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ANOTHER BONUS CHAPTER!
I don’t write about this trip in Desert Travels, so lap it up here for free.
In Djanet I checked into the campsite which all the overlanders used. here I met a couple of very rich, young Berliners, playboys you might even call them, driving a lovely FJ45 Land Cruiser loaded down with every conceivable accessory and on their way to Cape Town. Toyota had only stopped making the 40s a couple of years earlier, and they were still by far the most common vehicle in southern Algeria before the 70 series took over.
I’ve had a soft spot for the classic Land Cruiser 40s after working on a farm with one in Queensland in the early 80s. I think it’s quite possibly the only Land Cruiser with any character, the way a Series Land Rover has in spades.
A few years after this trip I bought a BJ45 (petrol 4) in Darwin to do my Rough Guide Australia research. I travelled all over the NT and WA at 15mpg and nearly as much oil per kilometre. But it kept going for a year.
Back in Djanet, I soon discovered, or was told, that the route south into Niger had been closed nearly ten years ago and all the marker posts had been pulled up after too many people had gone missing. So that was the end of the grand Teneres to the Tenere idea, not that I now had the intention of tackling it alone. The route was still possible providing you left Djanet on the sly, but as this report from 2001 found, doing so can end badly.
While enjoying a breather at the campiste, I also met an older French chappy who was in the habit of walking round in his saggy underpants. He was visiting Djanet in a vintage, twin-engined airplane from the 1930s or 40s. At one point it had been used by the Vanderbildts to escape Nazi Germany. One afternoon we all went down to the airport, half an hour out of town, to admire the old plane. I wrote in DT:
From this flat vantage point [the old airport], some 20 kilometres south of Djanet, you could clearly see the unmistakable conical profile of Mount Tiska… the first and only landmark in the featureless expanse which leads across the Ténéré to Chirfa and ultimately Bilma, nearly 900 kilometres away. A waterless expanse of flat, soft, sand, this was the route I’d planned to follow with the only partly cognisant Pete...
I also met a French bloke who walked around with his trousers on and was riding yet another 1VJ. I’d chop off that mudguard, mon ami!
A couple of days later I set off for Tamanrasset with the two Germans in their red Toyota and a shy Swiss couple in a VW Kombi. That was nearly 700km, still a healthy distance, but with more landmarks and chance of traffic than the Chirfa piste to Niger.
We are near the point marked ‘Borne’ on the Michelin map, an important junction 241km from Djanet. Somewhere nearby was a big stone block, but all we found was this rock-filled orange oil drum which in itself is a major landmark. Here the regular truck route carried on northwest for Amguid, but we turned southwest into the low hills for Tamanrasset.
The map for Route A6 from my Sahara Overland book from 2005.
A shot of me and the VW from the Toyota.
We arrive at the ruins of Serouenout fort [KM300]. By the new millennium it had been reoccupied by the army.
A sandy passage somewhere on the way to Telertheba mountain.
Telertheba mountain (2455m), about 400km from Djanet.
An hour or two from here the sands turn to stones as the track rises into the Hoggar foothills.
There may be rubble ahead…
Ex-Dakar Range Rover could use some TLC.
On the outskirts of Ideles, the first village in 370km. Here we decided to prolong the tour by taking take the ‘Outer Ring Road’ around the Hoggar mountains via Tahifet village to Tam.
The track was often two sandy ruts jammed between the rocks and boulders so I’m sure pleased I had the Mich Deserts and 10 psi.
A Tuareg chappy on walkabout.
Two signs in a day! This one near Tahifet village.
By now I must have been running low on film. To think of all the photos that could have been (rubbish and otherwise) if we were not held back by rolls of 36 prints. My photography has definitely improved in the digital era now I can see and take risks.
The next shot is over a 1000 km away on my old nemesis, the Tademait plateau north of In Salah. The bike started chocking up and dying, with an odd hiss. Then it would start fine and run again, then slowly choke up and stop again, like a partial seizure but without the engine rattles – and that hiss. I checked the carb was OK and then assumed the dodgy 1VJ cylinder head or worn piston was the problem and the bike was kaput; prematurely killed by the tough crossing from Djanet.
I pushed the dead bike off the highway behind a mound, took what I couldn’t afford to get pinched and flagged down a trans-Saharan trucker who dropped me back in In Salah. (Empty pickups were too rare to bother waiting for for the chance to load the bike). I thought if it gets pinched that’s one less thing to worry about and is the cost of desert biking.
In the In Salah campsite I met a Belgian hippy couple travelling with their baby in a VW LT35 camper. Well, Pappa Hippy was enjoying the road trip but, as so often happens, Mamma Hippy was not so in love with the desert. Explaining my plight, he kindly agreed to drive up with the LT and retrieve the bike next day. Amazingly, it was still there and intact.
Back in the campsite the XT had the same symptoms, but without the roadside stress I was easily able to diagnose the problem: the silencer was somehow clogged and the trapped gases eventually choked the engine. I removed the silencer’s end cap and noticed the attached baffle’s fine gauze covering (left) was all clogged up with oily rust flakes. Exhaust gas has to pass through this gauze to get out the tail pipe. The bike revved fine without the baffle, but of course made a racket which may have leaned out and damaged the engine. So the easiest way to bodge it was to refit the end cap and punch three holes in the end to bypass the baffle.
I’ve never heard of other 1VJ-ers having this odd problem, nor any other bike. Where did the rust come from and, more worryingly, where did the oil? Was it down to the leaded Algerian fuel? We may never know.
With the bike running well again, I headed back up the trans-Sahara Highway and on the 6th of January ferried out of Algiers port for Marseille.
By past standards, this trip had gone rather well, the bike was well set up and I’d learned a bit more about travelling in the desert. This time it had been first-timer Pete who’d had to pay his dues back at the Tyre Tree. The Berliners had a rum do too: they rolled their overloaded Todje in Tanzania, cut off the roof and carried on to Cape Town through the rainy season under plastic sheets.
We didn’t get to cross the Tenere, something I didn’t do until 2001 on a German tour out of Agadez, and again two years later riding off piste on XR-Ls from Algeria as far as the Lost Tree. These days, a lap like that looks less likely than ever.
By the time I got back to the UK the 1VJ engine was quite rattly and needed a rebore. I did that, flogged it, got another Benly and started planning my first Sahara Motorcycle Tour. More about that later.