Tag Archives: Algerian sahara

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

Algerian Sahara Camel Trek (video)

sahara-camel-trekkingI 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 (right) 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.

More 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.

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.

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. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 aguelmamErg 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.
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

1984 – Algeria – Bénélé – Part II

Part 1 here

So back to the story. It’s Algeria, northern Sahara, late summer 1984 and it’s very hot indeed. I’m riding a 200cc mash up of AJS, Honda, VW and Yamaha with enough ground clearance to become an Olympic event but barely enough power to stir a tea bag.

I got up and rode off my patch of dirt towards In Salah, a hour or so down the road and the last town.
Very soon I came across a French guy on a Z750LTD sat by the side of the road and looking a bit how I felt – shell shocked. Yesterday on the Tademait, the satanic sand storms had freaked him out and 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.

The old fuel station in In Salah was always fighting to keep its chin above the sands and I pulled in to the new place to fill up for the next stage, 270km down to Arak Gorge with not so much as a well on the way (modern pix).

A short way out of town I passed another fallen truck, as I had near here in 1982 in the XT.
Again, a perfectly flat road; you presume the guy had passed out in the heat of his cab and flipped.
You’ll notice there’s a guardian camped by the truck – maybe the driver. He’s watching the wreck so it doesn’t get stripped until someone comes along with a crane.

As I rode on I experimented with as yet unheard of photo techniques and of course a quick pose why not.

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 being kicked in the head by a pair of boots. I see now I’m wearing a natty British Airways cabin steward’s scarf picked up in Laurence Corner’s army surplus ‘boutique’ in Camden, just up the road from our squat. I’ve only just read this, but apparently the Beatles bought their Sgt. Pepper outfits there, and the likes of 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 final solution to work wear, we did too, and I think the scarf was going for a pound.

Back to the desert where the only fashion was staying alive from water to water and the low elevation hereabouts meant it was becomingexceedingly hot. I’m guessing about 45°C or over 110 of your Farenheits (or however you spell it).

Like I said it’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 wrapped up tight to keep the blast from turning me into a shrunken Peruvian mummy.

In this pre-Camelbak era, every half hour or so I just had to stop for a drink and was getting through water at a rate of 2–3 gallons a day which was all I could carry. By the time I could stand it no more I’d feel the desiccation reaching down my throat like some malevolent African djenoun, and realised that rapid dehydration actually gets you from the inside out as you helplessly breath in air at well over 40°C. It was clear that the survival manuals were right: 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 through my clothes with a steamy hiss, but half an hour later I was again throat-parched and dry as a roadside baguette.

I spent another night out can’t recall where and thought of Arak tomorrow morning; a grubby oasis of fuel, water, shelter and a cafe.
By 7am I was on the road, trying to beat the heat and now very low on water if not right out of it.
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 semi hammered the scorching highway to a pulp. Diversions shoved traffic onto the dirt so repairs could be undertaken, and I had my first chance to be forced to ride the Benele in the sands. All things considered it managed well enough, even with horsepower barely into double figures. The tyres and light baggage all did their share.

Then, as I neared salvation in Arak something changed in the ride, the suspension seemed to tighten up. I hopped off, dreading some problem with the Honda which could surely not handle such heat for much longer – a simpering commuter hack brutally mutilated and throw into the deep end of a Saharan summer.
A quick investigation revelled the chain as tight as a bow string. I was experimenting with running a non-o-ring chain dry to avoid sand wrecking it – I can tell you now that is a bad idea. In fact I recently 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.

These modern chains are incredible but back then I was worried the hyper-taught chain and bouncing suspension – three times longer than any CD200 had imagined in it’s worse malarial dream – might rip out the engine sprocket and fling it across the desert floor. I soothed the creaking chain with a balm of engine oil and watched it sag before my eyes. Now it was way too slack but the AJS frame had some nutty (possibly ahead of its time) eccentric swing arm pivot which was a faff to adjust in the state I was in. I was out of water and the mercury was again working its way up the dial. Just as when I’d panicked when my XT500 had leaked away half its fuel on the way to Niger in ’82 (see above), I felt the compulsion to seek shelter and so rode on to Arak just a few miles away, with a slap-slapping chain.

(full size here, thanks Google!)

Frantic 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. Steadily the gorge walls 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 cut a trench in the oily slush and bitumen sprayed across the mudguards with a clatter of sticky gravel. Oo-er, didn’t mean to do that. I steered off the unset mush and continued for the roadhouse, hoping my tar trench would melt back into form like divided custard.

Now safely at the roadhouse I crouched in the shade clutching a drink and looking forward to a rest before the final stage on to the Cone Mountains another day or so down the road.

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 recall I may have pathetically tried to play dumb until they pointed our the sticky splat coating the undersides of my bike.

‘I am sorry. I was panicking. You see my chain was…’

‘Did you not see the signs ‘Route Barree? 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 in a flurry of wheelspin back to the fort.

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 dumb, heat-frazzled wannabe adventurer disrespecting locals regs.

There began my three day ‘hut arrest’ in Arak.

Everything was hot all the time; nothing had been cool 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’ (aka: synthesised proto-ham) the contents poured out like water, flecked with pink particles of fat-saturated meat-like matter. I’ve not eaten that stuff since!

I spent the days reading J. P. Donleavy’s Balthazar B 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 once in a while with my lips and throat parched fi to crack, and struggle to rejuvinate my mouth from the water bottle.

As the days passed I knew I was running out of time to visit my putative goal – the mini massif I now know as Sli Edrar. 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.

A day or so later I wasn’t feeling well.
Lightheaded, stumbling and weak, up ahead of me 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 hairpin 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 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 pass a siesta.
In my dozy state I clearly assumed that a striking picture of my other camera on a tripod would be a fitting souvenir of my pipe-clad recovery.

Be that as it may, nagging me were the 800 miles that lay between me and the boat that left the day after tomorrow. It was time to put in some miles.

The drink did the trick and revived, I set off across the Tademait, tensed up in preparation for something bad to happen – a piece of the sky to fall on head perhaps?
But the 400-km crossing passed without event which in itself was creepy. A fill up in grumpy El Golea and another 250 clicks knocked out past Ghardaia. Only now it was late afternoon – time for the headwinds to kick up so that at times the feeble motor strained to reach 25mph while I crouched over the bars, crippled with stiffness, watching the odometre roll by in slow motion.
Around Berriane the wind brought 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, 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 real Algerian before. He invite 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 carpet.
Sad to report that 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 preternaturally comfy old mattress back in my London squat for many months. We’d been through the squatting wars, the mattress and me, moving from place to place just ahead of the council bouncers, and I tried everything to save it, 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.

But, back in Algie, thanks to a killer day I was well on target for the port, only 400kms to go. After a week of relentless heat day and night, the temperatures finally dropped as I rose back into the Atlas mountains and unready to face dealing with the congested capital, bounced into some roadside scrub, stalled the bike, and passed the night there.

But with the ignition carelessly left on (a mistake I’ve caught myself making since when dirt camping), next morning the battery was dead and try as I might,no jump starting could revive the bike.

With just hours before the ferry left, eventually two kind blokes responded to my plea and loaded the Benele into their pickup, remarking as they did ’what’s with all this tar all over the bike?’ Don’t ask, mon brave
Following a battery acid transfusion and a cafe noire in Medea, I was good to go, spun down to the pot and blundered my way to the shore and the port gates.

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 ’84 and on most years since.
Let nascent Somali pirates steal us to their thorny lairs, let sudden storms hail brimstone and flip the ferry empty like a jar full of bolts.
I was safe – out of Algeria. Yippeyiyay.

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 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 recall some baffled looks at my odd bike, battle scarred from its recent desert detour.

bol

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

But my telling memory from the ’84 Bol was a vision of the future of desert biking.
In fact it was a future that was already two years old, and it’s name was Yamaha. XT600Z. Ténéré.
My Bénélé jokebike had been two-fingers flicked at the Yam. Why? Search me, but I’m currently engaged in a similarly pointless project some 30 years later.
An TT-Z Dakar factory racer glared down at me from the Sonauto Yamaha stand, 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 and 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?

(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, like ‘The eagle never lost so much time as when he submitted to learn from the crow’ (that’s actually the Indian dude quoting William Blake in Dead Man – a great movie)

Anyway, a Tenere would come later, right now It was time for the final haul, some 600 miles to Calais and a boat back to the UK.
I spent that night in some slug-riddled forest and Sunday morning saddled up 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.
Within an hour or two a slate-grey death cloud crawled up onto the horizon, unzipped itself with a shrug and proceeded to empty its bladder down my neck. My desert-dessicated 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.
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:
‘Fatigue, 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 P&O disgorged me at the butt end of the A2 which reeled me back up to 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 erupt, as my shrunken stomach was engorged with longed-for snacks.
My drenched coat fell to the floor with a thud whereupon 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:
No more sodding motorbikes! Ever again!
Well, not until 8am tomorrow, that is.