The Chadian desert

Our guide had focussed our attention on the chance of seeing the Saharan nile crocodile in the pool at the end of our two hour scramble through the gorge - a pretty special sighting as there are only 7 or 8 of this specialised type of nile crocodile left alive in the world, now confined to this small pool.

However after seeing one of the crocs I turned my head to look down the gorge to my left, and found myself almost speechless as I gazed on one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen in my life. We were at the Guelta d'Archeï in Chad, one of the very few places in the whole of the Ennedi Massif (a region of eroded sandstone mountains covering an area the size of Switzerland) where there is a guaranteed year-round supply of water. In this year of low rainfall for Chad, it meant that camel owners came from far and wide to water their animals and as I looked down the Guelta from a ledge high in the mountain-side I could see and hear some 120 camels happily splashing about in the water.

I was with a party of 11 other tourists in this difficult and little-visited country. I say 'difficult' in terms of permits, etc, but also in terms of the lack of infrastructure. Only a few hundred kilometres of the 3,300 we covered in our trip were paved; mostly we were driving through sand, stone and rocks. When we made it to one of the few small towns there was virtually nothing to buy, so our breakfasts consisted of rock-hard dried up bread with jam, with milk powder in the tea or coffee. We were camping so toilets were open-air behind bushes or rocks (or on occasion just sufficiently far from the rest of the group for some privacy), and our daily ablutions were from one small bowl of water.

But lying on my mattress at night looking up at all the stars, listening to the eerie sound of the jackals calling, felt very special even when the wind was blowing desert dust and sand into my sleeping bag.

As well as the stunning Guelta d'Archeï we saw many other wonderful desert vistas (eroded pillars, camel trains on the dunes, etc) and the region is famous for its many rock arches as well as it's 3,000-year-old cave paintings of horses, camels, people and cattle, which seemed to be everywhere.

Encounters with people were difficult, as the nomadic Tubu tribe do not like visitors. When we went to look at a salt pan we were approached by three Tubu men with knives in their hands - they were only checking up on why we were there but it is the usual way in which they approach strangers. We were repeatedly warned, though, that they can be quick to use their knives, particularly if they see that they are being photographed.

We saw a surprising amount of wildlife, ranging from an amazing Saharan spiny-tailed lizard to my favourite, the beautiful little fennec foxes, as well as patas monkeys, baboons, dorcas gazelles, jackals, a sand viper and all kinds of impressive-looking insects. We saw quite a number of birds too, including nubian bustards, various storks and the national bird of Chad, the black crowned crane.

But that view down the Guelta d'Archeï, with the sound of all those bellowing camels echoing around the gorge, is one of those that I tried to burn into my brain, so I can close my eyes and imagine it again whenever I find myself in a stressful situation. I would say it is in the top three views that I have seen in the whole world.

1 comment:

Phil said...

Like WOW!!

I often adimre what you do Louise, & the places you go. But rarely do I envy you,...
This time however,..

I'm glad you're still finding places that leave you speachless, long may it continue :-)