Algeria – Djanet

Since we were unable to drive on the rough piste from Tamanrasset to Djanet, Tanezrouft coordinated an early morning flight for us, with an arrival of around 2 am to Djanet. There, we quickly found that Djanet is the quintessential outdoorsmen’s paradise, complete with activities such as trekking, camping, dune boarding (for those so inclined), and imbibing in Tuareg hospitality. Our route during the final phase of our trip took us from Djanet to Idaren (nice canyon and cave art), onward to Dider, which is home to dozens of rock engravings. We overnighted in magical Essendilene Canyon, which is one of the prettiest places in all of Djanet, and a not to be missed highlight. Next, we trekked around Tikobawhen to explore cave art and gueltas, and admired the pretty scenery around Tim Ghas. Erg Admer’s sand dunes did not disappoint, and visiting Djanet’s old ksars was a surprising highlight, with a million dollar view from the Imam’s balcony in El Mihane. Our trip culminated with a trek up to Jabbaren, which was well worth the physical effort to see the awesome rock art, some of it dating to over 10,000 years ago. Djanet is a special place on earth, and we long to come back as there is so much more to see and do.

21 Oct, Thurs: We awoke to a fabulous vista, and quickly decided that we liked Djanet and its surrounds. Our cook, Khalefa, was preparing breakfast and we actually felt quite refreshed, despite only getting a few hours of sleep during the night. After breakfast and packing up, we were on the road by 8 am, heading first to Tagharghart, the site of the famous “crying cow” (La Vache qui Pleure) engraving. It was only a short distance from our campsite, and appeared to be smack dab in the middle of the desert. The carvings are 6000 years old, and the cow’s tear drops can be distinctly made out. Apparently, the cows’ owner sculpted the drawing in stone after their water source dried up several millennia ago. It was hard to imagine that this location used to be in the middle of a lush paradise at one point in history. Afterwards, we headed into Djanet, where we had to register at the Office National du Parc Tassili (OPTN) which is housed in the same building as the Djanet Museum. We were welcomed to Algeria by the friendly staff, and wanted to check out the museum, but since we had a long drive today, Abdallah was anxious to get on the road. So we agreed to revisit the museum later in our tour and got on the road. Our drive out of Djanet took us past Tim Ras, which did look quite picturesque with its jagged peaks against a sandy backdrop. Next, we coasted past the gorgeous Erg Admer, with its spectacular sand dunes. Our guide book mentioned that adventurous travelers can dune board down the slopes, but we were happy to cruise by, admiring them from a distance. It was getting hot out, so we stopped at Tenjhar for lunch. Khalefa prepared us a chicken salad (yum!) and our tummies were full in no time. Siesta followed, and we both got some much needed rest since we didn’t get much sleep last night. At 3 pm, we packed up and were on our way towards Ihrir. Abdallah was opportunistic, stopping by dead trees to salvage branches for our camp’s firewood supply. We passed by a mountain with a single finger pointing skyward, and learned that it is named Dahr. Abdallah told us that the Tuareg from Niger use Dahr as a reference point to help them navigate into Algeria. At one point, the local Tuareg had contemplated tearing Dahr down to prevent their neighboring Tuaregs from using it, but common sense prevailed, and the solitary finger still stands today. We passed by a clearing with several zeriba dwellings, and Abdallah pulled over so we could take some photos. A large group of German tourists were headed in the opposite direction, and we saw that our Toyota Landcruiser appeared to mirror theirs exactly (right down to the firewood stacked and strapped to the rooftop). The guides stopped to chat and exchanged over a dozen greetings, much to our amusement. It seems that the greetings have all been rote memorized, and are spouted off without hesitation in rapid sequence. Back on the road, we headed up a mountain pass towards Ihrir, admiring the sandstone formations all around us. When we eventually pulled into the turnoff to Ihrir, we actually made our way over to Idaren Oued, which is a gorgeous canyon valley. Our campsite was lovely, a series of zeribas in a stone enclosure overlooking the oued. Khalefa immediately started preparing dinner, while we sipped on tea and downloaded photos. Dinner was excellent (a lovely wheat based soup followed by delicious, dissolve in your mouth chicken) and we knew that we’d have to watch out or else Khalefa was going to force us to pack on a few extra pounds. After dinner, we discussed tourism in Djanet with Abdallah and learned to our dismay that the Germans in particular are notorious for their wanton destruction and attempted theft of the priceless rock art in the Djanet area. Just this year in February, several Germans were apprehended trying to steal rock art from Dider. We found that our one week in Djanet really was not going to be sufficient, and that we should have planned to spend two weeks here, especially if we wanted to explore the rock art of Tassili N’Ajjer. Hindsight is always 20/20! The mosquitoes were especially bad tonight, and Abdallah explained that it was because we were camping next to the water laden oued. He gave us slices of lemon to rub on our skin, claiming the mosquitoes don’t care for it, so we slathered it up before heading for bed.

22 Oct, Fri: Just after falling asleep last night there was a quick rain, but luckily we had made our sleeping area just under one of the half zeribas. Next came a full night of battling mosquitoes. Even though it was quite warm, Becky was smart and slept inside her sleeping bag. This protected her from the attacks everywhere except on her face. She quickly wrapped her head like a mummy and was fully protected for the rest of the night. Robby’s experience was not as good. He initially slept just under a sheet and woke up in the middle of the night with bites on the feet, arms and hands. Attempts to put on more insect repellent were no use as the mosquitoes paid it no mind. Eventually Robby figured out that that he was still being bitten through the sheet and had to climb inside the sleeping bag and wrap his head like Becky. Finally we were both sleeping in peace, with exception to the buzz of the mosquitoes around our heads attempting to find a way into our cocoons. We woke in the morning to a nice sunrise and the mosquitoes finally left just as the flies started attacking. I don’t know how the locals constantly deal with the insects here. We had a light breakfast and packed up the truck. Khalefa drove the truck around to Ihrir while we hiked down through the massive canyon of Idaren Oued. There were zeribas at the bottom of the canyon just below our campsite and Abdallah explained that they are summer homes that are left empty during the rest of the year. Just up the hill from summer homes was an overhang with various paintings from different periods ranging from around 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. Abdallah pointed out that the rounded heads were used on the people in these paintings. Unfortunately some local people use this spot to store their date harvest and have built up a small stone wall to keep animals out. It appears that people have attempted to destroy or paint over most of the ancient paintings. You can still see them but they are not in good condition. We continued the walk down river attempting to grab shade from the palm trees as much as possible. Along the way we saw some donkeys, goats, a few birds and a snake, but we pretty much had the whole place to our selves. The canyon is quite large with stones eroding away in places that make it appear to be a huge stadium of steps up the whole hillside. Abdallah received a few calls on his mobile phone and we were surprised that he had reception deep in the canyon in the middle of the desert. We arrived to Ihrir and Khalefa had already set up our lunch area next to the river under the palm trees. He quickly brought over a nice big salad with some fish, bread and apples. We stuffed ourselves and instantly fell asleep under the swaying date palms. Jokingly we said that he must have drugged us as we hardly remembered falling asleep. We awoke to tea being prepared and had the obligatory 3 cups before fading into another nap. Once the heat of the sun finally passed, we packed up and started a walk into the town of Ihrir. We passed through the town and Abdallah pointed out the mosque, hospital and 2 schools (primary and secondary). He explained that the town has no police station or military bases as the people here have no problems to speak of or work them out internally so there is no need for any officials in the area. He told us how most of the homes are built in the zeriba style and the National Park does not want them to build modern homes as it takes away from the authenticity that is desired in the area. We walked near the river and Abdallah noticed some goats grazing. A few of them had long hair on the back part of their body which is different than any goats we have seen. He grabbed a stick and knocked down some dates and a few of the goats came running to enjoy the sweets that had fallen. A group of young boys soon showed up (all with small fishing poles and a wad of bread dough for bait). They had already caught a couple of fish about 3 inches long. They all started saying hello to us in French and asking something that we did not understand. Later, Abdallah informed us that they were asking us for ink pens and he dissuaded them from doing so. Robby walked over and joined the boys as they were fishing on a small dam and they all started posing for photos. Becky came over for a few photos and then we returned to where Abdallah was. A few of the boys came over and started acting goofy so that we would take their photo. One of the boys was holding the string of fish and another one grabbed a fish with his mouth, yanked it off with his teeth and ran away laughing with it in his mouth. Abdallah talked to the boys for a few minutes and informed us that they were all around 10 years old, but only looked about 7 or 8. We said farewell to the boys and continued towards the campsite when we heard many voices and music coming from one of the buildings. Abdallah said that it was someone having a wedding celebration. Robby stopped and took a photo of a little boy that was splashing water in the house water taken and a lady came out and gave the international “no no” signal by waving her index finger. We went to the camp site just be sunset and took a few photos before setting up our tent. The guys set up a rolled straw matting around our dining area to block the wind and dust and we sat down for tea before dinner. A man from the village stopped by and spoke to the guys for a while and we later found out that we were invited to go over and visit the wedding party. Khalefa prepared a great dinner of tomato based noodle soup and some lamb stew. We got our fill and walked into town to the wedding area. As we were walking up, people everywhere greeted us and shook hands. It was a bit humorous as we all huddled up and attempted to reach across one another to shake hands all at once. The area where the ladies were celebrating was lively and we were dying to go have a look, but we were taken over to the area where the men were relaxing. We took a seat and relaxed for about a half-hour when someone brought out about a 4 foot metal rod of roasted lamb kabab. He walked around and ensured that everyone received a piece. Next they brought out some cous-cous with lamb and sauce. We had already had a filling dinner, so it was difficult for us to eat again, but we had a few mouthfuls from the communal dish and it was quite tasty. One of the guys grabbed the big hunk of meat from the middle of the cous-cous and ripped it into small pieces and put it in front of each of us as we ate from the big dish. After the food came the tea and quickly after everyone vanished, but we were not sure where they all went. Abdallah spoke to the brother of the groom and he allowed us to walk over and visit the ladies as the celebrated. We were informed that it was ok to go but we were not allowed to take photos. Robby and the groom’s brother were the only 2 adult males in the area. There were several guys standing just outside the main entrance peeping in to see how much fun the ladies where having. The ladies were beating drums, dancing and ululating. It was quite a site as they were all dressed colorful and shaking their hips like professionals. Several of the ladies noticed us and came by to say hello and ask if we were enjoying ourselves. This was of course all in French. Then a small crowd of children gathered around us to try and speak some broken English that they learned in school. They would whisper something into another’s ear and giggle as they worked up the nerve to attempt to speak English. It was a great time and after about 20 minutes, host took us back to meet Abdallah and walk back to the camp site. We immediately jumped in the tent and were thankful that we didn’t have to battle with the mosquitoes tonight.

23 Oct, Sat: It was hard to get out of our warm sleeping bags and start our day, but since Abdallah told us we’d be on the road by 8 am, we had to rouse ourselves out to get ready. After breakfast, we broke down our tent, packed up our stuff, and hopped in the vehicle for the short drive through Ihrir. A local guide from the village had offered to escort us to visit the engravings and paintings of Tintilaman, and since Abdallah was tired from last night’s late activities, he happily passed off the responsibility to his new found friend. We agreed to meet back up around 11 or 11:30, and headed off towards a nearby guelta with our guide. The walk was easy, and quite scenic as the valley was dominated by sheer cliffs on one side and an oasis of palm trees and other greenery on the valley floor. We passed by some abandoned buildings that our guide told us used to belong to the French. The animal engravings on a rock face were in good condition, considering they were completely exposed to the elements. Next, we were led to another rock which was uniquely shaped, with a curved section that resembled a mini-cave. Inside, an ornate painting of a cow caught our attention. The head especially was in great detail, but the rest of the body had faded considerably. The other side of the rock had several crude and rudimentary paintings, and we were unable to figure out if they were made before or after the cow painting. On our walk back into Ihrir, we linked up with some friends of our local guide, and noticed that the two young ladies were sans scarves when we initially approached them. They donned the scarves upon noticing our arrival, and proceeded to tie a heavy bag of dates onto their donkey. Whatever couldn’t fit on the donkey was balanced precariously onto the ladies’ heads as they walked effortlessly beside us in plastic flipflops! Once we entered Ihrir, we bid our new friends farewell, and joined our local guide at the most happening place in town (a tea shop where the locals had gathered to sip on lukewarm tea), and sat down to patiently await Abdallah. When he eventually pulled up, we headed back to the campsite to lunch inside the main zeriba. Afterwards, a short siesta was in order, and by midafternoon, we assisted in packing up the vehicle so that we could finally leave Ihrir and head off to Dider, our next destination. After pulling into the campsite at Dider, our conversation erupted into a huge debate as to the remainder of our trip, since we had requested a multi-day trek at the Tassili N’Ajjer and were only now discovering that we would have 1 day to reach Jabarren and return (on our very last day, no less). We finally got the laydown of the rest of our itinerary, and after considering the facts, decided that the agency had probably realized that a 3 day trek (to include Jabarren) was not possible as it is a 7 day loop at a minimum. There was another option for a 1 day trek to Jabarren, but it is supposedly grueling and not recommended, but possible (at least according to our guidebook). So our itinerary was modified to include a few extra sights in and around Djanet, but we were never officially informed. After realizing what had most likely occurred, we agreed that it made the most sense and were placated. The sun was setting fast and Abdallah offered to escort us over to the Dider rock ruins to see the engravings in the fading light (with a return in the morning to see them in better detail). We agreed and from our first impressions, were quite taken with some of the engravings, although it was impossible to take decent photos of any of them. We met the friendly caretaker and told him his simple garden was quite picturesque, and set up camp nearby, with the promise of returning in the morning when the lighting was better. At dinner, we were joined by two Tuareg camel herders, who were linking up with their tour group for a camel trek tomorrow. Dinner was good, but the smoke from the nearby fire got to be a bit much (the wind was quite strong), so after our three cups of tea, we left the chatting Tuaregs by the campfire and headed to our tent for the night.

24 Oct, Sun: Our campsite’s normal pre-sunrise tranquility was shattered this morning, as we heard footsteps trampling right outside our tent, and pots and pans loudly clattering. What was going on? We arose to see a beautiful sunrise. Nearby, the Tuaregs had joined Abdallah and Khalefa for breakfast, and they were all having a good time together. Since we were up already, we broke down camp early, breakfasted, and were the first visitors to the nearby Dider engravings. For some unknown reason, this site is not listed in either of our guidebooks (Bradt or Lonely Planet), but it definitely deserves to be. Dider was a prehistoric art school, with dozens of carvings found embedded in its massive rock face. We admired the artwork, (some of it sadly destroyed by motorcycle riders, treasure hunters, and the carelessness of visitors whose heavy boots scuffed the surface of many of the engravings). Today, it is mandatory to walk barefoot on the engravings, and we happily slid our flipflops off to admire the carvings. The most famous is the scene of two sleeping gazelles (which is the basis for the 1000 Dinar), but our favorite was the intricately decorated (and massive) cow carving that is unmissable. Other highlights included the sitting lady glancing at her reflection in a mirror, and three giraffes gathered together to eat from an overhead tree branch. The friendly caretaker we had met the previous night pointed out numerous carvings, and we were quite glad that Tanezrouft had included Dider on our itinerary. Next stop was a nearby guelta, the Assar Guelta which actually consists of two fresh water pools (one is elevated above the other). After clambering up to check out both gueltas, we were off again to our next destination, the Museum of Bordj El Haoues. The very friendly and knowledgeable museum curator (who could only speak in French and Arabic), gave us an excellent rundown of the museum, and to our surprise, we could almost understand all of his briefing which was in French. The photos of Tadrat Desert whetted our appetite to return to this gorgeous part of the world in the future, since we won’t have enough time to visit it on this trip. The most interesting portion of the museum was the section showcasing the tribal jewelry worn by Tuareg women during festivals (heavy silver head ornaments). Afterwards, we stopped by to restock on vegetables and cold beverages from Bordj El Haoues, before heading out of town to set up camp and have lunch. Things were going well until a terrific sandstorm started blowing relentlessly, making for an uncomfortable stop. Instead of our usual siesta after lunch, we helped to pack up and were on the road towards Erg Admer. With the wind picking up instead of abating after over an hour, Abdallah made the call to switch our campsite tonight from the desert of Erg Admer to Essendilene canyon, which he said would be more sheltered from the elements. He was right…as soon as we made the turn off towards the canyon, the weather conditions improved dramatically due to the mountain ranges providing a buttress against the wind. Robby was asked if he wanted to drive the 4×4 on the sand trail and he didn’t hesitate, taking us all the way to the main “entrance” to the canyon. Here, we had the option to rest for the remainder of the afternoon, or else have a 2 hour hike to see the canyon valley. Of course we opted to see the canyon right away, and boy was it amazing! No wonder it is listed as one of Algeria’s highlights…if you can only visit one canyon in Algeria, make sure it is the Essendilene Canyon. It was fantastically beautiful, with a simple trail leading visitors to some of the most picturesque scenery in the country. We took quite a few photos here, with poor Abdullah having to patiently wait for us. On the return trek, Abdullah showed us the type of tree that the Tuaregs use as a natural tooth cleaner (we each tore off a branch and immediately started chomping down), and we saw a French military bunker (circa 1952). Abdullah explained that this region was a Shangri-La, with a garden, lots of fruits and vegetables so of course the French decided to take this scenic spot over. We walked to our nearby campsite and set up our tent before relaxing with the daily evening cups of tea. The sun set was actually quite early, and by 6:30 pm, it was already dark out with stars in the sky above us. We read until dinner and just took in the lovely surroundings. This is another great campsite!

25 Oct, Mon: The guys had already been awake for a while when we came out of the tent for breakfast. They were attacked by small sand gnats and flies and could sleep no longer. Seriously, this was the worst experience of our lives when we sat down for breakfast and were immediately accosted by dozens of flies. They were relentless, annoying but harmless. Needless to say, we ate quickly. After breakfast we drove to Tikobawhen (mountains of the swords), which received it name from a Tuareg legend that this was a famous fighting area, where thousands of Tuaregs hid their swords in the sand to be ready to fight their enemies. However, this region may have received its moniker because it simply looks like there are dozens of swords coming out of the ground, albeit in the form of jagged mountain peaks. Just before entering Tikobawhen, we passed by a couple of ancient burial grounds, and already our visit to the museum yesterday paid off as we could easily recognize the stone formations. The typical look is a tomb in the middle with two lines of stone that circle the tomb. People would typically put offerings or gifts into the first circle for the person to take with them in the afterlife. The second circle has an opening and was sort of a visitation area on for people such as family or close friends. Abdallah said there are many of these sites in the area and they can be seen on Google Earth. We drove down to the end of a drivable passage and walked about 20 minutes to a guelta that gave some really nice photo opportunities. There were also a few natural archways in the stone formed by erosion. From here we drove a bit further until we reached a massive rock that was eroded more around the base and kind of looked like a head sticking out of the ground. From here we walked to Elephant Arch, which was actually a large arch similar to an elephant trunk with a smaller arch just above it and a really small arch up at the very top of the stone formation. After visiting the arch we walked further through the forest of stone outcroppings and stopped to check out some ancient paintings. To our amazement, we saw that the ground here is literally strewn with thousand year old shards of pottery everywhere, some of which could be museum pieces. We walked through a narrow stone gorge that was reminiscent of Petra (Jordon), and found our lunch site, where Khalefa had already set up a nice spot for us. After eating, we tried napping but for some reason, today was insect day. To our dismay, we discovered a new species of insect that has quite possibly beaten the dreaded mosquito as our most hated insect. Drum roll please…we hope you never meet the obnoxious Algerian Sahara sand gnat. These bugs went nuts for our skin, with a painful bite and a putrid smell once we crushed them (they are quite slow and easy to kill). Soon, we were both smelling like a stink bomb had exploded on our shirts, and the sand gnats seems to relish their dead as a swarm of them started attacking non stop. Meanwhile, you can imagine our animosity at Abdallah and Khalefa when we noticed them peacefully snoozing away mere feet away from us. Thankfully, today’s rest stop was brief, and we welcomed Abdallah’s suggestion that we commence our afternoon walk. Our route was to take us from Tikobawhen to Tilalen, where we were to link up with Khalefa at a large outcropping called Azaro Enhedan (Donkey Stone in Tuareg). We saw some cave paintings, and walked forever on the sand dunes that led us right past gorgeous stone outcroppings. The scenery here is truly amazing and unforgettable. The only way to see it is really to immerse yourself in the Sahara and walk it, as the feeling isn’t the same when you are zooming past in a 4×4. The wind started picking up (thank god, as the sand gnats finally relented in their tortuous attack on us), and we finally reached our meeting point, but no Khalefa. Abdallah offered to scout out the area, but with the strong wind picking up, the tire tracks were partially erased, and it was impossible to tell which direction Khalefa had gone to set up camp. The sun was rapidly setting, there was no cook and no guide. We quickly realized this was not an ideal situation! Eventually, in the darkening dusk, we could make out Abdallah in the distance, so we quickly beat feet to link up with him. Our plan was to backtrack to our starting point (several hours away) as we feared Khalefa had gotten the vehicle stuck, or worse yet, he was in some kind of accident. Otherwise, Abdallah fervently believed that Khalefa would be driving around looking for us. After walking about twenty minutes, we looked behind us and could make out the highbeams of a car…rescue in the form of Khalefa was in sight! To ensure he could spot us, we were forced to set a bush fire (which was quickly put out), and laughed at the ordeal once we were safely in the vehicle and on our way to camp. The excitement wasn’t over yet though. As we pulled into camp, two donkeys had decided to raid the makeshift kitchen, and they were guzzling our water supply. Khalefa quickly chased them away as we doubled over in laughter and set up our tent for the night. Everyone was tired, so after eating a quick dinner, we skipped the tea ceremony and crashed in our tents.

26 Oct, Tues: Waking up and seeing Tilalen in the daylight was a nice sight. We had breakfast and packed up before accompanying Abdallah on a walk around the nearby area. Our goal this morning was to see some more rock art sites, and we ended up visiting three. The first one was in the worst condition, as it had extremely faded paintings that had been too exposed to the elements. We could barely make out the paintings and none of them were in good detail. However, the second two sites were much more impressive, with numerous paintings that held their detail despite being over 10,000 years old! After returning to camp, we loaded up the 4×4 and happened upon a Tuareg camel herder in the midst of the desert. It made for a picturesque shot, and Abdullah and Khalefa immediately stopped to gossip with the Tuareg, finding out that he was preparing to receive some tourists for a camel trek around the area. Khalefa had the wheel today, and he drove us to an old cave in Emouroden, complete with a large arch visible from the exterior of the massive rock formation. Nearby, a large stone with a severely eroded base (giving it the impression of a head supported by a super thin neck) stood, and we wondered how much longer it will be around for as it appears that it could topple any day now. We lunched in a sheltered cove (rice leftovers…surprisingly yummy) and enjoyed a nice bug-free siesta until 3 pm. Once the midday heat had cooled down, we walked around Emouroden to see some more rock art. Khalefa met us with the truck and we drove onward to Tim Ras (Ghas) which has beautiful rock formations against an orange backdrop of fine sand. Here, Abdallah showed us more cave art, with some really nicely preserved paintings. Our initial plan was to sleep here but we asked to switch it to Erg Admer so that we could camp amidst sand dunes. Abdallah drove like a crazy man to get us there before sunset, and after finding a suitable campsite, we walked up the sand dunes for the sunset view and realized to our dismay that the dreaded sand gnats were here too. After covering up from head (scarf) to foot (socks), the bugs stayed away and we ended up having a lovely camp here. Abdallah performed the customary tea ritual, and we slept soundly in our tent afterwards.

27 Oct, Wed: It’s a bit challenging finding a suitable (and private) toilet location in the middle of sand dunes but we were up to the task, hiking a little ways from the campsite until we reached a dip in the dunes that gave us a sense of privacy. After packing up to leave pretty Erg Admer, we briefly walked around the desert with Abdallah while Khalefa finished tearing down the rest of our campsite. Here, we noticed hundreds of shards of pottery (some with decorative exteriors), weaponry (arrow heads and cutting tools) and couldn’t wrap our minds around how there are literally so many pieces everywhere in Djanet and its surroundings. This truly must have been the crossroad of civilizations (Abdallah had explained over our camp fire last night that caravans from Niger, Mali and Libya have crossed through Djanet for thousands of years, all of them leaving behind their traces in the rock art and remnants of pottery that today can still be easily seen everywhere here). We were picked up by Khalefa and driven towards Djanet. On the outskirts of Djanet, we were impressed to see a massive migration, led by a nomad family seeking greener pastures for their huge herd (numbering in the hundreds) of goats, sheep and donkeys. We ended up seeing three separate groups of the same family, each with a herd of animals. This morning, we were headed to see one of Djanet’s most famous burial sites (Tinamali, or more commonly known as “Indaberan” since its so close to the old Indaberan Airport)…it took Abdallah’s mad driving skills to get us to the site as Khalefa’s cautious driving was not getting us up over the sand dune. The burial site was exactly as we had imagined, although we did have to hike up a hill to get a decent view of the entire area. Afterwards, it was a short ride into the center of Djanet (the old airport was only about 10 KM outside of town), and we went straight to the Djanet museum, where a friendly English speaking lady gave us a great briefing and overview of Djanet. We enjoyed some tea at the most popular tea hangout joint in laidback Djanet, and it appeared that our teahouse was the meeting point in the small city, with old friends and acquaintances happily greeting each other. It was nearing lunch when we drove out to the outskirts of Djanet towards a nearby desert. However, our route took us past the old ksar of Azellouaz, and Abdallah happily obliged with our request to stop and take photos. The ksar has the look of being completely abandoned and decrepit, but It was quite picturesque and offered nice views of the nearby oued and surrounding area. Lunch was a few kilometers past the abandoned city in a scenic spot with orange sand and large stone formations. These stones had a unique weathered appearance to give them the look of being leathery or roughly textured. We enjoyed our meal and a short siesta, before picking up another passenger, Achmed (who was to be our guide to Jabbaren tomorrow). Since we had asked Abdallah if we could look at the market (we meant the fruit and vegetable market but he assumed the souvenir market), he gave us thirty minutes to wander the market while he went shopping for some meat (we had been craving meat after our vegetarian meals and he was happily obliging). The market is more than a souvenir market as there are stalls catering to the locals (with goods of clothing, shoes, bags, utensils), but there were an unusual amount of stalls selling pretty Tuareg souvenirs. No hard sell here but while we were interested, we just couldn’t afford the prices (quoted in Euros) when we did a mental calculation of Euros to Dollars. Robby was accosted by some friendly boys who wanted their photo taken, and we had a very hassle free experience at probably the most touristy market we have visited in Algeria to date. True to his word, Abdallah was back in thirty minutes and he drove us directly to the highlight of our visit to Djanet, the pretty old ksar of El Mihane. The views from the winding streets of the ksar are amazing, and we didn’t let two locked gates prevent us from clambering over a stone wall to explore the renovated portion of the old city. The view from the Imam’s house is amazing…not to be missed! Just look for the highest building and walk to its rear balcony for a superb view of the entire city. We were very happy that we had to a chance to explore this portion of El Mihane, and at sunset, loaded into the 4×4 for a wild ride out towards Jabbarren. We quickly set up camp and drank tea while waiting for our highly anticipated dinner. Abdallah had bought lamb and Khalefa prepared a wonderful dinner of Taguila (bread cooked in the sand) served up with a yummy tomato based lamb sauce…two thumbs up. We slept well with instructions to wake early tomorrow (0500 wake up, 0530 breakfast, 0600 hike) and set our alarm accordingly. We also learned how to say “thank you very much” in Tuareg (Tenenmert Tatajit) after tonight’s excellent meal.

28 Oct, Thurs: When we woke at 5 am, not a soul was stirring. At 5:30, we started slamming the vehicle’s doors as an impromptu alarm clock since we could still hear our blissful companions snoring away. That got them up with a start, and we were on our way by 6:30 after breakfast and packing up the campsite. It took us about 30 minutes (relatively flat and thorny ground) to reach the base of Jabarren (known in Tuareg as “Giant”), and another 90 minutes to summit the beast via the Akba Aghoum pass, taking four brief rest/photo stops. By 8:30, we had finally reached the Tassili N’Ajjer plateau, but we still had another 20 minutes to reach the first of countless rock art paintings in pretty Jabarren. The rocky scenery itself was amazing, and Achmed expertly led us through a mazelike route that took us to the highlights of the cave art paintings. For the next 4 hours, we saw hundreds of paintings, all in various states of preservation. Most have sadly eroded away, leaving traces and much to our imagination. However, some were surprisingly in incredible shape, especially given their age. We were extremely perturbed by Frenchman Henri Lhote whose wanton “recordings” of the paintings led to their destruction. All too often, Achmed would show us the trace outlines of a painting and tell us to look at Henri’s book for a better image since in capturing his image, he ruined the image for the rest of us. After taking dozens of photos, we were done by 12:30. Parched and hungry, we headed towards two ancient Cyprus trees (supposedly 6000 years old), and met our first tourists on the plateau, a large group from Italy. Since we were near a stagnant pool of water, we started seeing the dreaded mosquitoes, which was out in full force despite the heat of the midday. We ate our pack lunches (tuna sandwiches, boiled eggs and dates) and took a short rest before tackling the rocky slope downhill. It was actually tougher on our legs going downhill, as the rocks kept causing us to lose our footing. It was slow going and by 4 pm, we were back at our campsite (after having uprooted two dead tree stumps for firewood). We headed directly towards the airport, where we pulled off about 2 km out from the airport to this oasis of greenery, a private garden nestled in peace and tranquility. We were thrilled to learn that we could shower and pack here, and wasted no time in taking our cold water showers. Thankfully, there was electricity to be had here too, so we were able to recharge our laptops. Our cold water showers never felt so good, and we both felt refreshed and clean for the first time in over a week. Dinner was barbequed lamb and chicken and we were happy to meet the owner of the local Djanet travel agency, Mr. Abdel Latif, who joined us for dinner. ( and email: He speaks impeccable English and charmed us with the local hospitality that is evident in this section of Djanet. We were surprised to learn that his agency is used by some of the higher end operators (Journeys in the US and Explore in the UK) as the local operator on the ground, as we had not been able to find his website on a internet search before our trip here. Since we had booked our tour with Tanezrouft and they can no longer provide overland transportation from Tamanrasset to Djanet (currently due to ongoing security concerns and rules enforced by the numerous checkpoints), they had contacted Abdel Latif and outsourced this portion of the trip to his company. Since we were thrilled with Tanezrouft’s arrangement of our tour up until Tamanrasset and of Abdel Latif’s coordination for the Djanet portion, we felt comfortable telling him that we would let our friends and family know to contact him directly if interested in visiting the Djanet region (and Tanezrouft for all other regions). We can easily see Abdel Latif’s corner of the market grow, as he is one of very few English speaking operators catering to non-French speaking clientele in Djanet. And his staff is extremely professional and knowledgeable. We were really tired from our exertions up to Jabbaren but forced ourselves to stay up late to enjoy our hosts’ hospitality, partaking in the tea ceremony until about 2315. We had about 45 minutes before having to check in for our flight to Algiers, so we bid farewell to Abdel Latif (he gifted us with some delicious dates handpicked from the garden) and took a 20 minute snooze before heading to the miniscule airport. There, we thanked Khalefa for taking great care of us (and engorging our bellies each night with his wonderful cooking) and thanked Abdallah for being a great tour guide and ambassador to Djanet. We like it here so much we are already planning on returning to see the Tadrart region of the Sahara, and told Abdallah we would be in touch. Checking in for our flight was easy, and our experience on this domestic flight was infinitely better than the Tamanrasset to Djanet flight. This Air Algiers flight wasn’t full, had plenty of space, and we didn’t have to fight to get our luggage on board. Breakfast was served and before we knew it, we had arrived to the domestic airport in Algiers. Since it was 4:30 am, we didn’t have long to wait for our luggage, and had a short 5 minute walk between terminals to reach the international airport for our onward flight to Madrid.

Our overall impressions of Algeria: absolutely fantastic and completely positive. We acknowledge that it probably isn’t a destination for everyone as there still are some growing pains to overcome (the visa hurdle, the lack of variety in food at the restaurants, the overpriced hotels in comparison to value obtained, and the pervasive presence of second hand smoke everywhere). But in the flip side we were part of the lucky few to have experienced the legendary Tuareg hospitality of the south, the drop dead gorgeous Roman ruins of Djemila, Tipaza and Timgad, incredibly beautiful vistas of the Sahara (which aren’t all sand by the way), and the incredible friendliness, openness and kindness of almost every single Algerian that we met. It’s a destination that gets under your skin, and we cannot wait to return. We really hope more people can experience the wonders of this amazing country and hope everyone else enjoys it as much as we did.

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