I never really thought about or intended to hitch-hike across the Sahara. I arrived in Algiers on March 1, 1972. I had intended to continue across the North African coast to Tunisia, then to Sicily and up to Rome (to pick up my mail at the American Express office), then on to India and Japan.
But when I checked into the hostel in Algiers, I met Alex – a fellow traveler who had just returned from an amazing trip to Tamanrasset and the Hoagar Mountains – up to 10,000 ft in the middle of the baking Sahara.
Next morning I decided to go to Tamanrasset – 1200 miles south. I would go a full 2000 miles in crossing the Sahara. (Tam-Zinder 800 miles)
I got a ride with HAMAD – an interesting Algerian Architect who drove us south to a town he was building in the mountains south of Algiers – Khemis Miliana. It was beautiful and he was a gracious host.
My next ride was a man named Mohammad who liked to describe his Muslim faith, particularly how it is every Muslim’s responsibility to praise Allah and to destroy Israel and the Jews. I was a French Parisian for the 4 or 5 hours I was a passenger in Mohammad’s car. It was better to be French in the Sahara – where the French were admired for their support of Arab interests often against the US – who were more supportive of Israel. I became convinced years later that my fluency in French, including my Parisian accent – probably saved my life in the Sahara. I was secretly grateful when Mohammad bid me goodbye and Bon route at a crossroads where he was heading west and I was continuing south.
After a few days I reached the beautiful Palm Tree filled oasis town of El Golea. I decided to spend an entire day swimming in a sweet-water pond and resting among the Palm groves. I met a young Dutch couple, Peter and Karen, with a VW Van. They were traveling by land to East Africa, where they were going to work at the Kilamanjaro Medical Center. (Months later we would meet again in Tanzania!) They offered me a ride to Tamanrasset.
We left El Golea on the afternoon and reached the sweet-water source of Hassi Marroket as the sun was setting. As you can see from the picture – Hassi Marouket is in a valley with towering dunes on either side. You can barely see the van and the well in the distance in the middle of the valley.
The next day’s drive started out smoothly as we sped across the remaining few kilometers of paved road. We drove up a corrugated piste to the Plateau du Tademait (pictured below) – a vast rock plateau covered by black stones, stretching out in all directions for as far as the eyes can see. The “road” such as it was, was a path marked be one meter posts every 500 meters or so, across the vastness of the plain. After 5 to 6 bumpy and rattling hours of this, we finally descended a steep escarpment. It was such a relief when we descended from the plateau. Even so, the road continued to bump and rattle the van.
We arrived in In-Salah – which means, “God willing or As God Wills.” We had to check in at the police station before proceeding on further south. We got into a row with the police – who wanted a bribe to allow us to keep our cameras and film. After 10 very tense minutes of stand-off, we were allowed – encouraged – to leave town immediately!
We quickly stocked up on water and supplies and then happily escaped In Salah.
After a day and a half of progressively rougher corrugated road, we heard a snap and our steering was gone! Peter examined the mechanism as best he could and determined that we would need to get a replacement part. We were in the middle of NOWHERE. We could see from the Michelin map that there was a tiny settlement about 8 kilometers further south, Tadjmout. We tried but couldn’t budge the van – the corrugation on the road made it impossible. So we camped by the road for the night.
Early the next morning a pair of large trucks approached us and stopped. One of the drivers agreed to push our van to Tadjmout. It took over an hour, but we were able to reach the oasis.
3/9-12 Tadjmout is a tiny Oasis with a sweet-water source, a decent-sized stone and adobe house of an Algerian poet, his wife and two daughters. There is a cement pool about 10×15 feet and about 5 feet deep. Plus a few abandoned mud huts and a disused petroleum tank and gas pumps.
After 3 days in Tadjmout, I was able to get a ride to In Eker – the French Nuclear Testing site base – where we had a party dinner celebrating the supplies in the truck I had been riding in.
The following day we reached Tamanrasset.
I found a hostel where I could shower and rest. I was up at sunrise the next morning to try to hitch-hike back to Algiers. After 6 pointless hours I became exasperated and decided that I just wanted out of town – I decided to hitch-hike in both directions – north to the Mediterranean, or south to West Africa and the Atlantic coast. A Japanese kid about my age came up to me laughing and speaking in German. I replied in French. Then he replied in broken English, “Where are you going?? Are you crazy?” He had never seen anybody hitch-hike in both directions before. Nobody had.
Hiro and I traveled together for the next 7 weeks through West Africa- sharing adventures of a lifetime –and we have remained close friends.