Tag Archives: sahara camel trek

Algeria Camel Trek 2020 ~ FAQ

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

Availability • FAQ
February 2019

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

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

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

• Tips for the crew (optional).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the maximum size of the group
Maximum 10 + me
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What will the weather be like?
In January it won’t be more than 28°C (82°F) by day, while the nights may get down to freezing in the dunes. It is faintly possible it will rain, but not hard and not for long. Full blown dust storms are also unlikely in the middle of winter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do I require any special inoculations?
No

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sahara Camel Trek, Immidir Plateau

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How quickly the landscape changes, even when one travels on foot.
Phillipe Diole, The Most Beautiful Desert Of All (1956) 

Trek2CamIn November 2007 I joined a recce organised by London-based Simoon Travel and Tanezrouft Voyages. Over 11 days we walked about 200kms from south of Arak through the northeastern Immidir to the Amguid Crater and the Bou Zerafa dunes beyond.

In January 2009 I led Simoon’s first tour with 8 clients, Photo report here. And a slide show from the 2010 tour is here

imimapThe Immidir, aka the ‘Monts du Mouydir’ on the Mich map, is a region of plateaux and outcrops that straddle the Trans-Sahara Highway around the gorge of Arak (see map, left). To the south are the lovely exfoliated grantite domes around Tidikmar and Moulay Hassan which we visited in 2005, and to the north and east of the TSH are a number of tilted sandstone plateaux with the typical south- or east facing escarpments and mixed up drainage of the Tassili N’Ajjer with which they might be considered geologically contiguous.

A few groups have followed part of our route through the Immidir before, and I know of a few others who’ve approached the crater from the Habedra piste by car and walked the last 10-20 kms, but no one has combined both. It was an idea I’d offered a couple of years ago with Tanezrouft and then proposed to Libya specialists Simoon. They liked it, found some people and so here we were.

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After arriving at In Salah, we drove south 300kms along the Trans Sahara Highway to this valley a few kms beyond Arak settlement. The camels and crew had been waiting a couple of days. Next morning we set off north up the Ighaghar valley in the middle left of the picture.

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The first few days with a south wind were hot and at times the terrain proved to be tougher for the camels than I expected. On Day 1 a few camels stumbled and lost their loads getting to the top of the Taflout Pass pictured above.

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By the next day we had a morning wandering through the cool box canyons and welcome gueltas for which the Immidir is best known. This place is just behind the Arak Gorge.

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Although there was rock art to be found, what we saw wasn’t really up to the quality and density of the eastern N’Ajjer, Akakus or the Gilf.

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Most days we came across a desert mosque or some sort, although I’ve never seen the ‘pewed’ examples we found in the Immidir. The inset shows a similar structure viewed from Google Earth at Aguelman Rahla guelta, 13kms directly north of the crater at the mouth of Oued Tafrakrek (see Google image below). Google Earth shows the permanent guelta surrounded by pre-islamic tombs (including the less common keyhole type) which suggests like many Sahara oueds, the place has long been inhabited.

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What tracks there were were old camel pistes across the hammada. Rubble like this was tough on boots and feet; most of us got blisters. Even the camels needed treating for cuts and one night the guides made them some hide socks. Some days the caravan took alternative, easier routes. Daily distances varied between 14 and 24kms. By the end we didn’t even notice a 14-km morning. The route is inaccessible to vehicles but we passed plenty of mouflon, jackal, gazelle and fennec trails and once saw camel tracks other than our own.

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This was a nice day; about 24 clicks round the back of the guelta below, over a ridge where one camel collapsed and needed unpacking and a gentle kicking. Then round to the big oued above which fed the gorge pictured below and into a series of small valleys where I found an intact pot.
Later it was fun marching on alone trying to catch up the caravan somewhere up ahead with the security of knowing the others were following. At times it took a little tracking to uncover the lead camels’ trail. Easy in sand, trickier on rock.

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One lunch stop was by a deeply-carved gorge strung out with several waterholes (gueltas) and this arch.

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With no wells along the walking stage, the crew refilled from sources like this. People are put off by the colour but of course what makes you ill you can’t see, even in crystal clear water. Being early in the cool season following the summer rains, the water was probably fresh enough and if the crew could drink it so ought I. So as an experiment I drank the water as it came but didn’t get ill.
Interestingly ‘flying’ over our route on Google Earth reveals the region awash with gueltas. The gorge above (N24.317′ E 03° 58.506′) is almost one long pool and elsewhere we or the camels would not have got through some valleys and gorges without swimming.

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Mohamed H of Agence Tanezrouft and Sidi Ali our cook coming through. Sidi and the crew’s work started when we stopped walking for the day and carried on until we set off before them next morning so we didn’t resent them riding. We could too and those that did remarked what a relief it was to be able to look around at the scenery instead of dodging the next rock underfoot.

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After a while it didn’t take much hesitation for us to grab a quick wash or launder at any guelta we came across, or even dive in for a swim. Like all tassilis, the Immidir has countless gueltas which make it suited to camel trekking. You can see from the ‘tide lines’ how deep this one fills after heavy rains.

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Some shade always cropped up around lunchtime or ‘midi’. Usually we’d have to wait for Sidi Ali and his lunch camels to catch up. Then while we siesta’d the main caravan might pass through and keep going, usually getting to our evening camp ahead of us.

Food. Breakfast was light: coffee with hot milk and baguettes, sand bread or pancakes with jam and marg. We were sometimes given dates and a soft drink for the road. Lunch was a heap of mixed salad or veggie rice followed by mint tea and an orange while they lasted. We has more tea/coffee and biscuits soon after we stopped walking for the day. Dinner was soup and bread, a main course of cous cous/rice/pasta and stew – all variations on dried goat meat followed by an orange and mint tea. Most of us brought some sort of snacks and I brought my v-kettle (right) with drinks/soups which came in handy while waiting for the lunch camel to turn up.

Although I ate much less then I normally do, I eat too much anyway and saw the trek as a chance for a bit of a detox. I lost about half a stone but was never hungry. The daily ritual of walking, sleeping, chatting, eating and resting was very satisfying; as always the desert demonstrates how little you need to be content.

I carried about 2.5 litres of water in a Camelbak (bigger than most) and never ran out. On the earlier hotter days at about 30°C I got through 2L a day, later in the low 20s it was about a litre. About the same as summer in England.

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Come the big day the chattering subsided but we were still smiling when we got to the top of this gnaaarly climb, having unnecessarily gone up and down another ridge (see map below). With us we carried overnight gear, a bit of food and -no surprise to me having done these sort of walks before – not enough water. At the top of the climb we got our first sight of the Bou Zerafa dunefield 20 kms to the north and from this picture overlooking the camel route below the crater was only about 6km to the east.

Before we set off from Arak I didn’t have a clue which way our guide Yahia was going to reach Bou Zerafa other than north some way. A map didn’t mean much to him so there was little point asking or pointing and Tamachek names don’t always match the map’s Arabic. I presume then it was a total fluke when his route led far to the east below the Adrar Tassedit escarpment before turning north up the Oued Bou Zerafa – or Oued Tassedit as they called it. It could not have passed closer to the crater site.

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So east we went. The broken terrain reminded me of a mild version of Ginge Fullen’s attempt to climb Bittu Bitti, Libya’s highest peak (see p.377 in the book). Between us and the horizon where the crater surely lay were any number of chasms, clefts and gorges. Near this point we passed the 150-km mark which put the crater at nearly 100 miles from our departure point near Arak.

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Just on sunset and having covered 7 tough kms in 3.5 hours, we sat ourselves down in the middle of the crater pan. Not sure what we’re all laughing about; we each have less than a litre of water left so tomorrow was going to be a bit of a march but our goal had been accomplished.
From the left: me, Yahia the guide, Francoise, Jon the photographer, Imogen, Amelia of Simoon, Bob, Amelia’s husband Lex who tracked the whole route on GPS and Tom.

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The crater is thought to have been formed less than 100,000 years ago and the first recorded visit was by a French geologist in 1969. For us it would have been nice to explore it in sunlight and I’d goocratealso hoped to take a hike over to the Oued Tafrakrek rim a couple of clicks to the east. But having chatted with Mohamed on the sat phone, Yahia explained to us the camels were already heading for the dunes so to intercept them we had a longer cross-country walk the next day. I went to sleep thirsty, woke up thirsty and at first light decided to drink my last cupful while others chose to save a few drops for the hike. To make the most of the cool morning we climbed out of the unlit crater at first light and set off northwest to the dunes.

IMcrmapHere’s part of our route in red over the Adrar Tassedit plateau 8 days after leaving Arak. After lunch (009 LCH if you have bionic eyes) and repacking our gear we left the caravan trail in green, crossed a needless ridge (below the ‘A’ and then climbed back onto the plateau (‘009 DN VW’; the group shot 4 pics above) and then went up and down past ‘009 150KM’ to the crater at ‘706’. The map above is about 15 miles/25kms wide.

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Although we were unsure to put our trust in Yahia as he’d never been here either, next day he led us to the dunes where our camels were waiting. Knowing water was scarce he lured us on, keeping just out of reach so there was no discussion about which way to go. As the return route and waypoints show, his Tuareg ‘GPS’ was spot on. Apart from the easily-remedied water issues our route to the crater was as good as could be expected.

In 2009 we started at dawn at ‘557’ a bit to the north of our lunch spot, above the meander of the ‘T’ on the map. We climbed up the valley side with a bit of scrambling and had a much easier 2.5hr/6km each way walk to the crater. Next day we followed the green route along the canyon to the dunes and beyond, probably 30km but no one noticed by now.

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With some (myself included) a bit more parched than others (notably the women), we finally staggered off the plateau and onto the sands some 6 hours and 16 kms from the crater – much further than we imagined and having drunk no- or just a couple of sips of water. Everyone had quietly focused on the task. Luckily it was another cool day and of course we knew the crew was out there somewhere with water.

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Once on the sands some desperados cracked and drained the last gritty dregs from their hydrators while Yahia dashed off to track down the caravan out in the sands. A few minutes later Mohamed came galloping in with some water.

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We spent the rest of the day idling about and drinking everything they brought us. That evening, while contemplating the transit of Orion and Copernicus’ theory that meteorites never strike in the same place twice, a shooting star tore in low over the Tassedit plateau above the crater. With a bright green trail breaking up behind it, somewhere out there a new sprinkling of space debris had scattered itself across the desert floor. As we discussed the startling phenomenon a sonic ‘b-boom’ rippled over the sands, suggesting a meteorite had indeed breached the atmosphere. Someone knew the speed of sound and estimating the time after the sighting, Tom worked out it had fallen about 50 miles away, well beyond the crater. With this suitably astral climax to our crater day, Copernicus was proved right – again.

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Next day we headed into the dunes for some exercise. Some took the high road…

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… some took the low. We passed Bou Zerafa well marked on the maps. It was sanded over but Yahia assured us there was water a metre below. Winding up our 10-day rocky plateau trek in the glowing orange sands of an erg was perfect – another highlight after the crater.

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Next morning the cars turned up from In Salah with fresh food and water. At this point my camera passed out but we carried on northeast alongside a dune ridge to one more camp (passing some lovely pestle-like moules to go with the countless grinders lying around). Another short morning followed to knock off ‘200kms’ according to Lex’s GPS tracking, right by an unmarked well with good water.

We drove from there northwest to Tin Habedra well (sanded in) and then directly west along the Habedra piste passing escarpments lined with tall cairns and small, palmy sources while chased by a storm front. It showered a bit that evening and most took to the tents for the first time as lightning flashes circled us along the horizon. Then at 2am a bolt exploded nearby and a heavy shower drenched the camp. The tents held off the worst of it but next morning by the time we’d got the fire lit most weren’t in the mood for the planned splash about at Tiguelmine guelta on the old Hoggar route. We headed directly back for In Salah, a great feast at Mohamed’s, a plane to Algiers and home.

Sahara Camel Trek ~ Amguid Crater 2010


cTWO5It takes about 11 days to cover the rough 180-kilometres to the Amguid crater in southern Algeria. The Immidir plateau is inaccessible to cars so the camel caravan carries all our gear and food and the crew draw water from natural waterholes or ‘gueltas’ ever other day. These guetas as well as daily grazing for the camels are key to staging the trek.
Our route follows canyons, dry valleys and escarpments as well as old camel and game trails where present. Along the way we pass several pre-Islamic tombs and often come across Neolithic artifacts, as well as tracks of gazelles, jackals and even a leopard.
The crater is thought to be 100,000 years old and is about half a kilometre wide. It’s filled with rain-washed sand over the millennia and is the only level part of the whole walk!
A day later we rendezvous with the cars on the far side of the Bou Zerafa dune field, about 700km north of Tamanrasset.

Algerian Sahara Camel Trek (video)

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

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

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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.

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

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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).