Turbo-Beaver Ferry Flight
Travel Dialogue Continued

Tamanrasset Algeria: Our First Fuel Stop Destination

We take off early in the morning to avoid the morning traffic departing Lagos, and only climb up to 8000 feet to try to enjoy the view. We plan to fly up the River Niger to Niamey. On route I hope to see the Kainji Reservoir, a man made lake on the River Niger, but the persistent cloud cover obscures our view. We only see the River Niger when Kano Air Traffic Control makes us cross from west to east to cross the Nigerian border into Niger by the crossing of their choosing. I try to argue that making the severe dog leg to pass east of Sokoto will run us low on fuel reserves, but to no avail. Having the full 3 hours reserve is important to us as our first leg is 10 hours. We try to play the game.

Leaving the River Niger
We fly north east crossing the River Niger
north of where Scottish explorer Mungo Park met his demise.

After the initial excitement of crossing into Niger and being passed over to Niamey Control I switch seats with Klaus and decide to take a nap. The scenery is getting less and less green and more rugged. I don't know how long I am asleep, but I wake up in a fog. Actually, to be specific, I woke up in a sand storm. We had flown right into a sand storm at 8,000 feet. Before we realized what was happening we had lost our HF radio, our VOR, and later we found out our DME. Without the luxury of a clearance from our HF contact in Niamey, we issued ourselves a climb up and out of the blowing sand to 12,000. Somewhere in this storm we are to cross from Niger into Algeria.


We fly to the west of the Air Mountains. The movie Dune
was shot somewhere in this area and the sand storm really set the scene.

We fly out and over the sand storm before actually crossing the northern Niger border. Making the border hop with no radio communications makes us slightly nervous, but the alternative of turning back is less appealing. The air to the north of the storm is clear and we can see perfectly for miles. As the sun heads for the horizon the yellow and red warmth of the light stretches across the desert floor, making the landscape less formidable compared to the harshness of the glaring noon day sun earlier. We finally make radio contact with Tamanrassat, our destination fuel stop, and they clear us in for a long approach. They make the same mistake they all do. They assume Learjet speeds and can't figure out why it takes us so long to get there.
When we get to our first destination, even though we were scolded severely, we are pleased to discover that Niamey had radioed ahead and warned them of our missed check point radio calls. Someone was watching over us. The Algerian air traffic controller, however, is very friendly and comes out to practice his English on Klaus and I . Klaus tries to practice his French on him. After feeling us out he feels safe to let us know he is really a Christian, but only pretends to be a Muslim to keep from being persecuted. Ali even tells us his Christian name, but signs his Muslim name in our log books.
Ali's main concern was whether or not we had "smokes" and "turbine oil." The smokes we understood and Klaus offered him a package, but the "can of oil" had us confused. Finally, he whispered in Klaus' ear. "Wine, have you got any wine for me?" It's a Muslim country and we were told not to bring any liquor. Of course, we didn't, and he was not surprised to hear so, although visibly disappointed. The customs held our passports and Ali arranged for the local police to give us a lift to the hotel.

The Palace of the Emir
We arrive late in the day, but get up early
to see the ancient town before our departure.

We were too late for dinner, but much to our delight the hotel restaurant brought us out a bottle of very fine nationally produced red wine, sold for the benefit of tourists, together with a tomato salad. The wine and the rich ripe tomatoes wash away the sand of the desert storm and left us feeling the warmth and glow of the sunset we had witnessed earlier. We slept good and woke late. Coffee, fresh bread, cheese, and green grapes for breakfast.
Klaus and I split up to save time. I head to the airport to fuel the beaver and Klaus with his meager smattering of French heads to the bank to exchange dollars for dinars to pay for the fuel. When he returns too quickly, I get suspicious. Klaus has found a black market money changer and gotten a much better exchange rate. The only problem is that customs had made us sign exchange declarations and since they are in the same building as where we pay the fuel, they might wonder where we got the dinars when our exchange cards say we have not changed any money. So I make Klaus go back to the bank and make a proper exchange so we can pay the fuel bill. The fuel was cheap so we ended up with a lot of dinars as souvenirs.

Modern Desert Travel
As we exchange dollars for dinars to pay for our fuel,
we watch other travellers get prepared for their desert crossing.

We leave Tamanrasset before the heat of the day gets too much. Even by 10 am we are looking at near 40C on our outside air temperature. The air traffic controller gives us our requested 12,000 feet ASL and we climb slowly with a full 13 hours of fuel. We can see 2908 meter Tahat clearly in the distance nestled in the Ahaggar Mountains. It is considered one of the most desolate areas in the world and we can see why. Our track takes us almost straight north across the Sahara. Rock and sand as far as the eye can see. In fact, to my surprise, much more rock than sand.

Tuareg Tribesmen
Some of the travellers still prefer the old ways. Tuareg
tribesmen make their way in lines of camel caravans.

Story and Images by John S Goulet

*Alicante Spain and Southampton: North Africa to Spain and across Europe.

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Where all our flying is cross country.


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Last modified on April 21th, 2013.
Virtual Horizons, 1996.