Djanet - Tam Slides
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The Tour de Magreb, two years earlier, left this stretch of dirt road untouched.
Only for Masochists - 11-04-93 until 02-05-93

21st December 2001 - 10.15 GMT

Wanna suffer ? - 412 km to Djanet

When leaving Illizi there's an innocent sign indicating: "412 km to Djanet".

Believe it, that sounds easier then it is. I met a group of 9 well-equipped, perhaps not very experienced motor bikers. Only the good stuff, special edition BMWs, 15.000 US-$ a piece, GPS etc. Two of them made it to Zaouatallaz/Fort Gardel, where one motorbike frame finally broke. There they put their stuff on a truck and rode back to the "civilisation". The other 7 guys already abandoned after only 50 km and went for easier tasks in Tunisia. So why should a solo-cyclist make it, if a bunch of Paris-Dakar-Wannabes fail ? My best guess is, that the bikers were pushing engine and mechanics too hard with their overloaded bike. With the bicycle this may not happen, as you can't accelerate just with a small twist of your wrist. The key is to-be-patience. Anyway, I was thankful for the warning and also a bit proud.

On the outskirts of Tassili n Ajjer

On the outskirts of Tassili n Ajjer

Foto taken by Otto from the Netherland, who's BMW suffered a breakdown 150 km before Djanet.

The bike was packed with +/- 12 litres of water and food for a week. I knew I could re-supply on sardines with tomato only in Zaouatallaz and perhaps get some water in between. So I tried to play it smart. I left Illizi only in the afternoon, carrying my water supply for the day in my stomach, I had 1 litre of Coke and 1 litre of water before leaving. The first 15 or 20 km were going pretty well, but then the track became much stonier. Now I was on a plateau, cut in small pieces by small and big canyons, all covered with black rocks. Just plain black everywhere, up to the horizon. Desolating. What kind of courage was shown by the people, who entered this hostile landscape the first time without knowing what should be awaiting there ?

Descending Plateau near Fort Gardel
Descending the Plateau near Fort Gardel

The track got as bad as you might NOT be able to imagine. Big and small stones, pebbles and always undulated. On day 2 I just managed to make 30 km, mostly "driving" slower then walking speed. A nightmare. Coming closer to the edge of the plateau, the blackness vanishes, the landscape became more open and less black, new tracks appeared everywhere. Fortunately there is only one place to descent from the plateau so no reason to panic. Only some km after the descent of the plateau, there was a crossing. Bad news. I tried to find something out with my pilot charts and the compass, but to no reveal. Then I saw some 4WD in the distance and I choose to take the left track, good choice. At this point, I already was 3 or 4 days on the "road" and needed to get some water. Following the guide book "Durch Afrika" (Därr Verlag) I knew that a guelta, a waterhole, was close, but hidden behind some rocks. Well, this was pretty exciting. I climbed up some rocks, maybe 20 or 30 m high, and got down on the other side. I knew, that a twisted ankle or a stitch of a scorpion would mean big trouble, as for sure nobody would find me here in the next week.

Near Djanet airport
Near Djanet airport

At the pound, I pumped some litres of muddy water through the ceramic filter, avoiding contact with the water; their might be parasites, which could penetrate immediately the skin and enter the blood circulation. Near Zauatallaz the landscape opened wide, and I had the pleasure to impress 2 jeeps full with tourists with my lonesome presence in the desert. Then Zaouatallaz, which was the expected anti-climax. A view houses and fortunately a café with some drinks and a very limited choice of food. Coco biscuit. The sardines were already out of date !

Militarypost Illizi  
  Zaouatallaz/Fort Gardel/Bordj el Haouares  
+/- 370
Begin Tarmac  
Crossing with mainroad to Djanet  

A sandstorm was closing in. Should I leave or should I stay ? There was definitely nothing, which could hold me in Zaouatallaz so I hoped for the better and got on the track again. The track was very wide, but filled with sand and pebbles and undulated like hell. Good to know; that I had the storm in my back and it was pushing me through the sand. I even had to brake a little. Fascinating, how the track was getting closer to the plateau of the Tassili n Ajjer. It's one thing to see it on a map and another to see it as a massive wall, protected by towers and rock needles in front of you. With dawn, the wind slowed down and finally came to a standstill, I pulled over to a cosy depression, left by some bulldozer. Night felt, stars came out, the moon appeared over the Tassili and in the distance strange lights were dancing on the horizon. Ambience enough to think of UFO. But I guess, it were just some lost trucks or jeeps. The final day was easy going. The track became smoother and then I touched brand-new tarmac, circa 40 km before Djanet.

Additional Info

What to expect:
All kind of desert landscapes and in the end the incredible Tassili n Ajjer

How I got there:
Düsseldorf, Germany to Rome, one night at the airport, then Rome - Algiers and some stress to get a domestic flight. The best thing available was a flight to In Aménas and not Illizi, as I had expected. Return flight direct Djanet - Paris

Best time to go:
I went there in April 1993 and it was already too hot. March or October may be better.
Large stretches of very tough tracks (stones, undulations, a bit sand). No problem with orientation, only exception after descent of the plateau before Zaouatallaz

- I