Prospective tour to Chad: Ounianga Lakes and Ennedi
Like a big secret, Chad keeps jealously one of the most beautiful deserts on the planet with awesome places lake Ounianga lakes, Ennedi massif or Tibesti region.
A part of the Sahara Desert that has remained enigmatic and unknown until today because of decades of conflict.
Chad is now emerging as an oasis of security in the midst of a region marked with instability. Never before has there been a better time to explore this country in peace and quiet.
During these last years we have received the comments of travelers who ventured to the north of Chad, all of them related wonders. Everything sounded great.
Why not take a prospecting trip with our truck to the north of Chad?
After sharing our plans with our partners at Rift Valley Expeditions, we decided to launch this great adventure together.
Preparing the expedition to Ounianga and Ennedi
At the beginning of January 2019, the travellers participating in this first prospective trip in Chad arrive at the Catholic Mission of Kabalaye, which has simple, clean and pleasant accommodation and most of all is magnificently located in the center of N´Djamena, the capital of Chad.
In the previous days we made all the necessary purchases for the trip. Ahead 18 days of camping and not many places to stock up on provisions.
These are days of intense shopping and organization together with our local collaborator and guide in Chad: Hamit, and the cooker of the trip: the master of the fires Gilbert.
Preparing the truck for the overland trip in nothern Chad
In addition to everything related to food and drink, we also had to make sure that we had enough autonomy of diesel. Some friends had told me that the consumption of this truck in sand, with the wheels deflated and with an occasional use of the 4x4, could be increased to 100 liters at 100 kilometers. And so it was! Conting with Hamit the distances without possibility of refueling, it was necessary to take 300 extra liters of gasoil, additional to those of the deposit.
For an adventure of these particularities in a truck through the desert, in which we would travel about 3,500 kilometers, of which only 960 are asphalt and many times very far from any kind of population. We needed to have somebody able to guarantee to solve almost any mechanical problem that might arise in the trip and that could also drive if needed. With whom better than Oscar? a good friend of ours and companion of adventures for many years.
For a trip to the north of Chad it is necessary to have the vehicle optimized. We want to make a few improvements to the truck before starting the trip but the cancellation of Oscar's flight and its subsequent two-day delay in arrival in N'Djamena, denied us to have them ready. Oscar would have to complete them during the trip, along with the help of one of the passengers, who was always willing to give a hand. It was wonderful to have travellers like that!
The journey to northern Chad begins
With everything ready and our eight travelers ready, we began the expedition to the north of Chad: first objective, the Ounianga Lakes. It would not be easy to get there.
One hundred and a few kilometers after leaving N´Djamena we arrived at Massakori, where the asphalt disappears to give way to tracks of dirt, sand, dunes, countryside, open sands and rocky fields, which would accompany us for the next 2,600 kilometers of travel.
Bahr el Ghazal
In a landscape dotted with acacias we reached the small Sahelian village of Moussoro, land of nomadic shepherds Daza and Kred.
We took the track of Bahr el Ghazal, "the river of gazelles", which leads us to Kouba Olanga. Formerly this river was fed by the waters of Lake Chad, but now it is completely dry.
From village to village, following the course of the Bahr el Gazal, in a semi-desert territory, we arrive at Kouba Olanga, a town surrounded by dunes, with scattered houses, most of which are half buried in the sand. The wind, the dust, the dim light and a rarefied atmosphere make us think that we have just arrived on another planet. The great adventure in Chad begins.
We continue our journey towards the north of Chad, first we must reach the city of Faya and then towards the Lakes of Ounianga. This is the route that connects Chad with Libya, so we sometimes come across with trucks that are loaded with goods and people from this neighboring country.
Solidarity in the desert
After leaving behind Kouba Olanga, in the midst of the desert, we find a broken-down truck, we stop. They transport fuel from Libya. They have been standing for hours, but they could be thrown away for days if they cannot solve the problem. The electrical and electronic problems in Africa can be a difficult nightmare to solve.
Thanks to an ammeter and Oscar's knowledge, we managed to put them on the track of the real problem. Time flies and we must continue with the journey. We wish them good luck and they wish us good luck as well.
The Sahara Harmattan
It had been windy for a few days, but on that day when not even the sun's rays could penetrate the dust of the harmatan, an unbearable wind began to rise that rendered driving impossible. I drive as best I can, and I can't see more than two meters in front of me... we go aimlessly, we stop.
We barely set up the tents, tonight three of us sleep in each tent we will spend the night as we can.
The wind and the sand make it unbearable to be out of the truck. Dinner, beers and lots of laughs inside the cabin, advantages of travelling by overland truck.
It's night, we see some lights coming. They managed to fix the problem! Without seeing anything, they followed our tracks, they got lost as we did, and we spend the night together. The next morning, we leave at the same time.
Before Faya there are the dunes of Erg du Djourab, a rather complicated stretch of driving... we got stuck in the sand on more than once.
Learning to drive over the desert dunes
Now they help us again and again. They show us how to drive on the sand, they also teach us how to attack the dunes and they wait for us at every step.
They tell us that the two kilos of pressure that we carry in the tires are too much and that we must lower them to 1 kilo or even half a kilo like them. To be honest, I never thought I could drive a truck at that low pressure. That would be constantly on the whole journey, lowering tyre pressure to cross sands and dunes and raising pressure when there wasn't much sand.
As if it were a school instead of a trip, every day all the members of the group were learning about what it means to travel in the desert. To make one of the sand traks more useful and more manageable, we had to cut one in the middle of the route. One of our passengers volunteered...
Near the 110well there is a huge dune, next to it and its shelter we spend the night. We enjoy like dwarves a beautiful sunset from above and a starry night. The next day we expect to arrive in Faya.
Faya Largeau is an important crossroads on the trans-Saharan routes between Libya, Tibesti, Lake Chad and N´Djamena. Originally called Faya, the city was renamed Largeau after the French colonel Étienne Largeau, former military administrator of the Chad colony. After independence it would take the name of Faya-Largeau.
Faya is located in an enormous oasis-palmeral of several tens of kilometers. Thanks to the important underground water reserves, the inhabitants can work in agriculture. This city was occupied and annexed on several occasions by Libya, and as many of the remains of all kinds of weapons that we find in the vicinity of Faya show, important battles were fought there.
After crossing the dunes of Erg du Djourab, we arrive in Faya with not much diesel left. We still didn't know that in the north of Chad, simply refuelling was a real experience. In the region of Faya and Ennedi in northern Chad, the fuel comes from Libya in 200-litre barrels, so every time we wanted to refuel we had to look for someone who had barrels of diesel. The more we traveled to northern Chad and closer to Libya, the cheaper the price of the barrel.
In northern Chad, simply looking for water can be an adventure. While in the region of Faya it can be more or less easy, in Ounianga and especially in Kalait and Abeche where water is scarce, you have to go to the wells where the camels drink.
Ounianga Lakes. Explosion of life in the Sahara
With great expectation we arrived at the Lakes of Ounianga, veritable seas of salty water and others of fresh water in the heart of the Sahara. In front of us we were shown a paradise drawn in the middle of the desert. Glimpsing at the top of a hill the population of Ounianga Kebir and Lake Yoan, we even forgot that we had been travelling for 8 days without showers, covered with dust and having to collaborate as a team to remove the truck from the sandbanks in which it got stuck.
Authentic wonders of nature, the Ounianga Lakes are located in the middle of an arid and extreme desert, and since 2012 they are part of the UNESCO World Heritage.
Ounianga Kebir and Ounianga Serir, UNESCO World Heritage
The Lakes of Ounianga are divided in two categories:
- Located on the west we find Ounianga Kebir (large Ounianga), formed by 4 lakes, of which Yoan Lake is the deepest in the Sahara with 27 meters and the largest volume of water. Its waters are extremely salty, six times more than the oceans and contain only algae and some microorganisms.
- In the east there is Ounianga Serir (small Ounianga), made up of 16 lakes separated by sand dunes. Floating reeds that cover almost half of these lakes mitigate evaporation. Lake Teli is the largest of this group with an area equivalent to 600 soccer fields, but its depth does not exceed 10 meters. Thanks to the good quality of its fresh water, some of these Lakes are home to an aquatic fauna, including fish.
Thousands of years ago, between 5,000 and 10,000 during the wet period, rivers and lakes abounded in the Sahara, and the predominant colour of nature was green. As time passed, the climate changed, becoming drier and drier. The lakes diminished and finally disappeared, except for a few. Of these surviving lakes, the main ones left are the Lakes of Ounianga.
Visiting the Lakes of Ounianga
Afternoon falls and without much time for visits, we camp in the palm groves that surround Lake Yoan.
The next morning, like curious children, we eagerly walke through the cliffs and rocks that surround the lake. From the top, the landscape in front of us is sublime, a wonderful spectacle of colors. Green palm groves, yellow and orange tongues of sand, the blue and red waters of the lake, the high cliffs... everything is part of a wonderful contrast.
We also visited some small toubou villages high up on the cliffs. Many of these populations have remained largely uninhabited as many of their inhabitants migrated to Libya's Gaddafi, where the standard of living was possibly the highest in Africa.
On the way to Lake Elimé in Ounianga Serir where we would camp the next night, we stopped to visit Lake Ahmar (Ngueli) or Red Lake, where we had a picnic with some soldiers who were maneuvering there.
We stop over and over again to enjoy and contemplate some truly breathtaking landscapes.
Ounianga Serir, Lake Elimé
Next to the shores of Lake Elime is the town of Ounianaga Serir (serir means small in Arabic) much smaller than its neighbor Ounianga Kebir (large kebir in Arabic). The sands and the beautiful palm groves surrounding the lake invite to place the camp near the water, but the truth is that as the sun began to fall, hundreds of aggressive mosquitoes made an act of presence forcing us to move away from the lake a few hundred meters. Again, in the morning, we enjoyed the great hospitality of the Chadian people and in particular the Toubou people, as the nearest family brought us freshly made sweets and a kind of rich porridge with cereals very typical in Chad.
Bathing in a freshwater lake
And yes, finally, the next day, after 9 days of travel, we arrived at Lake Boukou of fresh water where we could bathe, not without considering it before, since the temperature of its waters are icy.
Between the lakes, around a dune or after a steep slope, nature gave us the opportunity to admire the unique landscapes that we will never forget.
We continued our journey towards the "fearsome" Mourdi depression and towards the "leit motiv" of the trip: Ennedi... although the visit to Ounianga had been worth the trip to Chad.
Chad is a country with unusual cultural, natural and landscape attractions. If you want to know more about Chad, you can visit this other blog post about the Wodaabe nomadic people