Russel, Pullar and I got up before dawn and walked over the ridge to the rocks to watch and photograph the sunrise. They went on ahead & left me and I mooched around looking for something to shoot but couldn’t find any inspiration so wandered back to the truck.
We had brekkie then packed up and hit the piste.¹ The “road” was rough and hard to find at times and it was very dusty so we all wrapped our heads in our turbans & sat the long day out.
We stopped for lunch in the middle of a huge and wind-swept plain then drove on, reaching the tar-seal road at about 4:30. Even though it was a reasonably new road and it took 2 hours to travel the last 20km to Tamanrasset.
Once again our 3 passengers shouted us a meal in a restaurant where Zorba (we had nicknamed our friends Zorba, Charles and Bob) had “contacts” and it was really good, soup followed by steak and chips.
We met Skip & Chris² on the street and, of course, they had things to complain about, then we drove out to the camping ground where we found an Encounter³ truck in residence.
¹ The French word piste means “track” ² Two of the people who, being dissatisfied with the way the trip was run, had set off on their own. ³ Encounter Overland is an overland tour company which, unlike Kumuka, is still in operation today
DAY SEVENTY-TWO Out across the early morning sand, a figure was walking towards us with a sack perched on his head. Scotty had returned!! He had a long story about taking all day getting back to Arlit, getting pissed and laid that night, spending all next day forging a letter of authority and then finding a lift back to the border in a taxi. The “taxi” was crammed with 18 people and suffered a broken spring which meant they had to spend a night in the desert then hitch a ride with another truck. The trip wasn’t a waste though, as not only did he get the letter done but he met 3 guys, an Algerian & two Tunisians, one of whom knew the border officials and could get us through “no problem.”
Scotty, Pullar and I went over to the Niger side to get some more water & the fucking bastards charged us another 30 Francs “exit tax”.
Then, with our 3 new passengers on board, we hit the border. Another Kumuka truck arrived just after us and we had a yarn to them (all dressed up in nice clean clothes!!¹) The border took a lot of time but we got through and after a search of our luggage we were away.
We stopped at the dusty border town of Ain Guezzam where our three friends shouted us lunch in a restaurant then we drew some water from the local well and moved on.
The landscape changed from flat, featureless sand to rocky outcrops and sharp, eroded hills until, at about 4:00pm, we arrived at Garieka where there is an area of unusual rock formations.
We decided to camp the night there and unpacked the truck, then we all took our cameras & walked up over a rocky ridge & across the smooth sand to the rock formations. They were an unusual mixture of flat-topped mesas and smooth, rounded pinnacles. The way they caught the light made them great subjects for the camera and I shot off nearly a whole roll of film only to discover later that the ASA rating² on the camera was set at 200 and I had 64 loaded.
The night was clear and cold and the sky was a mass of stars.
¹This Kumuka truck was heading south and were only a few days into their journey, hence the clean clothes. By this stage of our journey, we were dressed in rags, half-starved and pretty filthy!!
² The ASA (American Standards Association) rating of film related to the “speed” of the film, that is, the rate at which the film would absorb light and create an image. The higher the ASA rating of the film, the faster it would create an image on its coating. If the ASA rating dial on the camera was set higher than the rated speed of the film, the resulting image would be under-exposed (ie not enough light would have reached the film’s coating to completely form the image). In some instances, this could be used to the photographer’s advantage, and under-exposing (or “pushing”) film, especially in bright light, could enhance the colours of an image. I was a great fan of pushing film and I often “pushed” my Kodachrome 64 film to an ASA of 100 in order to get superb colours in my images. However, in this case, mistakenly pushing the film up to ASA200 (I had used a faster ASA200 film earlier in the day) was too great a step. The resulting images (I discovered later, back in London) were dark and “muddy”, that is, the colours of Garieka had not been faithfully rendered on the film.
We had a leisurely get-up & packed the truck then drove over to the border post. No sign of Scotty so we sat in the truck all day reading, sleeping and watching the vehicles pass us on their way to Algeria.
We brewed up several times to pass the time and to ward off dehydration.
Late afternoon, and we packed up and once again drove over to the low sand-hills where we pitched our tents and camped another night.
DAY SIXTY-NINE We got up with the sun after a cold night and packed up.
The Niger border guards were friendly and totally corrupt so for £30 we more-or-less went straight through!
We drove across the 15 KM of sand that makes up no-man’s-land to the Algerian side and our troubles began.
The Poms¹, as we had feared, weren’t allowed through. A telex to Tamanrasset got permission for Scotty to go through as he is the driver but Snake, Craig & Ian were out of luck. We drove back to the Niger side and dropped them off to make their own way back to Kano and fly home.
We returned to the Algerian side and sat there all afternoon only to be told that they weren’t going to let us through because Scotty didn’t have a letter of authorization to drive the truck. That was complete bullshit of course, as he has a briefcase full of papers for the truck but they were adamant.
We camped the night out in the desert and everyone tried to blame Scotty for our trouble which is pretty typical². Scotty solved the problem by getting pissed!!
²By this stage of the journey, a faction of people, led by an Australian fellow called Russ, who had been a travel agent, that were discontented with the way the trip had been organized, had begun to oppose every decision and to blame our driver, Scotty, for every mishap, even those that were outside of his control. Eventually, these people would leave the trip for an extended period, a situation that actually made the coming journey through the remainder of Algeria and into Morocco a much more pleasant experience for the rest of us.
DAY SIXTY-EIGHT We left the camp at 7:30 and drove into town to retrieve our passports then drove out to the Hydroponics Garden about 4 miles from town where fresh veggies are grown for the French staff at the Arlit uranium plant. The garden is an oasis in the middle of nothingness with healthy rows of corn growing in border-dyked plots and all manner of vegetables growing in air-cooled hothouses. We bought some leeks and marrows then bade civilization goodbye and drove into the desert.
Baking heat and scorching glare accompanied us all day as we bounced across the flat, endless expanse of nothing. Totally devoid of life, the desert is completely awesome. The heat rolls in shimmering waves across the bare sand and silver mirages shimmer and ebb in the ever-changing air currents.
There was no road as such, just tracks left by other vehicles and concrete-filled drums every 1 kilometre to show the way.
We reached the border station in late afternoon, too late to go through so we camped out in the desert. Linda has a cold now & she went to bed early. We slept on the ground some distance from the truck with a trillion brightly-shining stars above us and the cold desert air all around us.
DAY SIXTY-SEVEN We had an early start and headed up the tar-seal road towards Arlit. The road was very well made to carry the uranium which is mined at Arlit.
We left the last traces of vegetation behind on the three-hour drive to Arlit and when we got there the police took our passports and told us we couldn’t leave till the next day. This is the usual procedure & ensures that people have a full day in which to travel up to the [Niger-Algeria] border.
So, we booked into a camping ground outside of town on a flat, featureless plain and once again we were pestered by salesmen, Touregs¹ this time, peddling junk. I bought a Toureg sword for 100 FF & Linda bought some bracelets for presents.
In the evening, a local killed & cooked a goat for us which we ate with spuds and mint sauce.