust storm from In Ziza with viz down to 20m. There was a 10-minute dawn shower in Tam which did not quite clean the cars, and a howling gale up at Assekrem as well as pristine clear blue wind-free days. On the way back there was usual dust haze near Laghouat, more rain over the Atlas and a lot of wind in general. The guides said March and April were the worst months for winds.

WILDLIFE
We spotted gazelles on at least three occasions up to four at a time. Then driving up one canyon in the Ahnet we came close on four mouflons. Two managed to dash vertically up the cliff side and the other two along it, giving me a chance to shoot some pics.
We also saw a few small lizards here and there, on another occasion one of the group came across a small snake and one night by a dry well was pierced by the howl of jackals.
The feral donkeys are still there in the Hoggar. There is a running joke in south Algeria right now that the Chinese pipeline builders are eating them all. lls mangez tout, tout! The drivers joked that they’d offer to fix up the Hirafok-Assekrem track for free just to get to the donkeys.

SECURITY & ESCORT EVASION
Recent events across North Africa including Algeria did not seem to make the police jumpy down south, but the announcement of the Italian kidnapping did not help us, especially as we were probably one of very few self-drive tourist groups in the country. I arrived on that day and most of the group seemed to appreciate it was a single event on the far side of a very big country. Our planned route through the Ahnet and western Tefedest was as good as it could be in terms of safety while following an unobvious itinerary. I had visions of sleeping with a SPOT and Thuraya in hand, but though kidnapping worries were soon forgotten, getting bogged down with more escorts and being told to stick to the highway would have ruined the tour.
In Aoulef we could not head into the Ahnet until we got permission from the brigade in In Salah. Another 2-hour escorted drive next morning, but at least IS was Tanezrouft agency’s home town with presumably good relations with the G&Ws and the Ahnet was their home turf. Eventually permission was granted without any conditions. G&W tourist escorts off road are unknown – these guys are not set up for desert camping and are more a highway and frontier patrol while police cover the towns and the army does the rest.
A week later, once back in mobile range at Abalessa I got a text that the kidnappers were after a group (of Italians) not a single person so we decided to spend only one night in Tam and walk- not drive around. As it was, arriving at lunchtime and leaving same time next day for Assekrem was enough to catch up on chores. Anyway, a grab in Tam would be pretty hard to pull off, packed as it is with various barracks and compounds and with choppers stationed at the airport. Doing the same south of Djanet – 10 times smaller than Tam – gives a fast run to the unmanned Niger border in 2 hours.
The same goes for the run up and down from Assekrem – predictable sure, but a hard place to set up an ambush unnoticed. And beyond the Hoggar we were making it up day by day and often off piste, so even if we’d been spotted we’d be hard to find.

Checking in with the brigade was required in either Ideles or In Amguel on the TSH. I chose In Amguel to save having the group wait for the guide to do Ideles. In retrospect maybe not a good decision as at least in Ideles we were far from the TSH and so could not be told to stay on it (though they may have asked where we were going which would have been awkward – I had an off piste stage in the western Tefedest lined up).

In In Amguel the driver was formally instructed to stay on the TSH all the way to In Salah (via Arak) but had his own ideas about that, and after a fill up and a staggered dash up the highway, he found a gap in the water pipeline (which limits entry points to the west) and we headed back into Ahnet for another great week, avoiding Arak. There were no consequences of doing this once we got to In Salah, so it seems the G&W brigades are not in serial contact with each other up the road; it’s just a commander playing it safe.


Back on the highway north of In Salah some police or G&W CPs let us though, some asked a few questions, some called someone for confirmation that we could proceed and some sour-faced jobsworths asked where was out escort. All wanted a copy of our fiche. The good thing was we were leaving the ‘dangerous desert’ so got away with it right the way into Oran which showed no signs of any post riot tension.

With fewer and fewer tourists heading to Algeria, the biggest restriction on self drivers is not so much the risk of kidnapping. As things stand now the danger areas are well known. It’s the possibility of escorts limiting you to highways, as well as further regional closures which could ruin your holiday. With a 1000-km range, a maze of routes can be followed in the relatively secure Ahnet for up to a week. and out here there is no one. Until AQIM start coming up deep from Mali, you’re safe from a chance grab and safe from the G&Ws too. My original route had us going down to Tim Missao and even Tin Rerhoh, but was pulled back months ago. Just as well, the piste to Bordj Moktar from Tam has recently proven to be no longer safe.

To reassure the group’s people back home I used aSpot Tracker on this trip, sending in locations twice daily which appeared on a password-protected Google Map as well as alerting selected contacts by email and SMS. Short version: it was unreliable in sending an SMS even when a location appeared on the map and it became inconsistent in even logging locations on the online map. If you need to reliably record a daily position with someone back home, just call them on a sat phone or mobile where possible, with a waypoint read off a GPS. With a Thuraya you can get a lat/long on the phone and forward it as an SMS. Of course this means work for someone at home to spread the word. The good thing with a SPOT is it’s easy to use and is automated – but it can’t be relied on. I go on more about it in this interesting discussion on GPS tracking devices.

ROUTE
See the big map up top for the off-highway stage. Basically we took a 1000-km run out of in Salah to Abalessa as far at 2°W and via in Ziza canyon, making it up with the help of the guide day by day and more or less as fuel and water required.
From Tam we went up to Assekrem (track missing on the big map) – piste in the usual condition – and down to Hirafok – piste in as good condition as it gets, with clearly defined deviations around the many wash outs. Hirafok to the TSH looks like it may be getting sealed as far as Ideles.
North of In Amguel we went back into Ahnet via, Tesnou, Assouf Melloul and the back of Erg Mehajebat. All great but undemanding off roading through some fantastic landscapes.

We only saw one other tourist car – a Swiss couple in Tam with a Santana who I’d met before in Algeria – and also travelling with Tanezrouft.

  • VEHICLES (oldest first, all vehicles had high mileages)
  • Early TLC 80 on big tyres and heavy bumpers, no RTT
  • Discovery 1 manual (since sold for £400). Most economical with Colombus RTT
  • Discovery 1 auto, Jap import, with Colombus RTT
  • Late 24v TLC 80 with canvas RTT
  • Suped-up Land Rover Td5 110 with canvas RTT
  • Hilux 2.8D aspirated (2005). The agency car which I rode in.

No serious vehicle problems – a split PAS hose on the old 80 at Assekrem took a couple of hours to fix, mostly due to difficult access.
At Abalessa it was calculated that after some 950km the manual Discovery was the most economical at 7.8kpl/22.5mpg and the old TLC was worst at 5.2kpl/15mpg (pretty bad but as the driver expected). The other three were within 5 litres of each other at around 6.9kpl/20mpg. The Hilux was not measured but may have been more economical still, doing the trip on the tank plus 40 litres (100L in total? = 9.5kpl/27mpg).

Algerian Sahara Camel Trek (video)

Trek2CamI was back in Tamanrasset, this time with a small group of camel trekkers. Year by year it gets more difficult to travel out here and a few weeks earlier Algeria cancelled all tourist visas to the desert– most probably due to weapons slipping out of Libya west towards Mali where some kind of rebellion has already broken out. As a result three missed out and only 7 got visas: 3 Americans: Diane and Steve from Tuscon and Patrick (later just ‘Rick’) from NYC, plus Rob from Bermuda, Hannah from Alderney, Rob from Bristol and Mike from Staffs who’d been on a 2006 Gilf trip I’d led for a tour agency. Right: Camel trekking ebook.

It’s nice to drive cars and ride bikes in the desert, but these days that can feel rather conspicuous as you come down from the north. With camels you slip into Tam on the midnight plane from Algiers, and 24 hours later are out in the sticks, largely unnoticed. Any anxieties I had about the ‘Grand Sud’ being closed and us getting stuck- or sent back from Tam came to nothing. And I knew once we were out bush all would be fine.

I’d originally planned a meaty 4-week trek from Tam to Djanet, but decided mid-ye that left us exposed along the Niger border where an Italian woman had been grabbed a year ago. She’s now one of 12 Europeans (as well as local police and others) in the hands of AQIM in north Mali. I’ve just started reading this book about the history behind these events and if nothing else, it underlines how dire it would to be dragged around the oueds of northern Mali for months at a time, suffering injuries and other ailments, with no shelter, terrible food and dirty water.

So, with Tam-Djanet a bit sketchy, the plan boiled down to repeating the reliable Amguid Crater trek I’d done a couple of times over the years for Simoon, then drive back down to the Hoggar and spend a week walking up to Assekrem and back (report on that later). I was using a new agency this time, Ben Kada, an established operator recommended by a friend of a friend and so, along with all the other unknowns, I was hoping they were going to deliver – which in the end they did better than I’d expected. Last November a fake guide who’d infiltrated a well-known agency in Tam to set up a kidnap had been sent down, so it’s hard not to be a little paranoid these days, even if the Algerian security services are on it.

7

Next evening ee arrived at the same camp south of Arak (left) which we’d used on the recce tour in 2007 with Simoon. The first day kicked off a stiff climb around midday which had been tough on the fully loaded camels, but this time our caravan managed fine. New Year’s Day followed, a spectacular amble through the box canyons of Tissadout, with lunch under a lone tree, a guelta swim and a rock art cave all ending at a great camp spot in the Adjror valley (home of Beetle guelta; these names established on the 2007 recce). Here we met the only other tourists in Algeria who were taking a two-weeker out of Arak. There followed a long haul to Igharghar valley, past the Haribo Tree, the Lunch Cave and the desert mosque, before diverting to a deep slot canyon and tombs which I’d missed on previous visits. Interestingly the deep cleft (left) is actually the river which breaks out through the gap in the ranges at Tadjemout, where we’ve started the tour on previous occasions. Once at camp I got rather lost in the dark while looking for firewood, returning to the camp from the opposite direction, but no one seemed to notice.

13

 

 

Next day I asked to Mohamed, our genial 72-year old guide, to visit the impressive three-tiered gueltas (rain-fed waterhole) we’d lunched at in 2007, but which had been skipped by subsequent guides. On the way there ‘Rick’ lost us while engrossed in the manual of his new Nikon Tankbuster, but did the right thing by getting onto high ground and was back on our trail by the time Moh had backtracked to find him. The same had happened to me hereabouts a tour or two ago when I’d stopped off and ended up chasing half-burned toilet paper in the breeze. Now Rick also knew that chilling feeling when you lose sight of the group, any trace of their tracks, and haven’t got a clue which way is up.

9

As it happens the many tiered gueltas of Tin Karabatine were very low on water – as were many other rock pools in the region this year – but we managed to launder and wash anyway, while Moh instructed us to follow the canyon’s right rim upstream for 30 minutes to meet him and Tayeb the cook with the lunch camel later, in the valley above. It seemed a bit of a leap of faith, but we passed the test and met up close to the ever-serendipitous acacia which crops up at these times. Later on Tayeb was similarly tested by Mohamed, with less success.

11

I knew well that the afternoon ahead was one of the nicest stages of the walk, made all the better by spotting a galloping mouflon (barbary sheep) as big as a donkey, as well as cheetah tracks (right), before we wound our way through the sandy outcrops down to woodless Camp IV. Next day was another long walk, 25km over to Tahaft; down into the big valley with a lazy lunch under a thorn-free tamarisk while the crew filled up from the soak.
As on previous walks, we staggered in as the sun was setting behind us but very soon Tayeb had the tea and biscuits laid out while we waited for dinner. Up till that day, as with all that followed, there was very little wind until maybe the late afternoon which kept things warm, though it dropped to near-freezing most nights, and sometimes below.

6

Even with a waypoint, I blundered around next morning to locate our discrete 100KM marker from 2007, until Diane spotted it and we lined up for the now traditional photo (left). Mohamed diverted soon after to chat up a couple of bedraggled goat nomads about pasture and water up ahead. He’d been here once in the last 25 years if I understood him correctly, but knew all the spots and was still showing me new places and routes, even on my fourth visit here. After a splash in the Tahaft slot-guelta and another lazy lunch, Moh led us on a great cross-country scramble down to the ‘lost oasis’ of Tin Djerane

22djerane.jpg

where birds twittered and jackal tracks set hard in the mud. We heard their yelps on a few nights, but I’ve never actually seen one out in the desert. Along the camel trails you’ll regularly find stone slabs laid up into conical ‘goat holders’ to protect them from the overnight jackals.

24More sparkling gueltas and even flower-clad lawns led to Camel Branding Camp V along the south edge of the Tissadert escarpment. This place is surrounded by ancient tombs, many of which have been annotated on Google Earth by ‘Ken Grok’. There’s
a ‘keyhole tomb’ a couple of minutes from camp (above left), another 700 metres away which we passed close by later, but the strikingly huge antenna tomb (right, on GE) I led us to with the GPS was so big it was hard to visualise at ground level.

ant

Following another swim at a big guelta, we failed to meet up with Tayeb and the lunch camel. Tayeb was from Tazrouk down in the Hoggar and this was his first visit to the Immidir which Mohamed and his aged crew, Halil and Ahmed, knew well. So it was a bit of a reach asking him to meet us up ahead in a creek he’d never seen. We zig-zagged around while Moh tried to pick up the trail and at one point I strolled right across another huge keyhole tomb. Eventually Mohamed found fresh tracks and around 3pm we spotted Tayeb sat patiently alongside an acacia-lined oued. Ravenous by now, he got an unfair bollocking while we tucked into the heaped platters of salad which Tayeb prepared for us daily.

32salad.jpg

Moh had suggested that to get to the crater we take the next oued east after Tissadert, the Oued Taferekrak (according to the IGN map, below). Approaching the crater from this side was something I’d wanted to try for a while as the site lies just 500 metres from the canyon rim and ends up at the interesting Aguelman Rahla, surrounded by more pre-islamic tombs as well as dunes.

kranguet

This also happened to be along the approach route to the crater we’d planned on Desert Riders back in 2003, going as far as leaving a fuel and water cache at Foum el Mahek gap to the east a year earlier (see map, right). That trip did not end so well, but having now walked up it, I’m not so sure riding the lardy Honda XRLs would have been at all easy up here.

27valley.jpg

After a light overnight freeze, we set off up the wide canyon (left) and as expected, met some goat nomads who agreed to sell us an animal for a hefty €75. It had been the same price last year, but down in the Hoggar I was later quoted €50. Still, for a tenner each we ate well for three days and the crew got an unexpected treat too.

28

So, while the old men and Tayeb prepared to chop up the goat, we set off for the crater up the steep canyonside (right) with Salah, Mohamed’s 18-year-old son. After just an hour of huffing and puffing we looked down onto the crater (below), since sullied with stone-stencilled graffiti.

 

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Some, including myself, thought it should be obliterated to return the crater (left) to its natural form, but as some of it was clearly the work of Algerians from Ghardaia, others argued that, as foreigners, it was not our place to be meddling with local ‘Kilroys’ wanting to lift their leg on the place. And at least the loose stones were not permanent. Maybe someone else will do the right thing.

crate-1.jpg

 

A dust haze had drifted up the valley that day, reminding me of the near disaster (from a visibility PoV) we’d had on the Eclipse tour in Niger back in 2006. Undeterred, Salah leapt back down to the canyon floor like a rubber gazelle where sure enough, a fresh goat stew was bubbling on the coals.

30dune.jpg

The following day we emerged from the Tafrakerk canyon at Aguelmam Rahla guelta (right) where we were in a little too much of a rush to wash off the dust of several days, much to the displeasure of Mohamed. He was quite right, we should have filled up and taken a bucket elsewhere, this waterhole is a key point for nomads topping off their goats prior to collection by Arab traders coming in from In Salah, two days drive northwest. A mile away, the terminal dune of the Erg Teganet (right) made a great backdrop to our camp as well as a challenge for some next morning, while I wandered around looking for the tombs I recalled seeing clearly on Google Earth a while back (left). More on tombs here.

aguelmam

After lunch we continued for half a day up the sandy Teganet oued (right) in the direction of  Bir Outene at around 200km (see map). Here we had a day off waiting for the cars to arrive, as we’d saved a day taking the new route to the crater.

We sat around, moving with the shade while reading our books or Kindles until the late afternoon brought the distinctive hum of 4WDs churning up the river bed in low range. Too late to pack up now, one of the drivers had a guitar and later that evening around the fire we listened to him and Mohamed drumming on a plastic water can. Then as the sands sucked in the cold we headed for our dispersed camps. It was an early start next morning for the long run to Mehajibat dunes and another day’s drive down the TSH to our Hoggar base camp. More about that here.

From the back: me, RobUK, ‘Rick’, Steve, Sharif, Mohamed, Halil, Salah,
Ahmed, Rob, Mike, Hannah, Diane, Tayeb, Loukmane, Said.
Immidir practicalities
Tam-based Ben Kada agency had never run- or probably even heard of the crater route before, so I presume they took it upon themselves to travel up to Arak, track down Mohamed and his crew and ascertain that they could lay on the gear and knew the way. Ben Kada drivers dropped us off with the caravan and picked us up 11 days later, leaving it to the Arak guys to do the job.
We ate around 7.30, just around dawn and walked between 15 and 25km a day (10-15 miles), which was plenty given the terrain at times, although lunches were often 2 hours long. Most of the time we did not travel with the caravan and often took detours which the camels did not or need not follow. Sometimes we travelled with the kitchen camel and Tayeb the cook who prepared lunch, very often the best meal of the day. Breakfast was lean: tea or coffee, bread (baguettes or tagela), a solid block of marg, jam and Vache. As suggested beforehand, a couple BYO muesli or instant porridge. Once we had pancakes or French toast (eggy bread) or omlettes. Many carried day snacks, though I mostly went without as I had some weight to spare but was pretty hungry at most meals. Hot drinks, peanuts and biscuits were laid out soon after we arrived at the camp – most welcome – and dinner was ready 2 hours later: soup followed by a muttony stew, sometimes with pasta or cous cous or rice or bread, plus dates or oranges – and glasses of tea later. Most were asleep by 10pm.
Once water was taken from gueltas we filtered, though we all agreed it was more to get rid of unsightly sediment than microbes which might make us ill. We drunk enough untreated water from other sources and no one got ill. The sediment makes filters clog up within a litre or two so the uncleanable ‘squeeze bottle’ type got blocked early on, while the cleanable Katadyn and MSR ceramic core jobbies carried on working with regular cleaning.
Most of us had small blisters by the end and could do nothing about them except plaster them and keep them clean. No one’s walking was really affected; I had a really raw small toe but that recovered well enough on the 2-day drive to Hoggar. I had a feeling my feet swelled up after a few days which may have led to this – thinner socks did the trick until they wore out. Interestingly Bermuda Rob did the whole walk in a $70 pair of Nikes – they survived, were very comfy and he had no blisters! There were no other injuries even though we worked out there had been no less than 4 million opportunities to miss a step and sprain an ankle
Most found it got pretty cold around 6am: the mats supplied were pretty thin but once I recalled we had them, the extra blankets laid on were a great help with warmth (under or over).
The cook spotted one small, harmless snake on the trail which he killed without thought. Some were surprised by this, but desert dwellers have a different attitude to these and scorpions (none seen).

DVDs

Now, like most people, I shoot straight to youtube or vimeo (here’s a Sahara film from 2011), but back in 2004 I produced a couple of dvds in the Sahara.

DR dvd FR 2016
ngchan
Desert Riders was the story behind our ambitious expedition across Algeria to the Lost Tree in the northern Tenere of Niger aboard Honda XR650Ls. A shortened version was featured on National Geographic Channel and you can watch a preview here and another segment here.
Feb 2016: Desert Riders dvd reissued.

DD2-front-medThe other film was Desert Driving – an instructional ‘how-to’ dvd shot with Toby Savage and Richard Gurr in southeastern Algeria featuring my HJ61 Toyota and Toby’s Land Rover Carawagon. Desert Driving 2 (right) features additional material shot in the Tassili Hoggar, Egypt’s Gilf Kebir and Great Sand Sea.

DD2backThe film covers the various means of vehicle preparation, the best maps and using GPS, dune driving, recovery by winch, air bag, high lift as well as various types of sand ladders. Toby and I actually tried all the stuff they tell you about in the books and magazines to see what works and what doesn’t. A preview below.

Format: PAL • Duration: 134 mins • £14.99 Want a copy post free? Email me

Desert Riders TV cut (video)

Desert Riders 2007 bike tour