Thursday 6 April 2006
After the usual hard bread breakfast, PAIN!, a half hour drive to the Niger border, which turned out to be a bustling encampment of trucks and stalls littering the sand around them, offering up all kinds of snakes, fried food, diesel fridge cold drinks, piles of firewood, strolling cigarette sellers and money changers. Didnt seem to be much other reason for this ugly collection of enterprises to be there; it was a completely barren stretch of sand and the detritus of many a traveler littering the surrounds.
Changed some Euros to Algerian Dinars, though we were still on the wrong side of the border and suffered from double exchange rates. Also bought some large carbonated cold orange drinks in large bottles for only 500CFA. Unfortunately we greedily drank these down; later in the day we would have wished that wed saved some.
We waited around 90 minutes in the hot cars for our passports to be cleared, said goodbye to our Niger guides, driving team and one of the cars; we were down to 6 now.
Another 30 minute drive across the dessert to the Algerian board post, which was much more developed and efficient by comparison. Where there had been no clear indication of how to proceed or even any official appearing building on the Niger side; in Algeria, we were instructed to walk through a shallow water trough to protect the country against bird flu, (SOME of the cars drove through something similar), and into a cool passport control building. Still Mersing Rest House standard, but to us, it appeared VERY civilized after weeks in the desert.
A 90 minute wait here to go through two sides of processing, where shortly after finishing and all ready to go, Colin collapsed from heat exhaustion. Another half hour with doctors David & Ernest, bringing him back up to speed, and we were off.
Another 30 minute drive to lunch, under the prototypical acacia tree, unfortunately this one, with lots of large aggressive ants.
We started out again at around 3PM or so with a short drive to a petrol filling station town with paved streets and lamp posts! We visited the two only shops in town and bought some playing cards, candies, and Sue bought a roll of fragile packing tape, with which she was able to fashion a rudimentary sumo style diaper for Will. The highlighted merchandise in these dim shops that day was a King Baby set, and although tempted, we DID pass on the purchase.
Our serious driving for the day commenced only at 3.30PM, driving straight onto wonderfully paved asphalt roads. We thought we were home free! Unfortunately the road didnt last long, and it was back to the rutted desert driving in the wake of many trucks that had passed days before, a few of which occasionally passed us this evening as well.
We passed many spectacular wrecks along the way, which made for great photos.
Shortly thereafter a brand new asphalt road teased us, tantalizingly close to our sandy ruts, but obviously still closed for traffic, as evidenced by the many piles of stones in incredibly close rows every 50 feet or so, for tens of miles. So we were doomed to desert driving again, which wouldnt have been so bad if the rocky landscape and ruts hadnt begun to disappear shortly after dark. It was then back to open desert driving, but this time at night and with no markers for direction to head towards town.
The night was so dark that each car had to follow the one in front of it, but the dust trails from each vehicle were lasting for about 2 to 4 miles, making the taillights of the car in front close to disappearing most of the time.
As a consequence, and the drivers various individual bravados to strike it out on their own, the cars got separated and were never able to re-group in total for the rest of the evening. No one knew whether Eissa was ahead of or behind us, another one of the cars went permanently missing, though 3 of us stopped and waited for them several times, and the drivers suddenly seemed unable to operate the satellite phones!
We had to stop at another encampment of cars that had given up for the night, a few guys around a campfire, and ask them for directions.
All-in, we were driving straight though until about 10.30 that night. Finally found a kind of road, but soon experienced many signed deviations, back to the rutted track we were on, even one in the last few kilometers to town that we thought sure would make our lone vehicle a prime target for bandits!
We considered it a miracle that we made it at all, given that it was over 400km over dark unmarked terrain, from when we had started in the late afternoon.
However, after we almost ran over a camel sitting in the middle of our path, and passed the police checkpoint at the entry to Tamarasset town, we found out that Lamin, our driver, had no rendezvous plans with Eissa. He intended to just drive blindly around town looking for a familiar car? Hungry, tired and pissed off, we found an alimentarie and got some ice cream, soda and fig bars.
We made him take us to the Hotel Tahat and enquired at the desk, where we found Eissa had just left and would return in a half hour. They wouldnt let us check in, not enough rooms for all the groups Eissa was bringing, so we were doomed to wander the town some more. Went down the street to another alimentarie, since the one that we were just at was now inexplicably closed, a phenomena which, we were at that time unaware, was due to be repeated several times again during our short stay
Stocked up on cheese, chips and drinks at the new alimentarie, where Eissa showed up, and waited until we had completely finished buying all our food before telling us he had arranged for dinner at a restaurant!
I lost it at that point and had a shouting session at him in the middle of the store, which he meekly took in, shocked I guess, since as everyone knows: I rarely get angry! He should have waited, none of the drivers knew what to do, not enough rooms at the Tahat, etc, etc. I found out from Sue later that she was worried that I would explode and she thought she would have to intervene!
Drove over to the open air kopitiam-type restaurant where everyone else had arrived a half hour before, though we had been first to the town and had been doomed to wandering and buying food for over an hour.
More mystery meat, piles of french fries which nobody felt like eating, and no beer, shouldve ordered an omelet like Rei - so we all went back to the hotel pretty quickly after that, though it was already 1AM by the time we got to bed.
Drove past a very intricately lighted up compound with a series of archways in coloured lights, looked like a casino, and we never did find out what it was
Shared a room with Rei that evening, small and crappy, but apparently the best in town! Woke up at 4AM to the sound of Rei laughing, apparently he thought my snoring sounded like a Rhino! Har Har Har.