Tag Archives: Desert Travels book

Algeria Timbuktu Mauritania 1990

Desert Travels Index Page

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Book Chapters:

Chapter 23: Battle of the Saharans

In Chapter 10 of Desert Travels the cantankerous 101 leading my first desert bike tour was stranded at the Tin Taradjeli pass (above). As so often happens in the Sahara, the next person to turn up happened to be a diesel mechanic.
Steve soon got the 101 running and, long story short, the following year we decided to team up and do a big Sahara trip together: him in his Land Cruiser, me in an old Land Rover 109.

For both of us this was the desert trip we’d each been planning in our heads for years. When travelling together briefly with my bike tour the previous year, we’d quickly established a shared passion for exploring the Sahara and set about doing a big trip together, each with his own 4×4. Though I’d been keen to head for the Ténéré Desert in Niger, we’d settled on keeping off the tarmac where possible and decided to head down to the Guinea’s highland jungles and the Mauritanian Sahara. 

Nineteen ninety was not such a good year for me: post bike-tour debt, a bad crash leading to hospitalisation, followed by homelessness, a smaller bike crash which at least put an end to my dozen years of despatching. And finally my Land Rover, all set for a desert adventure with Steve, blew up in darkest Sussex at 2am, while I was doing some late deliveries.

As a way of keeping the tip on the rails Steve invited me to ride his XT600Z instead. I wasn’t that keen on bikes by that time, plus it would leave me dependent on him. But I accepted his offer and we met up in France, the bike towed on its back wheel with a similar arrangement I’d used on the 101.

Unfortunately, as so often happened in those days, all my films were lost on a flight in Mauritania. Since then I’ve learned: do not put things you cannot afford to lose in the hold baggage. What few photos I have were shot by Steve.

On the ‘closed’ piste between Fort Mirabel and Hassi bel Guebbour.
Steve’s XT was nicely set up and of course all the essential gear was carried by the car.
I’m wearing my airey, paper-thin Swedish Tenson jacket. Beyond wearing a lid, gloves and boots, the idea of wearing any sort of armour never occurred to me.
On the gnarly piste up from Hirhafok to Assekrem deep in the Hoggar.
I found this picture recently on the internet and am pretty sure it’s the same ancient Beetle we saw at Hassi Tabelbalet, just after the Gara Khanfoussa dune crossing on the Graveyard Piste.

“… A couple of hours later we reached Tabelbalet well on the far side of the erg and were dumbfounded to come across an eccentric German father and son in a ratty VW Beetle. Amazed that a forty-year-old 2WD had made it through the dunes, Steve confessed later that the Germans’ presence had soured his crossing…” 
One of the easier sections on the sandy trail along the Niger river from Bourem to Timbuktu.
Tooling around in the dunes somewhere near Timbuktu where our trip was about to unravel.

‘I think I’ll head off when we get to Ségou [the next major town]. I’m not really enjoying all this riding around after you. I want to go off and do my own thing.’
I was determined to salvage the trip for my own ends. The shared driving had not materialised, the pace was ridiculous (we’d done around 4000 kilometres in less than two weeks) and everything I did was wrong or not enough. I didn’t see such a separation as a failure, it was merely the right thing to do if I was not to end up feeling resentful. 
Somewhere near Timbuktu. Too much vegetation for my liking
Getting water in a village in the Malian Sahel.
Fuelling up in Nara, just before the Mauritanian border.
Digging out on the way to Adel Bagrou, the Mauritanian border post where we managed to talk our way in without a Carnet de Passages.
Trackside break on the way to Nema.
In Nema we picked up the Ghandi-like guide called Nani for the 800-km crossing to Tichit. Just as well; there is no way we could have found the way without him as most of the time there was no track (or he rarely followed it).
Steve and Nani have a brew near Oualata.
I remember this bit well – a steep sandy pass called ‘Enji’ about 300km from Nema by which time I was riding the unladen XT like a Dakar vet. When you’re good it feels like ski-ing.

Enji is the plateau at the bottom right. This 1960s map shows a track, but in 1990 most of the time there was nothing but sand and annoying tussocks.
Sunk down to the axle in the soft sands west of Tichit.

As agreed near Timbuktu, in Tidjika Steve went his way towing the XT, and I went mine. I met some American Peace Corps Volunteers and my travels in Mauritania took on a whole new direction.

Once in Tidjikja, I flogged my crash helmet to a delighted policeman. This time Steve didn’t even try to persuade me and drove off towards Nouakchott. 

Sahara Motorcycle Tour 1989

Desert Travels Index Page

Buy Desert Travels 2021 on Amazon

Book Chapters:
Chapter 4: The Trip of a Lifetime
Chapter 5: Four Green Bottles
Chapter 8: The Dune Corridor
Chapter 9: Three Green Bottles
Chapter 10: On the Piste
Chapter 11: Djanet
Chapter 12: Anna’s Southern Tour
Chapter 13: The Cathedral
Chapter 14: To the Land of Terror
Chapter 15: Cracking Up

Most of Desert Travels covers my first attempt at running a desert biking tour in 1989. As it said on the back cover: five left but only one came back riding, but as well as the usual setbacks, we did see a whole lot of interesting Algerian desert along the way.

Some pictures by me, Pete Corbett (PC) and Mike Spencer (MS).

Testing in Surrey. This is why we’re now having a climate crisis.
Marseille and we’ve already lost Bernie – he got his passport pinched on the sleeper. Four riders left.
Mike and Clive have a chat aboard the ferry to Algiers.
Lunch break on the road to Ouargla. The chain on Bob’s Tenere has snapped.
Our first desert camp in the dunes before Hassi Messaoud. (PC)
Pete’s 1VJ Tenere. (PC)
Next evening camped near Hassi bel Guebbour, we bomb around the huge dunes of the Grand Erg.
Bob does an endo and sprains his wrist badly. No more riding for him.
Bob (middle) sits in the van while Clive rides his XT. Note the inflatable splint on Bob’s left arm.
Later that day we leave Bob at In Amenas oil town to head back north once his wrist’s better.
Morning at Erg Bourharet after the oil filter drama. Three bikes left. (MS)
We camp by the Tyre Tree with a couple in a VW Kombi.
It was here that Pete’s trip ended prematurely in 1987.
Tin Taradjeli escarpment, the southern edge of the Fadnoun.
That morning, passing diesel mechanic, Swiss Steve, helped get the 101 running.
Big Fire Camp below the Tassili N’Ajjer on the road to Djanet.
Delivery truck stuck in the sand on the Djanet track. (PC)
Encounter with BMWs. Riding unsupported in the desert is a whole different game. (PC)
After a few of days in Djanet we set off to take the Southern Route to Tamanrasset with a couple of other 4x4s.
The heavily loaded 101 struggles to cross the Erg Admer dunes. (MS)
On the far side we meet some sub-Saharans heading for Libya in a clapped-out 109″.
Camp on the southern route near Tiririne, or maybe Tarabine. (PC)
Nomads at the well at Tin Tarabine. (PC)
Mark crashes out and his DR’s electrics soon follow suit. (PC)
It gets hooked up to the van and stays there for the rest of the trip.
Two bikes left.
Pete himself nearing Tam. (PC)
Like the Pope on tour, he kisses the tarmac just out of Tamanrasset where he leaves the group to head home. (PC)
There is now only Mike left still riding.
We take turns riding Mike’s XLM.

At the border post of Bordj Moktar, Steve and his girlfriend carry on south into Mali for Guinea, and we turn back north along the bleak, flat Tanezrouft.
With the heat and end-of-trip fatigue, morale begins to fall apart and I become a pariah.
See the book for the grizzly details.

Pete’s map of our one-month trip in Algeria.

Land Rover 101 for sale. Two previous owners. Light off-road use.