Tag Archives: sahara camel trekking

Algeria Camel Trek 2020 ~ FAQ

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

Availability • FAQ
February 2019

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

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

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

• Tips for the crew (optional).

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

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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
.

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 in the Hoggar Mountains (video)

It was a full two-day drive from Bit Outene at the end of our 12-day Immidir trek to the base camp east of Tam airport for our walk up to Assekrem (map right).
On the way we overnighted at Erg Mehajibat (left) and stopped off for some wafers and fizz at Arak where we said goodbye to Mohamed our Immidir guide. As always, these are curt, brief affairs, but he knew well we’d all had a great time with him and his crew who were now trekking back with the caravan, about a week’s journey.

ASK-IGNJust before Tam airport we were met by Ben Kada’s boss, another Mohamed, who had more juice and biscuits for us – a nice touch. He invited me into his pickup and within an hour we were dropped in a oued to meet the new Kel Ahaggar camel crew and set off scratching around for firewood which would be lean in the Hoggar.

P1020792As expected, it was a freezing night at 1550m (left) and we set off next morning along a oued leading north towards a piton of rock alongside a massif, one of the many column-clad volcanic plugs which give this central core of the Hoggar – the Atakor – its distinctive look. After an early lunch (right)we continued our climb onto the evocatively named Plateau of the Sky Wind composed of basalt rubble the size of baby’s heads. As with many mountain treks, we gained our altitude in sudden steps rather than a gradual ascent. The Sky Wind P1020818in turn led to our camp for the night (left), a nest of tan, granite boulders overlooking the cone of Adrar Hedjrine. Compared to basalt, granite a much friendlier rock to spend time on. Once our pitches were set and with little firewood, we hunkered down under blankets, solved problem of Middle Eastern politics once and for all, and waited for another great dinner.

We stayed on the granite next morning as Honi our guide led us up, over and down into a basin called The Palm (right), from which we scrambled back out to rest under a smooth-lipped cave adorned with pre-historic cattle images. I can’t say I recall seeing rock art painted on coarse granite before, but supposing it was at least 5000 year old, it had lasted well. I always understood that ochre and other pigments survived so well on sandstone because of a chemical bond with the rock surface – could it be the same on less fine and porous granite? We continued our scramble and emerged on another ankle-testing basalt plateau at 2000m (left). Below us the caravan passed along an easier route and led us to a palmy spring of Tin Amelout in the Oued Amsa for lunch.

As we washed and waited to be fed, a group of camels including a mother and her calf wandered by. The young animal was duly snared, knocked down and trussed up with much commotion, and then branded with a bar. Initially I thought this was an opportunistic grab of an unbranded ‘cleanskin’, but it turned out the mother shared the brand of our caravan’s camels, so the crew were just marking what was theirs.

Back in the Immidir I’d mentioned to the group that our Ahaggar crew might be more tourist savvy or weary than the Ahnet bunch, because in the good years this route would have been frequently taken by tourists. Honi, his young son, brother and brother in law were old timers with the agency (unlike the Arak crew), but for some reason they remained a reserved and occasionally unfriendly bunch, as in sneering: ‘Are you looking for something?’ as I helped unpack a heavily-loaded camel at the end of a day. Even Tayub who was from around here, knew the crew and had done this route 40 times, was more reserved. The cause of all this perplexed us but was either low pay or just tourist fatigue and boredom. It certainly wasn’t us who, after a fortnight in the desert, were an undemanding and acclimatised group. As on previous occasions, it was clear that they got the gist when we talked about this [in English] and occasionally made an effort, but really their heart wasn’t in it, unlike the Ben Kada agency itself or the guys from Arak.

The odd staging, with early or very long lunches also took some getting used to. We concluded that we were following an easy, ‘starter’ circuit aimed at recently flown-in tourists, and not hardened desert vets like us. The glum crew, dearth of firewood, occasional rubbish and car tracks, plus the sometimes bleak surrounds took the edge off the walk, but as a well bonded throng we took it all without much complaint because it sure was better to be walking out here in the Hoggar than most other things.

After lunch the guides hooked the mother and newly branded calf onto the caravan and tried to shoo away the other roaming camels who’d lost part of their troupe. Even that evening at our camp by a chilly guelta of Talmest, the herd stalked us from the ridge top, like Apache’s about to attack. At one point the young calf escaped its tether and made a dash for the ridge, but was chased and retrieved by Honi’s 18 year-old-son. As in the Immidir, the ways of camel trekking were being passed down to the next generation. With tourism crippled year by year, whether they’d get as much of a chance to put it into practise, like their aged fathers, was another matter.

Cooler, less arid and twice the elevation of the Immidir, there were a lot more flowers (left) up here in the Hoggar, even though we were told it had not rained since the summer. I don’t know what any of them were but we were told it was the reason the hobbled camels set off up the rubble clad hillsides for a nibble every chance they got. At one point, after burning some plastic rubbish he came across, Honi stopped at a bulge of sand and carefully dug up a dense mushroom. Within a few minutes he had a few more and pointed to where rabbits had been digging others up. Just as he said that, a big rabbit or hare broke its cover and dashed off. I’ve never seen one of those before out here. Grilled on coals, the mushies made a delicious snack in the lunch oued and hour or two later.

That night’s camp at around 2200 metres was a grubby oued just short of the Assekrem track. This time we scoured the vicinity for scrub to burn, and using the oued bank wall, managed to keep ourselves warm under blankets (right) until Tayub brought over the dinner. Once the tea was served, we all made a dash for our sleeping bags.

Jackals howled overnight but by lunchtime next day we were at a cleared patch of ground by a small ruin, just below the col of Assekrem. Clearly it wasn’t going to be too balmy here tonight so we figured we’d earned a night indoors up at the auberge on the pass – all the better positioned to strike out for sunset and sunrise duties, too.

Up on top (left and below) a rowdy bunch of Turkish tourists were also enjoying the spectacle. Some of the world’s well known touristic wonders can loose their magic or be over-rated, but for me, like Ayers Rock or Monument Valley, Assekrem is no less amazing, even if you’ve been here half a dozen times. As expected, the ordinary meal we got back down in the lodge underlined what a great job Tayub our cook was doing in feeding us off the back of a camel for weeks at a time.

We all bundled into one room while the Turks sang and hollered till the early hours – and then before 6am the dedicated hauled themselves up again to stake their claims on the dawn. I took off up the rock opposite the hermitage (the lump on the right of the picture, right) where most go, sat myself in an enclosure against the wind and fired the camera into the primeval scene emerging from the night. I can’t say this vantage point is any better then the usual one, except that you’ll probably be alone.

After brekkie in the lodge, we traipsed back down to the caravan camp as arranged, but they were having a slow morning and the camels were still all over the mountainside (right), looking for those flowers. Once they were eventually brought in and loaded, we backtracked from Assekrem and set off for the three day descent, along a steep valley peppered with more flowers. Narrow clefts led over thick pools of ice, and out onto a plain we passed a nomad camp. As the day ended we set down in another oued with the Atakor’s spires behind us (left) for another freezing night mitigated by a bush scrub fire. A changeable wind rose after sunset and by 4am it was howling a gale. The empty tent I was using as a windbreak flapped remorselessly, making a racket; in future I’d be better off just huddling down under a quiet blanket like the nomads.

The secret of a good group is that they remain cheerful even after a grim night where few had slept well, some had crawled in to share tents, and others had their tents break over them, making an even worse din. Breakfast was delivered with stuff flying past and we then set off down the valley. Soon we joined the main, eastern arm of the car track to Assekrem which we followed briefly and then turned off at the twin ‘Mac D’s’ arches for the guelta at Afilal.

I’d never stopped here before. I think I tried to once but was shooed away by the army. Even then, I assumed it would be a grubby, rubbish-strewn dump, especially if army were camped nearby. In fact the Ahaggar national park guardian based there in an old portacabin was thrilled to see tourists and grabbed a photo with us for his next newsletter while behind us volunteers (or possibly miscreants) lethargically collected rubbish scattered around the main guelta. In fact there’s a lot more to Afilal than that waterhole and with Tayub and the lunch camel alongside, we followed the source downstream past trickling waterfalls, deep green pools and smooth, flood-washed granite until we found a wind free corner for another great salad lunch. I’ve never seen so much running water in the Sahara.

P1030134That afternoon was one of the best of the walk, not least because we put in a good 15 clicks after lunch. We followed the Afilal valley until it petered out and then crawled over low ridges into adjacent valleys and basins separated by more hills. Away from the grim basalt plateaux, we explored the granite ranges, passing a cobbled stone circle (left) just like the one we saw in Tadant oued, some 200km east of here at the tail end of SEQ in 2006. What they are exactly is still a mystery. A tomb is the most obvious answer, as these are the structures which most commonly survive, but most tombs have a focal point like a mound; this was just a very finely set flat ring of stones. Nearby, less well made examples had broken up over the millennia and in a nearby guelta, a flood-carved basalt pavement (right) added a natural wonder to the scene.

P1030136

The caravan had taken a more direct route, but Honi was unsure where they had made camp. He crissed crossed the terrain, looking for tracks just we were beginning to creak a bit after hours of walking. Eventually we backtracked (see the map track) and staggered into another perfect camp in a oued set among tawny granite boulders. Here we managed to scrape together enough acacia to encircle a fire ahead of our last day of trekking. That night it was probably minus 5.

Another great morning led us through the boulders to Akar Akar mountain to cross over the car track and get back inside the Hoggar ‘loop’. Steve had chosen to ride a camel that morning, little did he know he would be sat on the acacia plank till lunchtime, but when we caught him up he was fine enough. To the south lines of cones marched across the horizon in the blue haze and by mid-afternoon one more basalt rubble ascent and descent brought us above the last oued camp near the distinctive cone of Adaouda where Patrick found a fine Tuareg dagger while looking for fire wood.

I’d long wanted to try this walk and the Hoggar trek had passed through some amazing country side. But we could not help compare it with the wild Immidir we’d just visited where the most conspicuous signs of man were usually 6000 year old tombs. Tayub kept us as well fed as before, but the grumpy crew too took the edge off the experience and the sun rising or dropping over Assekrem is no less amazing for having driven up there so I’m not sure I’d do this trek again.

P1030210So, after 200 miles walking and nearly three weeks of bush camping, all that remained was a long overdue hose down at Loukmane’s house in Tam, followed by a haircut, some interneting, shopping (right) and a non-goat based feed at a resto in town. The night plane flew us back to Algiers via Djanet which gave us an extended chance to doze. A few hours later we were all on our way home while I conjured up plans for next time.


From the centre spiralling out anti-clockwise: RobUK, Rob, Diane, Hannah, Patrick, Mike, Steve (on top), Honi (below).