Africa uknown

Stars in Sahara

With every mile of the road I move further and further away from civilization. Internet connection gets lost after just one hour, I say bye-bye to the asphalt road a few hours later. Trips to Sahara show what is really important. “Amman Imman” – I remind the words of a Tuareg bluesman. Water is life. So is the guide, who knows how to find other wells and where to safely set up camp.

We travel across the Sahara in a simple rhythm: 5-6-7. At five o’clock we wake up and set up camp. At six o’clock breakfast in the first rays of the sun. At seven the heat crawls out of the shade and we move on. To our destination: the rocky arches and spires of Ennedi we have three days of driving. Along the way we pass dry rivers, grassy plains, lone acacias and clumps of spurge. At the next bivouac I see a great location for night photography. It is empty around, only three solitary trees create a picturesque composition. I pitch the tent in the grass, set up the tripod and for the next hour my camera takes pictures of stars wandering in the sky. This is how photos with star trails in the form of bright lines are created.
I went to Chad to photograph unusual rocks, desert and stars. If you look at the light pollution map, there is a huge black spot in this place. I am hundreds of miles away from the nearest electricity. Which means I’m also separated from a hospital and all the other amenities of civilization. And the desert – despite its name – is never empty. Life hides under the sand and stones. Like scorpions, which are practically invisible in the light of ordinary flashlight, but their carapaces glow with white outline when illuminated with UV flashlight. On this camping trip I counted over ten of them! Luckily for me, as soon as they see the light of the flashlight – they hide in their burrows, but who knows what will pop into their heads! Or spiders – I have no idea where they come from, but apparently the desert is good for them, because there is always one somewhere. And snakes, among which in the Sahara there is the horned viper called “Express to Allah”. If it bites you, you are guaranteed a journey to the afterlife.

I have been travelling in deserts for years. As a guide I take people to Sahara, Namib and Kalahari and I always tell them the same thing: although we can’t see life here, it can observe us! But all these dangerous animals don’t want to hurt us at all! They will be happiest if they never meet us! So to give them (and yourself!) a chance to survive in peace, you need two things: covered shoes (to have protection in case you step on a creature) and a good tent.
What “good” means is a hot topic on travel forums. Everyone has their own expectations and experiences. For me the important things are: weight, volume, ease of pitching and (during some trips) ventilation. Priceless thing during hot nights! That is why, on my expedition to Chad I took Core-tent®LODGER by BUSHMEN®.

It is a modern model, combining mosquito net and tent. Thanks to the fact that sides of the tent are made of fine mesh nothing can get into it, and at the same time you can observe the world around you while lying in it. Which is important when I get up at night for taking photos or watching sunrises! The tent is big enough to fit my camera bag and my luggage, and I put my flashlight and toilet paper in its internal pockets (strategic stuff at night!).
Two entrances are also a good solution – depending on your needs you can enter the Core-tent® from the front or from the side. And when you need additional cover (shade, rain) just add a tarp. But in November in Chad it is hot. When I get up at two in the morning to take more star pictures, I don’t even have to put on my long-sleeved shirt.
The diversity of Sahara landscapes is fascinating. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a sea of sand and yellow dunes. Much more often it is huge expanses of stone, sometimes with rocks of the most imaginative shapes, no wonder Ennedi made it to the UNESCO list! When we arrive at our destination, we are greeted by huge spurs exactly the same as Monument Valley made famous by westerns.

Only camels in the foreground remind us that we are in Africa after all. Our next bivouac is near the Bachikele Arch. Again I stay awake half the night taking pictures of rocks and stars. Before dawn I hike to the top of the hill to observe the birth of the day. Sunrise in Sahara has something of the mystique about it, and Bachikele Arch reminds of the famous American Delicate Arch. Only that there are no tourists within hundreds of kilometers! Only the lonely settlements of the Toubou people, for whom the Sahara is their whole world. When there is no more food for the animals, they pack up their few possessions, roll up their houses from woven mats and wander away. Looking at their lives, I think to myself that they are true Children of Dune – able to survive where most people would have died long ago.
A little paradise of the Toubou (their name means “rock people”) are the guelts, or gorges with rivers. Although the rivers usually trickle under the sand, they form ponds between the rocks. It is possible to water donkeys and camels in them, you can get water in canisters and take it to the settlement. Guelts give salutary shade and rustle with palm leaves. This is a favorite playground for children, which is also their school of life. They probably won’t go to a real school, because there are simply no schools in the area. But for them it is more important to know which plants heal, how to find water when it is scarce on the surface, or what to do when a camel perches.
We abandon the green oasis and for the next hours we ride through inhospitable emptiness. At dusk we reach the forest of Habeiki spires. I love rocks, I have seen a lot of fantastic landscapes, but this place enchanted me.Imagine the Mace of Hercules, settle it in the yellow sand and add a hundred rock towers, fancifully carved by the wind. In such a fabulous landscape we set up camp! That evening we sit around the campfire until late. We talk, joke, no one is even tempted to look at the phone: there is no signal here. It’s great that there are still such places in the world! And it is good that the next day I can sleep a little in the car, because I spend another night taking pictures. At dawn I watch the colorful clouds dance on the background of black spires, the first rays of the sun color the rocks with intense red. The desert once again lavishes us with its beauty.

Our next destination is the Ounianga Lake District.
Long ago, when the Sahara was a green savannah, a huge lake stretched here. Elephants and giraffes roamed the green meadows, as evidenced by the carvings on the rocks, left in various parts of the Sahara (in Ennedi alone there are several thousand of them!). A few lonely lakes (mostly salty) have survived to this day, listed by UNESCO as a unique ecosystem. Plumes of palm trees reflect in the water, pastel-colored dunes stretch around. It looks insane, especially since the water in one of the lakes is fresh and you can swim. Unbelievable luxury!

Only that at the beginning we make a mistake. We brought with us a huge flamingo, the kind that reigns in the summer in social media. And when we throw it into the water, the local ranger comes running to us and screaming. What made him so angry? He had never seen anything like it, so he was quite rightly afraid that we would contaminate the water.
And this is the only watering hole in the area! I assure him solemnly that our flamingo is harmless, we would take him back after the bath, and the water would definitely not be contaminated. All in all, his anger is understandable – he looks after this lake for the whole local community, and it didn’t occur to us to show him the flamingo beforehand and ask permission to launch it.
Since there is water around, one should expect the presence of various creatures. The ones making the day miserable are flies (seriously, even here there must be so many of them?!), while the ones brawling at night are scorpions. That’s why every time I leave the tent, I close it carefully – I don’t want to discover any unexpected company inside. When after another night we start packing the camp, suddenly my namesake Ania calls out: – Look who slept with me!

A scorpion hid under the floor of her tent! Slightly panicked by our presence it rushed to run away (and these creatures really move fast!) and after a while it dug into the next tent! Good that I decided not to sleep under the open sky. It could have ended badly.
Before we move on, I sit with a coffee in front of the tent. I look at all the beauty around me. Somewhere out there is a busy world, the chaos of information pours out at the click of a button, people have no time to live. In a few days I will return to this world too. But as soon as I can – I will abandon it without regret. To find the fleeting harmony of life here and now on my next trip (no matter if it’s by kayak in Poland or by truck in the desert). To be completely off-line, but closer to myself.

copyright© by Anna Olej-Kobus
copyright© for the translation:
Juliusz Wojciechowicz

Back to list

Leave a Reply