Trip to: Niger Republic
Date: 16/9/06 – 25/9/06
Trip leader: Mike Newton
Trip report: Marita Buschendorf
Eight members (six ladies and two men) from the Nigerian Field Society, travelled from Lagos via Abuja to Kano. In Kano we were met by representatives from an Agadez based travel agency Takawat Voyages, the trip organisers. The travel agency team includes the tour guide Tanko, drivers and a cook. Our three 4×4 vehicles all looked old but serviceable and speed us off to the Prince Hotel.
After lunch at the hotel, we went to view the city of Kano, the old market and the dye pits where indigo-coloured fabrics can be purchased. While other members of the tour group were recovering at the hotel’s pool, Mike and Uschi buy supplies of water, fruit and provisions for the next day, our travel to Agadez.
Sunday, 17/9/06 At 7 a.m., we departed Kano and arrived the Nigerian – Nigerien border at 9.30 a.m. We were checked politely but very slowly by the immigration officials with lots of repetition of data recording (by hand) from desk to desk. We passed through the Nigerian border at 11.15 A.M but had to wait an equally long time in front of the immigration office in Niger. As we drive on the vegetation changes. In the flat countryside, we saw sugar cane and semolina being cultivated.
After about 90 km drive we got to the city of Zinder, where the water-tower, built by Chinese is very prominent. The vegetation was sparse after Zinder. We saw donkeys, goats and zebu cattle with their long horns and camels occasionally. The last stretch of the drive was on the new road still under construction. At 10 p.m. we arrived at the Hotel de la Paix in Agadez. Our guide recommended an excellent local restaurant, called Tamgak where we eat cheaply and well.
Monday, 18/9/06. We climbed the water tower at the hotel for panoramic views of Agadez, a vision of brown mud brick houses and the prominent mosque. Agadez is a caravan terminal which has been a focus for Trans – Saharan caravan routes for hundreds of years. Our next visit was with the money changers where after hard negotiations we achieve a rate of 1Euro to 650 Francs CEFA. The exchange agent doesn’t deal in Naira.
Our departure was one and a half hours late as one of the cars was being fixed. We finally left the hotel at 12.20 p.m. but were compelled to drive back to a workshop soon after our take – off due to a broken shock absorber on the third car. Our cook, Mohammed pampered us with fresh vegetable salad, mini sausages, French baguette and bananas.
After lunch we headed for In-Gal and it’s Gerwol Festival, known as the Festival of Beauty. We arrived at 5 p.m. finding the festival in full swing. We met the Wodabee, who are thin graceful people who spend there whole lives wondering the desert and make up about 10% of Niger’s population. The young, very slim men have made up their faces with yellow colour with dark outlines to their lips and eyes. The men wear long robes, lots of jewellery and carry swords. They dance while rolling their eyes and smiling while the girls watch silently with occasional giggles. Just like a high school dance. The men dance in long lines and sing to the monotonous music which is stimulating us to dance, too. We listened to the music for the whole night as we slept under a sky full of stars. Sitting in a circle around the camp, a pack of wild dogs sang the whole night as well.
Tuesday, 19/9/06. We drove back to Agadez passing nomads returning from the festival and Faluni tribal men tending there goats. We then travelled north to Dabous. We drove past a petrified forest of tree trunks. This region is sparsely populated; neverthless the speed limit is 50 km/h. Our travel leads us to the famous 11,000 year old Dabous rock art. The centre piece is two giraffes but on the surrounding rock we find more savannah animals. All carved at a time when this desert was savannah grassland. There are a lot of tourists in December, but now in September we are alone.
We continued on a stony terrain in the direction of the Air Mountains. In a valley there was lush grass with many nomad encampments, but as we climb higher we found dark volcanic rock. Even here there are trucks full of people returning from working in Algeria. Again we spent the night under a clear, most impressing starry sky. This time we were guest to many flies and mosquitos.
Wednesday, 20/9/06 Already by 7.45 am we are up and driving northeast to Iferquane. The track leads over sand and lava. Grass and brushwood grow sparsely. Far away in the haze we could spot the dark grey peaks of the Air Mountains. Again we had technical problems with two vehicles, one a puncture that was quickly fixed but the other car had a leaking radiator. We took advantage of the long stay in Iferquane to buy some silver jewellery that the Tuareg are famous for. The bird life is prolific. Our cook serves lunch in a private compound. Three hours later, one of the cars got stuck in soft sand and was dug out using sand ladders. That night we camp surrounded by large dunes. We had a very quiet night with no mosquitoes. We were captivated by the shadows created by the suns rays on the dunes and the knife edge arêtes. We were up early watching the sun rise. On the top of the dunes we follow beetle tracks. There is life up here!
Thursday, 21/9/06 We head off towards Kogo and speed across hard sand at 90 kmh with great views of the Air Mountains. We scare a small deer which runs off at speed. At a waterhole, we meet some nomads where and bought some pottery and jewellery. A French couple are carrying their water in a goat skin tied to the outside of there vehicle. Evaporation from the surface of the goat skin keeps the water cool in side. Our water containers are filled and some of us use the opportunity to wash our hair. Later we find exposed slabs of white marble lying in the desert.
We meet another group of nomads. The children don’t laugh as usual and they are not curious. All of them suffer from running stools. A small child has ear ache. We help out with some ears drops, herbal tea and milk powder. The crucial problem is the dirty drinking water.
We arrive at a tiny village and take the opportunity of riding on camels while the hordes of children observe with interest. Afterwards we drove until we reached the edge of the Tenere Desert. Again we saw rock art. For the night we camped in a dried river bed.
Friday, 22/9/06 We drove from Kogo to Assode, a town in ruins. This is the oldest settlement of the Touareg, with a very large cemetery. A stone marks each persons head and feet. The vegetation is sparse; we saw the Euphorbia bush with its prominent leaves which are traditionally used for healing wounds. We drove through several Touareg settlements and visited a small water well (whose walls are collapsing) but is used for irrigation of a patch of land in the dry landscape where grape and vegetable is grown. As we continued up the mountains, we saw nothing but rock and stones, the temperature also remained hot, 41 degrees C in the car.
Finally we reached a valley and the Timia oasis. Timia is like a big market garden. The people live in small yellow mud houses, that all look the same. They grow tangerines; oranges, grapefruit, limes, grapes and, pomegranates, dates and vegetables. It is from here that the Camel trains used to leave for Bilma to trade for salt. We are allowed to pick fruit from the trees, and eat our fill and go away loaded up for the journey.
We had lunch by the cascades of Timia. A stream rushes down the black volcanic rock into a large pool. Most of us swim in the main pool and climbed up into the two higher pools. This was a refreshing experience after the dryness of the desert. The local boys stare at the ladies wearing bikinis.
Again our travel is interrupted by a vehicle breakdown near Kreb-Kreb. We took a walk while temporary repairs are being carried out. This night will be the last one under the ‘heavens’. As usual our cook prepared a meal over the open fire. Lindie again kept us amused by suggesting a new game. We camped once more in a dried river. Afterwards as on every other night we all retreat to our own spot about 30 foot from the fire and lay down on foam mattresses. One could sleep under the stars every night.
Saturday, 23/9/07 We had to get up very early. We drove on a volcanic rock plateau and through several villages back to Agadez. There are wells in the villages to water the plantations. The rivers were dry. We stopped in one village for the Saturday market and tried fast food, strips of goat meat, liver and kidney sprinkled with cumin.
We arrived at Hotel de la Paix by noon. Having taken a shower, we had lunch at the Travel Agencies offices and caught up with Ousame the Agency Director. Our cook Mohammed had again excelled, the meal tastes marvellous.
In the afternoon we visited the main mosque and the minaret. This is of classical mud construction in the Sudanese style, about 27 m tall. We climbed up the tower in the dark and touched sleeping bats. With our party of 10 on the top we could feel the tower move. The planks of wood on the outside allow for workers to stand and re-apply the mud. Again we had dinner in the Tamgak restaurant near the hotel.
Sunday, 24/9/07 At 5.30 a.m. we started our journey back to the Nigerian – Nigerien border and to Kano. We noticed the spread of the Sahara desert as it continues to spread to the south and south west.
There were few vehicles on the road; some were very heavily overloaded trailers, full of people and goods. The Lorries were twice as wide as the vehicle width with everything tied on to the sides. These trucks are on the way to Algeria, taking people to work and will travel right across the desert. One of the trucks had broken down. The heat is strenuous, 40 deg C or more at noon. Uschi keeps us all supplied with fruit and sweets, her camera broke early on the trip but we promised her all of our photographs. Uschi will leave Nigeria next year after 30 years, we will all miss her.
After a 14 hours drive we arrived at the Prince Hotel in Kano. The border took us only one and a half hours to cross this time.
Monday, 25/9/07 Gratefully we said good-bye to our drivers and to our guide Tanko. We flew back to Lagos. This was a fantastic journeywith lasting impressions, like all journeys’ it has come to an end.
Mike Newton (Trip Leader) , Lindie Rudover, Uschi Boersing, Virag Gal, Arend DeRroo, Akkie de DeRoo, Vivian Neglai, Maria Buschendorf.