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Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Chad, part 3

Day 15 – 7/2/12

A slowish day, mainly getting ready for the desert trip. We went to Chad Evasion offices to sort out the finances (many thanks to the home office in Melbourne for arranging all this). Purchased some water and other items for the trip etc.

We ate a nice dinner at the mission.

Day 16 – 8/2/12

We woke up to a very dense dust cloud, just hanging in the air. It was hard to see even 100 m.

The Chad Evasion folks were early to pick us up and Moussa the owner came to the mission to make sure everything was OK. We dropped off our vehicle at CFAO/Toyota to be stored for the next 2 weeks.

Then we were on the road. On the way we purchased some local, goats milk cheese and a leg of goat (for dinner). The road was good tar all the way to Massakory, then immediately deteriorated to what is known in Africa as a “piste” which seems to be French for a bad dirt road.

The vegetation consisted of low widely spaced bushes and as you can imagine the bushes got smaller and more spread out the further north we went. The country side is very flat and grey, which, with the gaunt olive colour of the vegetation makes for a washed out/drab scene.  Around Massourro there were some sand dunes, ~ 25 m high, to break up the plain.

There were many villages along the way and a large number of people plus a large number of livestock. Surprisingly the livestock all looked well fed, much better than what we saw in the east. The buildings have also changed and now seem to be constructed of grey mud in the regular/rectangular Arab style.

Our team consists of; the driver Ahmed aka Gundee (from the north, ~ mid 30s, very, very thin, dressed in traditional clothes with robes and head dress. Turns out he has 2 wives and 2 kids with one of them) and a cook, Jerome (from the south, ~ mid 40s with one wife & 4 kids and not thin).

Lunch was a yummy fresh salad and dinner a goat stew & cous cous.

We camped in the desert with a full moon. The tent was just netting (it is too hot for full canvas) and with the moon we could almost read without a light.

N 130 52’ 02.8’’ E 0160 28’ 08.4’’ 

Day 17 – 9/2/12

Unfortunately the dust had not abated, so we drove most of the day with poor visibility.

In the morning 2 trucks from Libya drove past, trading goods into Chad. Wars and revolutions come and go, but trans Sahara/cross border trade goes on.

In the morning we stopped to assist a broken down vehicle and after 1.5 hours Gundee got the vehicle going. He was very proud of himself!

The vegetation was quite sparse and the villages far apart. Despite this, there were still villages and people along the way. At one village we stopped to buy chickens, guess what we were having for dinner.

We must have mentioned before that Africans have not lost the art of conversation, they can talk 24/7 in any place. There are 2 volumes; very loud and shouting. At the moment, Gundee, is the big talker in the vehicle. His volume is mainly in between a shout and very loud. Often a long monologue ends with a “ugh? Jerome’s role is to make appropriate noises, mainly “Mmm” and “agh”. These are not simple grunts; the tone, length, inclination etc vary according Gundee’s requirement. Occasionally laughs are inserted; again these need to be appropriate for the occasion; humour, knowing, surprise etc. Jerome’s preference seems to be to sleep, however if an appropriate response has not been made, Gundee will shout, “Jerome” and natural order is restored.

Gundee has one, damaged, cassette tape of local music – damaged. It seems that this can be played monotonously with many repeats (we tried repeadity – but the spell check would not accept it), there is no limit to the number of times per day it can be played.

At one point, Ray put on some Deep Forest through the ipod/itrip. At one point Gundee stopped talking and increased the volume. The language in the song is his language. Very excited.

As predicted, dinner was chook pot roast with vegetables and chips.

The left-overs from the chook were thrown into the night and a jackal came and made sure nothing was left in the morning.

It was a very windy night and even as we went to bed it was apparent we would be eating sand all night. The netting tent is not appropriate for windy conditions and the fly provided is not the one for this tent & allows sand in.

N 150 49’ 55.1’’ E 0180 22’ 57.5’’ 

Day 18 – 10/2/12

The wind did not die down all night. Still we were better off than Gundee & Jerome who both use a swag; they were covered with sand.

We set out driving almost directly east. The wind did not die down all day, but to compensate, the sand was golden, not the washed out look of previous days. The vegetation seems to come in patches with Hollywood style erg in the between.

Near Oum Chalouba there were rocky patches and it seemed that the wind had died down.

At one point there was an extensive area of grass and we passed groups of nomads with healthy looking camels and cattle.

We developed a flat tyre and from some distance away a nomad woman came with a bowl of camel’s milk (unpasteurised and unhomogenised, we assume). A welcome gesture for strangers who were working in the middle of the day.

We had many sightings of gazelles/springbok; with some great examples of pronking!

We bought provisions in the town of Oum Chalouba. Whilst Avril chatted to her brother, Ray went with Jerome, thinking they were off to get provisions. However, after passing out of the main town area and going into a separate, small settlement, they arrived at a local bar. There each had a beer – not refrigerated, but cool. Very nice. We camped in mobile telephone reach of the town!

Spaghetti for dinner.

Then the wind howled all night, but with the compensation that for some reason there was no dust or grit associated with it.

N 150 35’ 55.1’’ E 0200 55’ 46.2’’ 

 Day 19 – 11/2/12

Ray got up early to photograph a brilliant desert sunrise, almost without dust.

Then we set off to Ennedi; the desert along the way is like the gibber plains in central Australia. Ennedi is a series of dramatic, sandstone mountains/hills rising almost vertically out of the desert plain. At lunch we stopped at Terkei (?), an impressive & very extensive Neolithic rock art canyon with red, white and occasional blue paintings. These are manly of animals but with family groups also depicted. We then drove to another impressive rock art site – one painting was of a group of riders, which we dubbed the Melbourne Cup.

We then drove along and inside the mountain range. Each minute bringing a new vista and worthy of a photo. Totally impressive in scale and grandeur.

We searched for a while to find a camping spot with some protection from the wind – the wind came in gusts and was very strong. We were only partially successful in our search; the dust came into the tent over night.

We should mention that thus far, there is fresh fruit for lunch and dinner as well!

Ray got some decent sunset pics.

 N 160 40’ 03.1’’ E 0220 04’ 28.7’’ 

 Day 20 – 12/2/12

A wonderful day. Ray got up early again to get some sunrise pictures with a dramatic rock arch in the foreground.

Then we drove to Arc d’Alebra (?), a massive natural arch. We both guessed that it must be > 100m high. It is hard to find words to describe the scale and grandeur of the formation. This was one of the highlights of the trip so far. A couple of nomad girls set up an impromptu jewellery store and Avril bought a necklace, probably more out of sympathy than decorative worth.

After Arc d’Alebra we drove through a dust storm – at least we got to see how the arches and mountains are formed here!

Then continuing our trip through the mountains we went to a canyon with a permanent stream; Bachikele (?). There were a large number of camels being watered. We walked to the head of the canyon, ~ 500m, and Ray washed his hair in a pond  – upstream of the floating camel poo!. Interestingly, despite the lack of sanitation, the pond had fish.

On the way out of the canyon we bumped into a 3-vehicle convoy of tourism/guide students. All keen to ask a few questions and get our impressions: how was the food? – good and there are nice restaurants in N’Djamena; how is the price?? – very low compared to e.g. Kenya etc

We then drove to another spectacular natural arch; the Elephant. Avril could see the trunk in the formation!

Then we drove back through the mountains to yet another rock art site, Mandage (?); the pictures here were in grottos around 5 m off the ground and accessible via a narrow passage at the rear.

We managed to get a camp site out of the wind – a real bonus.

N 160 53’ 55.1’’ E 0210 47’ 06.5’’ 

Day 21 – 13/2/12

We went for a walk over one of the gorges and into another very spectacular gorge – sort of like Kings Canyon but more dramatic and without the people. At the head of the gorge is a deep permanent water pool and believe it or not, out here in the middle of the desert were Nile crocodiles. Assumedly a remnant of when the area was a savannah. Site name is Archei (?).

Our guides for this ~ 2.5 hour walk were the son and daughter (~10 &12 yrs!) of the local chief. They were very concerned for us and continually checked that the old folks were doing OK. At the end of the walk they did not want to accept some payment-nice, but we did manage to get them to take it. They did not even want to accept water and snacks along the way.

After the walk we had some quiet time, which was nice as things have been pretty full-on up to now. When we returned from the walk there was a slaughtered goat hanging from a tree – guess we knew what we were having for dinner! Ray had some of the goat liver cooked with onion for lunch, but Avril passed on the idea of fresh goat foie.

After the midday rest, we visited another rock art site – I have the GPS coordinates for all the sites if anyone wants them.

Then, just when you thought it could not get any better… after some very impressive 4WD driving in deep sand, we arrived at Bachike; a massive rock chasm. It was about 2 – 3 m wide at the bottom and getting smaller towards the top, around 50 m high and an impressive > 250 m long. Awesome.

We camped at the top of a plateau among some mini rock formations.

Slow roast goat for dinner.

N 170 04’ 39.9’’ E 0210 28’ 42.3’’ 

Day 22 – 14/2/12

A long, slow, hot day. Overnight both of us discovered that nomad goat was not for us. You can fill in the details yourselves.

In the morning we went to Fada to register with the police and to buy some fresh fruit – only water melon was available.

We drove north, crossing a series of wide, low valleys. Whilst there were some weathered hills/mountains that anywhere else would be worth a visit, after being spoilt over the previous days we were not that impressed, a bit sad really.

Again we rested from the midday sun from ~ 12:00 – 14:00

The drive was very slow due to the very rocky nature of the piste.

Just before camp time, ~ 17:00 we entered the Sabi in Yalla (?) valley that had some interesting weathered rock formations. Sort of like the white desert in Egypt, without the white.

We both passed on dinner – trying to let the goat roast pass. We felt a bit sorry for Jerome & Gundee as they had really tried to do the best for us with the goat; it just did not plan out.

N 170 39’ 34.2’’ E 0210 26’ 20.2’’ 

Day 23 – 15/2/12

An interesting day driving north out of Ennedi and across the Mourdi Depression.

There was lots of wild life including gazelles. Late in the day a gazelle tried to have a race alongside the vehicle and Ray managed to finally get a picture of a desert gazelle. We also saw what we initially thought was a jackal, but Gundee said no, so we think it must have been a fox or such – note, we need to learn a bit more French!

Along the way we stopped to collect firewood. This can only be done from already dead trees. It is illegal to chop down a live tree in Chad, and it seems that at least this law is taken very seriously.

We passed by a couple of ancient dried lake beds where the mud sediment has been weathered into some interesting formations. For the Egypt folks, like the mud lions, but here they are not shaped like lions.

During the day some of the path was marked by old tyre tracks, sometimes by old 44 gal drums, but most of the time we made our own way. We assume Gundee uses the sun as a compass. Along the way we passed through an area of sand and some monster crescent shaped dunes. A typical desert day driving i.e. a 2 hour rest at lunch.

The Teranga Hills (?) are in the middle of the sand and at the base of the hills there is a very basic well. When we got there, there were a couple of nomads watering their camels. One man was in the well slowly scooping water from the well into a dish and filling a goat skin. When the skin was full, the other man would haul it to the top and fill a small skin trough from which the camels could drink. A very hard way to make a living.

At the village of Demi we stopped to fill our water containers. We get ~ 10 litres of water per day to wash. Pure luxury, on a lot of desert trip you do not get to wash for a long time.

Today we got a master class in 4WD from Gundee – he did not put a foot wrong all day.

The last few nights the insects have been quite thick, so rather than trying to read, we have gone to bed and listened to audio books on the iPod. A worthwhile alternative.

We camped at an Oasis. The wind and the jackals howled! Unfortunately there were lots of mozzies.

N 180 51’ 36.8’’ E 0210 23’ 12.5’’ 

Day 24 – 16/2/12

In the morning, we went for a walk to the shore of the oasis lake. The lake is very saline and is being mined for salt. The salt is loaded onto camels and traded as far away as Abeche – which must be at least 2 days away by car. Not sure how many camel days = car day.

At the lake shore we surprised a very large black-back jackal; Ray was too slow to get a picture.

We drove along the bottom of the Mourdi depression, with a low escarpment running to the north. We stopped at another well in the middle of nowhere. Avril went on a scouting expedition and found a Neolithic grinding base – well done.

There was a dramatic drop into Ounianga Serir which had a small fresh water lake and a larger saline lake. We took the opportunity to have a wash beside the fresh water lake and relax for a few hours.

We stopped at the village associated with the lakes to pay our respects to the local chief and surprisingly one of the local elders could speak a little English. Ray was a bit surprised when he asked of Jerome: “is that black man from Australia?”

We then drove along a series of finger lakes to the night’s camp.

N 190 00’ 11.1’’ E 0200 30’ 47.8’’ 

Day 25 – 17/2/12

We drove to the village of Ounianga Kelif via the large , saline Lake Yoa. At the village we had a long wait (3 hours) for the local police to turn up to work so we could register. We also took the opportunity to refuel and re-supply. Like a lot of the remote places in Chad we have been through, it had telecoms. The BIG find was a very usable SW radio. Avril is a rabid BBC listener (mainly for the sports results) and has been very disappointed with the large radio we bought in Oz (with only Chinese writing on the dials etc). This smaller one seems better able to do the job, so some one along the way will the recipient of a cadeau (cadeau is the what all the locals demand). When they see a white person they will run literally for hundreds of meters to demand; CADEAU).

Near Ounianga Kelif we stopped at another lake (Kakim (?) for lunch. Sitting at the lake, with its own micro climate and the wind, it was a tiny bit chilly. This was a welcome change from the ongoing heat.

On the way there we experienced our first anti white episode in Africa – some local lads on the way home from school picked up some rocks to throw at the car and one idiot actually threw a rock. You can imaging Gundee’s and Jerome’s reaction. They chased the individual, but in the end let the matter drop. This was all a bit surprising really as we had always felt totally secure and welcome in Chad. 

After lunch we had a fairly uninteresting drive into Wadi Doum. Avril likened the flat plain to a big back yard with pebble mix.

In the wadi we see the detritus of the battles between Chad and Libya in 1987 (?) including wrecked APCs and vehicles. We are assured they are all Libyan.

The wind blew a gale all day, so we were lucky that one of Gundee’s wives lives on Wadi Doum and if we can understand correctly he was at least partially raised here. So, we got to stay in the spare hut, rather than our netting tent. The hut had a solid wooden frame and the external walls were rattan mats. The lower parts of the internal walls were thin material. The floor was very clean sand. A mat was laid down for us to put our sleeping mats on etc. It was not totally sand proof, but much much superior to the alternative.

When we arrived we were welcomed with sweet mint tea and sweet cakes and dates.

N 180 24’ 54.8’’ E 0200 21’ 55.6’’ 

Day 26 – 18/2/12

With the wind the way it was last night, Jerome slept in the car.

We had a yukky days drive; ~160 km in 6 hours in relentless wind and associated dust. In places it was hard to see more than 150 m.

We drove along a couple of valleys that must have been the axis of advance for the Libyan thrust into Chad as there was a lot of war debris along the way, including trucks blown up by land mines; mmmm, we hope they got rid of any left overs!

We descended into the Faya oasis, with large chalk areas and some big palm gardens. Chad Evasion, our tour company, has a house in Faya with a basic loo and shower, luxury again. We relaxed in one of the court yards, out of the wind and read for a while. Then we registered with the police and had a drive around. There is not much to look at in the town; the houses are contained inside high walls and so the street vista is just a line of high, grey mud bricks. The town has a slightly biblical look with the shops around the main mosque inside an arched walkway. But, it is really not much of a tourist location and as we were in shorts we were given some strong looks and did not feel all that comfortable.

We slept in out netting tent in one of the court yards – out of the wind!

We should mention that whilst the wind is a nuisance, thus far it has not impacted our travel and luckily it has not been all that bad when the scenery has been at its best i.e. it has not impacted viewing. One big benefit of the wind is that it has kept the temperature down – we have not had the high 30s/low 40s days.

N 170 55’ 40.1’’ E 0190 06’ 06.7’’ 

Day 27 – 19/2/12

Gundee shows he is fallible. There are 2 roads out of Faya to the south. One seems to be mainly used by trucks and the other by smaller vehicles. We took the small vehicle route. On the ascent out of Faya you pass through a very confused jumble of hills and rock outcrops. Then we drove along a very long flat plain, devoid of vegetation. At the start, the route is marked by spent (we hope!) artillery shells. After the plain, there is an area of complex sand and dunes with continuous mini bumps which shake and rattle the vehicle, which does wonders for Ray’s vertigo – not. We get stuck a few times in the sand including one time where Ray and Jerome have to grab the sand plates, as Gundee slowly drives forward and put them in front of the rear tyres again.

Later we pass through some chalk fields and with the wind, visibility is reduced to 10 m (yes, 10 m). At ~ 15:00 we re-join the route that we took on our way north. At this point vegetation starts again for a time, then stops. At times we commented that we did not remember how desolate this part of the route was.

We camped in a small depression and Gundee and Jerome constructed a small wind break and Avril used the smaller, alternative tent. With some vertigo, Ray decided to sleep upright in the car.

N 140 52’ 50.5’’ E 0170 18’ 45.7’’ 

Day 28 – 20/2/12

After the windy night, we had a clear morning and some nice lighting for sunrise.

Ray membered Mike Friedman at Hoechst. Mike was a Polish officer held by the Russians in Siberia in WW2. He once described how hard it was to do #2s in a Siberian winter and the techniques needed to achieve success. Ray remembered all this as he tried to do his morning ablutions in the sand in gale force winds. Brings into real focus the old saying about “not pissing into the wind”. Think about the physics of the loo paper.

We continued our journey south and stopped for fuel at Moussoro. The lack of a common language was apparent. Avril had asked a few times if it was possible to get to N’Djamena in 2 days, always with the response; “no”. In Moussoro Ray chatted to Jerome about the possibility and all of a sudden it was possible. So, we then hastened to N’Djamena. We managed to get accommodation at the Catholic Mission and some food from the patisserie.

So, we managed to get a very welcome shower and sleep sans wind.

Catholic Mission. N 120 06’ 21.2’’ E 0150 03’ 20.8’’ 

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