Que dit Mohamed? Mohamed, il dit qu’il accepte de vous conduire ou vous voulez, du Tenere, aux Azzjers, du Mouydir aux Iforas, il crevera s’il le faut son chameau pour vous plaire; mais vous accompagner a la Garet, jamais!… Il y a des Djenouns mon Captan… Pas un homme du Hoggar ne vous accompagnera sur les flancs de la Garet…
Garet, first ascent, 1935. Carnets Saharienesby Roger Frison-Roche
November 2005. Photos me, Jon and Nick
Jon, me and Nick-the-Cam flew into Tam to shoot Mountain of Spirits (MoS), another ageing idea of mine brushed down, spruced up and slotted into the ‘let’s do it’ category. Unable to find a cast, Jon and I worked through our inherent modesty and decided to be in it ourselves. In 2003 Desert Riders ended with me crashing out as Jon and I neared Garet with the intention of climbing it. So our film had a theme. Indeed my interest in Garet ran back to my first Saharan trip in ’82.
Tam airport car park 3am and a whole bunch of French and German fly-ins dispersed with us into the desert, to regroup a fortnight later for the flight back, some limping, some in slings, most with suntans and chi-chi headwear.
By the skin of our teeth we managed to slip thousands of pounds of camera gear and other restricted items through the scanners and past Customs, and spent the night in a house in Tam. Wanting to keep it simple and being hard men of the desert (or attracted to that idea on film!) the original plan had been to do it all out the back of a pickup; us three in the back, the crew up front. But the permit people were appalled at the idea: “Tourists are NOT goats” they exclaimed, so a station wagon was roped in. Just as well, the brief sessions filming in the back proved it would have been a rough fortnight indeed.
We headed up to Tahat (2908m), Atakor west side, for a warm-up slog into the Saharan Death Zone. It should have been an easy walk but luck – or was it the djenouns? – was against us. Lots of rain in 2005 and amazingly streams were still running out of the Hoggar. Tahat base camp we could have made at a pinch, but on up to Assekrem was washed-out (never easy at the best of times). Not wanting to lose time, we grabbed a few shots, scooted back to town and took the regular way up to Assekrem for a cozy night in the lodge and the dramatic sunset/sunrise.
The descent to Hirafok is still a spring-munching crawl at times. In places smoother than when I last did it in 2000, elsewhere cut up by the recent run-off. Still, as I was already finding, you sure notice a whole lot more when you’re not driving. Nevertheless, I was reminded that the Atakor is a grim and rough place where you’re jammed on the pistes. If it wasn’t for Assekrem being a ‘must-do’, I wouldn’t bother when you compare it to the lovely sandstone and granite ranges nearby.
By now I was gripped by le grippe and with time lost, was not fired up enough to shoot over to Telertheba (2455m) to see how far we’d get up that one. Almost certainly we would not have made the summit, first climbed by Conrad Killian in the 1920s, but it would have been fun trying. So we thought, let’s head straight for Garet and get stuck in; it was the focus of the film after all. Filming properly and not in my practiced fast-and-loose style, was taking a whole lot more time, but part of the project’s purpose was a curiosity to appraise the results of shooting a film with proper attention to detail.
We took the Hassi Dehine piste, camping near the well. Being end of Ramadan I bought a goat off some nomads and our crew spent the the rest of the night tearing it to bits and cooking it up. The liver (or some such organ) grilled in fat-wraps was very tasty. We met up with the nomads next morning and gave them a lift to another nearby camp for some festive socialising. They all knew Mohamed our guide – or his late father, a nomad of note from the In Salah area.
It’s a lovely drive up the Tefedest west side as always and after a while the distinctive turret of Garet juts up from the ridge line. Over the next few days we ended up driving right round the Tefedest, and Garet is always prominent, even 100kms away. It may not be the highest point but, like the Matterhorn or Ayers Rock, its elemental presence casts a spell of its own.
But the pesky djenoun were still trifling with us. We proceeded to spend half a day pushing into dead end oueds, failing to locate the point which I stumbled on easily with my 2000 tour group, close to the mountain’s foot. We did have an actual waypoint for a base camp attainable by vehicle, but could not get nearer than an adjacent valley, 2km away, due to flood-washed banks. Two clicks was near enough though, so that evening we set off on foot over the pass with all the water we could carry plus Abdelsalaam with another waterbag on his head. Even then, I had a suspicion water was going to be an issue and when we got to the base camp waypoint we texted for another bag to be brought up. Water was low but Mohamed knew of a well on the other side of the Igharhar valley. As darkness fell the crescent moon emerged from behind Garet’s flanks, hanging directly below Venus – a diabolical alignment considered inauspicious since before the days of Babylon.
We loaded up and set off around dawn, up the boulder-chocked east oued, hoping we were following an Italian route description I’d found in a climbing magazine. It quickly reminded me of our attempt on Jebel Uweinat early in 2004 where the broken terrain at the end of a much longer approach walk has worn us down. Here on Garet. we were soon hogging the shade, detesting our overnight backpacks and stopping for breathers every 20 mins. Clearly our recent colds and lack of exercise on other mountains was having an effect, added to the suspicion that this was not going to be the pleasingly videogenic cakewalk we’d imagined.
Between filming and panting it took us most of the day to get just 400m above the plain. Another 1000m of ascent over less than 2km remained including, as far as we knew, a pitch of roping up a chimney and a traverse followed by a scramble up a cleft onto the summit plateau. A big French party had come through in April, on the 60th anniversary of Roger Frison-Roche’s first ascent (his, via an obsolete western route) so how hard could it be for a lightweight alpine-style crew? The problem (or my excuse) was we’d misunderstood the translated Italian and French descriptions: a ‘bivouac’ to which the French party had portaged water was probably the 400m height we’d just attained, not our base camp that morning. It was from the bivi, rested and replete with water, that one set out to summit and return to base in a long, 14-hour day.
As on Uweinat, water was the problem, along with the fatiguing terrain. Here, I did not want to take a similar chance and plough on regardless to the point where we’d run out of water and food to stagger back. A braver attitude perhaps, and one that can get results, but the reality of an accident up here would be tiresome at the very least; knowing when to turn back was something I’d learned on my first Saharan trip. Better to accept it as a recce and use what time we had left to nip up north to the equally intriguing Amguid crater trek.
So we bounced back down from rock to rock in half the time, picking up what we’d left on the way. There were a few gueltas and next time I’d take a chance and tap them with a good water filter to save carrying the stuff. Back at the base camp it was getting dark and our water hadn’t been delivered, although there was a pot of still-warm rice. After a breather we loaded up and hiked back to the cars in the dark. Turned out the well on the far side wasn’t usable and now water was a priority.
Next morning we headed for the reliable nomad’s wells on the edge of the Gharis or Immidir escarpment in whose canyon’s Group 1 of the 2003 hostages had been stashed and then released in a raid. We had a good wash at the Tabariq well as a quick rain shower passed over, let some nomads use the Thuraya to get their tea on, and that night, halfway to the Foum Mahek fuel dump, the far distant profile of Garet loomed in the dusk, like a passing submarine. The djenoun were not finished with us yet.
We headed for a fuel cache I’d left among some rocks in 2002 for the Desert Riders (we never got that far). I like to think I may have even recognised it without GPS. The six jerries were mostly full – some had leaked under pressure and a plastic water bottle cracked at the first touch. This stuff had endured three summers, including the notoriously hot summer of 2003 which spread as far as Europe (41°C in London, remember…). Fuelled up and with a nice ‘cache recovery’ shot in the bag, we set off towards Foum Mahek, at last some new terrain for me.
As we ate lunch under a shade tree a pickup pulled up fast on seeing us. Smugglers said Mohamed. As is often the case, they were more alarmed by us then we by them (same story at Kemal al Din in the Gilf in 2004). Their new Tojo pickup – bought from the proceeds of cig smuggling – still had the dockside stock numbers scrawled on the windscreen, but they were actually just ‘searching for a lost camel’. The news they had was that a checkpoint at a pass on the way to the crater was making passage difficult for travellers and was turning back tourists. A day or two getting official permission may have brought them round, but time was short and the fact that we were also carrying clearly non-amateur filming gear may have got us into trouble.
OK, forget that idea too. Looks like it was becoming one of those trips… I suppose I was overdue for one. We trudged back south along the edge of the scarp and curved round towards the highway. Next day near Asseksam well we were mirror-flashed by some nomads. No souvenir-n-scrounging ploy this, but a request to transport a sick old man to the daily Tam bus at Moulay Lahsene. No probs, it was right on our way, passing through the rounded inselbergs and bright granite sands west the Tidikmar which reminded me of our memorable ride through the Taffassasset down to Erg Killian in 2003.
At Moulay they still circle the old marabout’s tomb three times for good luck. When I first spotted people doing that in the 80s I thought they were merely hoons. For us though, it was getting too late to invoke the blessings of the saintly Lahsene to save our project. Hoping to shake off the djinns, we headed west round the back of Tesnou through more exfoliating granite domes and camped near ‘Elephant Rock’, so named by some Italian climbers who’d pegged up the sides.
Here we were free of the corrugations and run-off channels of the Hoggar and Tefedest, out in the open and felt the much better for it. Nothing for it now but to take an idle 3-day drive back south to In Amguel oued and Tam; 10 o’clock mornings, 3 o’clock evenings, exploring, lazing about, filming, even some rock climbing. It was a nice spin down to a frustrating trip.
Though there seemed little point, we shot what was to have been the spine-chilling opening sequence of MoS where a fire-lit nomad (Mohamed in a blanket) spookily recounted the legend of the lost boys of Garet, lured to their deaths by a mendacious mouflon (barbary sheep or waddan; ‘Oudane’ is the Tuareg name for Garet). Their trapped spirits were symbolised by Garet’s twin turrets.
One day near a lunchtime hill Jon found a carefully-engraved Tuareg spear head, and another day we dozed in a broad oued sprinkled with lighter-than-water pumice, flushed out of the Hoggar by the recent floods. Despite the strict protocols laid out in my book, a rounded piece of aerated lava now sits alongside the bath at home.
Another sunny evening in the dunes west of Ouassdert well, Jon and I even managed to get the dunes ‘singing’, a phenomenon I’d read and written of but never experienced. Indeed it sounded like the passing rumble of a distant propeller plane, but was clearly caused by out feet disturbing the sands. With a couple of new intros for the Desert Driving 2 dvd caught on tape, we rolled back into Tam, had a great feed and hopped on the 3am redeye back to Paris.
Bit of an expensive flop, this one, but you got to try these things and as always there was a positive side. We saw some nice new desert in the last few days west of the Highway and I was impressed with Mohamed’s enthusiasm for exploring – not the usual quick-buck/tramline guide mentality. We’ve since cooked up a couple of meaty tours for the coming year, and though a film about not climbing a mountain through lethargy and disorganisation is probably not worth the effort of editing, doubtless Garet will be in touch for another crack.
Oxford, Portsmouth, Le Havre, Marseille, Tunis, Taleb Larbi, El Oued, Hassi Massoud, Illizi, Djanet, Mt Tiska, Erg D’Admer, Oued Sersouf, Mt Tazat, Amadror, Garet El Djenoun, Tefedest East, Tam, Ain Salah, Ghardaia, Taleb Larbi, Tunis, Marseille, Oxford.
Land Rover Series 2A 1970 109 Petrol 2.25 • December 2007 – January 2008
The last time I was in Algeria was in late 2002 on a round trip of the south in the fuel-dump stage of the Desert Riders trip. The kidnappings in March 2003 in the Algerian Sahara led to a bit of a wait-and-see approach for me but provided the opening for desert trips to the Gilf (2003/4), Chad (2005) and Morocco (2005/6). The combination of time-elapsed-since-kidnappings and a relative disappointment (I was warned) with Morocco’s desert (though not the country), resulted in a return to Algeria. To be fair, the decision was more than helped along by our extended Australian family’s curiosity with the Sahara and their idea that we all get together there in the winter of 2007/8. Happily we did, making it my 6th visit to Algeria. The desert there is better than ever.
Our Route and Our Group We followed the usual route down to Djanet in the south-east via the sealed roads from the Tunisian-Algerian border at Taleb Larbi, taking about 4 days from the Tunisian border. There’s more on this part of the trip, including the state of the road, status of the check points and so on later in this S-File. We spent a good two weeks knocking around the Djanet region, including both day and overnight trips. Djanet is a great setting for this sort of thing – the landscape within 100 km is astonishingly varied. We went up the Tassili escarpment on an overnight walk with donkeys, out to Mount Tiska a couple of times – including a brief visit to the great northern Tenere plain, several nights in the canyons west of Djanet (Sersouf), a day in the Erg D’Admer as well as a few evening braais (South African for bbq) in scenic spots around Djanet. During this time we either camped out in the desert or stayed in the Hotel Tenere – a break from the usual Hotel Zeriba. Actually we did spend a couple of nights there. The Zeribas are all but gone and the nights pretty noisy (dogs go from 11-2, chickens from 2-5, and then the Mosque wakes up the truck drivers). But Zeribas is still a nice location in the heart of town. Hotel Tenere was a pleasant surprise. Working out at about 10 euros per person for a 4 person bungalow, we enjoyed the peace and quiet, awesome views on the breakfast balcony, and freedom to cook up our suppers in the quiet hotel gardens. The place had always been a ghost town when I passed by on previous trips. It was this time too, apart from the nights when aircraft landed in Djanet – then it was fully booked for a few hours (the flights arrive after midnight).
Our Djanet to Tam route took in the pass just north of Mount Tazat on A7 in Sahara Overland, two nights at a beautiful spot just west of Tazat, a day driving up the old truck piste from Djanet (A7 in Sahara Overland) and on to the centre of the Amadror plain (a striking camp in the middle of nowhere), on through to the Tefedest East valley, a couple of days on a detour north to Garet El Djenoun from where we headed south to Hirafok back along the Tefedest east and then west across the corrugated piste to the sealed road to Tam. It was a purposefully slow drive, taking a full 7 nights to do what many parties would want to cover in three days. But this part of the Algeria trip was the highlight of the holiday and, increasingly, the pace at which I enjoy moving through the desert. On the days when we did drive we got going at 10am and finished by 2 or 3pm – some days a lot earlier.
For the leg from Marseille to Djanet I was joined by Spook. Meg, our two children, Josh (7) and Kate (4) flew into Djanet via Paris and Algiers, along with Meg’s sister (Clare), her husband (Mike) and their children James (about to start uni), Nic (16) and Rob (12). The age range coupled with it being Clare and Mike’s family’s first desert trip made me wonder how we’d fair, especially for things like the Tassili escarpment walk.
Kate and Josh are probably amongst the younger tourists to have made it up the Tassili escarpment. Josh made sure he walked up and down while Kate took advantage of Meg’s fitness with long piggy back rides. Kids this young tend to focus on the very small scale. This became obvious to us when looking through the extremely detailed diary that Josh kept during the trip. He seldom commented on the grand views or the expanse of the desert but wrote a lot about our camp sites, cooking on the fire, the Algerians who were with us and so on. Josh was absorbed for hours looking for bones, old pottery, fossils and unusual rocks around the camps and, towards the end, went off with Kate on longer walks up surrounding hills. Having a camera also kept him busy. We also took a rugby ball and cricket bat which kept us all entertained for hours. Kate was perhaps less interested in the desert itself. For her, having the company of an extended family for 24 hours a day was a great treat. One indulgence we took with us was a portable DVD player. Kate watched the Sound of Music often enough to learn the words to most of the songs. There is no doubt that this helped us through some of the longer driving days. The children slept some nights in a tent, some nights under the stars and many nights on the mattress in the back of the Land Rover. This provided them with a cosy and familiar setting which was marginally warmer and certainly less windy than outside. There was never any hint in the time we were there that the children were not having a great time. Without exception, the Algerians were simply great with the kids, and Mike and Clare as uncle and aunt, were very helpful and attentive which no doubt helped.
A question the people I work with always ask when they hear I am heading for Algeria goes along the lines of “so what do you do all day when you’re in the desert?” I think there is a general concern that you’ll be bored out of your mind. Funnily enough, we were all too busy in Algeria for the question to arise. The desert just seems to soak up your time in a nicely passive kind of way.
Roads, Borders and Ferries The sealed roads through Tunisia were excellent, better than I remember them on previous trips when there was a lot of construction going on either side of Gafsa, The good roads allowed us to reach the Algerian border from the port in Tunis on the same day.
We arrived at Taleb Larbi (Algerian border) at about 10:30 pm having docked in Tunis shortly after noon. That night we slept near the Algerian immigrations building having exited through the Tunisian border. Unusually, the Tunisians kept us waiting about an hour before stamping our exits. They checked and re-checked our papers while heading off to the Land Rover a few times without doing very much when they got there. It wasn’t ever clear what the problem was though we speculated that arriving in Tunis port and then checking out of Tunisia a few hours later had scared the horses a bit – especially when we’d asked for a 12 day stay – as you do in case the Land Rover wrapped itself round a camel on the way passed Gafsa.
Processing through the port in Tunis wasn’t too bad – taking just under 2 hours, slower than it might have been because Spook needed to get a visa for his S African passport. It continues to amaze me though, that there is no readily apparent system for dealing with immigrations and customs in Tunis port. The ensuing madness of cars, converging lanes and hooting makes it seem like its all happening for the first time. That said, getting on to the Ferry in France was little different. First we were sensibly shuffled into two lines, one for Algiers and one for Tunis. A little later on the lines converged from 10 to 1 as we went through immigration but not before the cars were put through an S-bend carefully calculated to be too tight for most 4X4s. Its not easy reversing in an S-bend with 5 lanes converging to one. Getting off the ferry from Tunis in Marseille on the way back had its own surprises too. Lanes of cars were dealt with in order by immigration officials in booths – a sensible approach given that cars at least stay in order that way. A key problem at the Tunis end is that drivers are processed away from their cars. Needless to say, people from the back of the car queue can be dealt with before those whose cars are ahead of them in the queue – so lines of cars tend to become a jam of angry drivers who can’t move in any direction because many of the drivers are still on foot in the queues. It was good to see that the French had this part of the production line sorted out. But French customs instead had something in the pipeline for us. They were stopping cars in the lanes and searching through them so that the entire queue of cars had to wait until the cars in front had been cleared. We watched in amazement as a panel van was unloaded in front of us and every bag and hiding place in the van thoroughly searched. After that we were waived through in a second. But why not pull these cars out of the queue first – and then dismantle them? That would save everyone a couple of hours and there was plenty of room to do so.
Algerian sealed roads are a mixed bag. The Taleb Larbi to Djanet and Tam to Taleb Larbi (trans-Sahara highway) sealed roads seemed to be in a much worse state than in any of my previous visits to Algeria. In particular, the road at the south end of the Fadnoun plateau (between Illizi and Djanet to within about 50km of Djanet) is badly broken up and cost us a good tyre and tube, even with slow and careful driving. I was also surprised at the condition of the road south of Hassi Massoud to Hassi Bel Gebour. This stretch takes a lot of oil traffic now and is a pretty poor state. With the oil price having trebled since I was last in Algeria and with the industry making heavy use of these roads, one wonders where the cash is going.
Likewise, the sealed road between Tam and Ain Salah, apart from a new section 100 km north of Tam, is full of deep pot holes. It is particularly bad around Arak where the problem of the river and the road sharing the same valley still hasn’t been sorted out. It looks like they are having a serious go now though, with some complicated elevated sections under construction. But then they were busy with this in 2002.
Our drive north took us from Ain Salah to Ghardaia and from there on to El Oued and Taleb Larbi. At Dahaj (from Tanezrouft’s) recommendation, we took the road 40km north of Ghardaia before turning east through a string of pretty Berber towns via Guerrara on a smooth, quiet and very scenic alternative to the Ouargla route through from the Trans Saharan Highway to El Oued and Taleb Larbi. This route is not only more interesting but cuts out that demoralising southward dogleg west of Ouargla on the way to El Oued. There were also no military checkpoints between Ghardaia and Toggourt.
Its still all Toyota, Toyota in Algeria. The shops in Djanet and Tam seem to have more spares than ever. Fuel queues in Tam were back – or never went away. Luckily we had the range to get north to Arak on Djanet fuel otherwise it would have been about 2 hours or more of waiting for us.
A marked change from 2002 is the amount of traffic on the roads at night. We slept about 3km off the road about 15 km south of Hassi Massoud but could hear the trucks on the road throughout the night. I remember the traffic pretty much stopping at sunset on these stretches before. We also drove at night, leaving Ain Salah at midnight (for reasons that I will explain later) and arriving in Ghardaia at about 9am. This all seemed OK with the checkpoints along the way and we passed traffic throughout the night.
SNCF are running a new ferry on the Marseille to Tunis line – the Danielle Casanova. She’s not exactly new, having served on some other route for a few decades – probably the run out to Corsica. But she’s bigger, most likely faster and quite a bit grander than the Liberte which used to ply the crossing to Tunis. A ‘new’ line is also running from Portsmouth to Le Havre (LD Lines) with fewer crossings per day (just one) compared with P&O.
Tanezrouft Voyages The invitations, permits, two Toyotas (for the Djanet to Tam leg), drivers and guides necessary for an Algerian trip these days were all arranged by Tanezrouft Voyages. Our itinerary was complicated. It included two arrival dates for our party, one in our own car, three departure dates and several unique groups of names for the various legs (two arriving in Taleb Larbi, one leaving in Djanet, 8 arriving in Djanet, 7 leaving in Tam, 2 leaving in Taleb Larbi!). The paper work was taken care of by Yves at Tanezrouft and any changes, including a few that we had to make late in the day, were resolved very promptly. The Tanezrouft drivers (Dahaj and Moktar) were the best you get for these kinds of trips. Their outlook and temperament are very well suited to desert driving and desert trips. They obviously enjoyed being in the desert, were ever patient and unhurried, good with the kids, and sensitive to us wanting to drive slowly and take ages over the piste from Djanet to Tam. They were not once late. Srouffi, the guide provided by Tanezrouft, stayed with us from Taleb Larbi to Tam. Srouffi is a lovely man who knows the pistes extremely well. He went the extra mile in looking after us in the camps, especially around the fire on cold nights. He is quite a character. Overall it would be a priority for us to work with Tanezrouft on our next visit to Algeria.
Cars We took my old 1970 Series 2A 109 Land Rover (petrol 2.25L) from the UK but also had two Toyotas from Tanezrouft for the Djanet to Tam leg. The Toyotas were a pair of Landcruisers, a GX 80 series with 400 000+ km on the odo and an 80 VX with about 250 000 miles.
The VX did the job in a comfortable VX kind of way. It does sit like a frog when loaded though. The extremely cold weather led to an oil leak near the front pulley which was active for a few days but went away once the weather eventually warmed.
The Land Rover went fine, covering the 10 000 km return trip without any majors. Only the routine manifold gasket job half way through the trip in Tam caused us to get the big box of tools out. I say routine because this bug crops up every 4 000 km or so – the back exhaust outlet burns through on the manifold gasket and it starts to sound like a Merlin engine after that. Anyone who knows what could be the cause, do let me know. I’ve changed the inlet and exhaust manifold itself (not just the gasket) twice now and three different people have been involved in doing the job. Anyway, its easy enough to do and gave us a bit of street cred at camping Dassine in Tam when our sleeves were rolled up.
We had two punctures on the Land Rover – the first on the Fadnoun plateau which ruined the tyre too. The second in the middle of the Amadror which we fixed that night. Like many others I have thought long and hard about the number of spares to take. For the last three Saharan trips in the Land Rover I have settled on one made up spare and one additional tyre with no rim (plus a few tubes). The reasoning is that its easy enough to fix punctures (providing one has some levers, patches and so on) but its very unlikely that a rim will become impossible to repair – especially steel rims. I carried 2 made up spares on over 70 000 km of piste on previous trips in the Land Rover, but never needed them.
The Land Rover had a couple of interesting and unique tricks too. One was a potent smell of petrol which was beginning to strip the last of the blue paint work off the doors it was so strong. The issue had started in Morocco on an earlier trip and I thought I had it sorted after changing the back tank (which was obviously leaking) and adding some additional seals to the fuel caps (the Land Rover has 3 on-board fuel tanks). Everything smelt like roses when I did the test drives round Oxford in the summer, but by Hassi Massoud it was clear that Spook’s eyes were starting to water in the passenger seat. We by-passed the complicated fuel delivery set up (involving tank switch and independent fuel pumps and filters) with new fuel line all the way from the rear fuel pump to the carb – and still it stank! We finally diagnosed the problem in Sersouf canyon near Djanet where we noticed that the stink was a lot stronger with a closed throttle than an open throttle – a bit counter intuitive really. It turned out that the new replacement Weber carb had some kind of an ill-fitting adapter collar where the air filter pipe joins it. When hot enough, the adapter collar becomes loose, allowing the entire air filter pipe to detach along with the collar from the carb top. Removing the collar made for the simple fix. It probably never got warm enough round Oxford in the summer for the problem to develop. So we’d spent all our efforts looking for leaks in the fuel line when the problem actually lay in the air feed. There’s something new on every trip and, as they say, its never over in a rover.
The Land Rover also developed a leak in the exhaust pipe just short of the silencer box. This was sorted out in Tam by the first set of fixers on the right hand side on the way in to Tam from camping Dassine. They are worth a mention because they took the pipe and silencer box apart, welded in a replacement piece of pipe (found on the roof of a house nearby) and welded it all up again over the course of 2 hours, asking only 8 euros for the job. There is nowhere I know of near Oxford that will do anything other than throw away as many sections of exhaust pipe as they can and bolt on new parts while some gum- chewing youngster with spots and a bolt through his eye rubs runs up an outrageous bill. No one welds exhausts where I live anymore. So hats off to the guys in Tam. That’s where I’m going next time the exhaust develops a leak and I find myself in the UK.
While the Land Rover threw up minor niggles to keep us entertained on the long sections, the GX had a more spectacular episode coded up in its DNA and ready to be unleashed at 426,515 km. About 100 km out from Djanet the GX transfer box shaft opted for its very last rotation. The car stopped so suddenly in front of us that we nearly absorbed the Toyota’s spare tyre in our front grill – it was all we could do to miss it. The box was terminal – actually Moktar had been struggling to find both first and second gear ever since the aging GX had arrived in Djanet. I was a bit surprised that it was the transfer box that finally finished it off. After we had disconnected the front and back props – which hilariously involved Srouffi – not much of a mechanic on a good day – as chief conductor and interpreter using all the 11 French words the team had by then worked up in common, the VX towed its work-horse counterpart to Djanet on a very short 4m strap I’d dug out of the Land Rover. With a delay of a week likely to replace the box (which eventually came via Tam from Ouargla), Dehaj set about finding a replacement car. This is where Isak from Djanet (not his real name) with a newer GX belonging to his brother, stepped in to help and Moktar, sadly, vanished from the scene for a couple of weeks. I have to say that Dahaj and Moktar alike did nothing but reassure us that everything would be fine and that our schedule would be unaffected – more than I would be capable of if my transfer box had just jammed solid such a long way from home. The substitution of cars and drivers led to a bit of an unusual situation because Isak was not in the employ of Tanezrouft, other than in an ad hoc sub-contract kind of way –as far as we could tell that was- and the car belonged to someone in his family. So when, during the rest of the trip, the day’s driving was done, he felt as though he was free to do what he liked with is families car. Which, in fairness, he was. At least until an event on the Amadror plain changed things a little.
Isak had been on a number of ‘drives’ on his own to go and ‘fetch firewood’ since he joined us in Djanet. He normally came back to camp with firewood although it had never been necessary to fetch any as we’d always camped next to trees where firewood was plentiful– as you so often do on these trips. We knew it wasn’t the real reason he went off, but it never resulted in anything more than a topic of curiosity amongst us. We arrived in the Amadror plain campsite at about 4pm – one of our longer drives. Within 5 minutes of getting there, Isak went off to find firewood. Anyone who has crossed the Amadror plain knows that there just isn’t any. We hadn’t seen a tree in about 100 km and the landscape is flat, empty and stark. When he wasn’t back 3 and a bit hours later, Srouffi began to worry in as much as Srouffi ever worried about things. Also James and Nic were without some of their kit as they’d been travelling with Isak that day and he’d left so smartly that it hadn’t occurred to them to remove everything from the GX. Now that it was dark, Srouffi walked a few 100 meters from the camp and waved a dying-yellow head torch about a bit, hoping that if Isak was lost, the head torch would draw him home. I also switched on my Thuraya sat phone, having swapped numbers with Isak before setting off on the trip. Round about this time we spotted a number of vehicles, about 10 km away moving towards our camp. It was then that I decided to SMS our GPS position to third parties as we really weren’t sure what was going on. It turned out that Isak hadn’t been able to find our campsite in the darkness – he only found it when I switched on the headlights of the VX. Looking back, the cars we’d seen must have been on the piste from Illizi to Tam which crosses the Amadror (its not one I’d known about before). Over the days we got to know Isak better and he turned out to be a likeable guy that Josh and Kate, the youngsters in the group, were especially fond of. He didn’t come across as anything like the usual piste driver with his smart clothes, shades and leather Thuraya case. But he did help us out of a spot in Djanet at a moments notice and for that we were grateful.
Taking a car down to southern Algeria from the UK is, when you add up the costs of a guide from the border, the ferries and the fuel through Europe, only marginally less expensive than spending 130 euros a day on a local vehicle. Given the wear and tear to your own vehicle, it probably works out to be a lot more expensive. But a number of things make it attractive to drive down. First, one can take a lot of things with you that are nice to have. We took camping chairs, a table, tents for nights when the wind was strong, food that you can’t get in the south (including coffee, tea, savoury biscuits, packet soup), Christmas presents for the kids, balls to mess about with, medical kit, water containers for the piste, a cooking stove, GPS, satellite phones, books for the children to read. All these things helped to smooth out the bumps but would have been difficult to include in the 20kg baggage allowance. Also, as mentioned earlier, the Land Rover was a home away from home for the youngsters. They really enjoyed sleeping in the back.
Algerian Security Situation It was the Algerian consulate in Canberra who rang Clare up in Sydney and asked her if she knew what she was doing taking her children to Algeria. The London office was a bit more detached but a bomb killing nearly 70 people at the UNHCR in Algiers did manage to get on the news just before the party of 8 flew through the capital on the way to Djanet. Sleepy Djanet had its own share of action a few weeks before when a group of insurgents in 3 Toyotas fired RPGs at an Algerian military plane before fleeing on foot into the hills. All of this is good news when you are about to head off because the effort needed by the insurgents to mount such complicated raids normally means that the ensuing months will be much quieter while they regroup – and the security situation heightened. To be honest it didn’t seem to be round Djanet. The night Meg and the others flew in to Djanet, we took our 3 cars and cooked supper on a fire in the desert just 5 km from the airport fence. We might well have been the return party eyeing out the Mi-17s that sit on Djanet runway. No one seemed to be very bothered and we stayed there from sunset till the plane landed at about 3am.
Compared with 2002 there are certainly more barrages (military road blocks) on the sealed roads, although our passage through them was faster than before owing to the paper work (names, passport numbers, date of birth etc of all in the party) Tanezrouft dished out at every stop.
Our time in Tam coincided with the President’s visit and sharp shooters on street corners and roof tops. We’d thought we’d escaped the fuss in Tam but rolling in to Ain Salah we noticed the familiar flags and hurried look on the painters tarting up the town. Our afternoon in Ain Salah on the way north was meant to be followed by an early exit the next morning but later that night rumours spread around town that the road either way out of Ain Salah was closed for 24 hours. This made me think for the first time about my own timing (having been carefully aware of everyone else’s flight dates) and it soon occurred to me that my 30 day visa was to expire in 24 hours time. A trip to the Police (guys with the blue cars) with Dahaj confirmed the road closure as well as the fact that they weren’t willing to give us a letter explaining that the road had closed and that we’d been delayed by the official Presidential visit. Whilst on the phone to Yves that night from Dahaj’s family’s house, Yves recounted the story of a party of tourist who had overstayed their visa and ended up in court. So we visited the Gendarmerie (the guys with the green cars) who explained that the road was closed but would open 100 km from Ain Salah (the big checkpoint on the way up the Tademait plateau) at 5am. This sounded unlikely given that a hit and run/bomb planter was designed to be delayed by the road closure until the president had safely left town, but it was enough of an opening for us and Dahaj kindly agreed that we could leave town at midnight on the Monday/Tuesday change over. I felt bad because he’d been away from his family and home town for weeks and here we were snatching him away a few hours later. That night was a real stinker with a blistering northerly gale, dust storms and temperatures near freezing. But we were waived through the check point 100 km from Ain Salah and all others that night too. In the end I drove from Arak (250 km north of Tam) to Nefta in Tunisia in one go. A 37 hour stretch at the wheel of the old Land Rover was enough for reality to parse through my head in strange, interrupted packets of information rather than the normal steady stream we know. It was like the jangly world had adopted a 1-3-4-2 firing order on a point gap that was way too big. Tunisian immigration were unusual helpful that night. Just as well.
Weather Mid-winter in southern Algeria normally brings warm, cloud free days and cold to cool nights. We had some of those. But almost all the nights in the south were below freezing and many nights much more windy than average. Several of the days were very dusty too. A cold, northerly wind tended to spin up the dust.
On Guides I have already commented on how pleasant Dahaj, Moktar, Isak (once we got to know him) and Srouffi were in the desert. And just how helpful Tanezrouft were. So these comments go beyond Tanezrouft to the general case of guides in the desert and come, in part, from the fact that I’ve been to the Algerian desert several times on my own trips without guides, sometimes into uncharted territory well off piste.
There certainly are times when having a guide adds to ones enjoyment of the desert substantially. An example is the pass west through mount Tazat which we’d done once on our own by accident a few years before. I had the GPS points for the route as well as those in ‘Sahara Overland’ (part of A7). But that afternoon we were in the mood to hand over to Srouffi and set sail for the pass knowing that he’d find the smoothest way through – which he did. Yet other times I was up for a bit of my own exploring and that becomes difficult to do because the guide loses the mojo for a while and doesn’t like not being in charge or understand what we are trying to do. It is genuinely difficult to explain an intended route to someone who doesn’t do maps, route descriptions or a GPS. Exploring is a very real part of the enjoyment of a trip like this and I keenly felt the loss of what is an important component for me. Perhaps its possible to strike a deal with a tour company in the beginning where one pays for a guide that is happy enough to take a back seat (literally and figuratively) for the trip. On the other hand maybe Saharan guides are just part of the irreversible shift towards the taming of the desert and removal of the isolation that draws one to the desert in the first place. The trips I’ve done where the desert was the closest companion for us all was when we went off-piste in one vehicle with no satellite phone or GPS. The days of heading off without a GPS or sat phone are over now but there may be a way round the personality of the guide.
Best campsites: Mount Tazat (couldn’t leave – stayed two days), Mnt Tiska (always a favourite of mine) Worst days: Figuring out Isak’s antics on the Amadror Best days: Climbing mount Tiska with Spook and just about all the days with family. Wish I’d brought: a blanket – those seriously cold nights would have been better with a blanket both round the fire and over a frozen sleeping bag. Didn’t need: used just about everything bar a fairly long list of spares (water pump, alternator, carb, distributor, fuel pump….) Cheapest supper: Chicken and chips for 9 in Tam: 24 euros.
Route Genoa – Tunis – Nefta – El Oued – Hassi Messaoud – Hassi bel Guebbour (HbG) – Quatre Chemins – Gara Khanfoussa – Ain el Hadjadj – Illizi – Iherir – Djanet – Tadrart (Oued In Djerane, T-in Merzouga) – Bordj el Haouas – Serenout – Ideles – Hirafok – Assekrem – Ideles – Tefedest east (Garet el Djenoun) – Erg Amguid west – HbG – El Oued – Tunis. About 2500km off-road
Vehicles Land Cruiser HJ61, Land Cruiser HDJ80, Discovery Tdi and three 110 Defenders.
The film of this tour, Algeria 2000 (as seen on Sky TV), is featured on the Desert Driving dvd.
Ferry and Tunisia It’s still the same story on the Carthage as described in the book, hours of queuing for forms. Not all of us got our Permit de Conduire before the ship docked, but they were quickly obtained from the Customs booths once in the port.
Before that, at the police booths in the first shed it helps not to imply you’re transiting Tunisia fast for Libya or Algeria. To keep them happy make out you’re spending some time (and money) in Tunisia too. One of our group got tricked on the exchange; led to a certain bureau de change by one of the orange boiler-suited guys. Be alert, they’ll get you if they can. And another was told to pay 10 dinars for his Permit de C. (it’s officially 1d or free on the boat).
Fuel prices in Tunisia: Diesel 41d, petrol about 70d.
We covered the 470km from Tunis to Nefta in about 8 hours and stayed at the Hotel Marhala in the zone touristique west of town, opposite the Caravanserai. Half board was around 40d for two people. It’s a clean new hotel with unusually good food (but what isn’t after the Amilcar in Carthage?).
The Border We set off at 8.30am hoping to get a good start into Algeria but the border still took most of the day. The Tunisian frontier at Haouza was pretty straightforward. At Taleb Larbi on the Algerian side things move slowly. You do police forms for you and your car (white and green forms), move on to the Customs declaration (currency and valuables like video cameras or whatever you profer/they find). I was aware of the binoculars (jumelles) ban but was careless in hiding them and so they were confiscated with a receipt and returned on the way out. The others hid their binoculars better.
Each car was searched with a few suggestive jokes about whisky, but bury it deep and they won’t find it because you don’t get taken apart as can happen to locals. With your carte gris (vehicle logbook) you then fill out a Titre de Passage en Douane (TPD) form which eventually gets printed out.
Next is money changing. This seems to be a problem at Taleb Larbi. As Yves found, they claim not to have enough in the office and there’s no bank at Taleb. In our case I got 400FF’s worth but the others got only enough to buy insurance (about 200FF) and the last lot had none. It then transpired that the guy in the insurance office (‘SAA’) took FF anyway. This is probably best paid out of your declared FFs, not your stash.
While I was waiting, taxis drivers just past the gates offered to buy clothes and exchange black market money, offering around 10-20% more. If you’ve arrived low on fuel and you have insufficient official dinars you may need to buy some black to move on. The fuel station is just down the road. We left Taleb round 3pm.
At some stage of course you must buy official dinars (it looks good on your declaration – keep receipts). We did this at the bank in Debila, the first main town after the border. It had just closed but the guy saw the ten of us and generously opened up again to do a quick change for us all.
Stone throwing kids I’d read about the stone throwing villages west of the border on sahara.info.ch and sadly the reports were true. For once I was spared but the Discovery at the back got hit hard two or three times. Most of the kids wave but the ones who throw mean business as the heavy dents in the Discovery’s door proved. Had it gone through a window and struck the driver it would have been nasty. The last car is usually the target because there are no following cars to see who throws it, I suppose.
Unless you’re lucky, trying to catch the culprits or going to the police is a waste of time, but I guess that some irate tourist with a smashed window will do this some day soon and hopefully something will be done. On the ferry back I spotted a tourist car with a smashed window and heard of serious stone throwing in Kufra (Libya) and even at a local guide’s car in Dakhla (Egypt).
Laisser Passer and Gassi Touil convoy We spent the first night in Algeria in the sands just south of Touggourt (although there is the Hotel Oasis in town somewhere).
At Square Bresson (just a junction) there are masses of sand roses laid out for display. Soon after, at a checkpoint just before Hassi Messaoud we had to get our permit for the south – about an hour of writing everyone’s details down in Arabic. But the laisser passer was only requested a couple of times in the Gassi Touil over the next day or two. No one bothered with it or even passport checks south of the oil zone.
We got caught up in a military escort at the Gassi Touil checkpoint, halfway between Hassi Messaoud and Hassi bel Guebbour (HbG). It meant waiting until 3pm (or 9am) for a 100 km drive to another checkpoint or base and continuing the next morning at 10am to HbG. We were told only ‘Toyotas and fuel tankers’ must join the convoy as these have been preyed on by bandits (from ‘Mali’ or course). But while waiting plenty of Toyotas and tankers went through so who knows… It delayed us by about half a day so schedule this into your plans or go via Deb Deb (Libyan border route).
Unlike many other towns in Algeria, HbG is still the one-camel truckstop it was ten years ago. Just a couple of cafes and a checkpoint. There was no problem with us heading down to Bordj Omar Driss (stopping for a wash at the warm spring 2km from Hassi).
On the piste at last We left the tarmac at Quatre Chemins (checkpoint) and headed west along the very rough Amguid track, leaving it early down a sandy ramp towards the Gara Khanfoussa dune crossing and the 410-km-run (fuel to fuel) to Illizi. Once you find the entry point for GK and the old piste rising up over the dunes, with 1.5 bar the crossing is very easy (in our case perhaps helped by the recent heavy rains). There are many recent tracks winding their way over the easiest dunes and by following them you encounter no dangerous crests to speak of. After the first section you drive into the Gara Khan clearing and then keep on the west side to head directly south (a mistake we made when I did it ten years ago). Beware of sharp ‘crests’ as you drive back onto the old orange built-up piste on the way out of the dunes.
Once in the valley we passed Tabelbalet well (good water at 6m), tried to drive along the dunes on the east side (as advised because of flood damage on the track). But the dune banks were tiresome and we found the track OK. Next day we passed Ain el Hadjadj (ruins, good water) and followed the track right to the point where you cross the strip of dunes at around N26 38′. It helps to walk these first to work out the way through. Once you know which way to go it can be done in 10 minutes. No one got stuck except me!
From here east to Illizi is one of the most beautiful pistes in these parts, with the rosey dunes of the Erg Issaouane glowing to the north, a clear track and plenty of nomads camelling around. Just when you think it’s all over there is a steep sand slope to ascend about an hour from Illizi (waiting for GPS info). You’ll need to degonflate to get up this one – watch out for the rocks on top.
If you’re heading south via HbG then this piste certainly beats the tarmac to Illizi.
Illizi to Djanet In Illizi we were lucky enough to get fuel, water, bread and even a restaurant lunch (250d each) without getting hauled in to the police and army as Yves reports on point 11. If they don’t ask don’t offer. From here it was tarmac all the way to Djanet, covering in two hours what took a gruelling day a decade ago. We visited the village of Iherir (basic camping at the north end of the settlement – introduce yourself to the teacher, Ibrahim Kadri). The road to this canyon oasis is much improved (30 mins) and may well be tarmaced by next year.
We did the Tuareg tea thing with Ibrahim that evening and next morning went for a walk with a guide up the valley to see the guelta, gardens, rock art and the old Turkish fort (700D for our group of ten). We also left some old clothes with Ibrahim for the villagers.
Down the road, Dider looks as lovely a lunch/camp spot as ever and there is now fuel at what has become the small refugee town of Bordj el Haouas (checkpoint). You could do Illizi – Djanet in a day.
Djanet The new tarmac makes a lovely drive into Djanet – now you can look around at the countryside instead of the piste. There was no checkpoint on entering Djanet (though there were frequent night time roadblocks) or need to get permits for fuel, as before. We stayed at the only place in town: Hotel Zeribas (250d to camp per person, cars free, basic rooms around 500d) right in the town centre next to the post office. I was told the place was dump a year ago but it looked fine to me, with hot water, plenty of shade and good security. They’ll try and rope you in for a cous-cous meal in their restaurant, nothing special and overpriced at 500d pp. There are restaurants just out the door. The Hotel Tenere, miles south out of town, appeared to be closed or waiting for the Xmas charters. There’s a shadeless campsite near it, but it looked deserted too.
Guided excursion to the Tadrart I organised a guide with Agence Essendilene for a tour of the Tadrart (SE of Djanet) and Alidemma arch. We were advised that my proposed route would take much longer than planned (although a friend did the full tour a year ago in 4 days). It was a guide’s ploy to get more days out of us (a new one me!). In the end we settled on 4 days, Tadrart only at 1200FF a day. We also paid 25d per person per day in the national park at the park office/museum in town. Once we got to the Tadrart it was clear the guides were stringing out the route to fill 4 days, crawling along at times at 10kph. We would have rather driven at a normal speeds and camped early to enjoy time out of the cars, which we later did.
I was looking forward to the Tadrart but to be honest I was disappointed. The sandy drive out towards Mt Tiska and following oueds south of the corrugated Ghat piste was great (and driven at normal speeds). But Oued In Djerane was very dusty and for the price I paid, the region did not quite have the edge over the very similar (and contiguous) Akakus in Libya. Of course, unlike the Akakus, the Tadrart has zero tourists. The ochre dunes at T-in Merzouga were the highlight. Our guides Ahmed and Slimane were a good bunch of guys and, with an email contact in Germany, I may hire them again directly, at a more normal price.
Unfortunately one of our group was injured an accident on Day 3 and we had to return directly to Djanet. Amazingly the Defender nearly made it back in 2WD, at which point the severely traumatised transmission finally gave up the ghost. The doctors at Djanet hospital were extremely helpful and confidence inspiring. The injured driver eventually flew back to the UK via Algiers, with the aid of his travel insurance and looks like making a full recovery. The car was a write-off. There are no modern Land Rovers in Algeria, only ancient Series IIIs. Recovery to the coast was not worthwhile and so it had its contents and components ‘optimised’ and was left with the Customs. Vehicles cannot be sold in Algeria. The Douane huffed and puffed a bit about parts missing from their new ‘present’ (what a nerve!), but once they realise it’s more wrecked than it looks they won’t be quite so thrilled.
Telephoning from Djanet Trying to organise the repatriation exposed the near impossibility of telephoning out of Djanet, even just to the next town. The problem seems to be many new private telephones but just one inadequate satellite/radio dish. I was on the verge of driving 400km to Illizi (linked by land lines and therefore much more reliable), but had one more go at sundown – Ramadan eating time when all goes quite. However the insurance never managed to call back. So despite what I say in the book on p.276, a sat phone would have been useful here. (incidentally the hypothetically described Medevac procedure on the opposite page – outlined to me by a Loss Assessor – proved to be pretty accurate. Getting to a town/phone/hospital is the key. However, the insurance insist on proof that the claimant cannot continue the tour as well as a doctor’s report to prove they are safe to fly. This is what cost us days and why we gave up in Djanet – they could not get through).
Not surprisingly, GSM mobiles don’t work in Algeria (they do in Tunisia), but I was told that next year they will, even down in the south.
Route A2 to the Hoggar With the injured driver slowly on the mend, two cars from the group offered to help assist his recovery to the UK while I continued with the VX and Discovery to the Hoggar. We managed to get diesel at Bordj el Haouas (Ramadan shuts everything down at 3pm) and then headed south along the chain of mountains that end in the landmark of Tazat (an interesting area to explore for another time I think). Mistakenly thinking we needed to move fast to catch up for lost time, we drove from Tazat almost to Assekrem in a long 400km-day. As described in the book the junction at ‘Borne’ is still confusing and we dithered around a bit before heading resolutely SSW over confusing tracks with another lost G-Wagen crossing out bows. Soon we found the crucial cairns and balises that lead into the valleys all the way to Serenout fort (quick passport check) and on past Telertheba. Despite what it says on p.397, the southern route from Serenout (as marked on the IGN) seems to be the main way and is a lovely drive with the 2455m Telertheba looming ever larger up ahead. The sandy sections mentioned on A2 in the book didn’t cause any problems – one wonders if a flat sandy track improves with little passing traffic.
There is diesel only at Ideles from where a corrugated track leads to Hirhafok. At Hirhafok we turned south for Assekrem.
I knew this piste would be washed-out, but the closer we got to Assekrem the worse it got, to the point where one could barely believe anything less tha a Unimog could drive it. The last 50kms took 4 hours in Low Range with extremely slow and rocky going up to and beyond the Tin Teratimt Pass. From here on it was so damaged one could hardly work out the original track among the many deviations.
We had Assekrem to ourselves but there is a whole menu of prices there: parking, parking more than an hour, breathing, etc. The ‘chatty’ guy in charge tried to charge us for camping, too… To be fair it can’t be cheap to run the place and the lovely lodge is well worth an overnight (even at nearly 1000ds demi-pension) so you can see dawn over the plugs.
Tefedest East We returned down the track from hell (not so bad this time but I doubt any local would use it), fuelled up at Ideles, getting caught up with the bored police opposite the pumps for a tiresome “what’s your job, address, mother and father’s name” check. Backtracking, the turn off north for Mertoutek is clear if you’re looking for it and the track unrolls clearly, passing through some lovely spots to a turn-off at a big green sign a few kilometres before Mertoutek (as marked on the TPC). From here twin ruts lead north to Dehine and continue all the way along the east flank of the Tefedest range past the distinctive peak of Garet el Djenoun at its northern end.
The Discovery’s rear radius arm broke, probably as a result of the exertions of the previous day, and with me taking on the car’s fuel and water payload, my 61’s rear main spring also snapped a day later. The flat helper springs had also snapped off I discovered, but the second spring sort of winds round the mount so I could carry on without much problem. The other rear main spring has since broken. I never rated these two-year-old Ironman rear springs for heavy load carrying (front are fine) and will be getting some heavy-duty OMEs.
We had a day off by Garet and then continued north along the west of the Amguid erg, through the pass and northwest back to HbG, a clear if corrugated track marked with oil drums much of the way.
This is a lovely way back north, easy to follow with no GPS needed – 710kms from Ideles to HbG. The last 150km are a flat and dull and after the final rise, the eastbound track back to 4 Chemins is very rough but can be avoided by going via Bordj Omar Driss, I’m told.
Back north We just about managed to wangle our way out of a return convoy north, and continued slowly with the four-wheel steering Discovery all the way from Gassi Touil to Nefta in one very long day. Getting out of Algeria took two hours with no searches or money checks (the same as years ago), just very slow-witted officials at Taleb. At Haouza they asked for Green Card insurance (a first) so those without had to buy a week’s worth for 10Td. After 1200km of hairy handling with just a winch cable and a chain holding the axle in place, the Discovery got its radius arm welded in Nefta and we met up with the rest of the group at La Goulette for the ferry back to Genoa.
Weather Following the severe October rains west of Illizi, we were blessed with no daytime wind and amazing clarity the like of which I’ve never seen in the Sahara. You just could not help staring in amazement at the crisp profiles of the ergs and the mountains. Temperatures were mild too, even at 1800m in the Hoggar it only dropped to 7C.
We also saw plenty of dorcas gazelles which I’d never noticed before and of course thriving Tuareg nomad activity here and there which, along with the famously diverse landscape, is what makes Algeria so special.
Conclusion While it was a shame not to be able to complete the tour with the whole group, Algeria is as good as I remembered: the desert has plenty of tracks, as easy or as hard as you want, and all without excessive hassles with guides or permits. I would not choose to visit the Tadrart again, instead I’d rather explore places like Erg Tifernine and Tihodaine, and the Tazat and Tefedest mountains, as well as more southern routes linking Djanet with Tam. This will be the basis of my 2001 tour.
The most tiresome element is, as always, border stuff on the Carthage and at Taleb, but then if it was easy everyone would go here! I met Gerhard Gottler on the ferry back, updating an old Algerian guide and preparing a new Sahara-wide guide (in German). He agreed the southeast of Algeria is the ‘fillet mignon’ of the Sahara. With one easily obtained visa you get a lot for your money in Algeria, and you can always spice things up by pushing further south to the Tenere in Niger.
While the north and the far west may be risky, security in the southeast was never an issue. The gendarmes bombing around in their green Land Cruisers (a cut above the average army and police) inspired confidence and greeted us warmly, as did everyone.