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 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!
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.
The first photo shows a split rock that over hanged our first bivouac.
The second photo shows Oued Tadjouit Ouit, the small valley where we had our bivouac, shortly before sundown. Our bivouac was on the far right, in the shade. That means that next morning, it will get the first rays from the sun. Remember, a good bivouac should always have this orientation. This is a rule among nomades.
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.
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.
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 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.
At the base of the rocks, there is always a part protected from the weather, sun and rain. This is where are the rock paintings.
We now discover our first rock paintings.
The cows can be black and white as on the first and the second photo.
They can also been drawn only in white (third photo). The cows are always long horned, such as the one that are now found much south, in the Sahel, but not anymore in the Sahara.
The fourth photo shows a strange animal. It is more looking like a horse than a cow but I have not found its photo anywhere in documents from specialists and I am unable to give any further explanation.
The last photo shows a herd of black cows.
We are in the desert and you must never forget that the desert can be deadly, for human as well as for animals. The landscape is often so fantastic that you might forget that the desert is so dangerous. Luckily (well, may be this is not exactly luck!), from time to time, there are reminders. Luckily (this time, this is really luck!), I have always found only animal reminders!
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.
A little further, the path begins to climb. This is the beginning of the akba. An akba is a path that allows to climb from the valley (1,100m) to the plateau (1,600m). There are only few (three, I feel) akba that can be used by camels and none by cars, even 4WD.
The first and the second photos (enlarge) show that each cameleer leads two or three camels, tied on to the other, in an Indian file. The path has just the width needed by a camel but not more. Of course, we are not riding the camels but walking. The photographer has to run before the caravan, run behind the caravan, etc, in order to get the best photos!
By the side of the path, pinnacles can look as towers (third photo) or like strange animals (fourth photo).
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.
Loading all the camels is usually a long process. You might feel it will never end and go wander around to take some photos.
Beware, without any warning, as soon as all the camels are loaded, in a few minutes, the whole group will leave and will never wait for you.
You thought that a camel trek meant riding a camel all the time? You are wrong! In a camel trek, you will usually walk 50-70% of the time and ride the camels only a few hours a day. Look at the photos, this is walking near the camels or walking far from the camels but anyway walking!
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.