Aïr Mountains, Col de Temet,
So we hired
Ibrahim Kane Annour, an
experienced guide and very nice chappie, who firstly put us in touch
with Simeon, Paco and Veronica, an Ivorian and two Spaniards who also wanted
to travel in company, and we set out for the Aïr Mountains on an itinerary
that included a bit of dune driving which would have been inadvisable on our
The next week was simply superb - despite all
the digging and pushing that accompanies vehicles with tyres that aren't
well suited to desert. We all tried our hand at driving on soft dunes, which
despite the risks is an exhilarating experience. With tyres down to 1 or 1.5
bar we swept along crests, and swooped down cols, and, to be honest, dug and
pushed a lot. The Camel definitely had the edge of Simeon's Mitsubishi, but
we had our moments too. And to be fair they did have iced tea, which more
than made up for their shortcomings....
The climax of the trip was our arrival at the
Col de Temet with dunes that soar steeply upwards for hundreds of meters,
and look as if at any moment they might engulf our vehicles, sweeping us
into oblivion. That should worry the parents.
It was a sorry moment when we turned South
towards Agadez, though we still had a bit of fun with an under inflated tyre
- by now of course we have no working pumps and our remaining spare was full
of thorns, but we got creative with some rubber hose and a donor tyre from
the Mitsubishi which had loads of spares, and after a successful air
transplant managed to make it home
After a two day slog up from the Nation park
de W (or double-ve if you're French) where the animals had better things to
do than show off for us, we arrived in Agadez, the town in the middle of
It's actually quite lively with a fairly high
level of hassle as tourism is one of the main contributors to the economy.
Internet is 7500CFA an hour and is probably slow, though I'm not going to
pay to find out, which means that I won't be posting from here.
We are negotiating for a guide who hopefully
will take us into the Aïr Mountains for a week - in the meantime I am
staying in the Sultan's Palace, which sounds quite grand although I'm
actually camping on top of the camel in the courtyard with a pack of very
noisy dogs and a guardian who spends all night watching very angry
politicians on a very loud television - how peaceful the solitude of the
Niamey is a sprawling and
dusty city, full of frenetic activity and busy market-places. On our drive
to the capital we found that the food was lousy and the shops poorly stocked
and expensive - it is a pleasant surprise to find that Niamey has great
street food and all the conveniences of a modern capital (except
Our base is the camp site
in North West of town, from where we can get to pretty much anywhere in town
for a shared cab fare of 200CFA (20p).
One of the cultural
highlights of the city is the museum, which is a series of pavilions
intermingled with some pretty small cages housing a menagerie of monkeys, a
hippo and a few other animals. The pavilions are closed for the middle of
the day, so while I waited for them to open I sampled some delicious
brochettes, then shared a mango with Bebe, a delightful chimpanzee, who
repaid the compliment by grooming me - very relaxing.
When I started drinking
water out of a plastic sachet - almost everything in West Africa is
available in a plastic sachet - she demanded her share - and managed to do a
sight better then any of us by not spilling a drop (though she wouldn't give
the water back to me...)
That's the great thing
about African zoos - no rules and you can get as close as you dare - with
the lions it probably saves on the feeding bill.
The other highlight of
the museum for me was the fabled Arbre du Ténéré - the only tree in Africa
marked on a Michelin map. This acacia is the sole survivor of the once great
Saharan forests, and stood along some 400km from its nearest neighbour until
it was knocked down by a Libyan truck driver in 1973 - I believe he claims
it came out of nowhere. The sorry remains are now slowly decaying in a cage
in Niamey zoo.
Niamey is also where we say farewell to Paul
and the Truck - they are heading across Nigeria while we take our time in
the North of Niger, and we are unlikely to meet up again until Cape Town.
Good excuse for a beer then.