Dear Friends and Followers, Please note that Bron's journey is recorded as a story with the most recent date at the top.

There are also seperate pages for you to follow!

Updates are done as often as possible depending on Bron's travels and availability!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Interviewed by Roxy of Marosa Talk Show for International Women's Day - check it out:

Monday, October 18, 2010

Boudicca Travels 8 - Tunisia

10 October – 16 October 2010 - Tunisia

At this crossroads in our travels, and with the challenges before us which required major assessment, discussion, planning and decision making, it seems appropriate to share some thoughts from a friend (given to Bronnie before she left Cape Town – it has been slightly amended). If for no other reason, it serves to remind us why we embarked on this adventure route in the first place. We hope it will kindle something in your soul and begin a thought process which in turn becomes your own adventure.

Thoughts on life from a friend
Too often in life we give up our dreams to please other people.
We allow other people’s fears and concerns to direct our life.
They ask us to live smaller so they can be more comfortable.

I’ve learned the greatest way to live is by living life to the fullest.
It’s up to me to decide what the means and how to play it out.
So stretch out and open yourself up to the excitement and joy that is waiting for you.

Life is not a journey separate from ourselves.
We actually are the journey.
So make the most of it, drink it up and enjoy each delicious bite.

Our souls speak to us through our dreams,
Guiding us to our most joyful (and often challenging) life experiences.
We need to be still to hear and notice what is on offer to us.
And we need to have courage to take the step forward into the unknown,
Where we will discover new strengths and insights about ourselves

Day 58: Saturday 16 October 2010- Ile de Gjerber, Tunisia

Started the day early, with a ‘sun-rise over the sea’ run along the long beach with teal-green water which is silk-smooth. This has to be the best time to be up – when everyone else is sleeping, and the world is gently silent. It’s a meditative way to start the day.

We leave for Libya tomorrow – yeah! Writing up of the blog/website whilst we have wi-fi and generally taking it easy.

Day 57: Friday 15 October 2010- Ile de Djerba, Tunisia

Waking early, bedroom door open, sea air pouring in, the sound of the waves lapping gently as the sun crept up; it felt like we were in the ‘Agdan’ house in Arniston, which only served to sharpen the need to get back home.

During the morning Martin entered the hotel Archery challenge and won it! You go Mart! Show ‘em what you’re made of!

7pm we jumped into a taxi with Simona and Nico to share our local fish restaurant with them. We bought and uncorked a bottle of good red vino from the hotel to enjoy with dinner and our new friends. On arrival at the restaurant the owner, who recognised us, declined our wish to drink the wine at his restaurant – he doesn’t have a license and will not risk the police seeing us drinking alcohol at his restaurant (the concept of BYO has not arrived on these shores yet).Of course, we totally respected wishes, though only after asking if we could have plastic cups from which to drink the wine. The answer stood – No! Once again we had a seriously delicious fresh fish meal, enhanced by the energetic and authentic company of Simona and Nico.

Day 56: Thursday 14 October 2010- Ile de Djerba, Tunisia

A day of chilling and getting to know Simona (of Czech origin)and her teenage son Nicolas, who were on holiday from Zurich – a most welcome intervention meeting like minded people whilst waiting to head to Libya. Beach walks, long swims and trying our hand at Archery filled our day, whilst long exchanges of information and laughter were shared over dinner with Simona and Nico, who had lived in many countries.

Good news for today is that we heard today that our visas would be active on Sunday (not before!!!), and would be on hand at the border when we met our guide. We are seriously perplexed that we cannot use the visas before, nor indeed even one day later – it is valid for a one day entry only, so we need to ensure that we are at the border on Sunday morning come hell or high water.

Day 55: Wednesday 13 October 2010- Ile de Djerba, Tunisia

It is wonderful to be at the sea, to walk with our bare feet in clean sand, to be soothed by the gentle ebb and flow of the water. Just to be in a beautiful place starts the refreshing process of the mind and spirit.

At midday a hotel staff member took us to his favourite local restaurant a couple of km’s from the hotel where we were served delicious local food – fresh salads, spicy condiments, to die-for fish head soup and fresh Dorado, cooked on an open fire. It was interesting to share time with Habib as we were able to discuss our observations of Algeria and Tunisia. Through his sharing, he confirmed the freedom that Tunisians have vs. the fear and control under which Algerians live. He was sincerely surprised that we had travelled through Algeria. Habib expressed the freedom of Tunisia in detail and explained how in Tunisia, whilst alcohol is ‘frowned’ upon because of the Muslim faith, Tunisians have the choice, and the choice of life style. We learnt that it is not customary to clink glasses (of water or tea or whatever) in a toast as many cultures around the world do, with their various salutations. The reason is that when you clink glasses together ‘God’ will flee the contents of the glass resulting in the drink not being protected.

After lunch Habib took us to a traditional carpet dealer in Midoun village. We were invited to sit down on one of the day-beds and were served mint tea, whilst one carpet after the other was unpacked and paraded before us, whilst a perpetual sales pitch was directed mostly at Martin, as the owner assumed from past sales successes that the man carries the money. Simultaneously Bron was invited to touch and walk on the carpets – a very sensory experience offered by the sales man, who clearly has had much success with this method. His hard work and knowledge of his carpets finally resulted in a serious negotiation between him and Martin – an hour or so later we walked out of the boudoir with a Berber designed carpet folded and packed for our journey home. It was a fascinating experience.

We also watched some women weaving on old fashioned looms, at speed. Quite remarkable! Most weavers hold up to 5 patterns in their heads (passed from generation to generation), and visualise each knot they tie, enabling them to create an intricate pattern on completion of their carpet.

Ile de Djerba is home to 125 tourist-trap hotels. It is very sad to see the rack and ruin of the island as a direct result of the immense boom in hotels together with the lack of responsibility hoteliers and tourism have towards keeping the island ‘island’ style. We were told of the impact 1 tourist has on the natural water resource of the island (1 tourist spending a week in a hotel, uses the equivalent of a local person’s 6 months water supply). Sewage is a problem as is litter, which invariably gets dumped somewhere visible. Fortunately for us, from the outside, one is not aware of the problems and we were happy to be on this shabby little island, in our beautiful hotel on the edge of the sea, with sparkling swimming pools instead of in dusty Ben Guardane.

Day 54: Tuesday 12 October 2010- Ben Guardane - Ile de Djerba, Tunisia

Awakened again at sparrows, by the awful sound of the call to prayer – seriously, it was not a pleasant sound to hear first thing in the morning - we headed out at sun-up for a fast paced walk down the streets of Ben Guardane. It was a good time to be up not only as it was cool and the light was beautiful, but it offered a chance to see the town come alive. Some men were sitting at Cafes drinking their customary coffee, but most men were bartering with their fresh produce on the corners of roads, some arrived on their donkey carts to be part of the trading day, others on their antiquated bicycles with their wide brimmed hats. A clapped out van pulled up at a little shop to deliver his tray of freshly baked pastries. Again, women were conspicuous by their absence, apart from one little girl who must have been about 6, who hopped and skipped alone down the road, having obviously been sent to the local cafe to get something for her mom.

Back at our hotel we spent time writing up our days adventures, working on photographs and sending out more emails to find out about shipping Boudie back to SA. At this point, Martin announced that he had decided not continue south on the journey alone for a number of reasons. This was a welcome decision for Bron, who had been very concerned about Martin’s determination to go on with the trip. As it turned out, Martin spent the day vacillating back and forth on this decision, till Bronnie called him on it, and asked for no more indecisiveness, until he was sure what he wanted to do. Martin also happily announced that he had booked us into a special hotel on the edge of the Med on Ile de Djerba for a couple of nights – this was to be a real treat after the trials and tribulations of the past weeks.

It’s an uninteresting 2 hour drive from Ben Guardane to Ile de Djerba, but well worth it to have a change of scenery and a place to rejuvenate. Water is always soothing, and the Mediterranean Sea more so because of its wonderful temperature.

We were welcomed by the most amazing electrical storm in the early evening, and decided to share a bottle of Tunisian champagne with dinner – our first alcoholic drink in about 4 weeks which consequently we regretted as we both felt out of sorts the next day and agreed that the quality of the champagne was the cause! At dinner Martin announced that he had ‘finally’ chosen to fly home to SA with Bronnie. This was his final, final call and plans needed to be put in place to transport Boudie back to SA. As soon as our Libyan visas were issued (we anticipated this to be Sunday 17th October), we would be meeting a guide at the border, and heading towards Tripoli, where we’d fly home from.

Day 53: Monday 11 October 2010- Ben Guardane, Tunisia

Both of us awoke with varying and fluctuating emotions. Martin was feeling very down about the way forward, and still stubbornly insisted he would find a way. Bron felt relieved to have made a choice, but concerned about Martin’s feelings and his ultimate decision.

Feeling somewhat ‘edgy’ and caged in at our hotel, in a town which offers little opportunity to enjoy beauty or greenery (or anything at all really outdoors, apart from sitting for hours at a pavement cafe, whiling away time), we decided to head west for the day, to Tatouine. Tatouine is the gateway to the southern Sahara. The Tatouine region takes up a quarter of Tunisia – to the north is Kebili and Medenine form a triangle with the town of Tatouine, from where myriad opportunities are offered for curious travellers.

Tatouine is predominantly traditional in Berber ways and offers great opportunities to see Berber weaving of all types, from carpets, cushions, furnishings and items of clothing all with very traditional designs.

This very busy town trades in every day commodities but also in the numerous traditional products such as pottery, basket work and beauty products such as kohl, perfumes and henna which are available in the numerous bustling markets in the town. We revelled in the energy of the town, and thoroughly enjoyed an interaction we had with a very old man who ran a dusty book shop selling school text books, as well as general stationery. This man must have been 85 or 90, yet he knew on request where every item was, and was most charming to us when we approached him to be a spiral bound book to make notes of our journey in. Walking down one of the streets towards a market, we delighted in the tasting a Tatouine traditional pastry – the extremely more-ish Corne Gazelle pastry – something like a Greek Baklava. Yum! This was generously offered to us by the baker, who wanted us to know their traditional treats. Further on down the street, our hearts were warmed to see a young boy sitting very close to an old man enraptured in conversation. Stopping to talk to them and share their moment, we found out that the boy was 9. The relationship between adults and children in Tunisia is as inspiring, as the relationships men share. As an independent, free thinking woman, Bronnie was constantly aware of the lack of the sight of women in the communities – this provoked much thought and discussion on the journey.

The Tataouine region offers explorers an amazing opportunity to visit Ksars and troglodyte villages. In this region one can visit Ksar Haddada and see the Star Wars location.

Of major relevance is the archaeological history of this region. 150 million years ago a tropical sea with optimal ecological conditions flooded this region – it must have resembled the actual Bahama Islands. 100 million years ago dinosaur lived in this region. Excavations in the strata of Jebel Miteur continue to provide proof of the lost world of these reptilian giants. As such, on entering Tataouine, one notices a life size dinosaur watching over the town. In other parts of this region various dinosaur bones have been found e.g. the spinosaurus, iguanodons and carcharodontaurus. Other remains of vertebrates such as crocodile, tortoise and fish are also evident. It is recorded that all these creatures lived in these vast plains (north of Gandowana), which were irrigated by huge rivers and covered in dense forests of fern and conifer, which is proven by the abundance of silicified fossil tree trunks. Very hard to imagine or visualise this given the very vast Karoo landscape we were driving through. . Later on in history evolution forced people to adapt to an unfertile arid climate. With a natural respect for the environment, the Berbers adapted ingeniously to this habitat.

In this region, the climate, the elements and the people have combined to compose a wonderful Saharan symphony – the locals continue to live in harmony with their environment which manifests in their love of tradition – sheep shearing and olive festivals, arts and crafts.

Women have great experience in the weaving of Mergoums for their husbands and other accessories for desert nomads – these skills have been passed down through the generations, and fortunately have not been lost to modern ways. Men are masters in the art of producing the Tataouine Balgha (slippers).

From Tataouine we travelled west towards Chemeni. On our way we stopped to see the Mosque of the 7 Giants. Legend has it that during the tropical sea period, when there was a gentle climate and abundant forests, this area was paradise for dinosaurs. The story expands that 7 ‘sleepers’ took refuge from their persecutors, the dinosaurs, in a cavern in the mountains. Two centuries later they awoke but their bodies had grown several metres and everything outside had changed. They decided to return to the cave and sleep forever. In their honour a mosque and white cave with their graves has been erected high up on the mountain side. The legend is kept alive by the locals and the old man who is the curator of this special site.

Onward we went, to the most incredible village of Chenini. One of the best traditional Berber villages built on a rock crest. Some very old Berber people still live in the cliff homes, whilst younger families have sprung up in the valley edges below. We spent hours walking around exploring various nook and cranny structures, amazed that communities had established their homes and lives in this style. The houses are topped by the Ksar (castle) which is built into the cliff face. To cap all this is a striking white mosque at the top of the mountain, which offers incredible panoramic views.

We headed back to Ben Guardane after sunset, exhilarated and inspired by what we’d experience and seen during the day.

Day 52: Sunday 10 October 2010- Ben Guardane, Tunisia

04h00 wake-up call from the Mosque a block away – this man desperately needs pitch lessons. In fact, perhaps he shouldn’t be the caller. We had just dozed off when the 2nd call to prayer was blasted from the Mosque tower. We surrendered and got up early to start our day in the cool of the early morning.

When we first arrived in Tunisia, we thought it appealing to be part of the culture of the mosque call. But, having been here now for 5 weeks we find it an auditory invasion. In discussion we have voiced that the many-times-a-day mosque call actually represents a restriction of freedom of choice. Even non-practising Muslims are reminded of their status within their community every time the call goes out, and non Muslims have to endure the wailing of the mosque caller, most often not a harmonious sound.

Would it not be enough to use a bell, or even for devout believers to know by now the times prayers are carried out? Does the wailing not serve to dominate the thought process, and induce guilt to follow the faith? These are some questions we batted back and forth in discussion.

Our day today, was another one of wait and see. We caught up on emails, chased questions we needed answered. We worked on determining a new route, whilst unpacking the complexities of what needed to be put into the action plan, with time lines before we could actually proceed, or even chose to continue.

Our Libyan visa was still in limbo, as we waited for replies from Hadi, the agent we were in touch with in Libya. Martin doggedly went all out to exhaust every avenue to make it possible to continue on a new route. Our unquenchable spirits were being stretched to breaking point.

Sometime later in the day, whilst Bron was writing up the web/blog of the days before, she finally realised the enormity of the odds stacked against them, should the little team choose to keep going forward on the revised route.

Unless one has loads of time, money, and patience, the waiting game eventually becomes too big a challenge. And it is a pretty emotionally draining space to be in day after day. One of our criteria for proceeding on the new route was to literally have all our visa/travel plan ducks in a row. This was proving nigh impossible. We all know there are no guarantees in life – there are even less when trying to work with the complexities of Africa. Sitting at her laptop, Bron’s decision was made – it was time to go home. The past weeks had been both mentally and emotional draining for many reasons. Making the decision was a huge emotional relief.

Discussing her decision with Martin was not difficult for Bron as she knew with conviction that it was the right choice for her, but it did provoke a whole lot of additional thoughts and concerns in Martin (and therefore also Bron), who insisted that he still wanted to forge forward. The team had ongoing long talks about Martin’s determination; the risks etc. Bronnie was not at all easy about Martin’s thoughts of continuing alone, but accepted that ultimately Martin needed to come to his own conclusion. She did however threaten to throw Boudie’s keys into the desert if Martin insisted on going it alone, if this was against his wife Christine’s thoughts and feelings.

So, Bron put on her most persuasive powers to persuade Martin to consider sending “their” beloved Boudie home on a ship, whilst they flew back to SA. Not only were there all the logistics to try to resolve (which a number of people had cautioned was a time consuming and expensive mission), but safety in numbers is definitely a no-brainer, and obviously it is way more fun and meaningful to travel with someone, than to travel 9,000 km’s alone. And of course, there will always be another time and place to travel through Africa, when the various aspects of travel will no doubt fall into place more easily.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Algeria: Gite Saharien,Tamanrasset - Tahassa desert

Day 43: Friday 1 October 2010 – Algeria: Gite Saharien, Tamanrasset

We’ve spent a week at Gite Saharien, a desert lodge in Tamanrasset, southern Algeria. As comfortable and welcoming it is, and as warm and friendly a host as Claudia may be – it is not where we want to be. Our enforced stay is thanks to the recent activities of bandit and terrorist activities in neighbouring Niger, and past kidnapping activities in Algeria, which apparently have security on high alert.

This impacts our objective of creating awareness and raising funds for the SOS Children's Villages, Africa, en route from the UK-SA. Our overland journey included our commitment to visit an SOS Village in Lilongwe, Malawi – the village we are specifically raising funds for.

As already mentioned in our earlier web writings, whilst making our way south through Algeria, we heard that seven French engineers had been kidnapped near Arlit, one of our way points en route to Agadez, Niger. Whilst concerned, we couldn't anticipate the disruption this was about to have on our plans.

This recent kidnapping and prior anti-governmental activities resulted in Algerian security being further tightened, beyond the rigidity we knew of and expected before our arrival. Over three days last week a meeting was held in Tamanrasset, of senior representatives from Algeria, Mali, Niger, and Mauritania. Collectively they all agreed 'to co-operate and work together' to restore 'normality' – whatever that may be, as we are not aware of any barometer of normality out here. An outcome of the meeting agreed that all borders with Niger, Mali and Mauritania are closed to Europeans travelling by road. Additionally European road travellers throughout Algeria henceforth have to have a police escort wherever they go. Already we have been told not to drive around on our own by the Director of Tourism. We are constantly reminded these measures are for our safety!!

Through a contact in Niamey, we were fortunate to meet with Claudia. The past week has been spent making numerous phone calls to amongst others, the Niger consulate in Tamanrasset, travel agencies, Claudia’s colleagues in travel both here and in the north as well as the RAC in the UK to issue new carnets. All things being equal we will pick these up in Tripoli, Libya.
A special mention goes to Sam Rutherford of ‘Prepare2Go’ in Belgium, who was instrumental in assisting us select optional routes.

With Claudia's good English and her many contacts in tourism, we secured a direct meeting with the Niger Vice Commissioner. We are extremely grateful to the Niger Vice Commissioner for being so empathic and helpful, whilst at the same time being cognisant of our safety. Unfortunately as Niger was unable to arrange a police escort from Assamaka to Arlit in Niger we have had to change our plans, and our route.

Our preferred option at this stage is to head back north through Taleb Larbi into Tunisia (and hopefully collect our bino’s and CB radios from customs), as from Tunisia we could travel the north coast into Libya and Egypt. That entails, not just the high cost of taking vehicles into Egypt, but travelling the length of Sudan – not a good option at this stage due to the current unsettled political situation in the north right. Also we would need to secure another Tunisian visa for Bron, as well as Libyan, Egyptian and Sudanese for all of us.

Day 42: Thursday 30 September 2010 – Algeria: Tahassa desert

“Happy birthday!” drifts a whisper in the night as Bronnie moved around her mat, securing a cover to sleep under, as the wind gently picked up. It was well after midnight when the greeting came from Martin who was lying not too far away under the stars.

“Yep, it was my 50th birthday. I was mesmerised by the light of the night and the zillions of sparkling stars above, which was our heavenly tarpaulin. And I wondered where else in the world I could be that would celebrate my birthday as magically as being in this immense and inspiring place they call the Sahara! And I recalled the wonderful words from the writing Desiderata: Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence!” And I welcomed the silence, this tranquil place.

When one has a sleepless night, there is surely no better place to be sleepless than in the desert – gentle wind sounds, the odd snore, the soft occasional padding of a camel. Silence! Peace! Contentment!

Up before the sun, we started a minimal desert fire for our morning brew. The surrounding rocks and mountains gradually turned from pink to red. Whilst our guides packed up camp we scampered back up the huge boulders for individual solitude and a last ‘drink’ of the magnificent 360 degree vistas.

Watching the cameleer round up our train of camels, we were again reminded of the simplicity of their lives, and the inherent contentment they visibly displayed in their everyday actions.

Our route today took us through very hot, very dry and very distressed mountainous areas. Again we noted how perfectly adapted the camel’s foot is for varying terrains. Downhill they pause to assess the ground before “changing down” to 2nd gear. Where terrain is loose, they revert to “4x4 low range”. It is a comfortable and efficient mode of transport for this environment, and fully connects the rider to the earth.

Another midday break and lunch stop under a large, beautiful desert Arcacia tree offering welcome relief from the sun – this, in a very wide and dry river bed dotted with beautiful Camel Thorn trees. Later, once the camels were re-saddled we trekked “up stream” over the most magnificent polished granite river bed heading home to our Gite.

Bron’s birthday celebrations were not over as phone calls came through on Claudia’s cell phone whilst Martin, Claudia and young Younes set about preparing a surprise dinner, avec gateau, which we shared under the stars. It was the perfect way to end a big birthday celebration. “Heartfelt thanks to you all for making this day special.”

Message from Bronnie to friends and family in SA: “Thank you to each one of you who sent sms greetings or messages via Mike, and for laughter filled telephone calls – being so far away from my special friends and loved ones, it was like gold every time a message came through or the phone rang.”

Day 41: Wednesday 29 September 2010 – Algeria: Into the desert

Early rise, quick breakfast and into the desert with Claudia to join up with our train of 7 camels (chameaux) – our transport and means of survival for the next 2 days and nights.

We met the train and our cameleer on the outskirts of Tamanrasset on the edge of the great Adrienne mountains (not unlike Table mountain and the south table of Table mountain, but much larger). The camels we used are “stork” Dromadairs (long legged) – they only have one hump, which one sits in front of, and are smaller than camels with 2 humps.

These animal are very elegant and silent in their movement. As they move they seem to hover over the terrain, and are adapted for any topography. Their large feet have 2 toes and look “gel-like” resembling a deflated 4x4 tyre. Their soft gel feet have elephant like soles which make for effortless crossing of soft sand.

It was amusing to watch Richard and Martin atop the chameaux as they un-folded their long legs to get up – back legs unfold first pushing their rear ends high into the air, before their front legs unfold– it can be disconcerting for one who is not very core balanced!

Bronnie felt quiet at home on her ‘beast’ and happy as an eagle to be walking through such a unspoiled place. I guess that equals the playing field with regards current 4x4 skills and riding a camel – Girls are Greatest!

Sometime later, the cameleer manages to find the glorious shade of a group of Arcacia trees and everything is unloaded for Tuareg tea to be prepared over the smallest of fires. In the same fire, economically, a Taguella (dough) is gently laid and covered with soil and flaming branches. The heat of the day keeps escalating so the shady rest is welcome. After the refreshing tea, a Touareg-style lunch is served on the carpet, followed by the Taguella with curried lentils and vegetables. This platter was shared by us all – including our cameleer, ‘chef’, and their nomadic friends whom they’d met up with, in the traditional Algerian way.

Back on our chameaux, we continued our journey through various landscapes – all as beautiful, rugged and majestic as the previous geography we’d passed. Our train travelled through two enormous rock formations into a circular plateau fortressed by awesome rock formations, where we set up camp for the night. Whilst our guides proceeded to gather bits of wood and unsaddle the chameaux, we started climbing the various crags to gain maximum advantage of the magnificent vistas as the sun slowly started dipping. It was, frankly, breath taking.

The camels front legs are tethered together to stop them wandering away during the night. This enables them to set out to forage to their hearts content till they are bought back together in the morning. It was interesting to note that as our little group started settling for the night, nearly all the camels returned to be near the fire and settled into sitting positions.

A big fire was made to prepare the ritual tea and Taguella, which was served with a simple but delicious vegetable sauce.

The quiet is piercing. It is magnificent. The moon which is ¾’s full is as bright as a million candles but somehow doesn’t affect the brilliance of the canopy of stars which keep emerging. The natural light high-lights the grandeur of the landscape we are in. Again we realise how privileged we are to be experiencing this.

An early 50th birthday celebration for Bron is enjoyed around the fire with rhythmic Tuareg singing completing our experience of a magic day.

Day 40: Tuesday 28 September 2010 – Algeria: Gite Saharien

Most of today spent frenetically writing up backlogs of website / blog.
(Yes Ren/Steve, we are on top of it as and when time and place allow, and then of course when we can find an internet cafe which works, and which has a keyboard which is not in Arabic).
These are just some of the challenges of travel one doesn’t consider prior to travelling in foreign places. On completion of the most current website / blog updates, we went in search of a working internet cafe – no go!

We heard today that there is absolutely no way we can get a visa to Niger, as there are no security police or military available to escort us – refer to 1 October writing for more information on the situation in Algeria and surrounding countries.

Back to team talk, with Claudia included, to discuss the various options going forward. We are heading out on camels into the mountainous region of the great Sahara tomorrow – time and open vistas will encourage space for reflection, scenario planning and absolute relaxation.

Algeria: Gite Saharien - Tamanrasset (read more on page folders)

Day 39: Monday 27 September 2010 – Algeria: Tamanrasset

Another very warm day at our beautiful desert Gite. When we headed for bed last night, it was 30 degrees! Sleeping outside on a colourful hand-made Niger stretcher under a mosie net proved too hot for comfort, but the heat of the day soon initiated the welcome zzz’d.

10am this morning saw us back at the Niger Consulate with Claudia – we were ushered straight into the Vice Consulate whom we’d seen yesterday. A gentle man, genuinely sorry about our situation - he advised that the consulate would issue our visas on the proviso that we had police security to drive from the Algerian border to Arliet - 230km from the border (where the kidnappings took place). Of course we have no choice but to agree to this, for our safety. He also informed us that the big heads of the various armies (Chef d’etat Major) from Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger had had their meeting extended – they have so far agreed that individually and collectively they need to be proactive about protecting their citizens and tourists. A no brainer we say!

In the interim, our visa applications have been handed in, and the enquiry is under way to ascertain whether the consulate can ensure a police escort once in Niger. We’ll use this afternoon and tomorrow then to catch up on back-logged chores (like the website), and to get ready for a 2 day camel train into the Sahara dunes with a Bedouin guide, whilst waiting to hear about the possibility of a police escort in Niger.

A note to our family, friends, new friends and donors to the SOS Village:

In the heat of the afternoon Richard and Martin are working in the shade of the carport on the vehicles, will go to town to get a shock absorber welded and a puncture fixed, whilst I, Bronnie, work feverishly on the website which I am desperately lagging behind on, due to the pas

t couple of days being focused on police, gendarmerie, visa demands and changing guides. Not forgetting that whilst travelling through the desert, writing up the website and editing photos is impossible.... so we apologise for the erratic updates. And of course, when all the writing and photos are ready for despatching to Rene and Steve, often we can’t find an internet cafe! Rene and Steve – again, thanks for your patience, and your fast action once you receive updates. We really value what you are doing for our trip by updating our website and Bron’s blog.

Day 38: Sunday 26 September 2010 – Algeria: Tamanrasset – Gite Saharien

Once again, the streets of Tamanrasset are deserted whilst being tightly monitored by the military and local police. The reason being that a vital meeting had been called in Tamanrasset today between the heads of the various armies (Chef d’etat Major) from Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. The meeting is being held and headed up in Algeria, which precludes the French being present.

The gathering has been called to discuss the volatile situation of the recent 7 engineers kidnapped in Niger, and how to form a unified approach against terrorism in general (bandits as well as Al Qaida).

As a result of the high powered military meeting, we weren’t sure if we’d get near the consulate. But, with our newly acquired translator (Claudia) in tow, we arrived at the Niger Consulate just before 10h00, to join the chaotic queue of people trying to acquire visas, or get their passports back. Mohammed arrived with a ‘translator’ to assist us – turned out he couldn’t speak a word of English!!! We were more perplexed than ever.

Fortunately Claudia has had loads of experience in her years of living in Tam as a tour operator. And luckily for us, she speaks French, English and Arabic fluently. We were sitting in the dirt in the shade with Claudia and Mohammed waiting to be called by one of Claudia’s contacts. She commands huge respect here in spite of the fact that she is a lone white woman in a Muslim dominated town. Suddenly Claudia bolted from her sandy, shady position, when she saw the previous applicant come out of the building. It wasn’t long before she got her foot (literally) in the one and only door at the consulate – which by the way, is a shabby, small building on sandy grounds, with a tiny window where people crowd to get their applications in, and passports out.

We watched in amusement and awe, as next thing Claudia was almost fully in the doorway and then the door clanged shut – she had managed to get inside the consulate. No mean feat indeed! Next thing Claudia was at the door beckoning us to hurry in – she had secured an unscheduled appointment with the Vice-Consulate.

We were ushered into a tiny office to talk with a very kind man from Niger, who explained to Claudia that he was very sorry about our situation, and the political instability in Niger. Much discussion was held back and forth between the man and Claudia, with intermittent translations. He agreed to find out if it would be feasible for us to apply for visas for Niger, and asked us to return the next day at 10h00 directly to him. Whilst he didn’t offer a light for us, he didn’t put any negative thoughts into the equation either.

15h30 saw us heading back into Tam with Claudia to meet Mohamed at the gendarmerie (regional security police). Security protocol demands an official hand over of tourists from one guide to another – this little procedure took another 2 hours out of our day.

In a wrap of our time spent so far in Tamanrasset: we arrived Thursday afternoon – checked in at the gendarmerie, then the camp site. Friday hung around whilst Mohamed did the Sabbath. Saturday through various contacts we met up with Claudine (high light of our time here). Packed up at our dust bowl camp site and moved to her Gite taking her on as our new guide.

Sunday morning we spent 2 hours at the Niger Consul, and 2 hours at the gendarmerie in the afternoon. Lots of hanging around waiting to see what could happen.

Our day ended by sharing a traditional Tuareg dinner – Taguelle. A hot coal fire (made from wood) is made in the sand. The sand has to be very hot to hold and bake a large and substantial Taguelle (a dense bread made from fine Semolina). The raw Taguelle is placed in a shallow hollow, and covered with sand and coals where it is left to bake. To test the readiness of the Taguelle, a stick is used to tap the sand – the sound yields the readiness of the bread, which is then removed from the fire and earth and washed in a bowl of water till all the sand is removed. The bread is then broken into small pieces and placed at the bottom of a large traditional (communal) wooden bowl. On top of the Taguelle pieces of succulent roasted lamb are layered, followed by a fresh marrow and tomato vegetable sauce which the lamb was cooked in. YUMMY!!

30degrees at 23h00 – it’s a pretty warm place Tamanrasset.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Day 33: Tuesday 21 September 2010 – Algeria: Tadjemout –Ti- n-Akker

Deep in the Sahara, with a consistent, hot air wind blowing it was a restless, sweaty night with Tasca’s alarm being activated a couple of times, followed by a string of expletives from Richard.

We were back on the desert road again by 07h30. The “vastness of this vast place” is almost incomprehensible. Open plains, high distressed rock mountains, little greenery. We were doing 90% desert driving, and Bronnie was in her element using her new skills.

Mid morning, in the midst of heat and sand and open road ahead, Mohamed pulls up at an oasis which has a fresh water spring and trough to “plunge” into. Without the camel and goat trough, but it looked clean and we were all very hot. Next thing a nomad arrives out of nowhere – with Mohamed they made a tiny fire, pulled out the tea bag and brewed some Algerian sweet-bitter tea – very refreshing and energising, which was accompanied by some sweet melon.

Under the shade of the one and only Acacia tree (which is actually marked on the topographical map!) Martin and Mohamed discussed where we were heading
Bron had ascertained that Mohamed’s friend was a true nomad, herding goats. She wanted to meet his family and children which our nomad was only too happy to do, so we piled into Boudie and were directed over the land to where his wife, children and some other woman were ensconced in the shade of a small tree, under a fabric tarp, with the Tuareg tea constantly on the brew, with goats and kid goats close by.

We were invited to share their shade and each offered a small glass of this unusual tea. Some descriptive pics were taken and much gesticulating as we tried to talk to them, and to specifically engage the girls. Richard pulled out his sugar trick which worked for the kids. This is the simplest, harshest life surely but these people not only survive, they thrive. And they are healthy and obviously knowing no other life, they are content.

We journeyed on through the vast and magnificent desert-scapes finally pulling off the path onto a large open plain surrounded by mountains. It felt like we were on top of the world and we were honoured with a bright, nearly full moon.

Camp set up, dinner done, we joined Mohamed for a moonlit walk to the edge of the world. It is silent in the desert. It is stark, beautiful and spiritual. And it is truly a privilege to be in such a place. All the police stress of the past days just faded away – this was what we had come here for.

Day 32: Monday 20 September 2010 – Algeria: In Salah - Tadjemout

Back into In Salah to change guides, pick up Mohamed and his English!

We read travellers collective comments in the Tanzerouft Agencies guest book in the office, which confirmed our collective thoughts about Algeria so far – police control, tourists unwelcome, why are we here?

The police control everything with an iron fist and most unfriendly, yet we’re told it’s for our own good!! (It is a police dictatorship state after all – what were we thinking we’re wondering by now?).

All we have done is drive from the border to In Salah – 1,200 km’s; prevented from seeing the archaeological sights we came to see, the desert we came to experience, the people we came to meet. Little local interaction and few photographs – overall very frustrating and disappointing.

Over coffee in a square we started chatted to a youngster who had studied at university in Alger, and who spoke good English. He mentioned he’d love to live in London, learn the language and gain experience, but he is trapped here as it’s so difficult to earn decent money (most jobs are offered in the police, gendarmerie or the post office). He said the government is reflective of a very successfully controlled country keeping westerners out and Algerians blissfully ignorant. He said trying to leave In Salah is nigh impossible – there are 200 odd plain clothes police watching everyone constantly, only 2 internet cafe’s keeping outside influences out and communications minimal.

1.15pm – 80k’s on in 50 degrees – only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in this heat!! Just past another major armoured personnel carrier military base check point, our new guide pulled us over indicating a new direction into huge dunes. We felt the heat and wind blast us as we deflated our tyres to enter the desert. Where we scones, we’d be well ready for eating. Extreme heat! Extreme challenge!

As we approached two large mountain structures with a plateau before us, we noticed 2-3 people on the ridge on the right – other brave travellers? No, the next thing we counted 18 armed military men approaching the lip of the mountain facing us. Three of them came down to greet Mohamed and ascertain what we were doing there – all guns were cocked! What on earth were they expecting? We kept our cool and let Mohamed handle them, whilst looking around we noticed 3 more armed military personnel on the left ridge.

For people reading our web and blog who are based in the Western Cape, this immense and amazing desert range is a combination of the Richtersveld, Fish River and the Cedarburg. The range is over 300km long.

5pm we pulled up in the shade of a tree close to a wide (dry) river bed – we walked for about 30 minutes across the hottest, giant red rocks to a large, deep, emerald rock pool which had pristine water. This in the middle of one of the harshest deserts on earth. 1, 2, 3 – we were all in. It was worth the drive through 50 degrees of wind and heat. This was paradise!

Back on the sand road, we arrived at a plateau in an arid flat glacial valley. The dry heat kept coming as the wind picked up. We set up camp as Mohamed collected wood to make his small fire which would cook his supper and our Touareg tea later. This man is of the desert and it showed tangibly in his spirit, his ways and his quiet calm in the desert. He was where he belonged! And we felt humbled to be there with him.

Tunisia: Megda - Tozeur

Day 26: Tuesday 14 September 2010 – A day in Tozeur

An early start – Richard coughing and wheezing with a cold, Bronnie feeling physically peculiar, with Martin trying to keep the team together in the hope of some 4x4 practice in the dunes.

After a strong ‘Tunisienne’ coffee amidst the white clad locals, we headed towards where we thought the dunes were, landing up in the vast, very marshy salt pans. Rich tried to do a u-turn on the salt pans and sank instantly and deeply into the very soft, salty earth. Boudie to the rescue winching Tasca out, we turned around only for Boudie to spin her tyres in the salty sand. Lesson learnt, we headed for more solid sand and found some “moguls” to play on.

This then the next 4x4 sand lesson for Bron, who took to the challenge and loved the feeling of using the vehicle to do what it was designed to do. Much dust was generated all round, winching and towing of both vehicles as one by one we got stuck at various points. Boys, and girls with their toys – these boys, and girl, were doing what they came here to do.

Back in town we went directly to the cave-bar we’d been to the night before to purchase a bottle of red wine, and quaffed a couple of icy beers in the very cool cave interior – anything to escape the heat of the day – now 43 degrees.

Dinner was taken at a local Tunisienne restaurant, recommended by a local. Ageau a la Galgoulette served in pottery bowl which had been sealed by mashed potatoe to ensure the most tender lamb and veggies – simply more-ish.

Day 25: Monday 13 September 2010 – Tunisia: Megda

A vivid linear sunrise, spread tight across the vast desert-scape, lured us to an early start at 05h00. Whilst busy packing up tents etc., we were once again surprised by the seemingly instantaneous arrival of a nomadic horseman, sporting a poncho and sombrero on a white mare! On closer inspection, his appearance confirmed his nomadic life style. It was quite an amazing incidence so early in the day. He greeted us, scrutinised our camp and headed back in the direction from which he had come, clearly to report to the village elders.

Later, in conversation with Mike (of Greyton), we were offered advice based on his many years of working in Africa - that being, to avoid at all costs, trying to be ‘invisible’ (or independent) but rather to always seek out the ‘elders’ in a village before setting up camp. The advice was duly discussed and agreed on unanimously for all future ‘wild’ camping.

On the road again, Bron happily driving Boudie, Mart wielding the compass and keeping a eye on the scant directional information being offered by “Ethel”, whilst marking off way points on the map as pre-determined, Richard in tow.

Kilometres of road ahead – well maintained – too bad about the strewn litter/household refuse dumped for equal measure of kilometres along the route! En route we stopped at Mezzouma’s General Dealer for some supplies – Martin discovered that the fridge in the Disco was unplugged! Lessons learned along the way.

Enjoyed some great coffee on the road-side with ‘hubbly-bubbly’ young men, and donkey carts driven by bent, old, cloaked men and women. Many sun-dried people shuffling about their day. Very 3rd world – seemingly very happy.

Vistas of lovely colours, gentle hues – muted browns, blues, violet horizon. Noted how widely the olive trees were planted apart – to allow maximum water per tree in this very dry, desert land.

Lunched again under the shade of a tree – no sooner had the brew boiled, than an old, faded, blue Peugeot motor bike pitched up in the searing heat of the day – we were greeted with a huge, stained-tooth smile and offered 2 large cucumbers, still crusted by the earth as gifts. Back on his bike he disappeared into the day. The cucumbers were quickly washed off, peeled (as advised to do in Africa) and added to our bread and cheese lunch – absolutely delicious and refreshing. Soon after this another faded blue moped arrived, with an equally large and happy smile – off the bike, much hand shaking and greetings and off the 2nd man went – we got to realise this was the way of the Tunisian.

Tozeur was our next stop – camping in an oasis. As the holiday period was over we once again had the camp site to ourselves – a good thing as the ablutions are so dirty and basic, sharing these facilities with crowds would be quite a challenge!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Day 21: Friday 10 September 2010 – No return – Ferry from Genova to Tunis

04h45 the alarm ‘croaked’ the team into action – loading wet washing and wet tents in the Landies, we headed back to Genova for the ferry. Oooh la la! The Italians and their signage... what signage??? One arrow pointing east, the other close by, pointing west to the ferry. We went round and round in circles looking for the Grandi Navi Veloci ferry terminal. And this before we’d had our by now habitual early morning coffee.

Not to mention at the ferry border control that the ‘polizia’ insisted on keeping the door closed - there being no handle on the outside of the door! How on earth we wondered in amusement (from the queue inside) were travellers expected to get inside to fill out their passage forms?

Once on the 9 storey high ferry, Richard commented that this was it... “no turning back.” Africa was before us.