|Longing for a Red Road|
Mon 5 Apr
The lorries that run between Niger and Chad have defined a "camion" track. Being too wide and too deep for "les petite voitures" the tracks of the smaller vehicles skit and switch alongside but never stray too far for fear of losing their way. The lines across the sand are reassuring: this must be the right way? But we still use a compass and retrace our route occasionally. There are sand dunes and other places where the dried silt is too soft and too deep. Vehicles struggle, drivers need four-wheel-drive and an experienced eye. At times like this you need to gather speed and trust the momentum will get you across. But it’s never straight forward and at other times there are pot holes and ledges and it’s best to ease the vehicle as gently as possible across the broken surface. On our first full day we pass two lorries in the first hour and see nothing more for the rest of the day. A sobering thought that should we break down there'll be little chance of assistance we’ll be on our own for some time.
It gets light around 6:00am and with an efficient camp we're away by 7:00am. Between 11:00am and 4:00pm the sand is too hot to touch; a bit of a problem when you have to kneel at the wheel hub and "shovel" the sand away with bare hands. The metal sand ladders soon become too hot to touch too; oh for cotton gardening gloves. There are bushes, occasionally trees around but in the middle of the day, when you need it most, these offer no shade. There is sometimes a breeze but imagine a washroom hand-dryer, it’s not exactly refreshing. Then there’s the sand and dust that gets whipped up so easily, it gets everywhere, worst of all behind the contact lenses. In these temperatures it’s easy to drink litres of water and still be thirsty. You perspire all the time. It evaporates before you notice. Only where your clothes make contact with the car seat do you feel damp and that goes within a minute. No need to stop for the loo, the body has no liquid to spare.
We drive till the sun sets and then half an hour more. Annoyingly we camp only 5km from the next town and the chance of some water, perhaps even a cold drink? We look out for a "good" stopping point. There aren’t really any factors to consider, somewhere flat, out of the wind, not too thorny. We collect scraps of brushwood for a fire and cook supper, soup and baked beans courtesy of Heinz. At night, it's still warm: no need for a tent or sleeping bag. Soon the moon is up and it’s no longer dark.
Tue 6 Apr
At the start of the second day a broad causeway appears in front of us, once a road, now so pot-holed and so eroded we can’t actually use it. We have reached the other side of the lake. Remarkably, our seemingly aimless tracks across hundreds of kilometres of dried lake bed have actually joined up with the main "road" towards the capital.
Shortly after we drive into Bol; a border town with no immediate frontiers. All the same we need to "check-in" with Customs and we're told to report to Immigration. Here you can take on fuel and drinking water. Even buy a cold soda (if you’re in the mood for one before 8:00am). Most of all Bol has access to what remains of Lake Chad. On a stony beach, shaded by trees I watch local people washing their cooking pots, children playing in the water and fishermen setting off in their boats; there are even some ducks parading along the shoreline. For a moment the monochrome of the desert is gone and we enjoy green trees and reeds, blue water and sky, it's wonderful.
Bol is about halfway to the capital. From here there is relatively more traffic (about one vehicle an hour). But the "road" is mostly useless; at best it confirms the direction. We take the side tracks and occasionally get stuck in dunes. One section takes us an hour to move about 200m repeatedly moving the car its own length and bringing the sand ladders to the front. We stop for lunch in a village and buy some grilled meat. Another chance to pump up the tyres having let them down "a little bit more" every time we’ve get stuck in soft sand. Hopefully we won’t have to let them down again. After a further 2½ hours we reach a town called Massakory and a major junction. We turn right onto a dirt road in reasonable condition and make good progress. Two hours later, just as the sun is setting, we reach Massaguet and finally reach the black top, white lines even; now that’s what I call a red road.
|Longing for a Red Road|