Page Four - 'AFRICA AND THE SAHARA'

January 31 1953

Don got up at 07h15 and took the Land Rover to the local garage where he could leave it for oiling and greasing, before returning for breakfast. It was a beautiful day again and we were glad that we had bought our sunglasses. Diane decided that she would like to stay in the gardens at the Hotel, while Don, David and myself went into Algiers to do some last minute shopping. We walked around for some time and purchased 4 topis. We were not going to get sunstroke and why shouldn't we look like Big Game Hunters! We took the latest batch of films taken in France and Algiers to be developed. We had a new camera and wanted to make sure that everything was in order. It would have been terrible to arrive at the other end of the journey to find we had a whole load of blanks to look at. Nothing could have been much worse than not to have a record of this incredible trip we were about to undertake. Who would believe that we had even done it? At least this would give us some time to rectify any mistakes that we may have made. We went back to find Diane, then Don went off to collect the Land Rover. At this stage, with what currency we had left with us, we needed to step lightly as we could not afford to get caught out by an emergency. Not easy to draw money from the bank in the middle of the Sahara Desert!

February 1 1953 Land Mileage 0734

April Fool's Day - I hope not - but the beginning of a new month - I wonder where we shall all be at this time next year? 

We took a few photographs then Don, Diane and myself went to the lovely little English Church which was just down the road, for the morning service. Afterwards we went for a stroll and admired the Arab women in their Moslem dress. In the afternoon we went and had a look around the very interesting museum and then went on to the park to watch the children at play. There was a small lake there and the children were having great fun sailing their boats. One over-enthusiastic child overstepped the mark and went in head first, but apart from being a little wet and getting a fright, no harm was done. On our return to the hotel we got talking to the doorman , who had been there on our previous visit. He was very interested in our forthcoming trip, but with out saying so outright, he was obviously of the opinion that we were definitely not right in the head and the whole thing was a pretty foolish idea. Maybe he was right, reading the following.

Extract from the A.A. Trans African Highways Book, the book which we used to plan our route from Algiers to Kano. "An official statement issued by the British Foreign Office in December 1947 declared that 'it is sheer folly to attempt the Trans-Sahara journey without adequate knowledge and resources'. Evidently this a venture not to be undertaken lightly" The 1947 statement also gave advice re vehicle and food and the following four points are made. 1) a high ground clearance and wide section low pressure tyres are essential. (The latter are required for driving through the sand). 2) for getting out of soft sand, sandmats or equivalent, shovels, a few planks and rope must be carried. Tinted sand goggles, compass and first-aid outfit are indispensable (We did not have the planks but we had the remainder with us ) 3) besides adequate repair outfits, it is advisable to carry a reasonable amount of spares for the more exposed portions of the vehicle 4) do not start if the sun is on the radiator and there is a following wind.

February 2 1953

Monday morning and off to the A.A. for the required signature. We were there for two hours and still had to return in the afternoon. Good job that we had not planned to leave immediately after the visit. We went back to the hotel and generally tidied up the Land Rover and making sure that everything was in the right place, as we wanted to leave first thing the following morning. In case of problems, we did not want to waste time searching for the item required. After seeing that everything was in order, Don and I went back to the A.A. to get the letter for the S.A.T.T. We also collected the agreement for us to cross the Sahara Desert and handed over all necessary money in payment for the required forms.

We then bought all the necessary stores and plenty of tinned food. The storekeeper seemed to be amazed by all the food that we were buying; little did he know we would probably not see another supermarket for some time in the future. The fuel tanks were then topped up and the water tank on the roof filled to capacity. Diane had stayed at the hotel during this shopping expedition and the collection of forms and was eagerly awaiting our arrival back. Together we packed all the food away and as much as possible into the Land Rover, to save time in the morning. We had a really good meal that night at the hotel, knowing that from here on we would be eating tinned food and army rations for some time to come. We also had a fairly early night, when the chance would come to sleep in a comfy bed again was a thing of the future. It could be days, but on the other hand it may well be weeks. I think that we were all far too keyed up with the prospect of what was going to happen on the morrow, that proper bed or not, none of slept very well. Our thoughts wandered off in many directions before sleep finally caught up with us.

February 3 (Tuesday) 1953

The big day was upon us and the Sahara ahead. We had a healthy breakfast in the hotel and David and Don packed up all the last bits into the Land Rover. All was securely fastened down; we could not afford to lose anything off the vehicle. We had a bit of a delay; we had decided that we should cash some more travellers' cheques and the bank only opened at 09h30. Any of the small outposts in the desert, where we were hoping to top up fuel and water, would surely take only cash.

Finally we were on our way and we drove out of Algiers on the road towards Blida, the first village on the route and only 32 miles from Algiers. This was an excellent road and after Blida we drove through the incredibly lovely Chiffa Gorge, towards the hilly village of Medea. On we travelled, up a very winding road and over the summit of the Atlas mountains at 3,900 feet. On the way we saw many Arabs tending their goats, the men all huddled up in blankets, as it was very much colder up here. On the highest peaks there was a lot of thick snow, some of which came right up to the road side but it did not appear to be on the roads at all, which was lucky for us. The sun was shining and it really did not seem as cold as one would have imagined, but for the shepherds standing around it must have been very chilly. It was all very beautiful, with the backdrop of whitened peaks and the goats wandering around digging for their food under the snow. 

Driving down the other side of the mountains, we passed through several tiny villages, all of which looked very clean and tidy in comparison with some of the earlier ones we had seen. There were also several railway crossings and we did have to wait for a train at one point. The road crossed a pine covered plateau and then down the Mellah Valley onto the village of Djelfa. We had a stop here and stretched our legs and David and Don came back with some tinned beans, biscuits and some lovely fresh oranges. From here we drove onto the north of Laghouat, we decided that this was a good spot to stay the night, before we got into the town proper. The back of the Land Rover was dropped for me to make up our bed. Don put up the camp bed for David while David took on the job as chef. We had a picnic case with us and everything was laid out in some style. Sausages and beans tasted delicious after our first day of travel and we even had a choice of tea or coffee to follow. As the sun started to drop and twilight came rapidly upon us, we hurriedly washed up and got ready for bed. David slept as planned under the vehicle, us in our concertina bed and Diane across the front seats. It was not a particularly good night, we had obviously stopped at a very busy point and heavy lorries trundled noisily in and out of Laghouat for most of the night.

February 4 1953 (Wednesday) Land Mileage 0979

We got up at 06h15 to find several Arabs around us tending their sheep/goats. (Some definitely not identifiable as either!) I had been hoping to see a Sheik on his 'white charger' but maybe this was still to come; perhaps this only happened at the cinema! We had some breakfast and packed up and were on the road again by 07h15. We stopped at Laghouat, 21 miles from our camp, 270 miles from Algiers and at a height of 2460 feet. We filled up with fuel and Don decided to find a place where we could have a couple of extra supports put onto the roof carrier. The water tank, now full, was very heavy and was of some concern, being affected by the vibrations from the road. The numerous heavy trucks had caused the roads to be very corrugated and the Land Rover was already being shaken around. The garage where we had the job done was something which had to be seen to be believed. It really was something out of this world. Parked in and around were a selection of donkeys, camels and a few dilapidated cars; none of the latter which would probably ever move from the spot they were now in. Most importantly, they did have a welding plant and some metal that could be used to do the necessary. The power cables looked a bit the worse for wear and had several bare patches on them, but they did the job and left us feeling very much happier that we were not going to suddenly have a water tank crash onto our heads. We took a couple of photographs of the garage and left around 09h30, feeling that the time had been well spent.

We traveled on to Berriane, a small village which was built around a beautiful oasis. It was just like one would see in picture books. The green was really indescribable, a dark bluey green, quite remarkable and very, very pretty. From there we carried onto Ghardaia, where we arrived around 13h30. We were able to top up with fuel and this was where we had to see the Algerian customs. We had been told under no circumstances were we to pass through Ghardaia without seeking out the customs to have our papers stamped and we needed to report to the Military commandant. All this went very smoothly and we were soon on our way again; the shock arrived 14 kilometers out of Ghardaia when the tarmac suddenly came to an abrupt halt, amid a huge cloud of dust. The track, as it could only now be called, was well and truly corrugated, dusty and dirty and suddenly we all knew this was it! We continued until 16h45 and then stopped ready to camp down for the night. Two trucks passed us while we were preparing for the night ahead, but other than this everything around was desolate.

February 5 1953 (Thursday) Land Mileage 1195

Morning routine, breakfast, washing and packing and we were on the road by 07h00. The dust was quite appalling, and the first sand dunes appeared in front of us. Cameras had to be brought out and we made a short stop to record this part of the journey. While we were doing this the trucks from the previous night pulled up close by and filmed us with large cine cameras as we went on our way. What they were up to, none of us knew; maybe we would hit the big time film studios yet! We passed several signs marking small wells along the way, but we had already planned to carry on to El Goléa where we could top up with fuel and water. We arrived here just on 13h00, to find the place was literally asleep until 14h00. At that time a little Arab boy appeared from nowhere and with considerable sign language explained where we could find petrol, sold us two eggs and then, sitting on the front of the Land Rover, he guided us into the "market square". Here we bought twelve oranges and managed to find another egg, three between the four of us, quite a feast.

In El Goléa we had to report to the Military Commandant; they took our names and address, not that the latter existed at this stage; the Land Rover was in fact the only address we had by that time. Whether he ever understood anything we said, we can only surmise.

We had a clean up with some 'wet towels' which we were carrying with us, watched intently by the little Arab guide who was very fascinated. We gave him one and much to our surprise, his towel was spotless after a clean around the face; ours were certainly not after the dust we had travelled through. He, riding on the front of the Land Rover yet again, then took us to where we could fill up the water tank. Somehow or other the hose slipped and the little Arab drenched everyone within distance which included David. Screams of mirth carried through the air and it was a generally amusing time to all who had witnessed it. While this was going on, an Arab with a badly infected arm approached - he obviously hoped Don could deal with it. The medical aid kit came out and Don did his best at cleaning it up and putting a bandage on, to try to keep it clean. The next thing was an elderly man came up with one leg and pointed to the missing one; to this day we still wonder if he thought Don was going to miraculously produce a new leg for him! It was only at 15h00 that the petrol station opened and here the two trucks that had been filming us earlier, also appeared for fuel. We were soon on our way after this, not wishing to waste more time and we managed to put another 46 miles on the clock before deciding that we should stop for the night. We had travelled over a hard lake bed which was characterised by small dunes and boulders. It was wonderful being able to stop at any stage. All one needed was a small area of firm ground and that was the stopping point for the night. It was all fairly barren and camping anywhere did not prove to be a problem.

February 6 1953 (Friday) Land Mileage 1359

On the road again by 07h20, the sun was already shining and the weather at this stage seemed very pleasant. The trucks appeared again and waved us down to let us know that we should pick up water at Fort Miribel, as the water there was excellent. We followed them to the Fort, which we discovered to be the Foreign Legion and they drove around in Land Rovers; where were all the story book horses? The directions which we had for this part of the trip were to pass a white cairn, where there was a new well and then to ascend to a plateau. After 16 miles, we were to pass a ruin on the right and then 6 miles further on there would be a small hut on the right. Following the trucks had made this part pretty easy. We picked up water and topped up again with fuel and discovered that the trucks belonged to a French film crew who had done the trip on several occasions. We left ahead of them after taking a few photographs, but as everything around was such a brilliant white, we wondered if they would ever come out. The trucks passed us yet again a few miles out of Fort Miribel and after this the drive became very boring. We were crossing the Tademait Plateau and there was literally miles and miles of nothing but hard little black stones, not a heap or a bump in sight. It seemed to go on and on and we were all becoming very restless and bored when finally out of the blue, a beautiful view unfolded in front of us and we had a very steep winding descent from the plateau. We could see for some considerable distance and the trucks were again in view, parked at the bottom. We stopped at the top to record the view on film and to appreciate the change in scenery. After the descent, there was at first hard plains but suddenly we found ourselves in heavy sand; this was how we imagined the Sahara Desert would be. The track was quite good and with low tyre pressures, we managed to make our way forward without any problems.

After passing a landing strip, we pulled into In Salah. We were by now 851 miles from Algiers and we had dropped to 900 feet. This was the first time we had a serious language problem, trying to explain that we needed fuel. Suddenly we realised that the problem was in fact that the garage fuel pump was not working and we had no choice but to fill our tank with the spare jerry cans of fuel, which were there for just this sort of emergency. They kindly gave us a bucket of water to wash in; obviously by this time we looked (and probably smelt) as if we needed one! We found that the sand really stuck to one's skin and it was very refreshing to get rid of some of it. We had a very interesting chat to a French soldier who appeared, to find that he had been serving with the forces in England in 1942. How nice to speak to someone who understood us. We only got away at about 17h00, so after a 2 mile trip found a spot to settle down and really have a good clean up. The sand had seeped into every crook and crevice and the Land Rover was in need of a good sweep out. We then tried to rid ourselves of as much sand as possible before having a meal and going off into the 'Land of Nod'.

February 7 1953 Land Mileage 1585

All aboard and on our way again by 07h30. For the first 25 miles, we were travelling on soft or crusty sand and care was necessary to follow the right track; this scenery became rocky, interspersed with slate hillocks. After the previous very boring plateau country, the scenery changed day by day and almost hour by hour. We saw several gangs of workers who were out repairing the track and they all waved a very cheery greeting to us as we went along the way. We passed two cairns which were marking wells, but according to our book the water was undrinkable. Next came the Tiguelgemine Well and this made a wonderful change to the scenery, as there was lots of vegetation. We pulled up to have a look around, once again to find the trucks were on our route. The occupants came over and joined us and we found that they were combining their photography with hunting and discovering new roads. The day was now getting very hot, but we needed to push on. The track dropped away into a pretty, but sandy gorge and here we made the mistake of missing our next stop for fuel, the 'village' of Arak. Fuel was by this time a necessity, but luckily we realised before we had gone too far out of our way. No wonder we missed it; the map gave the impression of it being quite a good size village, but in fact it was one hotel with a petrol pump! We filled up tanks and cans with fuel once more and went into the hotel where we thoroughly enjoyed lovely, long, cool drinks. One forgets how good a cold drink can be when everything has been luke warm for the previous week. We stopped for an hour trying to relax in a bit of shade while we could and we had already decided that we were would not go much further that day. We drove up out of the gorge and found a secluded spot off to the side of the track. A good clean up was again the order of the day, as we were thickly coated in dirt and sand. Because of the tremendous heat that day, we had taken the windows off and stacked them on the roof carrier so the dust had billowed in and all over us. 

We were just about on the point of going to bed when we suddenly had some excitement! Diane was terrified by a huge grasshopper (perhaps a locust) which suddenly jumped on her. She knocked it off and dived into the sleeping bag, covering herself up completely. David and Don dashed up and down with torches, trying to catch it, which they eventually did. Another one then appeared which also had to be caught and David remarked that one more and he was moving inside to sleep as well. Our first encounter with 'big game'! We finally managed to get off to sleep, only to be woken up in the middle of the night by a huge truck passing through, making a terrible racket. We did expect to get a bit of peace and quiet, sleeping in the middle of the Sahara Desert!

February 8 1953 (Sunday) Land Mileage 1790

Early start again and at this stage, washing involved only one bowl of water between us. We took it in turns to start first. Every two days, each had a chance of clean water either at night or in the morning. This was not as we would have liked by any means, but water was a commodity that was far more important for drinking. The trucks were on the move early and were away ahead of us again. 

We climbed out of the water- worn Arak Gorge which was very narrow, with rocky slopes gradually rising up to Hoggar Massif. This gorge was proof that at some stage in the existence of the Sahara Desert, there had once been a lot of water. We carried on along the track, passing a rocky hill which was marked on the map off to the right. Next appeared a fork in the road and our trusty Trans African Highways book assured us we were on the right track; we had no intentions of going off to the left which went to Meniet. We passed a dry well and then took another right fork on to Iniker where there was a S.A.T.T. rest house and good water. Naturally we filled up the water tank, but the well attendant was far more interested in Diane's red gold hair. At school she used to hate being called carrots by the nasty little boys, but suddenly it was of great interest and he went and called his wife to come and look at the golden red head. The red hair gained us three eggs and we had a very friendly wave to send us on our way. Just after this we found a tree of sorts which gave us a bit of shade and we stopped to have a snack and a wash. How nice to have a water tank that was full again. Proceeding on our way, we passed the Tropic of Cancer at 14h00 and then gradually we started climbing up a mountainous and rocky road. We passed through a small village with houses built of reeds and carried on climbing the rocky route. It was quite a bad track at times, but the Land Rover pulled on and upwards, crossing everything that got in its way, until we reached Tamanrasset, (Fort Laperrine) at 4480 feet. It looked and felt as if we were sitting on the top of the world; miles and miles of wide open space was in view.

Don decided that as we could not get petrol, being a Sunday, perhaps this was the chance we needed to break the journey and have the pleasure of staying at the S.A.T.T. hotel. Joy, we could have a really good wash as there were basins with running water in the rooms! We could even each have clean water. We had a complete change of clothes; the last set could have stood up on their own, being bright orange with sand. It was even a chance to wash our clothes, as we thought that the heat would dry them very quickly. Oh to be clean and smelling sweet once more!

The next stop was the hotel verandah where we could relax with an ice cold drink; this really was bliss and they tasted like nectar. Don moved the vehicle to what we hoped was a safe spot and locked up as well as possible for the night. Somewhere along the way the trucks had ended up behind us and they suddenly appeared as out of the blue (or orange!). They also decided to stay the night as they needed fuel the next day so the dining room was a very busy place that night. The soup was really not too bad, but the meat that followed was, by the taste of it, the old tough gazelle which we passed many miles back and it had toughened up even more by the time it caught us up in Tamanrasset! This was followed by a dish which looked quite disgusting and smelt no better. Diane and I turned up our noses immediately, but David and Don gave it a try only to find they never got past the first mouthful. Everyone else in the dining room appeared to be thoroughly enjoying it, so maybe this was an Arab delicacy which our English taste buds needed to acquire a taste for. Hopefully we would not be around long enough to have to force the issue! We finished up with apricots which we all thoroughly enjoyed. 

The generator packed up just as we finished eating, so suddenly we were all in darkness. We stumbled our way to our rooms and made our way to the beds for an early night. What a night, the temperature dropped seriously and we were all up looking for jerseys and anything to put on to get warm. We had almost no sleep at all and shivered our way through till morning. So much for the wonderful night's sleep we were going to get; the Land Rover was five star by comparison.

February 9 1953 Land Mileage 2006

Had an early start to try to get warm and so that we could pack the vehicle up again and give it a good check over. We filled up with petrol and we again had to report to the Commandant. We were led to believe that the worst part of the journey was ahead of us, but we were by now prepared for anything.  

After leaving Tamanrasset we proceeded through areas of rocky stones, dry river beds and into a rocky wilderness. There was a strange mixture of flat topped hills, sharp peaks and rounded domes. In some places there was gravel, in others sand and we appeared to drive from one valley into another. One had to be very careful not to follow in the tracks of trucks which had previously driven through, as you could get stuck in these tracks if the ground was soft . There were marker points at various spots, but due to sand storms, the countryside kept changing and the markers at times were very difficult to see. Thank goodness we had binoculars and a compass, as we knew that our route went more or less due South. We eventually did what we had been warned about and found ourselves stuck in heavy sand where a truck had previously passed. We managed to push out with the help of the sand mats and then Diane, David and myself had to roll up the mats and make a dash for the Land Rover, while Don kept moving slowly forward. If he had stopped, we would have had a repeat performance of unsticking ourselves. The exercise was good for the waistline! 

The road then changed yet again and we found ourselves on an extremely corrugated patch of road. The Land Rover danced and bumped its away along giving me the worst headache I had ever experienced. I was so bad that at 14h00 Don decided that we should make camp, to give me a chance to rest and recover. Don and David put up the camp bed and tried to put it in as much shade as possible; as there was only a little shade from the vehicle, this was not easy. I found a pillow and taking a couple of tablets with a cup of tea, tried to relax and shake off the hammering that was taking place in my head.

Don decided that he would do a mini service and change the oil on the Land Rover, which he did with David's help. Diane washed a few clothes and generally kept herself amused. Around 16h00, Don noticed that there was some water dripping from the vehicle's water pump. Back to work again and the pump was taken off and stripped right there in the centre of the Sahara Desert. New parts (which luckily we were carrying) were replaced, but due to the fact that it got dark quite early, Don and David ended up working by torchlight only. Neither wanted to leave it until the next day as although it would have been daylight, we did not want to waste time and working once the sun was up would have also been extremely hot. Just as they managed to finish the job, a lorry came by and asked if we were all right; they pulled off a bit further up the road where they stayed the night. I was feeling a little better by this time and we managed to have a late meal and a fairly good night's sleep.

February 10 1953 (Tuesday) Land Mileage 2106

One week out of Algiers and 1372 miles into the desert! We woke up early, so decided that it would be a good chance to get on our way before it got too hot. We had been told that it was far easier to drive over the sand in the early morning, when it is cooler and firmer. We were packed and on our way by 06h15 and it was just starting to get light. We saw a lot of gazelles, which are a fairly small, soft eyed antelope which could run remarkably fast. The terrain had changed yet again and Don had to concentrate more than ever on where he was driving. One lapse of concentration caused us to bring out the sand mats again and we had our daily exercise catching up with a slow moving vehicle. This time my brain had obviously not recovered from the day before and instead of rolling the mat I tried to drag it thereby collecting more sand which made my life very difficult for a short time. Diane was already in the vehicle and David and I managed eventually to catch up and scramble aboard. The journey continued over patches of very soft sand, with boulders scattered here and there. 

After a while, Don said that something did not feel quite right in the Land Rover and, finding as firm a spot as possible to park in, he and David got out to take a look and see if they could find the problem. The main leaf on one of the back springs had broken, so a decision had to be made what we would do next. We did have a spare spring with us, but the heat was terrible and with no shade anywhere, changing it would have been extremely uncomfortable. We continued for a few miles, but Don was getting worried about the result of continuing and eventually he and David got out and changed the spring in the searing heat. We decided to push on and reached In Guezzam at 14h30, a place where there was a well, but no accommodation or fuel, but to our joy, there was some shade. Tamanrasset had radioed ahead to In Guezzam to let them know when we had left and they were very surprised to see us so soon! Apparently they expected us to take at least three days to cover that part of the route. If we had not stopped for my headache and then to strip down the water pump the previous day, we would have been there in only one day. We managed to get some horrible tasting cold drinks on our arrival, but they were so cold that even the taste could be tolerated. We met an Australian there and he was hitch hiking across the desert and was in the process of waiting for the next lorry to come along. Not the way I should like to complete the trip, but we certainly did not have the room to help him on his way. We often wondered afterwards how far he managed to get. 

After leaving In Guezzam, the sand was again very soft for the next 10 miles with a nasty climb, but after this the track improved with only a few soft patches. David and I had to give a helping push over a few areas, but we did manage not to get really bogged down. Twenty miles out of In Guezzam, while the road was firm, we decided that we should stop for the night.

February 11 1953 Land Mileage 2272

Early start again, trying to get away while all was still as cool as possible. The track was very patchy, with some reasonable parts and some very soft areas which Don had to keep a close look out for. The dust was pretty terrible and it got up your nose and into your ears; body and clothes became one colour. We saw several more gazelles, a few camels and what we thought was a silver fox, but it went to ground too quickly for us to get the binoculars out. There were also a few donkeys wandering around and we saw what we thought to be a very large eagle. By now the terrain was getting quite scrubby, but there was still a lot of soft sand patches. We passed a caravan of camels and Arabs who waved us down and they explained in hand signals that they were short of water. We knew that we were able to pick up water fairly soon again, so we filled up their bowls which they gave to us. They were obviously very grateful and by way of thanks gave us what looked like very large, wet, white biscuits. Presumably this was their staple diet while travelling; the biscuits looked anything but appetizing, but we thanked them and continued on our way. Further along the way some more Arabs tried to stop us, but we decided that we could not spare any more water as anything could happen and we decided that we should just keep going. 

The terrain was getting far more interesting again. There were certainly a few people around in odd places, and there was more to see, but the track seemed to get no better and, in places, it was extremely bad. At 16h00 we decided that perhaps we should stop and make camp for the night, giving Don a chance to check over the Land Rover and see that there were no more problems about to surprise us.

PAGE FIVE - 'FRENCH AND BRITISH NIGERIA'

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