TRANSSAHARIENNE 1972, from Agadir to Djerba
My story of how car trouble made this trip extra fascinating
As I had wonderful memories of my trip through Southern Morocco in 1965 (another diningtable report) as well as of my holidays on the island of Djerba in 1969, I was thrilled to see that Club Méditerranée had organised a Land Rover trip from Morocco to Tunisia. So, on Wednesday May 24, 1972, after a stop-over in Paris, I arrived at the “village” of the Club in Agadir, nicely located at the seaside. After the cold in Paris it was very pleasant to feel the sun! Departure for the trip was on Sunday May 28, so I had a few days to enjoy the village, meet some very nice people, go shopping, enjoy the delicious food, etc. We were briefed about the trip, given a “gandoura” (a man’s garment) and met our fellow-travellers. I bought a djellaba and a beautiful black velvet kaftan in Agadir which I wore on a really memorable evening, presented by the Club: a delicious mechoui (grilled lamb) dinner at a ranch nearby. We were driven there by bus preceded by horsemen with burning torches. There was music, dancers and a fabulous atmosphere!
The next day (May 28): wake-up call at 5 A.M. and departure at 6.40 for a 4700 km long drive. There were 12 of us plus 2 Moroccan drivers in 2 Land Rovers and 2 guides from the Club: J.L. and M. They would do a wonderful job but we did not know that yet… We drove via Taroudant on the (in)famous Tizi-N-Test road with its breathtaking views, hairpins and pass at 2092 m (see film via Google ) to Ouirgane and Marrakech. This was familiar to me as we had taken part of the same route in 1965 in the opposite direction. We arrived at 4.30 P.M. in Marrakech, where we stayed at the palace-like hotel of the Club. After a dive in the swimming-pool I stepped outside – and a few centuries back – into the Djemâa el Fna, the fascinating market place which I was happy to visit again. After dinner – in spite of our fatigue – we all went to a very impressive folkloristic festival organised by the city against the background of an illuminated old palace, which gave us a nice insight into Moroccan culture and traditions.
The following morning we made a trip in calèches (carriages) through the city before leaving for Ouarzazate along a nice road passing the Tizi-N-Tichka pass at 2260 m, where it was very cold!
In Ouarzazate –at the entrance of the desert – we stayed at a very picturesque Club hotel in the form of a kashba (enforced part of a settlement), which had the colours of the surroundings (yellowish-brown). On May 30 we left this place – rather reluctantly – for Erfoud. All now clothed in the gandoura’s given to us (only I wore the djellaba I bought in Agadir) with white chèches -a kind of turban- we continued on the famous “Route des kashbas”.
Route des kashbas
We encountered 2 Dutch cars (in 1972!) and a (camel) caravan, took a detour to visit the Gorges du Dadès, but unfortunately it was raining… After having enjoyed lunch with tajine and couscous we crossed the Gorges du Todra, where we had to overcome lots of water, sometimes on foot, and even a thunder storm!
Gorges du Todra
But more was yet to come: the second Land Rover broke down……. (see photo at the top). Besjir (its driver) left to look for help: to no avail, so the first car (mine) tried to tow the second one, but the cable snapped. At 5 P.M. we just stood there in the desert on a “piste”. Somehow they managed to fix the problem (even using my hair pins, so my big bag came in handy after all) enabling us to arrive safe and sound in Erfoud where we enjoyed the amenities of the hotel all the more! The next day, however, the problem car had to be towed again to reach Boudenib, where the guides hoped to find cabs to drive us to our lunch in a tent in Takoumit. No cabs, so we had to tow again.
After lunch the commander of the region helped out and saw to it that we were driven back to Boudenib again, using also his own car. The Land Rovers followed and the broken down one was checked into a garage. Meanwhile we had the opportunity to visit Boudenib, a very old (9th century) place where no tourists ever came. We went to visit the mosque and climbed the tower. Unfortunately the problem jeep could not be repaired. What to do? A conference followed: the commander who was indeed very helpful lent us the ambulance of the village with a driver… Now all the luggage of the second car was stowed in the ambulance and the jeep itself could be towed with only 3 people in it. However, it was still a very long way in pitch dark to Figuig at the frontier with Algeria where dinner was planned at the grocer’s who would certainly be closed by now….
The driver of the ambulance (I was on board, hoping that nobody in the village would need it!) drove in a rather unorthodox way and scared the wits out of all the rabbits on the road. When we arrived again at the main road we had to stop and wait for the others to arrive. When they did Abel, the elderly gentleman in our group with the orange cap (who erroneously had had his luggage sent to Djerba instead of Agadir and managed to make do with things bought and borrowed!) stepped forward and started to sing “tant qu’il y aura des étoiles” (as long as there will be stars), a song made known by the singer Tino Rossi; the gist of it was the following:
“We are vagabonds, having no shelter, we live on the streets, our stomach is empty,
but we also have our treasures, as long as there will be stars in the sky…. “ .
Since we had had no dinner yet and did not know whether we would reach our destination, this was very appropriate indeed….. That song became “our song”! When everything had been changed back again, we drove on – very carefully – to Figuig where we arrived at 0.30 hrs. Fortunately the grocer had waited for us with a wonderful dinner!!
On Thursday, June 1, we left Morocco, but before being allowed to enter Algeria we had to fill out a lot of paperwork!
Froukje entering Algeria
We then drove to Béchar, again as carefully as possible, where we left behind the problem jeep, a driver (who was very sad) and our nice guide M., who would try and find a garage which would – hopefully – be able to repair the jeep. We also were sad to have left Morocco and moreover it was raining again. We did find cabs, though, and were driven to a very nice hotel in Taghit on the border of a part of the Sahara called the Great Western “Erg” (meaning sand seas with sand dunes), which border we were going to follow until Ghardaia. We took a dive in the swimming-pool as usual and after dinner hoped for a 9-hours’ sleep. With a broken down ventilator it was alas too hot to sleep……
The following day I skipped an excursion and changed to another room, for we had the luxury of staying for 2 days at the same hotel. Since we now had only one vehicle the group was split in 2 and took alternate turns with excursions organised on the spot. M. came back under big applause, but had bad news: the problem car needed a part which could not be found in N. Africa…. So he telephoned the Club in Djerba and asked for another Land Rover and another driver with a passport! That would take a few days – if at all possible!
In the meantime an alternative programme had to be made up for the following days with other means of transport. Quite adventurous! In the afternoon we left on foot for Ksar Taghit with a local guide, Boumédienne, called Bon Dieu (Good God) by Augusto, one of the 2 boisterous Italian men in our group. After a visit to the ksar (a small fort) we climbed the sand dunes from where we had a nice view of Taghit. Then we had tea at Boumédienne’s house and admired his desert animals (i.a. sand foxes and gazelles). For dinner in the hotel our guides had invited local authorities, such as the deputy-governor and the mayor, to discuss “our small problem”, hoping that they would be able to provide us with some sort of transport…. And indeed the next day we drove with the mayor at the wheel of another Land Rover to Béni-Abbès. In the afternoon we took a walk to a zoo, a museum and the Hermitage where Father Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916), a French priest, had lived while working among the poor (for more information on his eventful life and death: see catholicexchange.com). Then we had time to rest and meditate on a hill with a magnificent view. By now it had become very hot, everybody was tired and sweating and drinking lots of mineral water……
On Sunday June 4 (a week after our departure) we left Béni-Abbès for Timimoun, again with the same vehicle lent to us, in the back of which we took turns for a nap as we had been woken at 4 A.M… We saw the sun rise, stopped to see how water was hauled from water holes deep down and passed the most Southern point of our trip. Through a magnificent stretch of the Sahara desert, never boring but on the contrary: a fascinating landscape full of sand dunes in ever changing colours, an occasional oasis and except for a few trees and camels no living soul in sight, just space and silence, we reached Timimoun,
a very beautiful red village (Sudanese influence) which we visited in the afternoon after a siesta. We saw i.a. a palm garden with a very clever and complicated water system. We had dinner outside in the garden of the hotel.
On June 5 we were again divided in 2 groups: one group took a walk exploring the surroundings and the other one went North in the Land Rover for a nice long trip through an absolutely empty landscape except for some small picturesque villages. When I was with the walking group looking for so called sand roses our guide M. suddenly stared in the distance and kept staring…. What do you see I asked. A stip on the horizon which is moving! So? Well, that could just be our new car coming from Djerba! And it was!!!
An enthusiastic welcome awaited the new driver – in a smashing orange coloured gandoura and black chèche – who said he had driven 2 days and 2 nights in a row to reach us as soon as possible! He was ordered to bed and we continued as planned (the 2 groups changed their itinerary in the afternoon). No more improvisations were needed the following day: “en route” (I knew I would miss that call later on even if it was at 4 A.M.!) in 2 Land Rovers to cover a distance of 360 km to El Goléa, a big city, where we arrived at 11hrs. It was of course very pleasant to have 2 cars again and not be dependant any more – especially for J.L. and M. – , but for us it had been an extraordinary and unexpected opportunity to visit places we would not have seen otherwise (and where no tourists ever came!), to meet local people, to see how they lived, in short to have many interesting new experiences! Moreover, we as group got to know each other better. I became very good friends with Odette f.i., one of our 2 Italian girls, with whom I am still in touch! In the hotel in El Goléa we enjoyed a long siesta and left at 5 P.M. for an extensive visit of the city and a very interesting talk about the history of this area from J.L. – who was an expert on this subject -, while we lounged in the shadow….. June 7: again wake-up call at 4 A.M. (but the muezzin and the cocks had woken us up earlier). 260 km to Ghardaia. En route we took pictures of camels at a well and also encountered a (camel) caravan.
encounters en route
When we arrived at the hotel: no dive in the swimming-pool as there was not enough water in it. We had time off until 16.15 hrs which we used mainly to catch up on lost sleep …. Then followed a very interesting tour of Ghardaia, a blue city, we learned about the history of the Mosabites, visited an underground mosque, a village in a palm garden complete with water and electricity and everywhere we saw beautiful children and very kind people. From Ghardaia we paid a visit to Béni-Izguen, a picturesque village perched against a hill and inhabited by orthodox people: heavily veiled women and no picture taking. We wandered around with a local guide and admired the nice houses and again the beautiful and well-dressed children. The goats of the village come home at night by themselves and go straight to their own homes demanding entrance. From the top of a tower we saw the sun set after a fascinating day.
Thursday June 8. Departure at 5.30 hrs for a 20 -minutes’ flight over Ghardaia and surrounding area in a Cherokee plane!! Wonderful extra treat!
Ghardaia from the air
While the others then went shopping in the souks I got almost a sunburn at the swimming-pool…. After lunch departure for Ouergla, the oil city. En route we suffered from a terrible sand storm. The hotel looked beautiful, but the swimming-pool was not clean and the ventilator in my room did not work…. Fortunately, the shower was functioning well…. After an almost sleepless night (heat and mosquitoes) we went via Hassi-Messaoud (where the men live who work in the oil industry) and a visit to the mosque in Tamilhat, dating from 1284, to Touggourt. It was still very hot and everybody was very quiet during lunch. From there it was 95 km to El-Oued, the city with the 1000 domes. Here for the first time we were able to sleep from 10 P.M. to 8 A.M.!
Saturday June 10: Odette’s birthday! We had time for a breakfast at ease – quite a luxury –, spending our last dinars and packing, for after lunch departure for Tunisia. In this hotel the driver we had left behind had also stayed that night with a technician, so our 2nd Land Rover had apparently been repaired! They had already left very early for Djerba.
We passed the Algerian-Tunisian border near Nefta, which also took a long time. Nice to revisit this country of which I had good memories from a former visit. Soon we came across tourists on camels, a new sight after having driven for hours and hours through the desert without seeing other people….
At night we celebrated Odette’s birthday in our beautiful hotel with delicious pastry and a trip outside Nefta. Upon our return all dogs started to bark…. June 11: departure at 8.30 hrs for a long trip. First we visited Nefta and Tozeur (crowded with tourists) and then traversed the Chott El Djerid, where en passant we rescued a Frenchman who had got stuck in this salt lake. At the same time we encountered a group of 4 Land Rovers on tour from the Club in Djerba who also lent a hand….
helping French tourists
Then followed driving for a long time through the sand (there was not even a “piste” anymore… ) until we reached El Faouar for dinner and lodgings in a tent. Unfortunately there was a terrible sand storm and no tents were ready yet. Dinner – prepared in the sand by nomads – was nice and pleasant with music and dance.
last night: dinner and lodgings in a tent!
The next day, June 12, was the last day of this marvelous trip…. The wind had died down and we left at 6.30 hrs. for a very relaxing camel ride through the sand dunes. Then by car again via “pistes” through an ever changing landscape to Matmata, the village “troglodyte” which I had also visited in 1969 (when I spent a fortnight on Djerba). Via Gabès, an oasis and the route along the sea, we arrived at the point where we took the ferry to (the island of) Djerba, which looked so much greener than it did in September (1969). It was still a long drive to the Club village, where we were welcomed with champagne! At night we dined together but could not believe that the trip was really over and kept singing our song. We longed back for the quiet of our journey through the ever fascinating desert…. We stayed together the following days, enjoying all the facilities, the sports and entertainment the Club offered and the fact that we did not have to rise so early….. On June 15 I flew back to Holland full of unforgettable memories.
Froukje van Seben