Linda and I got up at 5:30 AM, in the cold and windy dawn, and got breakfast going. We were away by 7:00 and drove the 120 KM to In Salah. Everyone slept or read on the way but there wasn’t much to see anyway except another area of huge sand-dunes, golden in the early morning sun.
We got to In Salah about 12:30 and went straight to the local Turkish bath-house where we scrubbed away 3 months of sweat and dirt in the wonderfully hot water.
After lunch at a local restaurant, we filled up the water tank and our water bottles then headed out of town. With the oasis of In Salah only 10 minutes behind us we got stuck in a patch of damp sand on a track which Scotty realised was the wrong one anyway. We dug the truck out, which was a minor job [compared to our all night efforts in the Congo Jungle earlier in the trip] then re-traced our steps back into town and went out again by a different route.
The truck’s engine mounts were becoming dangerously loose so we stopped at 4;30 to tighten them and made camp.
The whole day after we left camp consisted of driving. We stopped at about 9:00 at a wayside gas station in the middle of a bleak, windswept plain to pump the up tyres then at a little cafe 100 yards further up the road for a glass of sweet tea with a group of the local sheep looking on.
At 12:30 we arrived at the small memorial to a man who died on his way to Mecca and which tradition says you must derive around three times for good luck. A mile before the shrine, beside the road, lies the burnt-out remains of a VW Combi van that apparently exploded & caught fire after its two American occupants had drive past the monument without circling it 3 times! The shrine is set at the foot of some huge, rounded granite hills and surrounded by sand-blasted rock formations amongst which we had lunch.
The whole afternoon consisted of non-stop driving much of which was on the rough, dusty track right next to a brand new tar seal road which no one is allowed to drive on until it is finished which, if the rate things get done in Africa is anything to go by, will be a long time.
Mid-afternoon, we passed through a deep gorge, with sheer cliffs of layered rock rising on either side, thena few miles further on, our first glimpse of the huge, golden sand-dunes, the Grand Erg Occidental, presented itself.
We camped the night amongst a patch of weathered granite boulders and watched a beautiful sunset beneath a cloudscape that looked exactly like the Nor’ West arch at home. The night was cold and breezy.
The annoying “beep” of the borrowed watch on my wrist woke me at 5:15 AM. I crept across the darkened room and looked out through the door. The sky was velvet black with the faintest trace of dawn lightening the eastern sky. I went back to the warmth of my sleeping bag and dozed until 5:50 when I got up and woke the others.
We dressed & readied our gear then went out into the cold air and walked over to the bae of the knob opposite the one with the Hermitage on it. The climb to the top only took 10 minutes and we reached the summit just in time for the beginning of the most awesome sunrise I have ever seen.
Silhouetted against a background of crimson and blue, three high peaks in a landscape of pillars and domes stood as mighty monuments to the horrific volcanic violence that formed the Hoggar Mountains millions of years ago. As we watched, the sky bled from crimson to pink then to orange until, finally, the great ball of the sun burst into view with incredible brilliance, bathing the whole visible world in warm, golden light.
As the sky lightened the far away ranges and plains took on various shades of blue and gold and then the clean, white sunlight blotted out the view with its impossible brilliance.
We stayed at the top of the peak watching that amazing spectacle for 2 hours and it is without doubt the highlight of the trip. We dropped back down to the huts for a breakfast of coffee, bread and marmalade then packed our gear into the two Toyotas.
Linda and I spent a bit of time talking to the local donkeys then we headed down the mountain, stopping every now and then to take photos of the amazing landscape.
En route back we stopped at a little cafe in the middle of nowhere beside, surprise, surprise, a small river! We followed a track down to a deep and clear rock pool where we sat for a while watching a shepherd and his two dogs pass by with a herd of goats.
The cafe was run by an man who was as mad as you would expect someone who lived out there would be. We had fruit juice and some biscuits in the cool of the little stone building and Russ gave him a kangaroo stick pin which he put in his turban. Then Linda rummaged through her stuff and presented him with a postcard from London showing a Palace guard and a punk. The old boy went into raptures! We left him talking away to himself outside his little stone cafe & drove the bumpy and dusty road back to Tamanrassat.
Back at camp we packed up the truck & drove into town. I went to the Post Office &, lo, a letter for me from Joe, mysteriously filed under “F”. I posted some mail then we bought a supply of oranges, orange juice and chocolate then hit the road.
We drove the remainder of the afternoon away and camped beside the road about 100 km from Tamanrasset.
DAY SEVENTY-SEVEN Most the morning was taken up with showering (again!) and doing some washing.
At 10:30 we walked up to the Hotel Taghat for fruit juices and coffee then walked back to the camp to await the arrival of the vehicles that we were taking up to Assakrem, in the Hoggar Mountains.
They arrived, as arranged, at 1:00 and we all hopped on board along with an old Irish lady called Ena who had pestered us into taking her up. The two vehicles were both Toyota station-wagons, one old and one fairly new.
We set off up into the high plateau at the base of the mountains and it was like crossing the moon! Stark, barren, rock-strewn plains dotted with huge and rugged mesas across which we travelled on a road which was amazingly rough at times. After an hour or so, the old Toyota died from lack of proper maintenance, the fuel pump buggered., so we flagged down another passing vehicle and they took Russ & Jo while the other two came with us.
As we travelled higher up into the hills the gullies narrowed around us until we were hemmed into narrow chasms between the sheer faces and precipices of the volcanic plugs¹ that make up most of the Hoggars.
The air cooled as we rose and by the time we reached the stone buildings at the top of the road it was a chilly 3 or 4 degrees.
Back down at the huts we arranged our sleeping bags on foam mattresses and after a much-needed meal of soup, rice & vegetable stew washed down with a wee drop of whiskey that I had, we all went to bed.
¹A volcanic plug is the solidified remains of the interior of a volcano. As a volcano ceases to erupt, the magma-filled tube from which the volcano ejected its lava, solidifies into a plug. The surrounding cone is often made of lighter, more easily-eroded lava and when this is eroded away, the central plug is left behind.
Pullar and I got up a 6:45 and cooked up fried spud for breakfast then at 8:30 a guy called Ali arrived to take us to our appointed camel ride.
We met our 2 Tuareg guides waiting with 8 camels saddled up and ready to go. Mounting up was a new experience and you must ride in bare feet which is traditional and protects the camel’s neck from abrasion as you rest your feet on the back of its neck. You brace yourself by holding on to the three-pronged pommel with one hand and grabbing a handful of hair on the hump behind you with the other.
The camel stands up back feet first and with much groaning and protesting. Their motion is a kind of back and forth swaying and the saddles are far from comfortable! The Tuareg guides mounted up by holding the camel’s nose (!) then putting a foot on its knee, then a foot on the back of the neck then swinging over into the saddle.
It took 2 3/4 hours for the camels to plad their was up the “Le Source”, a mineral spring 12 kilometres from Tamanrasset. When we arrived our guides unsaddled and hobbled the camels then turned them loose to browse on the nearby thorn trees. We walked up to the comfortable and well-run cafe where we drank tea, coffee and cola and had omelette for lunch. I clambered up the rocky slope behind the cafe to see what I could see but only further slopes of broken rock rose around me and the view out across the plain was one of arid, eroded hills with thorn trees dotted about.
We spent 2 hours at Le Source then went back to where the guids were waiting for us and watched while they caught and re-saddled the camels.
The return trip on the swaying “ships of the desert” seemed to take forever but eventually we arrived, stiff and sore, back at camp.
I had a shower which stopped just as I had finished soaping up so I dried the soap off and went to bed feeling the effects of the shits and my cold which seems to have returned.
I got up early and went over to the Encounter camp to boil the kettle as we have no wood (it fell off [the wood rack mounted on the back of the truck] on the way up from Garieka) and the gas cooker is broken. I sat over there for 3/4 of an hour talking to some of their team while the water heated up then took it back over to our camp where we ate another meagre breakfast.
After we had done the dishes we went into town with 10 hangers-on from the Encounter truck. Pullar, Linda and I went to the market where a riot was going on at the bread shop. Apparently, they bake a heap of bread then open the shop and sell it all at once until it is all gone. Pullar took the bit between his teeth and joined the pushing, shoving crowd to try and buy some of the staff of life.
Linda and I went and bought some oranges, onions & tomatoes then went back to the bread shop where Pullar was just fighting his way out of the crowd with five loaves.
We left the market and walked down to a cafe where we met Russ, Jo & Bron for lunch. We made a bit of a cock-up when we ordered and ended up getting two main courses each! Luckily, Pete and Rob came along and Pete scoffed 2 of our extras, Rob had another and I picked away at the other two so we got through most of it.
After lunch, Pete, Rob, Linda and I sat in the cafe and talked for an hour or so then walked back to the camp.
Scotty, Linda, pete, Rob and I spent the evening in the bar drinking whiskey and cola.
First thing on the agenda for the morning was a very cold shower. Water is in short supply in Tamanrasset so the showers & taps only go for 2 hours in the morning & evening.
After a meagre breakfast of corn-flakes and tea made with lukewarm water heated on the [broken] cooker, we took the truck into town and spent the morning looking round. We went to the Post Office to check for our mail – I didn’t get any and Linda eventually found a letter from Helen filed under “R” of all things!
We had a drink & something to eat at a cafe then took turns watching the truck. Some of us went to a local hotel with Zorba and had lunch washed down with a large quantity of red wine.
We got back to camp & crashed out for an hour or two then we all walked back into town for a meal at another restaurant.