Friday, November 30, 2007
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
We drove across the desert and arrived at theTefedest mountains, a traditional Touareg stronghold.
The range is dominated by Mt Garet and we camped at the foot of the mountain.
Next day we visited a lone pinnacle of rock far across the sands and discovered a charming canyon where we spent half the day. The pinnacle soared above the flat valley floor and the walls of the canyon were sprinkled with huge boulders. Little fox paw-prints scurrying about told of much nocturnal activity.
The Tefedest range is quite small, very remote and proved to be our guide's homeland. In the afternoon he took us on an amazing journey, up a wadi which got smaller and steeper and more barren.
It was a very difficult drive indeed and I was beginning to wonder for our guide's sanity, when the mountain opened up into a small valley with a few reed houses and, surprisingly, a green and verdant plantation.
"My garden" announced Mohammed, proudly, and there, fed by a year-long water source, was a verdant garden with figs, dates, herbs, greenery and plants . It was an extraordinary sight in this most barren of all mountain passes.
We left in the evening and returned to the plain and were passed by three racing camels in full colours, all of them known to our guide. Their riders joined us later for tea around the campfire.
At dawn an old camel drover turned up in camp - I should have guessed, Mohammed's father. It was a great privilege to be among so many traditional Touareg and to share with them a glimpse of their unique and secretive lifestyle.
We arrived back at In-Salah after a most colourful, rewarding and fulfilling trip. We were greeted by our agent's family and had a traditional goat and couscous stew, seated on the floor in considerable discomfort and eating with our right hands. Delicious!
We are now wending our way back to Europe. It is a long way...
Towns are about 500 miles apart down here, and we have a few towns to reach on our way back to Tunis and the ferry Mediterranee
Photographs will be posted on the website after I get home in December.
A lot has happened since our last blog. We had a good journey to Tamanrasset, bouncing down the Assekrem mountain was slightly easier than bouncing up it.
We collected our escort back-up car and set out for the weirdly eroded rocks of Targrera. The back-up car was leaking fuel all the way and we sent it back with our guide for repair.
We spent a happy 24 hours exploring a remote desert canyon . At night we were surrounded by jackals, their plaintive calls wafting across the starlit plain at the foot of our canyon.
The car arrived back a day later and then broke down again, and then had a succession of problems after which I voted it unusable.
We dumped it in the desert and drove back to Tamanrasset. To give our agent his due, backed up by a couple of satellite calls to Switzerland (the Euro liaison team), a replacement car arrived and our trip continued.
We had now lost 4 days and had to cancel our trip to Djanet and Mount Tazat:
However, all clouds have a silver lining and we then proceeded to have an unscheduled tour of some of the finest desert scenery North of Djanet and across the Amadror plain.
On the way we passed 150 or more camels at a watering hole. They were being saddled up by a team of cameleers. The camels snort and roar, grunt and bellow, generally in good humour as the workers saddle up loads of water and feed for the journey ahead. A very colorful scene, traditional desert life unchanged for centuries.
We reached the saltpans at Tissemt which was an important trading site. The salt was loaded onto camels and then taken to far-away Niger and traded for grain.
Friday, November 09, 2007
The night was very cold and we were now over 9,000ft altitude. Oxygen was in short supply too and we felt quite breathless after exertion.
Raymond and I pitched our tents on a rough patch of gravel. I cooked a dinner of vac-packed veal with spuds and onions from In-Salah.
I awoke at dawn and set out to climb to the summit, 1,000 ft above us, to visit the Hermitage of Père Foucould.
It was the incomparable Foucould, a Viscompte in his own right, a cavalry officer and latterly a committed hermit, who settled on this magnificent site to devote his life to prayer and meditation... and also to write a dictionary of the Tuaregs entire Tamashek language.
I puffed my way up the precipitous incline and reached, almost an hour later, the summit. The view is spectacular, unparalleled and showed a skyline bedecked with unworldly red-rock pinnacles, each one catching their first light of a new day.
The Hermitage, built in 1910 is a small stone rectangle harbouring a tiny chapel. A stone altar is perched on three natural stone columns. A simple cross hangs on the end wall, and prayer mats are gazelle skins.
Each of the two to three hermits lives alone in crude rocky shelters, and come together for communal prayer in the chapel.
20 years ago I met one of the hermits and he gave me his last cup of coffee. I vowed then that I would return one day to replenish his small stock. So it was with the greatest pleasure that I found the Padre hermit, reminded him of our meeting and presented him with coffee, sugar, milk and... two slices of Lyn's cake. He was thrilled and we chatted happily. He looked hardly a day older. Clearly a lift of hi-altitude abstention beckons - but who...
Thursday, November 08, 2007
The random pistes on the upper plains converge into a single snaking trail which wound it's way across the rising terrain. Here and there flash floods had swept away whole sections of the trail. Circuitous routes beckoned and the Land Rover bounced stoically across boulders, shale and steep inclines.
After 3 hours we had achieved 30km, not much above walking speed. After a brief stop we continued, we still had 45km and 4,000 feet to go. The trail got steeper and the landscape gave way to pinnacled ramparts enclosing secluded valleys, their entrance blocked by tumbled rocks the size of houses.
We left the piste and drove up a steep narrow wadi to cross a saddle between two towering pinnacles - it was a hair raising ascent as first one wheel lost grip on the slippery river bed and then another. Beside was a 100 ft drop and we had already passed one wrecked car in a ravine far below.
The wadi could now be called more accurately a dry waterfall and had to be approached with carefully planned momentum and maximum traction. We made it, just and stopped on the saddle to admire the scenery. Great pointed monoliths of fluted red rock thrust skywards and gave the landscape a quite surreal appearance.
We arrived at Assekrem late, watched the setting sun spotlighting first one great towering pinnacle and then another.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
We drove to In-Amguel where we left the Tamanrasset road and struck east for the mountains. The piste wandered across fertile wadis separating rocky plains, and all the time rising.
We reached the little village of Hirafok, little changed since my last visit here 20 years ago. I recognised the tea house in the village centre, and those inquisitive kids must be the offspring of the inquisitive kids I met all that time ago.
We passed several groups of donkeys, strong animals and well marked in grey and black outline - quite unlike the working donkeys we saw in the towns.
We camped in a soft sandy wadi. The night was cold and Mohammed lit a fire, with a single match, and we sat around it toasting our toes.
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
We arrived at In-Salah early enough to spend a relaxed morning shopping for vegetables, dates and other supplies for our journey south.
We met our guide, a tall welcoming Touareg called Mohammed. His wide winning smile augured well and his desert knowledge is unsurpassed.
Next morning his chief, M Haffoui appeared. A distinguished man, carrying dignity and style, a great welcome and good language skills.
We left with Mohammed to drive the long route south. The road was well marked but badly deteriorated in parts. We reached Arag gorge, a tortuous and spectacular land fall and the scene of many battles in days past. We stopped to refuel and then pulled off into the desert to make camp for the night. We nestled into a hollow of the dunes and cooked up canned chicken accompanied by In-Salah vegetables.