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Saturday, 28 January 2012

Chad, part 1

We forgot to give our ratings for Cameroon: the Bradt Guide = 4/10. It was only published in late 2011 but is in the style of the joke books travel guides put out a few years ago. They like to write lots about travelling by local transport, waiting days at towns for a truck, asking locals to stay in their houses etc. They also seem to have no idea of the actual conditions in many places e.g. Dja NP. On basic things like ATMs they are way out e.g. many of the Total service stations have ATMs and very good shops.

The Riese Know How maps – they rate a negative. Basically they give a bit of an idea, but totally lack accuracy.

That said, the French map we have for Chad puts a major region/feature on the wrong side of the country – sort of like putting the Great Dividing Range in Western Australia.

Day 1 – 24/1/12
As we drove over the single lane bridge into Chad, we were pulled to one side by a customs official. A guide in Roumsiki had put us in touch with a local Chad guide, Adjid and he was there to meet us as well. Off we went to the customs office and the Chief there seemed to be very superior (as things turn out, we think it was a cover for the fact he did not know what to do with a carnet). We left the carnet with him and went to immigration (where the officer spoke perfect English). We completed the immigration formalities and then police came into the office and got our passport to do their thing. Then back to the customs people. They passed us up the line, so we drove and walked to where the big chief hangs out. We are not sure he knew what to do either, but in Rays gentle style (for Avril fans read grovelling) he explained what was needed and the carnet was stamped.

No one asked for any bribes or money. The poor junior customs official who originally stopped us had to walk a long way and do a lot of work (we did give him a bit of a tip for a great effort).

Then we followed Adjid to the hotel. He then arranged to have the required police registration carried out whilst we had a bit of lunch in air conditioned comfort.

Lunch was an interesting experience. Ray opted for the buffet. Avril decided on a la carte. It seems that the menu was either aspirational or an indication of a glorious past. Pizza – not available; hamburger – not available; sandwich – not available etc. After a gluttonous lunch Ray decided to give dinner a miss; Avril had a similar experience to lunch with the menu.

Ray driving. N 120 06’ 85.4’’ E 0150 01’ 90.2’’ 

 Day 2 – 25/1/12

A rest day. N’Djamena is a very well laid out city, with predominantly paved roads which are clean as they are swept by women (a la Hanoi). We are very near the business centre which is kinda like Casterton on a lazy winters Sunday afternoon – very quiet, not much traffic. There is none of the large crowds and hassle and bustle of other African cities we have been through.

We walked around in the morning, as the afternoons are very hot, way into the high 30s C – and this is the cold season. We found the important things; restaurants, patisseries, super market (singular) and importantly a travel company that runs trips into the northern desert.

The northern areas are very remote and we would not do this by our selves, plus with the shortage of gasoil, we prefer to let others worry about fuel.

For dinner we went to a very nice Lebanese restaurant

 Day 3 – 26/1/12

We took a tour to Lake Chad – again preferring to let others worry about fuel.

The road to just south of a river port is all paved and an easy run. The river port is quite small, but there are many natural rough berthing places along the shore. After some considerable negotiation re a pirogue (the proprietor of the Lebanese restaurant says the Tchadians are harder negotiators than the Lebanese, a hell of an admission from one of the trading Phoenician stock) we agreed a price and set off.

It took ~ 45 minutes in a motorised pirogue to reach the lake, most of this through reed beds and narrow channels. Whilst we only saw the start of the lake you can at least get an idea of the size – one of the great lakes of the world. Truly huge (you cannot see the shores when you get out a bit) and an amazing sight.

On the way back we stopped at a fishing village to have a look – we think the guide wanted to buy the larger fish cheaply to on sell later. The village was on an island and as you can imagine very poor. No school for the kids. Most of the fish are ~ 100 mm long and smoked to preserve them.

After the pirogue trip we went to the local expat weekend haunt at Dougia. Bit of a disappointment. Reminded Ray of Zambia in the mid 1970s.

Day 4 – 27/1/12; our 33rd wedding anniversary.
Being our wedding anniversary, we had a late start to the day.

With the luxury of A/C and satellite TV, we watched a bit of the Australian open and the 4th test.

We needed to replace the trusty Dunlops on the front of the vehicle. Ray chatted to one of the drivers in the hotel car park and they immediately got onto the case. A “supplier” from the market came over and after some intense negotiations we bought 3 new Bridgestone Duellers. The new Michelin is unfortunately totally u/s.  Ray then drove over to the place that actually installs the tyres and the fitting took place. Unfortunately, this is where a lack of French hurts. We had insisted that the fitting and importantly balancing should be included in the price. The fitting was not an issue, but they did not have a balancing machine. So, we will see how we go. When we get back to N’Djamena from Zakouma NP we will need a Toyota service anyway, so we can do the balancing then – but it could be an interesting trip to Zakouma.

We had recently fitted the new Bridgestone we had purchased in Angola. So, we now basically have 4 new tyres of the same make on the car. Lets see how that goes.

An unfortunate aside was that whilst Ray was absent from the car (to change some money) the 3 piece spade (in a canvas cover) was stolen from the roof rack – it was secured with octopus straps. There were plenty of local men sitting around – including some with more years than us (or at least they look that way). So, the disappointing part of this is the implicit acceptance that theft from a white person is OK. With a lack of language it is hard to get people to understand what has happened – but they knew anyway we suppose. In addition our wheel wrench which was lying on the ground during the change over process was stolen. The blokes who had sold us the tyres were so embarrassed by this they gave us their wheel wrench.

In the afternoon we filled the water tank – via our filter system. The water seems to have developed a bit of an odour, it seems to be OK to drink as we are not getting sick, so we are not sure what has happened. We may need to empty the tank, flush it, change all the filters and start again.

In the evening we went to a very nice French/Italian restaurant to celebrate.

 Day 5 – 28/1/12

A day to relax. We watched more of the Australian open and the highlights of the 4th test. We took a short drive to find the Catholic Mission where we hope to stay when we return and to buy some provisions for the trip to Zakouma.

More Lebanese for dinner!

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