Around the Sahara

You may remember we could not include Algeria in our 1998 Mediterranean loop for the visa was hard to get, and the border with Morocco closed anyway — still is to this date! So, we decided to include this country in a Sahara loop. I must confess to cheating away from our land-only travel, but the 112-Euro Brussels-Tangiers flight was too tempting compared to the 160-Euro, 2-day, Eurolines bus ride, above all, we had already done that part in the first loop. We got a snowstorm early December in the Moroccan Atlas right when Polanski was giving the awards at the nearby Marrakech international film festival, and a freezing night in the Mauritanian ore train which took us north along the Polisario border, before temperatures stabilized at a very pleasant level.

Highlights were as always the people — staying with Danaya and Esther in a Bamako made hazy from the sand the harmattan brought along us from the Sahel, at the uncontrolled Mauritania-Mali border — a 3-day boat ride from Timbuktu to Gao on the Niger River, with a 2-day stopover at a garden cooperative on the small island of Fiya — meeting Salamatu, a 16-year old student in Ayorou, Niger, much more interesting than the Sunday animal market — and, last but certainly not least, Adbelwouahab and his wife Fatima, my university-mate’s brother who gave us a truly royal hospitality in his Algeria. This time too we found an original way of ending the trip, with the Tunis-Genoa scheduled boat which included a complimentary full-day stopover at Malta for the same price. My son was waiting for us at his new, Milano base, and we looped the loop, passing through Switzerland.

I present the Pays Dogon separately not so much because it is a unique place, but simply because I have too many pictures!

I must also confess that not a single of those famed places was worthwhile on its own, Chinguetti, “fabulous oasis”, “the seventh holy city of Islam”; the Adrar Plateau, featured by so many tour operators; Timbuktu, where we just (purposefully) missed the music festival au desert, Agadez, Kabylia, a destination trying to develop in the midst of bombings, even the Algerian Immidir and Ahnet which a Brit had touted as “the most stunning by far. Very, very remote and mystical land” — even though we were very lucky always to fall in-between the weekly Point-Afrique charter flights. The trip was nevertheless very worthy as a whole.

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Erg Mehejebt, Algeria, February 2007.

We never saw again as magnificent a desert as Erg Ubari (also spelled Awbari) in Libya (on the Mediterranean loop) with true lakes in a sea of sand, but Algeria had some nice spots, the whole trip had lots of sand of different colors and textures and people on it.

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