2 April - 'La Piste Oubliée' - in the footsteps of Diolé
Recently I made contact with an Algerian agency that seems keen to try something out of the ordinary and put into place a long-held plan of mine: retracing Phillip Diolé's route across the plateau between Illizi and Djanet. It's 25 years since I read The Most Beautiful Desert of All but had the feeling that even when he did it in the mid-1950s with just a single guide and taking a month, it was a pretty obscure path to take.
If I can get a handful of people together, next year we may find out for ourselves.
More details here.
27 March - Chad - making hay while the sun does shine
A trip report from Chad. Up to the Ennedi, around to Ounianga, over to Gouro and into Tibesti and down to Faya and back to Ndjamena.
5 March - Operation Serval
Things are moving fast in north Mali. While announcements by the Chadians of MBM's death were probably premature, it's been confirmed that fellow 'AQIM' emir Abou Zeid did die in a battle in the Adrar Ifoghas. More news and maps here.
24 January - Tassili slideshow
Photos from the first two weeks of our trip right here
20 January - back from Algeria
Just back from three weeks in southeast Algeria: a two-week, 200-km camel trek along the base of the Tassili N'Ajjer plateau to Essendilene and back, followed by a week and about 70km on the plateau itself visiting the famous rock art sites of Sefar and Jabbaren.
Full report on that in a few days or more.
Towards the end of our tour the events at the gas plant near In Amenas kicked off about 350km to the north, and whose conclusion in a Russian-style 'take no prisoners' counter attack by the Algeiran army has been well covered by the world's media. A couple of jihadists are reported to have survived and at least 37 foreigners - specifically targeted as non-Muslims - were killed.
My initial impression in Algeria was they must surely have come over the Libyan border just 40km away. Someone suggested that the recent French intervention in Mali - in notable co-operation with Algeria - against an Ansar offensive led to Algerian air patrols along the Libyan frontier being redeployed to the Tanezrouft border with Mali, so allowing the jihadi pickups to cross unnoticed. The idea that they could have worked their way north a 1000km across Algeria from the Niger border seemed rather far fetched or just alarming, but would include routes through the Tassili used during the mass kidnapping in 2003.
Suddenly the ever reliable bogeyman Moktar Belmoktar (MBM - right) has gained
OBL-like global notoriety for masterminding the raid, aided it's said by insiders working in- or for the gas plant. The fact that the raiders didn't grab hostages and flee back to Libya, but got stuck into a brazen fire fight suggests a suicidal commitment that hasn't been seen before. One theory is that MBM (who remains in north Mali) is hoping to re-assert his credentials as the 'emir of Saharan jihadism' to other groups with closer AQIM connections and all competing for dominance or prestige.
26 December - Tours for 2013-14
I've outlined a slightly ambitious tour program for 2013-4 here. Clarification in about a month when I'm back from the desert with more news.
For more on my motorcycle tour plans, read this.
5 December - Morocco Overland Kindle now £4.95
With the current paper ediition just about outn of print and the second paper edition due out next summer, they've reduced the Morocco Overland Kindle price down to £4.95. The Kindle has all the mono maps and images, it just doesn't have the colour map and photos.
You can read Kindles on iPads and other mobile devices – you don't need a Kindle Reader.
Get the Kindle version on amazon.
1 December - Sand - book review
Sand - A journey through science and the imagination by Michael Welland. Reviewed here.
24 November - Mauritanian visas in Rabat
The do a same day service now; apply in the morning, collect in the afternoon. More details here.
21 November - kidnapping on the main road in northwest Mali
A 61-year-old Portuguese-born French citizen, Gilberto Rodriguez Leal, was kidnapped last night near Diema, on on the regular road between Bamako and Kayes while driving a motorhome down from Mauritania.
More details here.
News report here.
Video of the captive a few days later.
October 26 - Sahara west to east
A recent email has got me thinking again.
October 22 - Hope for Algeria visas in the UK - Tourist police planned for Algeria
It looks like there could be hope for Algerian visas. I'm told by the agency that a permission from the Ministry of the interior – a new requirement for visas that was announced some months ago – may have been sent to the London consulate.
I'm also told that there's a plan to create a tourist police in Algeria.
The police have a duty to ensure the safety of domestic and foreign tourists across regions and areas with tourist vocation.
'According to the Secretary of State to the Minister of Tourism and Handicrafts, Mohamed Amine Hadj Said, "The revival currently facing the tourism sector encourages us to implement this kind of structure in close collaboration with the General Directorate of National Security (DGSN), "he said during a visit to Bechar.
"The creation of this police body also falls within the framework of efforts to upgrade and recover the tourism sector, whose development should be done with the contribution of different sectors at both national and local level" , he said.
The question is, will they accompany groups in the desert, as they do in the Gilf (southwest Egypt), will they have effective communications and even weapons. And will the cost be passed on to the agency and so the tourist.
My feeling is that the Algerians may well do a more professional job of it than Egypt; in other words a security escort worth having. And if they are of the calibre of the Gendarmerie Nationale who travel around in green and white Nissans, then that's OK with me
October 15 - No Algeria visas - kidnapping in Niger
I was turned down for Algerian visas last week in London, before they even took our money. When they saw our itinerary in the south 'too dangerous' was their response, even though other consulates in Europe are issuing tourist visas for the south.
And today, the first real kidnapping for over a year: 5 local aid workers and their Chadian driver in southeastern Niger close to the Nigerian border. This makes you suspect it may have been Boko Haram working with AQIM, but you wonder what is the value in kidnapping locals. More news here.
Other news. Despite a few runs earlier in the year, visas for transits across north Libya seem difficult to get, direct access to Egypt by sea seems a lottery but Chad seems to be going through one of its periodic touristic revivals with Pointe Afrique. Mauritania away from the Mali border seems OK too.
July 28 - BMW in the Black Rock Desert
Short report from Morocco for Motorcycle Monthly.
July 19 - Three hostages freed - nine remain in AQIM-controlled north Mali
Three hostages - two Spanish and an Italian aid worker grabbed from a refugee camp near Tindouf last October by the AQIM offshoot, MUJAO, were released near Gao following mediation by Burkina Faso and an exchange of prisoners in Mauritania – including a suspect said to be involved with kidnapping the trio. A €15m ransom was not denied by the mediators (who often get a big slice of it).
The seven Algerian diplomats abducted in Gao a couple of months ago have also been freed, so that means that currently 9 hostages remain in captivity, the four Ariva French grabbed in 2010 in Niger, the two French 'spies' taken near Hombori last November, and the three tourists (Brit/RSA, Swede and Dutch) snatched from Timbuktu a day later.
Last week the islamist groups Ansar Dine and MUJAO, both of who staged the rebellion in north Mali with the help of the MNLA Tuareg seperatists, expelled the MNLA group from the region. This means all of north of Mali is now controlled by Islamist groups supporting Sharia law and linked or part of AQIM.
July 12 - Morocco gets Kindled
Morocco Overland the book is just about out of print and a new paper edition is in the pipeline for mid 2013.
Until then, they've Kindled the current edition for your reading pleasure. In case you don't know you can read Kindles on iPads and other mobile devices – you don't need a Kindle Reader.
Get the Kindle version on amazon.
June 17 - Algeria camel trek - Tassili N'Ajjer
I've decided the change my route this winter and take the trek to the fabulous Tassili N'Ajjer plateau (right) for a fortnight, followed by another week's mule trekking up on the plateau itself to explore the world heritage rock art sites of Sefar, Tamrit and Jabbaren.
Duration now is about 22 days for £1999. More details here.
June 12 - northern Libya and northern Mali
It looks like the situation may be deteriorting in northern Libya as factions turn on each other in order to assert themselves, and even though transits on tourist visas are technically permitted. Visits to the south, where similar clashes are occuring, are still not possible or unadvisable.
A similar and long anticipted internicine conflict between the two Tuareg rebel factions, the MNLA and the hardline Salafist Ansar Dine in northern Mali - (declared the autonomoius province of Azawad) seems to be stalling after it's been reported that the two groups have merged. Though said to be more numerous, a point that many thought obvious in the linked article is made: though well equipped, these exiles from Libya were never especially the 'battle hardened troops' which the media persisted in describing them these last few months. Why would they be - Libya has been at peace and harbouring them until last year when they fled as the leadership changed there - and it was said that Gaddafi always kept his army weak and ill equipped. It's clear that elements of the MNLA helped win control of the north from stranded elements of the Malian army, but historically that isn't saying much.
April 24 - Good news for a change
The italian tourist, Maria Sandra Mariani (right), who was kidnapped south of Djanet, Algeria 14 months ago, was released in northern Mali and arrived home on April 18th via Ouagadougou.
And the Swiss woman below who was kidnapped in Timbuktu just over a week ago was also released a few days later, this time by Ansar al Dine, the separatist group who now control Timbuktu.
And tourist visas are now available again for travel in Libya, following the same procedure as before - with an agency invite. However this might be seen as premature as security cannot be said to have returned to the Libyan Sahara.
April 16 - Another kidnapping in Timbuktu
A week after most foreigners fled Timbuktu following Tuareg separatists taking control of the town (along with the rest of north Mali), a Swiss missionary has been abducted by gunmem from her house in the town.
April 6 - Back from Morocco
Job done, bike was great, weather not so good, but we did some great pistes anyway. A few pics here, a report on how the bike went here.
Meanwhile the Sahara gets smaller day by day. Following a military coup and disarray in Bamako, it's said the two rebel Tuareg factions in northern Mali - the MNLA and the Ansar al-Din islamists - have come down from the north and taken Gao and Timbuktu, so taking control of the 'Azawad' Tuareg homeland for which they seek independence. With different agendas, now it seems they may turn on eachother, though the MNLA are said to be much bigger.
There are also more reports of Tubu unrest in southern Libya, in Sebha rather than Kufra this time, and also with talk of separation from Libya.
March 15 - Off to Morocco
... for a few weeks to update the Morocco book on a BMW F650GS SE.
Plan is to land at Nador and check out some new routes in the High Atlas, scott round to Erg Chebbi and explore an area west of there, then over Sarhro west and past Ouarzazate, over Jebel Sirwa, down Taliouine and the Assarag canyons, to Tata and the quarry piste towards Tizerkine Gorge and from there over to the south side of Jebel Ouarkaziz to try some news ways to getting to and from El Bouriyat.
Easily written, we'll see how much of that actually gets ticked off...
Other news: the Malian Tuareg rebels have taken Tessalit after a long siege; Kidal is next on the list one imagines. A land route could actually be on the cards from Egypt to Sudan after many years. And there was a suicide bomb in Tam on an army base, although no one was actually killed apart from the bomber.
February 21 - Libya transit, Algerian visas and new Mauritania map for Route R2
Some good news for a change: there's news of the first reported transit of northern Libya from Tunisia to Egypt and back right here. And since then I've heard of a second completed transit with a visa secured in Cairo following a little persistence.
It's said that Algerian visas are again available too.
And I've added a Google map with extra information for Route R2, the railway piste to Atar in Mauritania.
Archived News from 2008