To get closer to the ghost city, we have to walk on another typical landscape of the Sahara, the "hammada" (first photo), ie an almost flat surface of bare rock that has been darkened by the "desert varnish".
I quote Trekki to explain what is the desert varnish :
During my travels in Southwest US, I often came across these funny vertical stripes on the walls. Looked as if someone had poured down varnish from the walltop. [note that in the Sahara it does not show as stripes but most often as a uniform coat on the rocks]
Later on, I learned that this indeed is called "desert varnish".
I checked the web, and found the following infos:
Desert varnish only appears where water flows over rocks, and bacteria are present. It is composed of fine-grained clay minerals, which contain black manganese oxide and red iron oxide, or hydroxides.
Now directly from NPS/Canyonlands Website:
Desert varnish consists of clays and other particles cemented to rock surfaces by manganese emplaced and oxidized by bacteria living there. It is produced by the physiological activities of microorganisms which are able to take manganese out of the environment, then oxidize and emplace it onto rock surfaces. These microorganisms live on most rock surfaces and may be able to use both organic and inorganic nutrition sources. These manganese-oxidizing microorganisms thrive in deserts and appear to fill an environmental niche unfit for faster growing organisms which feed only on organic materials.
The sources for desert varnish components come from outside the rock, most likely from atmospheric dust and surface runoff. Streaks of black varnish often occur where water cascades over cliffs. No major varnish characteristics are caused by wind.
Thousands of years are required to form a complete coat of manganese-rich desert varnish so it is rarely found on easily eroded surfaces. A change to more acidic conditions (such as acid rain) can erode rock varnish. In addition, lichens are involved in the chemical erosion of rock varnish.
Though tea has only been introduced among the Tuaregs at the beginning of the 20th century, it is now a main part of the Tuareg's tradition and a well known ceremony. Ali, our cook, heat his kettles. The ones for tea are the green ones (always made in China). The kettle is loaded with green tea, mint leaves and some sugar.
Second photo. When it has been brought to the boil, he pours it from high in the other kettle which will go back on the embers for a while. Sorry, he preferred to be in the shade than under the sun! This pouring (and followings) aerates the tea, which oxidizes the tannins and makes it less bitter and tastier.
Third photo. He then pours it in a large glass, and back into the kettle, several times. When the tea is ready, he pours it into small glasses (sorry, no photo) called alkassane in Tamashek. This is the first tea. The second tea will be prepared immediately after the first. No tea is added but some more mint and some sugar. The third tea will be made in the same way.
The Tuareg tradition says:
"Le premier thé est amer comme la vie, le second est fort comme l'amour et le dernier est doux comme la mort". (The first tea is bitter as life, the second is strong as love and the third is sweet as death).
It is sometimes given a bit differently."Le premier thé est amer comme la mort, le second est fort comme la vie et le dernier est doux comme l'amour ". (The first tea is bitter as death, the second is strong as life and the third is sweet as love). Thanks to Glenn (VT Bwana_Brown) for correcting an unfaithful translation.
It is impolite to decline tea but women can begin with the second and children only with the third. Once you have accepted to drink one, you MUST drink the followings. Doing otherwise would be very rude.
There are plenty of plants in the Sahara. They are often thorny and always adapted to drought but can have delicate flowers. Because of overgrazing, they are not always easy to identify.
This is the case with Antinea's lavander (Lavandula Antinea), named after the legendary queen of the Touregs.
The second photo shows Artemisia herba-alba, a odoriferous plant close to wormwood. I tried to make a liquor with it, which was quite tasty.
The third plant is a thorny Asteracae but I have not precisely identified it.
As much as we are walking, as much the landscape changes. Here, we are walking on a narrow lane winding among scattered stones that obviously have been detached by erosion from the rocky mountains that stand on our left.
However, the landscape is not completely mineral. In the foreground, you can see a branch of a small tree, Laperrine's olive tree (Olea Laperrini) is often, just as on the photo, overgrazed by animals and not growing fully. It is named after Laperrine a French military explorator of the Sahara (1860-1920) that discovered it. He died in Intabarakkat (Hoggar) in a plane crash.
Croix d'Agadès (Agadez cross) is standing in front of the Tuareg's camel saddle but it is also a jewel, most often as a silver pendant. It actually has nothing to do with a cross but has been named that way by Europeans. It can have different shapes but the overall design is given on the picture.
Pierre, our French guide had his own camel, a beautiful, tall animal and of course his own saddle. For a Tuareg, the saddle is very important. The most beautiful saddles are made by Tuaregs from Niger. They can be very expensive, depending of their décor. Typical prices can range from 300 to 1000 euros but it can be even more.
Let us enlarge the photo (second photo) to see better the equipment of a meharist. The typical Niger saddle (not Nigerian : it saddles are from Niger and not from Nigeria) is made of an oval board that makes the seat. An other board makes the back. A cross shaped (the Agadez cross) device makes the front. Everything is sheathed with thin leather, here white one. Both the front and the back are topped by a brass point.
At the rear of the saddle hangs a "guerba", a goat skin made waterproof, that will keep water cool. In the front, "gongon", a China made pot to drink, collect water, etc. Something that you always need to have with you!
Caution, important! When you see this type of saddle, you feel that you are going to lean comfortably on the back and grasp firmly the front. This wrong! You will be warned by the camelers! This is only to make it beautiful but this is very fragile and you must not touch, neither the front nor the back. We will se later how you ride a camel, Tuareg style.
At night, camels are let free but fettered. Like that, they can graze around but will not go too far. Actually, not too far can mean several kilometers and very early in the morning (still at night), each cameleer had collected his animals. They were now staying quiet, around the bivouac, while the cameleers began to load them.
The first photo shows our first bivouac, at Oued Tadjouit Ouit, in the plain, at elevation 1,200m, before climbing on the plateau. It was taken after sun dawn. You can see that only the mountains are still lit. Each of us chose where he wanted to drop his 2.5 cm thick mattress and unroll his sleeping bag.
The second photo shows the bivouac when it began to be lit by the sun, next morning. At this time everybody should be up and should have eaten breakfast: bread with jam, coffee or tea with powdered milk.
In the desert, there are always oleanders growing around every "guelta" (water holes) or along every "oued" (dry river bed). It is highly toxic and local camels do not feed on it. Camels coming from the south do not know that as there are no oleanders growing south to the Sahara. One of the camels from the merchants from Mali had eaten oleander and was dying. Pierre, our French guide and Ali, our cook, rushed to kill it before it was dead and collected the best parts. The next day, we had an excellent stew of camel for dinner. The cameleers cut thin strips of flesh that they let dry all day long on some camels, in order to keep it longer.
At the first bivouac, we had our first desert dinner. First of all, a "gongon" passes from one hand (and mouth!) to another. You can see two of them, one on the right, the other on the left of the first photo. It is a green 1 liter pot made of enameled iron, Chinese made. Pierre (our French guide) fills it with water taken out of a guerba (goat skin container) and adds a few drops (I mean "drops", not more) of Pastis to hide the taste of the water. Each of us drinks to recover the water lost during the day.
After that, each of us chooses a bag of lyophilized soup and adds boiling water. The hungry (or thirsty) ones can have a second bag.
Then, Ali, the cook pours in each one's bowl a good portion of a stew he has cooked. More will be available for the hungry ones again!
And to finish with, the dessert is either a handful of dates or an orange.
When the fire is almost extinct, as the night is dark (it must be about 8PM), everybody slips into his sleeping bag.
Actually, not really everybody, Pierre and Ali had a job to do (next tip) and the photographer wanted to make a few more snapshots!
At Oued Tadjouit Ouit, the meeting point with our cameleers, there was already a group of merchants from Mali, that went across the desert to sell artifacts made in their country.
The second photo shows one of theses Tuaregs in the traditional outfit worn daily, different from the celebration outfit shown on my Djanet page.
The last photo shows our French guide, resting before the departure. Actually, he told us later that he had a full size flue with high temperature, but he had to do his job, ill or not!
The meeting point with our camels and cameleers was a few kilometers away from Djanet, at the foot of the cliffs that lead to the plateau, the "Tassili". We first met a flock of sheeps grazing the abundant vegetation (yes, it is abundant!).
In the Sahara, the sheeps are tall and often of various colors (second photo) They look almost like hornless goats.
However, their face (third photo) is that of a sheep.
We had of course to take a photo of our group of 9 (Pierre, the guide was busy and not there) before leaving Djanet. The photo was taken in the camping. You can see on the left and in the background the "zeribas", built with reeds. Each zeriba has one single entrance and two rooms, each equipped with two iron beds. There are no doors but a chicane so that from outside, you cannot see in any of the two rooms.
Guelta Anaïs is not far from Terarart. It is a huge body of water (Sahara speaking!), almost a hundred meters long, more than fifty meters wide. It is not advisable to swim in a guelta and moreover, it is now forbidden. When we were there, it was not forbidden and I had a swim. The water, as can be seen on the photo is muddy, and you cannot see the bottom. I swam to the bottom at several places and it was3-4 meters deep but I do not know if I was at the deepest place.
Though, our travel was not yet completely over and the next day, Pierre brought us by mean of a truck to Terarart (or Teghaghart), 10 km south to Djanet, on the outskirts of the erg Admer and near the track to Tamanrasset.
Here was another kind of rock art, ie carvings. This particular carvings is named "la Vache qui pleure", "the cow that cries". This seems to be a joke after the name of the famous cheese "La Vache qui rit" as the carving is done in such a way that it seems to be crying. Carvings are older than paintings.