Click on image for list of participants
Tadrart & Tassili N'Ajjer, South Algeria
24th March - 8th April, 2017
False colour images processed with DStretch,
a freely available software developed by Jon Harman
This expedition was planned to see some previously unvisited areas of the Djanet region, starting with the Algerian Tadrart then continuing to the Central Tassili to visit the Oued Tasset and Ifedanouene regions and the oasis of Tamadjert. As we returned to Djanet mid-trip, the journey was conveniently split into two parts, with some participants only joining for the first or second stretch.
Day 1. – Djanet - Tin Aressou
Arriving from various corners of the world to Algiers airport the day before, we all met at the cafeteria of the Domestic Terminal and took the 10pm direct Air Algerie flight, reaching Djanet shortly after midnight. After a decent rest at the Essendilene premises we went to the market to purchase the supplies for the trip while the paperwork was being prepared. As we were heading South to the military controlled zone the travel permits took a bit longer than on previous trips, it was early afternoon by the time we were ready to depart. We received one bit of bad news: the planned day-trip to Jabbaren which was feasible the previous November was now not permitted, so with a quick last minute change we decided to extend our stay in the Tadrart, allowing for a broader round of the country North of the Oued In-Djerane than what we originally planned. After a quick lunch we departed, taking the left turn towards the South at the old airport that is now being converted into a military base. After about 30 kilometres along the road we reached a newly built flashy junction, a little out of proportion given the non-existent traffic in either direction other than the military plus the occasional tourist vehicle. We took the left fork towards Ghat and continued along the edge of the Tassili plateau for another 40 kilometres.
As we progressed, the height of the plateau progressively reduced, the cliffs that were around 500 metres high near Djanet reduced to broken hills no more than 100 metres high. We passed several low granite outcrops, and bout 80 kilometres from Djanet our guide steered towards a low small hill on the sandy plain bordering the route. We reached a low basalt outcrop (probably related to the numerous dykes in the area clearly visible on Google Earth) the top of which was densely covered with engravings on nearly every suitable surface. This was the site of Tanaout, first mentioned by Leone Allard-Huard in 1984 (as Taout, Muzzolini 1995 as Teretit). The engravings are a mix of spirals, symbols and animal figures (mostly cattle), it is quite strange that they appear here all of a sudden when there is nothing remotely similar anywhere in the broad vicinity.
We continued to our main goal for the day, the site of Tin Aressou just another ten kilometres further, in a little valley leading a short distance into the low plateau away from the road. There was dense green vegetation in the valley from the abundant rains in January. The prominent shelter itself was a little higher, above the edge of a broad terrace flanking the valley, with a large round tumulus built just under it, hardly a coincidence.
While the site must have been well known to the Touareg inhabitants who pasture their camels and goats in the valleys after good rains (there was a family just outside as we visited), it was only published relatively recently (Gouarat 1993, Sahara 5). There are some paintings in the large cave visible from a distance, but the main panels are in a small shelter just to the left without much comfortable space either inside or in front of it.
The most important scene is an Iheren style lion hunt, with a number of elaborately decorated human figures surrounding the animal, some in a fleeing others in attacking postures. The state of preservation is excellent, in no small part due to the fact that it remained unknown to Lhote and other early explorers, and was never wetted for copying or photographs. While there are a couple of scattered Iheren style scenes in the Tadrart a little further south, this shelter is the southernmost major site with this style, and at the time of their discovery have considerably extended the known range of these people to include the full length and breadth of the broadly interpreted Tassili region.
While the central lion hunt scene is the finest ensemble of paintings at the site, there are several other Iheren style figures scattered about in the left shelter, including some rather clumsily drawn cattle, almost like caricatures.
The big cave provides an excellent living space, but it is surprisingly poor in paintings. At first one only notices the few prominent cattle on the ceiling and rear wall.
It takes a while, with eyes adjusting to the low light, to notice the small and inconspicuous group of figures on the left wall. On close scrutiny they emerge as a delightful little ensemble of very fine Iheren style human figures accompanied by a rare dog.
We made camp in the valley at the foot of the terrace leading to the shelter, so we had time till sunset to explore the surroundings. Google Earth showed a pleasant sandy valley just a kilometre beyond the shelter on the plateau, we set out to explore but found nothing of interest. Koen wandered off in the opposite direction in search of tracks and traces, and was luckier. In the continuation of the small valley just over half a kilometre beyond our campsite he found a shelter with some paintings, something to be visited the next morning before departure.
Day 2. – Tin Aressou - Oued Beridj
The following morning we set out after breakfast to see the site found by Koen the day before. The bottom of the watercourse was full of green Zilla spinosa, in places so thick that it was not easy to find a way among the prickly shrubs. The vegetation was very reminiscent of the appearance of the valleys of the Gilf Kebir after rains.
On one of the Zilla spinosa shrubs I spotted a large locust, not one of the common desert locusts but a very attractive creature with yellow spots. It was a last stage nymph with only wing stubs, it was later identified as Poekilocerus bufonius hieroglyphicus, a widespread saharo-sahelian species feeding principally on Callotropis procera shrubs.
The shelter was well above the valley floor on the hillside to the south, with a broad flat rock terrace in front of it that was littered with stone tools and ceramics fragments. There were some rather faint paintings on the rear wall, on close scrutiny they were mostly cattle and a single human figure. Some of the cattle were of the same clumsy caricature-like style as in the principal shelter a few hundred metres away.
I am not aware of any previous published record of this site, it is likely a new find. We photographed all the scenes we could recognise, then returned to the cars to continue our journey towards the Tardart.
We returned to the road and drove into a narrow valley, ascending a low pass at the end of it to the plateau top. From this point the road turns anticlockwise in a broad semi-circle back towards the North-west, continuing on the rocky plateau towards the Libyan border and Ghat. Near the easternmost point reached, a track turns off to the south east towards the Tadrart across the plain formed by the Silurian marine sediments sandwiched between the Ordovican sandstones of the inner Tassili (the one we passed) and the Devonian sandstones of the outer Tassili, of which the Tadrart is the southernmost extension (not counting the Djado in Niger, which strictly speaking is the extension of the same geological formation). The road passed in a series of shallow valleys, with many outcrops of the tilted shale, and soon the western wall of the Tadrart came into view at higher spots.
The track made a bee-line towards the hills, and after a dozen kilometres or so we reached the edge of the plateau, which here is quite low and dissected, unlike the towering cliffs of the Fadnoun in the central Tassili.
Despite the extensive rock art surveys of Lhote in the Tassili and Mori in the Tadrart Acacus just 60 kilometres to the North in the nineteen fifties and sixties, the Algerian Tadrart remained virtually unknown until the second half of the nineteen eighties. The first survey of the Oued In Djerane (the principal valley crossing the Tadrart in the middle) was only completed by Leone Allard-Huard in 1984, who recorded five sites with paintings and sixteen with engravings. While the paintings were presented in a short paper in 1987 (Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française vol. 84/9), the engravings were never published in a systematic manner, with selected scenes appearing in various papers in a rather confusing and frustrating manner. The second major valley, Oued Beridj was surveyed by Guido Faleschini in 1987 and the found sites were published a year later (l'Universo vol. 48/1). A decade later Faleschini also surveyed and published a smaller oued to the North, Oued Sirik (Sahara 19). Subsequently Malika Hachid published (again in an unsystematic fashion) several known and new engravings in her book on the Tassili n'Ajjer (EDIF, 1998). From the publications we had a general idea of the sites to see, however the lack of any systematic and comprehensive publication meant that we had very little idea about the actual location and content of individual sites. We had to resort to the knowledge of our guide, who according to the assurance given by Abdou Borgi (owner of Essendilene voyages) was one of the most knowledgeable for the region. With Jabbaren out of the equation we had six days instead of the planned five, permitting a leisurely pace and also allowing time to search for any sites our guide may not be aware of. After passing the military checkpoint at the entrance of the Oued Beridj, we continued in the valley. As Faleschini's map was next to useless we asked our guide to lead us to the first site he knew, and we could take our bearings from there. We drove in the winding valley for about 15 kilometres, reaching a prominent rock outcrop with a triangular shelter in its side along the Southern bank.
The shelter contained some rather weathered paintings of the cabbaline period. The most intriguing and eye catching theme was a pair of horses in flying gallop with a single rider in the same style as the more common chariots.
The other side of the rock offered good shade, it was a perfect spot for lunch and to check the literature. The pair of white horses confirmed the site as Faleschini's C2, and a good sketch map showed a series of other sites around the perimeter of the little bay facing the shelter we just visited. While our drivers took their midday rest we set out to find the sites. Just a short distance from the cars we encountered a bright blue agama, of a kind which I never saw before. Subsequently it was identified as a male Agama tassiliensis in breeding colours. Later we saw several more, but none had such a bright and intense blue colour as this one.
Rounding the rock outcrop we entered the large bay on the southern side of the valley. Near its end there was a large shelter behind a low dune visible from afar, the most likely spot for the next site.
Reaching the rock we immediately saw several large white worn figures on a smooth section of the wall, on close look they turned out to be cattle and a single giraffe, Faleschini's site C4. DStretch reveals a large herd of smaller cattle surrounding the large white ones. A little to the left there were several engravings, including a very large sized cattle and a barely perceptible human figure (C5).
Continuing behind the rock towards the end of the valley where Faleschini marked a guelta, we immediately found a prominent shelter some way up the scree slope, with a fine engraved cattle on the adjacent rock wall (C9), and a single painting of an ambiguous horse-like animal (Faleschini called it cattle, C8) chased by a dog (or something...).
The depression marking the guelta was not far at the end of the valley, we found it to be completely dry. Yet there was green vegetation everywhere, even the sand plain was filled with clusters of small plants with bright little cruciform flowers (Eremobium aegyptiacum). The likely explanation is that the rainfall was not a downpour rather a slow overnight drizzle (like what we encountered in November 2016) which moistened the sand but created no runoff.
In a shelter along the west side of the bay that was otherwise empty, we found a breeding pair of agamas, one lucky shot managed to capture both the male and the female, the latter in a very attractive blue-yellow-orange pattern. Not far away we saw a third one, this was a non-breeding female in its drab grey regular colour.
A little further from the agamas a cluster of rocks contained several engravings of cattle, an elephant, ostrich and some unrecognisable traces (Faleschini's C11-C16).
Returning towards the cars we passed by another shelter between the first two we saw, which contained a seemingly unfinished engraving of a large cattle, and some very faint traces of paintings (C3).
We have found all the scenes at Faleschini's locality C except an engraving of an elephant that was supposedly between our cars and the first shelter, but we could not find it. Either it was misplaced, or it was too faint to be seen except in ideal light conditions. However there was a more important site we have missed, site B with some very intriguing paintings was somewhere further upstream, we have passed it on our way from the checkpoint. Neither our guide nor our drivers were aware of any paintings in the valley other than the ones we just saw, so we set out to search for it. Fortunately Faleschini published a photo of the site which showed a shelter high up the valley side with some sand at the base. Along the way we passed a shelter that did not match the photo, but we checked it out anyway. Not surprisingly it was empty, but there were abundant traces of prehistoric and more recent inhabitants.
A little further we reached a widening in the valley with a sandy terrace on the southern side, and immediately we spotted the shelter, quite far up the hillside. From the distance it did not look impressive, but it turned out to be a very large cave, with a steep and partially sand filled bottom.
The principal paintings are at the very rear of the shelter, an exceptional ensemble of negative handprints executed with white and yellow paint. Our guide was amazed as much as we were, apparently its existence faded from memory and hardly anyone visited this shelter since the eighties. Practically the entire rear of the shelter is covered with hundreds of handprints, the only comparable scene I know is the "wallpaper" at the Cave of Beasts at Wadi Sora, however there the handprints are covered with other paintings which here are completely missing. One interesting feature is the presence of hands with a missing little finger, something that may be observed at Wadi Sora and also at Karnasahi in the Eastern Tibesti.
There are a few cattle, single and in groups scattered about the walls of the shelter, mostly visible with DStretch only. Their presence puts a question mark to the age of the handprints, which are usually associated with archaic paintings.
On the floor of the shelter there is a huge block (much too heavy to be carried) with a milling basin in it, and on a large adjacent rock there is a pattern of cupules, but no figurative art.
It was well into the afternoon by the time we finished with the paintings and returned down the sand slope to the cars. We re-traced our afternoon tracks till a suitable little side wadi to make an early camp, passing another shelter which we checked for paintings, but only found some deep vertical grooves of an unclear purpose.
With a good hour left till sunset we spread out to explore the surroundings of the camp. There were several shelters in the valley side, but all were empty, except the ceiling of one which supported some very well preserved Arthrophycus and Cruziana trace fossils.
There was a prominent shelter high up in the side of the hill above the valley near the camp, there was just enough time left till dusk to check it out, but this too turned out empty, only offering a superb view of the Oued Beridj and another passing tour group in the low light.
Day 3. – Oued Beridj - Moul Naga
In the morning we started at the little valley on the Northern side of the Oued Beridj opposite where we had lunch the previous day, as some sources suggested there might be some rock art sites there. We checked the suitable looking places but found nothing, so we crossed to the far side of the valley to look for the missing elephant at Faleschini's site C, again without luck.
We continued down the valley for another couple of kilometres, to a rock island along the right bank with a prominent natural arch at its Northern tip. At the southern side of the island in a shallow shelter there is a large panel of engravings depicting a series of strange large containers or pots, superimposed by a fine pair of large hornless cattle.
This site was designated H by Faleschini, who for some unfathomable reason decided to assign the series of pots under the cattle as "roundhead" art. Unknown to him Huard & Allard Huard already published a tracing of this scene in 1985 (after a photo by G. Trecolle, Etudes Scientifiques, Cairo).
The next site, Marka Ouandi was another three kilometres downstream in the valley, with a huge panel of engravings on a little platform about a dozen metres above the valley floor. Strangely Faleschini makes no mention of it (though it is really hard to miss if one follows the riverbed), the first reference is Muzzolini in 1995 (Les images rupestres du Sahara) attributing the finding of this site to Jean-Marie Gouarat (though strangely Gouarat himself makes no mention in his Sahara 5 article). The scene depicts a very fine group of large cattle, two of them made with double grooved outlines in the classic Messak style. Behind the cattle there are two large human figures superimposed over an earlier giraffe.
Gouarat in his Sahara article published a fine panel of paintings in the Iheren style also attributed to Marka Ouandi. Unfortunately our guide had no knowledge of any paintings in the area, so we set out to explore the surroundings. There were several promising shelters along the sides of the valley, plus some rock outcrops on the low plateau above. We spent a good hour and a half searching every conceivable place within a one kilometre radius of the engravings, but failed to find the site. Either we have missed it, or more likely it was somewhere just outside our search area.
Our guide did know another site with paintings about five kilometres further down the valley, located in a large shelter high on the side of a rock tower, made accessible by an adjacent dune that created a convenient ascent ramp. There was a quite well preserved panel of paintings on the rear wall depicting a large herd of cattle and a few human figures. Apparently this site remains unpublished, at least I did not find any references to it.
There was a protruding cliff on the far side of the valley that offered a narrow strip of shade for lunch. While we had our rest Koen spotted a largish spider scurrying about on the dune side. It turned out to be exactly the same species as the larger ones encountered at Jebel Uweinat. They were originally identified as Sparassus dufouri 15 years ago, however since then the huntsman spiders have undergone complete revision, now they are referred to as Eusparassus and E. dufouri is now reserved only for the Iberian species. Based on a recent paper this one as well as the Uweinat examples appear to be Eusparassus laevatus, known from southern Arabia and the Horn of Africa.
In the afternoon we left the Oued Beridj through a narrow pass leading into a basin further north along the Eastern edge of the Tadrart. We headed straight for a low rock outcrop in the middle of the basin with a rather unusual low eroded tunnel that crossed the entire width of the rock, and even continued in the adjacent outcrop.
Parts of the ceiling and sides of the tunnel were covered with a large and very well preserved panel of late pastoral paintings. I could not find any reference to this site in any publication, it must have been found relatively recently, however judging from the numerous photos pisted on the internet it used to be on the standard itinerary of the Tadrart groups before tourism came to a halt after the kidnappings 14 years ago. The basin is called Ouan Elbered, and the site is referred to by the guides as Akaham (tunnel of) Ouan Elbered.
At the western end of the Ouan Elbered basin there was another much photographed feature, a huge natural arch perched high up on a hill.
Ouan Elbered is almost completely blocked by a large transverse dune at the Eastern end, an almost invisible small gap between the tip of the dune and the rock wall opens towards the East, leading into a totally different world. All of a sudden we were out of the confined landscape of the valleys, in the fantastic landscape of dunes and half-immersed sandstone towers. At the foot of the solid dunes on the far side of a broad plain there was a large pluvial playa, partially excavated by the wind into a deep depression.
Here the huge dunes have completely encroached on the Eastern edge of the Tadrart, seemingly blocking all passage towards the North. However as we approached them beyond the playa, we could see that behind a corner at the left edge of the plain they became lower, offering a place to cross. We continued on foot to lighten the cars, while they passed one by one through the dune barrier, first gathering speed on the plain below. Luckily all made it through without becoming stuck, something not to be taken for granted as some recent deep ruts and surrounding footprints clearly showed on the initial slope. This was a one-way passage only, as the descent on the far side is on a steep slip-face.
Beyond the dune barrier the country opened up again, with another eroded lakebed at the foot of the dunes. This was the area of Moul Naga, arguably one of the finest landscapes of the Eastern Tadrart, where we planned to spend the rest of the afternoon. Zigzagging among the low dunes we made it up to a flat sand platform to make camp, after which we scrambled off into all directions to make use of the perfect afternoon light.
We started converging on the campsite as sunset approached, which unfortunately was not quite as dramatic as expected, with clouds blocking the sun as the light and shadows slowly faded away.
Day 4. – Moul Naga - Tin Tehaq
Sunrise was again disappointing with clouds covering the sun well into the morning, producing a dull light instead of the expected orange glow and sharp contrasts.
We started out on foot, crossing the dry lakebed and a series of low dunes impassable to cars to a broad valley beyond, while the cars had to make a 15 kilometre detour to pass behind the large detached outlier of the Tadrart to meet us on the other side.
While the scenery was superb along the 2 kilometre walk, that was not our only purpose. We were aiming for a dark defile in the side of the valley, where we found a deep shelter at the base of the cliff, with a single late pastoralist scene of a white cattle and a round headed human figure in it.
Continuing in the valley we passed another low dune barrier, with the slipface covered by hundreds of beetle tracks, overnight the place must have been teeming with them.
Behind a small promontory we came to another high shelter in the side of the cliff, with a few rather meager paintings of cattle, humans and a single recognisable giraffe. Neither this one, not the shelter we saw before it, appear to have been published anywhere.
A little to the left of the shelter, among a cluster of rocks there are some further, rather crude engravings of cattle. Once we saw and photographed all we sat down and waited for the cars to reach us along their roundabout way.
We continued generally in a northerly direction, following sand-free flat bottomed valleys among the outlying fragments of the Tadrart towards the Oued In Djerane, making a small detour to see the double natural arches of Tamezguida.
Reaching the wide lower Oued In Djerane we drove to the North bank, towards a cluster of low rounded rock outcrops half submerged in sand. Under one of them there was a shelter, though due to the lack of any comparable features it was hard to tell whether big or small from a distance.
Getting closer we could see that it was a sizeable shelter, our guide knew of some paintings here but warned not to expect much. A first we could find nothing, but then we found the few patches of red paint which indeed did not look very impressive. However when looking at the scenes later with DStretch quite a number of interesting details emerged, including a number of therianthropes and several cloaked figures. These paintings certainly had a much older feel than the ones seen so far in the Tadrart.
Less than a kilometre away downstream along the North bank our guide led us to a second shelter among some low rocks. It seems that neither this one, nor the previous one were published by any authors.
The paintings on the shelter wall were all late pastoralist scenes, with the possible exception of a fine herd of dama gazelle which may belong to an earlier phase.
We continued downstream in the Oued In Djerane, which from hereon became a mud filled playa leading out of the Tadrart towards the Dunes of the adjacent Erg Tin Merzouga. As we rounded the last rock outlier at the mouth of the valley we reached a huge pyramidal rock with all sides covered with engravings. This was site Allard-Huard's site G13, with a huge panel of giraffes on the sunlit side. On the rear there is a panel showing a group of ithyphallic, club wielding human figures, whose light patination seems to indicate a relatively recent age (certainly younger than the giraffes on the other side). On the shaded side of the rock there is a magnificent panel of elephants in various sizes.
The giraffes were practically invisible on the sun, but it was just a matter of an hour or so until shade would come around. We headed for a solitary rock island about a kilometre beyond the engraved rock, where a large sand-filled shelter provided a perfect midday resting spot.
After about an hour and a half we returned to the big engraved rock, which now was fully in the shade. Due to the unevenness of the rock the panel of giraffes is not easy to make out, but in this case too DStretch does wonders, revealing many details (including the rhinoceros at left) that was not readily visible on the spot.
From here we turned northwards, moving along the low and broken Eastern edge of the Tadrart, dodging an array of big dunes that mostly reach up to the hills, except for a few sand filled passages. There was abundant vegetation everywhere following the good winter rains, it was a novel experience to see so large tracts of the desert full of greenery.
Our next stop a little to the north of the mouth of the Oued In Djerane was a solitary rock tower in the area referred to as Uan Zawatan. Our arrival time was chosen well, the beautiful cattle engraved in raised relief on the side of the rock was in a perfect contour light. Together with the ones we saw at Marka Ouandi at the Oued Beridj, it is done in the classic Messak style with double-lined contours. These are the most distant examples of the art of the Messak pastoralists (a good 250 km from the core area in Libya), not surprising knowing that nomads can easily cover such distances in a matter of weeks following pasturage after good rains. It must have been a relatively recent discovery as neither Muzzolini (1995), nor Malika Hachid (1998) take any mention, though David Coulson already photographed the site in 1995 (as attested by his photograph in the British Museum African Rock Art archives).
While not as artistic as the one in raised relief, there is a very impressive second cattle on the rock a little further to the right, and many other smaller engravings all around the rock, including a fine small rhinoceros.
Ouan Zawatan is a 2-3 kilometre wide valley, it is the Northern spill basin of the Oued In Djerane if there is so much water that the main channel overflows, resulting in a large playa at the foot of the dunes. At the northern end we came to a prominent rock outcrop, with some further engravings.
The engravings show three large nearly life-sized cattle in a rather schematic style, plus several smaller scattered figures. Contrary to the previous one, this site was published by Malika Hachid (Le Tassili des Ajjer, 1998).
The very picturesque landscape continued in a series of playas, dunes and rocky outliers. Despite the short distances our progress was rather slow because of the constant detours, not to mention the frequent photo stops.
After some twists and turns we reached a more open area, with a solitary rock outcrop in the middle. On its side there is a single small cattle in raised relief, and alongside a few very crude ostriches. Such scenes in true raised relief are extremely rare in the Sahara, most of them are known from the broad Messak area (though in 2014 we did find a similar panel in the Enneri Miski in the Tibesti Mountains). This particular site is known and published (Allard-Huard, site G15).
On the far side of the plain we reached a large shelter, which however contained no paintings (or if so, we did not find them) just a couple of rather crude engravings on the rear wall. The main attraction was on the flat rock in front of the shelter, which was full of historic engravings, but also some clearly older animal hoof prints (a very rare theme in the Sahara, while prolific in Namibia and elsewhere in southern Africa), and a small but splendid cattle (published by Hachid, 1998).
On the other side of the rock of the shelter we found some further sporadic engravings, including what appears to be a large feline.
A few kilometres further North we reached and entered the Oued Tin Tehaq, which was astonishingly green everywhere. We made camp in a fine flat sandy spot in the middle of the valley, and set about to explore the surroundings in the hour left till sunset.
Leone Allard-Huard reported a site with paintings here in the general area (site P5), there were several suitable looking shelters on the far side of the valley opposite our camp but all turned out to be empty (or possibly the paintings were too faint to spot in the diminishing light). Lajos did come across a panel of recent camel engravings on a rock outcrop near camp, that was all we found other than nature and the amazing scenery.
With the approaching darkness we all converged on the camp where a nice fire was already blazing. As we sat around it taking our dinner a large longhorn beetle wandered into the circle of light, the first I ever saw in the Sahara. Later it was identified as Derolus mauritanicus, apparently a fairly common species in the central Sahara, completing its life cycle on the abundant milky (and to humans toxic) Callotropis procera plants.
Day 5. – Tin Tehaq - Bouhediane- Tin Merzouga
After a very warm night (probably the warmest of our entire trip) we awoke to a perfectly calm and pleasantly cool dawn.
The peace did not last very long, as soon as the sun came up it stirred an amazing number of flies, no doubt their abundance related to the abundant greenery. They were in such numbers which I only experienced very few times (notably the fly-filled valley of Jebel Arkenu in 2003)
We started the day on foot, walking upstream in the valley to see an exceptionally green area found by Koen during his wonderings the previous afternoon. As we walked in the sand, fresh growth was everywhere, including the little bright yellow flowers of several daisy species.
A about a kilometre from our camp a low ridge cut across the valley blocking the view beyond. As we reached the top the view opened up, and there was a huge bright green patch in front of us. The ridge created a blockage in the valley with only a narrow outflow, and after the rains a large shallow playa formed on the shallow pan bordering the main watercourse.
We descended onto the plain to take a closer look and allow the two naturalists in our party to frolic about in the greenery. The plants were mostly more of the same as what we saw elsewhere, just much denser. Strangely there were very few insects (other than the flies) or other animals about, or at least they remained out of sight.
After packing up the camp and loading our cars caught up with us behind the low ridge just as we left the green fields. As we retraced our tracks we passed a huge ant nest (plus several smaller ones) of the Cataglyphis niger species.
We left Tin Tehaq in a small tributary leading to the North west. This valley was also full of fresh vegetation, at one spot we spotted a bright yellow cluster of the parasitic Cistanche phelypaea plants. Stopping to investigate, we found several more growing in the litle side valley, accompanied by a fresh white mushroom. A large striped hawk moth (Hyes livornica) was fluttering about like a small hummingbird, feeding on the nectar of the individual flowers.
The track at the end of the valley led up onto a low plateau, and after a kilometre of bumping along on the rocky terrain we started descending into another larger valley, the Oued Bouhediane. Its entrance was marked by a large natural arch, which also appeared like a likely spot for some rock art, but we found nothing except a lonely lizard guarding the place.
After a couple of kilometres driving towards the North we turned left into a side branch, which tapered off to a narrow canyon at the end. A short distance beyond where the cars had to stop there was a deep sheltered basin with some rather murky looking water - the Guelta of Bouhediane, one of the reliable waterholes in the region. On the rocks marking the entrance of the canyon there were a pair of fine engraved giraffe (site G17 of Allard-Huard). On the nearby rocks we met another pair of agamas, the female posed obediently for the cameras but the blue male kept its distance.
From the guelta we drove to the principal site of Bouhediane, a long low shelter along the base of a rock spur that juts in till the middle of the broad valley. This site was the northernmost one recorded by Leone Allard-Huard (P4).
The paintings are clustered in several groups, and all are of the late pastoral - cabbaline style. Allard-Huard noted that while the figures all match the cabbaline style, there are no depictions of chariots, the most characteristic element of the style. This shortcoming was rectified with our visit, as DStretch shows that a very faint scene under a more recent camel is in fact one of the typical two horse chariots.
Among the many scenes in the shelter there is a somewhat unusual antelope or gazelle being hunted with spears, and also a giraffe which usually is indicative of older paintings. The animal appears to be held by a tether around the neck, it is unclear if this is a later addition or the giraffe and human are contemporary.
One of our drivers recalled that some years earlier they passed by a group of engraved giraffe nearby, we backtracked in the valley to find them. I am not aware of this panel appearing in any publication.
Driving past the principal Bouhediane shelter again, we reached another prominent shelter in the side of the valley about a kilometre downstream.
The right part of the shelter contains a large panel of early historic paintings (with some traces of older pastoralist scenes underneath), a photo of which taken by L. N. Viallet was published by Muzzolini (Les images rupestres du Sahara, 1995), mistakenly attributing them to Allard-Huard's site P4. At the right side of the shelter there is a curious abstract design that cannot readily be attributed to any style or period in absence of any clear associated figures. There is a small human figure to the right of the oval shapes but too indictinct to see any stylistic details.
We moved into a little side valley leading towards the west for lunch in the shade of a perfect large acacia in the middle of the valley. After our meal while our drivers had their rest we set about to explore the surroundings. Not far from our resting place there was a prominent shelter in the side of the valley, our guide knew it to be empty, but I walked up to it to double check.
The shelter at first did appear empty, but on close look I found two small panels of paintings, both of which can only be appreciated with DStretch. The first contains a number of small yellow figures, one of them with clear Roundhead attributes, the only archaic paintings we have seen in the Tadrart. The second was a very fine panel of Tin Abenhar style cattle, these too older than the late pastoralist paintings we have seen elsewhere. Later reading Muzzolin (1995) it became clear that this site too was reported by L.N. Viallet.
We spent some more time exploring the valley, but there was nothing of further interest other than the scenery and the abundant green plants.
In the afternoon we continued in the main valley towards the North for a few kilometres, then turned right towards the row of broken small rocky hills bordering the Oued Bouhediene. At the very first hill we stopped by a long shelter, which contained several well made deep basins on the floor, and on first look only a few engraved and painted camels on the rear wall.
However on close look it was possible to see several faint but recognisable panels of cattle paintings, including a cattle ridden by a pair of women (?) and an extremely fine figure of a long-horned cattle with a back turned head, an uncommon depiction. These scenes appear to be of the Tin Abenhar style, and have not been published to my knowledge.
A short distance away we reached another shelter in the side of a low hill, which contained an exceptionally large, almost life-sized cabbaline figure. As Gábor stood beside it for scale, a large hornet zoomed past the front of the lens just as I snapped the photo, appearing like a huge monster in the middle of the picture.
Soon after the shelter we reached the top of a low ridge, and the country opened up in front of us, with the Tin Merzouga dunes visible on the horizon behind the last outliers of the plateau.
Before aiming for the dunes we passed by a strange landmark, an eroded piece of rock that from certain angles looks remarkably like a hedgehog on a pedestal (though the bronze pig in front of the Tartu market hall also pops to mind...).
As we continued towards the dunes, we passed another wind eroded rock tower, which had a pair of engraved rhinoceros on the side, in perfect sidelighting.
We made camp at the base of the highest dune, then scrambled to make the best use of the golden hour before sunset among the dunes and the stunning scenery.
Apparently our luck was out with the dunes and sunset, as this time too the sun faded away behind some low clouds without the dramatic colours and shadows all the photographers were waiting for.
Day 6. – Tin Merzouga - Oued Sirik - Ouan Tikal
The clouds persisted overnight, and it was completely overcast at sunrise. The clouds only started breaking up as we started walking among the dunes while the drivers were packing up the camp, to catch up with us later. The sand was full of small tufts of now dry grass, and we even saw a mushroom, oddly out of place in this environment.
Once the cars caught up, we aimed for the broken edge of the plateau, marked by a prominent rock pillar visible from all directions. We aimed for a larger hill short distance beyond the pillar, with a prominent shelter in its side.
In the deepest part of the shelter we found a panel of cattle and associated human figures, the two best preserved animals have a rather odd appearance, if taken out of context one would assume they are water buffaloes (which they are not, those are an Asian species only introduced to Africa in recent history). I do not recall seeing this panel in any publication.
In the shallower part of the shelter to the left there was a really strange elephant in white paint, somewhat resembling the 'Mickey Mouse eared' engraved elephants of the Tibesti. DStretch reveals a negative handprint under the elephant, and some more were found further left. This section ended with a faint but recognisable therianthrope executed in white paint. Due to the faintness and the lack of any context it is really hard to assign these paintings to any style or period, they may be both older or younger than the cattle, the degree of weathering at this exposed location cannot be used for any judgment of age.
We continued through a small side valley which was filled with intense red coloured sand. While we stopped for photos, Ibrahim caught a desert viper among the rocks. I have only learned recently that all the vipers we have seen in the Tassili are actually hornless horned vipers (Cerastes cerastes, apparently as much as 60% lack the characteristic protrusions above the eyes) not sand vipers (Cerastes vipera) as thought. The telling feature is the orientation of the eyes, horned vipers have sideways looking protruding eyes, while sand vipers have obliquely upward looking eyes flush with the side of the head.
After the snake encounter we entered a major valley, which soon split into two branches. We took the left fork, and soon reached a large shelter in a bend of the valley. Subsequently it was identified as Guido Faleschini's Oued Sirik site 2 (Sahara 19, 2008), quite distant from where it was placed on the published map. The Oued Sirik is a major valley between Oued Arrekine to the North and Oued In Djerane to the south, however it does not traverse the full width of the plateau like the other two. It was only surveyed along its entire length in 2007.
The bulk of the paintings are cattle pastoralist, with some very delicately drawn cattle and two fine giraffe, one of them with the characteristic (and unnatural) red spots common in the Acacus - Tadrart region.
We also found a small scene of a flock of sheep (Iheren style ?) and several more late pastoralist and camel period paintings, mostly on the wall of the deep part of the shelter, but some also extending to the shallower left parts.
The biggest surprise came when looking at a rather damaged and uninteresting section of the paintings with DStretch. Under a layer of white cattle and some other animals, a very finely drawn white elephant was revealed with a red outline.
While we took our time in the shelter, our cars drove to a small guelta nearby to fill or empty jerrycans. We walked back to them after across the valley, finding several large panels of mostly camel period engravings on the smooth rock faces right next to the water filled basin (mentioned by Faleschini).
It was past midday and becoming a rather hot day, as our guide knew of no other sites in the valley and I did not come prepared as our original plans did not permit coming this far North on the Eastern side of the Tadrart, we started searching for a shaded resting place. It was not easy, as all suitable high rock walls we passed were turned towards the sun. Finally after driving in for about eight kilometres we found a cliff which had about a metre of shade at its base, oriented in a way that the shade was to grow rather than disappearing.
We had an hour and a half after lunch to explore the surroundings, but with the intense heat there were not many takers. I started upstream as we did not pass anything of interest on our way here, and soon came upon a vertical section along the riverbank with a large panel of historic engravings. On the adjacent wall there was something more interesting, a pair of large engraved cattle with forward curving horns, their legs partially submerged by the gravel and silt terrace. Once back home I have realised that this was the site published by Ferhat, Striedter and Tauveron in 1997 (as Oued Tidunadj, in C.R. Acad. Sci. Paris 324), using it to demonstrate an ante quem date of 7500BP for "bubaline" rock art. However as pointed out by Le Quellec in a response, the cattle are clearly domesticated as attested by a collar on the right one, and the dating of the upper gravel terrace was very circumstantial estimate without any hard evidence. Interestingly Faleschini was apparently unaware of their existence here, this site is left unmentioned.
Not far from these engravings I met a fine male agama which was very patient, permitting some very good closeup photos of the animal in perfect sunlight.
Continuing upstream I reached a large open area in the valley with much green vegetation, and plenty of evidence for larger bodies of standing water after the rains. There were several large shelters in the cliffs bordering the valley, but all proved to be empty, I only found a large block engraved with tifinagh inscriptions. Faleschini did report a panel of late pastoralist paintings (Riparo 3) from this area, I may have missed it in one of the shelters, or perhaps it was just upstream of where I turned back.
At this point the valley forked again, the southern direction looked more promising with some good vertical cliffs on the west side. In a little bay I did find a panel of cattle with a human figure, apparently not recorded by Faleschini.
At the tip of the next promontory there were several more crude engravings, mostly cattle and some very recent figures, plus a hard to identify creature, looking like a cross between a lion and an elephant, with a darker patination than the rest.
I was aiming for a fairly prominent rock jutting in to the valley about a kilometre south of the fork, which looked like a very likely spot for some engravings. I was not mistaken, there were some large engraved cattle on the smooth panel at the base of the rock. Later this was identified as Faleschini's Riparo 4. Interestingly Faleschini seems to have mixed up some of his photographs as the very fine cattle engraved on the floor of the shelter we saw two days earlier just before entering the Oued Tehak was attributed to this site (Faleschini 2008, Fig. 8).
We were all back at the cars by the agreed time, packed up and started to move out of the valley. We stopped at a likely-looking prominent rock outcrop, but we only found some recent camels and tifinagh inscriptions.
Exiting the Oued Sirik we turned into the Oued Bouhediane, going back south the way we came. After a kilometre or so we reached a large shelter along the West bank which we did not see the previous day, as we followed the other side of the broad, nearly one kilometre wide valley. It only contained two painted giraffe, but those were rather nice.
After passing the main shelter we did not continue straight south, but exited the valley towards the east. Unfortunately it became almost completely overcast, spreading a dull light over the dunes as we passed.
An hour after starting from the Oued Sirik we reached the Tin Tehaq arch, a few kilometres from our campsite two days earlier. On the adjacent small rock island there is a rather bizarre engraving, seemingly a giraffe with an elephant head. While Allard-Huard recorded some meagre engravings on the rock of the arch itself (site G16), she failed to take note of this strange creature.
On the rear of the same rock, our friend Ursula Steiner found further engravings some years ago, including a strange oval shape that resembled a tortoise. The overcast light was not ideal, but luckily DStretch could help here too, while it is not possible to ascertain what the abstract shape is above the ostriches, it is definitely not a tortoise as presumed.
We made camp about 3 kilometres further, on a terrace overlooking a large playa and the dunes beyond. The light was still not good, nevertheless the keen photographers dashed down to get closer to the dunes while I sat on a perch near camp watching them. Gábor seems to have this attraction to flying creatures, as I took a photo of him walking on the plain below a raven perfectly framed itself in the middle of the picture. Fortunately as the sun reached lower it shined through some gaps in the clouds, and finally we could have a proper late afternoon light among the dunes after two cloudy evenings.
Day 7. – Ouan Tikal - Oued In Djerane
We had a strong cold wind overnight, ruffling some of the tents, with the cold remaining well into the morning.
As usual we set out on foot with our guide, crossing the dune by the camp and descending towards a small rock island about a kilometre away. Here too the sand was full of green plant growth, with small desert mantids scurrying about, rarely stopping for long enough to snap a photo.
The rock we were heading to was the site called Ouan Tikal ("The place of tracks") published by Malika Hachid in 1998, containing a number of remarkable engravings on the flat surface before the shelter. In the shelter itself there are more engravings, including two lions.
The flat rock surface in front of the shelter is covered with engravings. There are several animal figures, including a slender necked gazelle which the naturalists in the group immediately identified it as a gerenuk, however as that species is restricted to the Horn of Africa and the Rift Valley region, it is more likely that it is simply a peculiarly drawn common gazelle. What makes the site truly remarkable is the dozens of clearly recognisable life-sized paw and hoof prints of a whole range of animals, including lion, hyena, gazelle, antilope, giraffe and even baboon. This site (and the nearby other one we saw two days earlier) is absolutely unique in the Sahara, where animal footprints are rarely represented (as opposed to Southern Africa, where they are the commonest engravings).
While we were taking the photos the cars caught up with us, when we were all sufficiently satisfied we continued towards the entrance of the Oued In Djerane. We crossed the dry playa at the entrance, and drove past the sites we saw earlier, entering into the narrow canyon.
The first place we stopped at was a shallow shelter along the Northern side of the valley, not really suitable for any habitation. It contains one of the most surprising set of engravings in the valley, a school of fish (including a recognisable catfish) with no other figurations. Strangely though it is just a short distance from the next site noted by Allard-Huard, this one was apparently not recorded by her, or if so it was left unmentioned in any of the publications. Malika Hachid presented it in her 1998 book.
A mere 50 metres away there was a cluster of large rocks flanking the watercourse. On one of the boulders there is a large well known scene of a hunter fleeing from a charging elephant (plus another less visible second elephant). On the adjacent rock there is another elephant, half covered by sediment. This is site G10 of Allard-Huard, the main scene was also reproduced by both Muzzolini (1995) and Hachid (1998).
The drivers had to fiddle something with one of the cars, we started walking upstream in the valley while they were working. Around the bend we found a wide playa filling the valley from side to side, with thousands of shriveled roses of Jericho dotting the plain. Next to them there was a multitude of green plants which I never encountered before, only to find out much to my surprise from Koen that they were the same species (Anastatica hierochuntica), this is what they look like when green.
Whatever the drivers needed to fix was completed fairly quickly, we soon heard the cars coming up behind us. We continued for about two kilometres till a conspicuous vertical wall bordering the northern side of the valley. It was covered by numerous engravings, subsequently identified as Allard-Huard's site G9.
Continuing along the same rock wall for a short distance beyond a turn in the valley we came upon another site, with numerous engravings including an elephant and some very fine cattle, also published by Allard-Huard without a separate number, captioned as "near G3".
Site G3 was in fact quite far away in a small side oued, signaled by a panel of smooth rock facing the valley with a couple of rather recent looking giraffe accompanied by tifinagh inscriptions. On close look the giraffe were superimposed over a rather older pair of cattle which blend in with the surrounding rock from a distance. The very impressive main panel, a row of four almost life-sized cattle is just around the corner. Three of them are marching towards the right, while the one at the right is facing the rest.
Next we reached the best known (or at least most photographed) site of In Djerane, about two kilometres upstream at the foot of a huge vertical cliff at the southern side of the valley. This is a very puzzling site, I'm not quite sure what to make of it. The human figure and the giraffes look very recent, possibly contemporary with the tifinagh and arabic inscriptions. It is strangely not mentioned by Allard Huard (nor Hachid), though Muzzolini refers to the locality, noting similarities with the "Libyan warrior" style engravings of the Aïr. If indeed ancient, these engravings have been recently retouched to make them more visible for tourists, but I would not rule out the possibility that they are outright modern. However there are two ancient elephants underneath, mostly left unnoticed by visitors.
After a large bend in the valley we found ourselves facing an enormous shelter in the southern cliffs, partially engulfed by a large dune. The shelter itself (somewhat surprisingly) contains no rock art, but an adjacent large flat rock contains perhaps the most spectacular panel of engravings in the entire valley, a large herd of elephants, the last one followed by a human figure collecting the dropping dung, a lovely and absolutely unique scene (Allard-Huard's site G4). The engravings were not easy to see in the sunlight, but in this case too DStretch proved to be very effective.
To the left of the main panel the engravings continue for some distance, depicting a number of smaller (and cruder) elephants.
As we continued along the valley we passed several good shelters and shady vertical walls, but our guide confirmed all of them to be empty. He led us to a small side valley, to another well known site with several giraffes partially engulfed by silt (Allard-Huards G2), indicating that the ancient valley floor was much lower during prehistory.
As we stopped to photograph a large playa with thousands of Anastatica hierochuntica, I spotted a rock nearby that was worth checking. Our guide shook his head, but I walked up nevertheless and found a panel of engraved elephants, much to the amazement of the guide and our drivers. This site was not recorded by Allard-Huard or others, quite possibly a thorough and systematic search of the entire valley could reveal some more sites
We pulled into a little northern side valley for our afternoon rest, stopping in the shade of a long shelter. There was a conspicuous large shelter of the far side of the valley, the first of a series of scattered sites with paintings in the mid-section of In Djerane.
As the sun was coming around, we made a quick dash to the paintings (Allard-Huard's site P3) before lunch. While the paintings are rather weathered (and rather likely have been subjected to the wetting technique in the past), DStretch brings out the full details, including a rare rhinoceros and a fine group of cattle in the Iheren style.
After lunch we set about to explore the surroundings. Already in the shelter where we had our rest we found a several painted giraffe, one of them uniquely depicted in a flying gallop. Their affinity is unclear, but there is a barely visible group of human figures which were revealed after enhancement to hold metal tipped spear and shields, so are of an early historic date. While we were definitely not the first to see these paintings, I'm not aware of them appearing in any publication.
On the far side of the small valley near where it joins the main oued we found another long and low shelter, mostly empty save for a few patches of paint, one of which turned out to be a pair of human figures riding a cattle. We also searched the valley in the opposite direction from the large painted shelter, but found nothing except a single engraved cattle on a large vertical rock wall.
Upstream of the little valley with site P3 the main oued continues through a series of meanders for six kilometres without any known rock art sites (at least known to our guide and drivers...) until another side valley, with a double site (Allard-Huard's P2) consisting of two large shelters facing each other on the opposite sides of the valley. The larger one is on the North side, with a true cave at the right of the shelter, with paintings both left and right of the entrance on the outer shelter wall.
The panel to the right of the cave entrance contains a multitude of cattle with some human figures. Alfred Muzzolini observed that their style is practically indistinguishable from those found on the Tassili du Tamrit, and assigned it to the Tin Abenhar (Abianora) style, an assessment I can only agree with.
The same style cattle and human figures continue (in a more damaged state) on the right ceiling of the shelter.
To the left of the cave entrance there are more paintings in the same style, including the remnants of a very large cattle, and what appears to be a butchering scene.
The shelter on the South side of the valley is much smaller, the right part contains a fine panel of humans and cattle, matching the style of the large shelter.
At the left of the shelter there is a small natural arch, with a little hollow next to it that barely qualifies as a shelter. It is quite awkward to reach, having to balance on a five centimetre ledge on the otherwise steep rock face, nevertheless there are some very faint paintings in it high up on the rear wall.
The depicted humans (there are no real scenes, more individual figures) are quite different than those on the other panels of this same site. They are thin and elongated, wearing what appears to be quivers, and bear an uncanny resemblance to the cattle pastoralist figures at Jebel Uweinat. I am not aware of anything similar elsewhere in the Tassili/Tadrart region, the only slightly similar paintings are in a small shelter in the central Tassili, adjacent to the Tin Todouft hippos we visited in October 2012, and which also stand out from the usual pattern.
As we returned to the main valley, our guide took us to a large rock with what he believed to be fossil plants embedded in its side, a standard stop for tourist itineraries passing through. Both him and the drivers were quite thrilled to learn that the features were not fossils but very fine examples of manganese dendrites, deposits that form in hairline cracks in rocks from percolating groundwater water saturated with iron and manganese salts.
A short distance beyond the rock with the dentrites we stopped at a long shelter along the Southern side of the valley, with a few paintings that do not appear in any publication I'm aware of.
The last site we visited (Allard-Huard's P1) was located near the tip of a promontory jutting into a big bend in the oued, a shelter just after a big cave which contains no paintings. It contains the best known painting of In Djerane, the beautiful Iheren style crouching giraffe in a small niche at the left of the shelter that is reproduced in several publications. On close scrutiny it is apparent that the giraffe is in fact giving birth, a detail already noted by Muzzolini in his 1995 book, but not by others.
While the giraffe is unquestionably the star of the site, there are several more unpublished panels of paintings at the site. While they are mostly faint and damaged, there are several fine scenes scattered along the long rear wall of the shelter.
With the approaching sunset it was time to make camp. The strong wind we had in the morning did not yet fully subside, we went for the only sheltered spot in the upper In Djerane, a little side valley blocked by a low dune at the entrance, with a couple of tamarisks and a nice flat sandy terrace inside.
Day 8. – Oued In Djerane - Djanet
In the morning we drove out of the Oued In Djerane, passing the fields of colocynths filling the upper part of the valley, and past the military checkpoint guarding the entrance. In retrospect we have seen much more than I originally hoped for, over the six days we had in the Tadrart we saw all of the important known rock art sites, and many more not in any publication.
We only interrupted our return to Djanet at Tibogaine, an area of granite hills not far from Tanaout, the small hill with engravings we saw on our onward journey. I had some unconfirmed reports of some giraffe engravings at this site (later looking at my photos I realised that it is in fact a panel I missed at Tanaout). We entered the valley among the hills and did a small search among the granite boulders, but soon gave up as it looked like a rather unlikely place to find anything (there are practically no engravings anywhere on hard granite). As it was rather hot and windy, we all agreed it is a better idea to go into Djanet for lunch, where we were planning on spending the night anyway.
After a lunch and a shower everyone had a more positive outlook towards visiting the scatter of sights surrounding Djanet, starting at the fine panel of cattle engravings of In Debirene. While our party snapped their photos I wandered a little upstream in the oued, and found an engraved block a little up the side of the hill which I missed on previous occasions.
Next we continued to the large keyhole monument in a valley between a few kilometres outside Djanet on the plains, and the elephant-like eroded block of granite nearby.
Our arrival to the famous crying cows of Terarart was carefully timed to be in the best possible contour light just before sunset, when the finest details are revealed. This was also the perfect opportunity for a group photo before Gábor & Ferenc leaving us the following day.
Day 9. – Djanet - Aït Talawaten - Djnanet
The flight of Gábor & Ferenc was early afternoon, so after breakfast we still had a couple of hours to visit the engravings and painting of Tiratimine which we located with Magdi & Abdou the previous November. It was a short 15 minute walk from the Essendilene house to the series of engravings on the far side of the oued crossing Djanet.
We continued to the fine panel of paintings, then retraced our route back to Azelouaz, where the cars were already waiting, ready to depart.
We dropped Gábor & Ferenc off at the airport, and after their plane landed and it looked fairly certain that they will indeed make it to Algiers by the evening, we set out for our afternoon quest. As the others joining were to arrive with the midnight flight from Algiers we to be back for the night in Djanet, but there was still enough time to visit the site of Aït Talawaten, for which we have searched in vain with Magdi & Ibrahim last November. This time we did not have to search, as Koen visited the site the previous year and could pinpoint the location. Naturally it was within sight of where we stopped with the cars in November, about half way up a rocky gully, the only one we did not thoroughly search. The site consists of two enormous blocks, with very spacious shelters under both (much larger than I expected from the published site description), with paintings on each ceiling.
The larger shelter on the left contains the best preserved and more conspicuous paintings, a mix of large and small round-headed figures and some animals (barbary sheep and roan antilopes), all in the classic Tassili roundhead style, the only unquestionable such site that is not located high on the Tamrit plateau. The scenes are faded but otherwise well preserved, fortunately due to the late discovery they were never subjected to wetting like all the sites on the plateau.
The scenes in the right shelter are more weathered, and animals are in the majority, including a large ostrich.
Among the animals there is a scatter of small human figures executed with white paint, and very hard to make out. Three of them are very similar, leaning forward and wearing animal horns (two barbary sheep, the third oryx or some antelope), for which there are several analogies on the Tamrit plateau.
With plenty of time on our hands, we climbed up to the top of the rocky chute, entering a maze of rocks and sand-filled valleys very reminiscent of the top of the plateau. We spent an hour exploring, but aside some barely recognisable traces of paint and plenty of plants and beetles (Adesmia cothurnata), have found nothing else worth any special mention.
Turning back towards Djanet we stopped to marvel at the row of wild fig trees (Ficus teloukat) growing along the side of a narrow canyon, which were now in perfect light.
On the return with enough time till sunset we did not take the direct route to the asphalt road, but made the longer more scenic drive along the valleys of the foothills to the plain with the towering inselbergs of Tim Ras, one of the most scenic areas along the foot of the Tassili.
Day 10. – Djanet - Tin Terirt - Tikadiouine
Hans, Sterre & Dóra arrived in good spirits with a litte delay after midnight, and we all had a good sleep while the paperwork was being finished for our onward journey. We also did a round of shopping to replenish supplies, and as the permits took a little longer than anticipated (for some reason the Canadian passports of Kent & Thomas raised more interest than usual) we had an early lunch to save time later. Finally all was in order, and around 1pm we could start out on the second part of our planned itinerary.
We only stopped briefly at Bordj el Hawass to fuel then continued up the picturesque Tin Taradjeli pass to the top of the plateau, making our first real stop at the shelter of Tazerouk a few hundred metres off the road. With Magdi we visited in November 2016 but failed to find the faint but fine Iheren style figures recorded by Giancarlo Negro and Muzzolini. We had a rather thorough look in the main shelter, and did find a few figures which were missed the last time, but not the ones we were looking for. We also searched all the other potential shelters within sight in the valley, but again without finding anything. We had to conclude that the paintings we were looking for were probably in an adjacent valley, as we were running late we had to leave it for the return journey.
We continued on the road to the Dider plain, taking the track to the concentration of engravings at Tin Terirt. Our delay proved to be a real bonus here, as we reached the site in a perfect afternoon light. After the two previous visits in cloudy conditions the difference was remarkable, the low sunlight brought out many details I have never noticed before.
Leaving Tin Terirt we encountered a lonely Dorcas gazelle on the Dider plain, it first ran on the approach of the cars but it soon broke into a slow trot, an encouraging sign that they are perhaps no longer hunted indiscriminately as in the past.
We reached our campsite in the bend of the river near the Tikadiouine shelter just before sunset, and spent a magical evening looking at the amazing paintings, the best time of the day when the small figures seem to come to life in the flickering torchlight.
Day 11. – Tikadiouine - Tin Mzghigauin - Ifedaniouene
In the morning after a quick breakfast we packed our gear and returned to the shelter to take photographs before start, with the sunlight reflecting from the shelter floor providing good lighting.
In the interior ceiling I noticed and photographed several figures which I missed previously, despite the numerous visits. The site is so rich that there are always new surprises, with no compelling time pressure we spent a long time enjoying all the fine details.
While we took the photographs our drivers packed up the camp and soon followed us with the cars. As soon as we left, the remnants of the campsite was immediately raided by a pair of ravens, soon followed by an Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) causing much excitement as it was a very rare sighting. As we approached with the cameras it flew away to a nearby rock, but with Lajos we could creep up to it in the cover of the cliff bordering the valley to get some reasonably good photos.
Shortly after Tikadiouine we turned off the main road onto the track leading into the Oued Tasset. Passing the small village of Tasset we continued south towards the site referred to as Times Gidaouin (properly Tin Mzghigauin) by Ulrich and Brigitte Hallier, who first reported this site in 2010. It is located high in the upper reaches of the Oued Tasset, within a small sandstone outcrop at the edge of the black lava flows of the Adrar volcanic field extending to the South and the East.
The paintings are located at a somewhat unusual locality, in two large shelters on the flanks of an elevated terrace in the middle of the small massif, with a tumulus occupying the middle of the terrace. It is a commanding location, with an uninterrupted view across the lava plains bordering the Oued Tasset.
The better preserved and more impressive paintings are in the left shelter, a ten metre wide panel displaying a number of animal figures, some exceeding a metre in dimensions. There are at three discernible layers, the oldest being animals in red outline only (e.g. the rhinoceros partially obscured by the rear legs of the large roan antelope), the large figures in red, and finally some smaller white ones that are superimposed on the red figures. The Halliers assigned these figures to the Roundhead style, but I find this rather problematic. There are no human figures present (except the two little yellow ones at the upper right, of an unclear affinity), and the animal figures have no real direct analogy (aside the same species being present) among the classic roundhead style paintings.
The paintings in the right shelter are much more damaged, some are very hard to discern. Clearly there are a number of pastoralist paintings present, and these too are very faint, meaning the degree of weathering cannot be used as any indication of age There are some large animal figures too in red outline, and the small cattle pastoralist humans are superimposed, which do confirm the gut feel that at least these animals pre-date the cattle pastoralists.
Leaving Tin Mzghigauin we took the difficult bumpy track leading over to the far side of the Oued Tasset, to the huge prominent rock of Ikadnouchere, where Jürgen Kunz found the famous painting of the "greek" quadriga. When we visited in November 2016 we could not find the chariot, in the elapsed time I have managed to learn why: it is not located among the main panel of paintings, but quite far from the left, and just a couple of weeks before our last visit it was irretrievably damaged by modern spray-paint graffitti. Nevertheless I could take good enough photos to confirm with DStretch that the line-drawing prepared by Muzzolini is accurate, there is nothing to add or alter based on what remains visible today. Unfortunately the most crucial detail, the figure of the driver is now almost completely obliterated.
Muzzolini considered this quadriga painting to be of the Iheren style, with wide reaching implications on Sahran chronology. If true, this assignment would indeed place the Iheren style to the terminal pastoralist period, into the first milleneum B.C.E. However this assignment is rather problematic, for the lack of any comparable analogies (except in the same shelter). Muzzolini compared the very fragmentary chariot driver to a clearly Iheren style cloaked figure at I-n-Etuami, however not enough of the first remains to make this comparison meaningful. On the other hand no other horse or chariot depiction exists that may be confidently assigned to the Iheren style (donkeys - or more probably wild asses yes). The style of the horses is quite stylized, does not conform to the pure naturalistic style of Iheren style paintings. Furthermore, there is one similar horse at the main panel of paintings here at Ikadnouchere, with numerous surrounding human figures that all comfortably fit the cabbaline style with the numerous other chariot depictions. Putting all evidence into balance, I would say that this chariot, while not conforming to the classic cabbaline chariot depictions with horses in flying gallop, cannot be assigned to the Iheren style either, and any conclusions drawn from this assessment must be reconsidered.
We had our lunch in the shade of a rock near the Ikadnouchere paintings, and mid-afternoon set out for our next target, the Ifedaniouene mountains a few dozen kilometres to the West of Afara, the village at the foot of the escarpment a little beyond the Oued Tasset. As we followed the gently rising Afara track in the upper courses of the Oued Tasset, the country suddenly fell away in a mass of eroded hills and we descended a steep pass among exposed schists of the precambrian basement to a flat rocky basalt plain covered by ancient lavas flowing down from the Adrar volcanoes. From this plain a finger-like rock tower emerged on top of a conical hill, signaling the approach to Afara.
We by-passed the village by a couple of kilometres, continued along the Tamadjert piste towards the west, turning off and entering the hills on the back of a large dune almost completely filling a valley.
We made camp near the edge of the dry lakebed, and immediately set out to look for our most important objective, the "Cascade shelter" first reported by the Halliers in 2002. Based on the description received from Ulrich Hallier it was not difficult to locate the site, a large shelter formed under a dry waterfall in a steep valley descending from the mountains.
The ceiling of the shelter contains a compact but stunningly beautiful panel of Iheren style paintings, one of the finest manifestations of this very refined artistic style. The bulk of the composition consists of a herd of cattle, accompanied by a few human figures including a unique scene of a woman with a small child.
One intriguing aspect of the paintings is that while all figures have been delicately drawn with a thin red outline, many had a thick yellow contour added which completely changes the visual appearance.
Not far from the Cascade shelter there is another long low shelter in the hillside, which contains a single enigmatic painting. It appears to be a horned animal executed in a very abstract style, unlike anything else known from the area.
Having found the Cascade shelter straight away, we still had a good hour left till sunset to explore the surroundings. One site on the list was a large keyhole monument, tucked away in a rather unlikely spot in a small valley barely wide to accommodate it well above the main valley with the ancient lake. I have spotted this structure on Google Earth while looking for the likely location of the shelter, it was an eerie experience to visit this site which lay hidden from sight for thousands of years until a camera placed in space revealed its location.
We finished the day at a conspicuous shelter on the far side of the lakebed marked out by green vegetation, opposite our campsite. Most of it was covered in modern charcoal graffiti, but there were a few cabbaline period paintings that were recorded by the Halliers.
Day 12. – Ifedaniouene - Tin Batoulete
While everyone was still fast asleep, with Kent we made a climb at first light to the valley wedged in among the hills above our camp. From satellite imagery it appeared that the sand-filled valleys could be a perfect place for prehistoric inhabitants, and perhaps hide a shelter or two with undiscovered paintings. Dawn was just breaking as we reached the valley a good 100 metres above the level of our camp, which clearly did have some inhabitants as there was a stone wall blocking the path from below. There were a few shelters, but all proved to be empty, after a quick hour of checking around we returned to camp which was already awake, getting ready to depart.
Once we packed camp we moved a kilometre to the West to a row of shelters in a picturesque valley with some cabbaline and recent paintings reported by the Halliers. There was also another reported shelter with some archaic paintings in the vicinity, but we could not find it, leaving it for another visit in the future.
The western part of the Ifedaniouene mountains contains a number of sites from all rock art producing periods. One site was already known to Lieutenant Brenans, but the majority were found and reported by Jürgen Kunz and the Halliers from the seventies to nineties. There are some sites which were never published, their existence only revealed recently. Following a bumpy track we started at the site the Halliers referred to as Analak, but guides now refer to it as Tigad n'Elias, a large near-continuous shelter at the base of the vertical cliffs of a prominent inselberg.
Paintings occur sporadically throughout the long shelter, but they are mostly weathered and hardly visible. The majority appears to be cattle pastoralist scenes, but there is a large archaic figure partially covered by cattle which was published by the Halliers in 2010 together with another scene depicting a circular symbol and a hard to discern animal which appears to be a cattle if viewed with DStretch.
About two kilometres to the South west we visited another site that appears to remain unpublished, and while its existence was probably known to local guides, no records exist of anyone visiting it prior to last year. The paintings are rather faint, but there are several large archaic figures discernible among some more recent scenes, including a fine Iheren style flock of sheep in the same red-yellow contour combination as seen in the Cascade shelter.
The archaic scenes in the site are very difficult to make out even with DStretch, it is not easy to say anything about them other than that they are clearly older than the fresher looking superimposed cattle.
The site of Weiresen (a corrupted version of Oued Oua-Erassenen, but it is now referred to this way in all publications after Kunz) was known since the nineteen thirties (Brenans copied some scenes), however it was only published by Kunz in 1979. It is a large spacious shelter facing South, located some way up the side of a rocky hill. Together with the Tamadjert shelters it ranks among the finest examples of late pastoralist-cabbaline paintings in the Central Tassili.
At the left of the shelter, facing the entrance there is a very fine panel on a vertical rock face, depicting two chariots and some hard to interpret abstract patterns among the customary cattle and human figures.
Along the right wall of the shelter there is another fine panel of paintings depicting a number of human figures and a fine herd of cattle, indicating that even if horses were available for the chariots, the economy of the period was still mainly based on cattle.
Some distance away there is an amazing site which was only discovered recently, and to my knowledge is not published anywhere. This immense shelter is completely hidden from sight behind a dune that rises high along the hillside, and one only realises its true nature after a rather discouraging climb, with one ready to give up half way as seemingly there will be nothing there. Once inside one is immediately faced with a very curious and hard to classify panel of paintings.
The big surprise is hidden on the ceiling of a small niche at the left of the shelter: a school of fish, including a clearly recognisable catfish. Their appearance is very similar to the engraved fishes we have seen in the Oued In Djerane a couple of days earlier.
After a quick lunch in the only (and rather meagre) shade we could find beside a nearby rock, we drove to the last and largest site of western Ifedaniouene, Intemeïlt. It is a very large prominent shelter in the side of a west-facing hill, commanding the plain and approaches below for a distance of several kilometres. It was first reported by Jürgen Kunz in 1979, and the unique paintings were subsequently published in more detail by the Halliers, who found a number of similarities with paintings in the Djado (Niger). Aside the paintings there also some very large grinding basins bored into the floor of the shelter, a clear sign of long-term occupation.
The paintings cover the high rear wall of the shelter, do not extend to the ceiling. At the extreme right there is a very prominent panel of large barbary sheep, already visible from a distance. Their affinity is unclear, their style is unlike any other painting of barbary sheep (or other animals) in the broader Tassili region, however they do appear to be archaic.
Further left there are several animals and a large shape in black outline several metres in dimensions, which is very difficult to make out even with the help of DStretch.
In the middle of the shelter there is a rock pedestal reaching about half-way up to the ceiling. There is a large concentration of paintings right above this pedestal, with a large number of overpaintings ranging from archaic looking animals and two large dark human figures to several late pastoralist cattle, and even a recognisable chariot drawn by a pair of horses.
The weirdest paintings are above and to the left of the pedestal, depicting a group of animals that are impossible to firmly identify (boars perhaps ?), and greatly resemble a child's drawing of a mouse. There are no known analogies in the Tassili (save perhaps one at Tin Mzghigauin) but there appear to be a number of similar figures among the paintings of the Djado published by the Halliers.
With some effort it is possible to scramble up to the top of the platform, and at the base of the wall several more animal figures become visible that are hidden from below, and also the chariot may be photographed close-up.
After we finished our rather lengthy photography session we continued towards the west towards Tin Batoulete, a small "rock city" near the Tamadjert piste just before it ascends the low plateau. We made camp on a fine sandy patch and immediately set out to find the site reported by the Halliers at this location. It was not easy, we wandered about in the rock maze for a while until we realised that the site is right on the top of a rise in the central part of the area. The paintings in the shelter are rather weathered, but the large archaic rhinoceros (overlain by some almost completely faded cattle) is still very eye catching, rather unlike anything else seen in the Tassili.
There are more paintings among the rock towers aside the rhinoceros panel published by the Halliers (Stonewatch, 2010). Not far from the main shelter we found a second shallow shelter with some indiscernible parallel lines, which do not appear to make much sense even after processing with DStretch.
Further down the same lane we found a very faint but fine panel of barbary sheep and a solitary cattle painting. Closer to our camp we found another shelter that contained a series of negative handprints executed with white paint.
With some time left before sunset I made a quick search of the lane parallel to the one with paintings, but found nothing aside the stunning landscape and a shelter under a large rock with a single human figure.
Day 13. – Tin Batoulete - Tamadjert - Oued Tasset
After packing up camp we left the rock maze and returned to the Tamadjert piste, which soon ascended the low plateau and turned North towards the Oasis. The track was recently rebuilt and was in a good condition, we made good progress and after less than an hour we were overlooking the edge of the cliff into the basin with the small picture-book oasis.
We drove straight to the large shelter just south of the small town centre, the ceiling of which is densely covered with very fine paintings of the cabbaline (late pastoralist) period. It was a rather pleasant surprise to find them in pristine condition, very clearly the people of Tamadjert are aware of the value of their heritage, unlike those at Tasset.
The best known scenes are the numerous chariot representations, among the finest and best preserved, with the pair of horses invariably depicted in flying gallop. There is also a unique representaton of an unharnessed chariot.
There are many further representations of horses, cattle (including one being butchered), and several homestead scenes with humans doing everyday activities.
After visiting the main shelter we drove to the South eastern corner of the oasis basin to walk up to the big permanent guelta in the Oued Bouhediene a few hundred metres upstream of where it enters the open basin. Walking up the valley we very soon we encountered the first pools and much green vegetation, including reeds and blossoming oleanders
Just before the guelta there is a long low shelter, mostly covered with tifinagh inscriptions, but there are a few surviving older paintings in it, all from the cabbaline and camel periods.
The big guelta below the shelter was teeming with life, very audible from afar. Sitting on the water weeds there were hundreds of frogs (Sahara frogs, Pelophylax saharicus), seemingly very much out of place in this environment but apparently quite common in all permanent water bodies in central Saharan oases.
Many dragonflies were skimming the pool, mosty the crimson Red-veined Dropwings (Trithemis arteriosa) which have been noted at other water bodies in the Tassili and Tibesti.
As we started walking back towards the cars a shadow passed the sun, looking up we spotted a large bird that turned out to be another Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), or perhaps the very same individual we saw two days earlier at Tikadouine. A little further in a shallow pool (which did not appear to be permament) there were several small fishes which were later identified as livebearers, not native to the area. Subsequent research suggests that they are Western Mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) inroduced in the nineteen fifties for Malaria control to several of the Saharan oases.
Reaching the cars we started driving back along the route we came, passing the large shelter and the centre of the small village, one of the remotest settlements in the Algerian Sahara.
It was still only midday, with the newly built road we have gained much time so decided to return to the "rock city" of Tin Batoulete for lunch and the midday break, allowing some time to explore the stone maze for some more sites. There was a single camel period painting near our lunch spot, but the search of the rest of the large area provided no more finds.
The only exception was a large prominent shelter in the valley under the Hallier's rhinoceros shelter which we already spotted the day before, just was too far to reach before sunset. The rock was of a very bad quality, while there must have been many paintings on the rear wall of the shelter, now only a few traces of cattle remain.
After our lunch stop we started driving back along the piste towards Tasset, passing Ifedaniouene and Afara to the South, and skirting a couple of basement outcrops composed of tilted pre-cambrian schists.
Reaching the lava covered plain we stopped to photograph the Afara cliffs, now in a perfect light. Busy with the photos I did not notice the excitement among the zoologists in our party, only after returning to the cars did I hear that they spotted a herd of fleeing dorcas gazelle. Checking my own photos, they were indeed there, far in the distance but still recognisable.
We continued along the lava plain, then ascended the pass to the upper Oued Tasset. By this time the sun was getting very low, we made camp in a small secluded side valley not far past Ikadnouchere.
Day 14. – Oued Tasset - Ouan Foras - Tissebouk - In Tahadouft
In the morning we drove to the junction of the main road, and stopping the cars not far off the road we set out on foot to Ouan Foras, a rocky area a few kilometres away with some reported rock art sites. The walk to the low and from a distance rather inconspicuous "rock city" took a little over an hour over generally flat terrain.
At the reported location we did find a prominent shelter in the side of a towering rock, but it only contained some very faint paintings, including a scene depicting a recognisable lion, but not its full context.
Close to the first shelter we found the second with some fine cabbaline figures, including a typical chariot with horses in flying gallop. Some distance further another shelter contained some late camel period scenes, but the supposed "roundhead" paintings were nowhere to be seen (probably we passed them, but being very faint they were not recognised).
A little disappointed, we made the walk back to the cars and continued along the road towards the North to Tissebouk, which more than made up for the poor morning sites. In Noveber 2016 we had to make a rather hurried visit as it was approaching sunset, now we had plenty of time to marvel at all the fine details. One element I did not notice before was that the cow in the lower part of the faint herd to the right of the main scene is giving birth, a detail that went unnoticed in the Hallier's publication of the site (Sahara 14).
For lunch and the remainder of the afternoon we returned to the rock city of In Tahadouft at the Eastern entrance of the lower Oued Tasset valley. In Noveber 2016 we made a rather brief visit, leaving several sites noted by the Halliers unlocated.
First we made a round of the known sites, starting at the damaged but very interesting site with a mix of Tin Abenhar style human figures and some yellow fragmentary Iheren style paintings. With some better photographs and close scrutiny with DStretch it is now clear that the yellow giraffe are not the earliest layer, but are superimposed on the Tin Abenhar cattle. A seemingly associated fragmentary yellow human figure confirms that they are most likely Iheren style, providing yet another piece of evidence for their temporal sequence (something already noticed and published by the Halliers).
This time at the site with the very fine single cattle on the ceiling we spotted another abstract shape that is hard to make any sense of (noted by the Halliers too, suggesting it might be a hut).
We continued to the large shelter where in Noveber 2016 I only noted some indiscernible traces of paintings plus several large and small grinding basins and cupules on the shelter floor. This time, taking a longer and more thorough look I did find several more paintings which were mostly noted by the Halliers (Stonewatch, 2004-2005).
In front of the shelter I found the block (completely missed the last time) with numerous engraved figures that was used as a comparison by the Halliers with similar engravings of the Djado, and considered to be ""roundhead", to be understood as archaic. I find it hard to agree with this assessment, in particular the depicted lion is very similar to the late "libyan warrior" type engravings prevalent in the Hoggar and Aïr mountains.
Climbing the hill behind the large shelter we found several more promising rocks, but only one contained some paintings, the small but very fine Tin Abenhar style ensemble of cattle and a single human figure, all published by the Halliers (Stonewatch, 2004).
Going a little further, in a small valley we found another site of the Halliers, a long rock wall with some fragmentary and damaged paintings both in the Tin Abenhar and Iheren styles.
With plenty of time still left in the afternoon, we searched the more distant areas of the rock city, but only found two more rather meager sites, one with some very faint cattle, the other some recent camels superimposed over older camel period paintings.
With sunset approaching we started converging on the campsite in the centre of the rock city, finishing off at the well known site along the side of the central "plaza".
On the far side of the "plaza" there was another shallow shelter, used as the kitchen by Ibrahim on our last visit. There were some indiscernible paintings on the rear wall but I only had a superficial look on the last visit, this time in better light I could discern an ostrich and a strange animal. After some deliberation with Koen we settled on the single common ground - undoubtedly it had to be a kangaroo! (I wonder when will this be quoted on some fine new age website...) Satisfied, we went to pitch our tents on account of the cold wind that was starting to pick up.
Day 15. – Oued Tasset - Essendilene - Djanet
Pitching tents and not sleeping out in the open proved to be a wise choice, the cold wind strengthened to a howling gale overnight, and we awoke to dark leaden clouds covering the sky. Soon after sunrise big dark drops of rain started to fall, making loud knocks on the tent canvass. It did not last long enough to really moisten anything, and by the time we packed camp most of the clouds have dissipated, but the haze remained.
Before leaving Tasset we drove to the far side of the valley, to the Tedar shelter, one of the principal Iheren style shelters despite the numerous later superpositions and defacing tifinagh inscriptions.
I have thoroughly photographed the shelter in Noveber 2016, nevertheless there were countless little details I missed, many only revealed by DStretch after returning. This time I had a good chance to re-visit and photograph all that I missed, and just marvel at all the fine scenes scattered about the huge and somewhat unjustly neglected site.
The shelter provided a good opportunity to take our group photo, before starting on our way back towards Djanet. As we moved out from among the sheltering rocks the wind picked up again, and became a full blown sandstorm by the time we passed the Oued Dider. It was not a particularly inviting weather, so we forfeited the opportunity to search for the remaining paintings at Tazerouk and continued without stopping until the canyon of Essendilene, where the high vertical walls of the valley provided for some reasonably sheltered lunch spot before entering the narrow gorge.
The Essendilene canyon with the dense vegetation and blooming oleanders remained pretty much as I remembered it from our first visit in 1993. The only thing that looked markedly different was the guelta at the far end, which contained much more water and extended much farther, with the stone step where we sat with Magdi now submerged under water. As we were about to start on our return, the rain started falling again in large drops creating ripples on the guelta, a rather bizarre sight in the middle of the desert.
Throughout the canyon the air was buzzing with dragonflies, on the return I have managed to snap a few good photos of some of them (a rather tattered Trithemis arteriosa and a much nicer Orthetrum ransonnetii).
Our plan was for Kent and Thomas to return to Djanet in the afternoon as they had an overnight flight back to Algiers with an onward connection to Montreal on Air Algerie, while the rest of us would spend a last camp in the desert before going back to catch the afternoon flight. However when we returned to the cars the sandstorm showed no signs of abating, we all agreed that a night among four walls in Djanet would be rather more pleasant, thus we took off together for the road and the remaining hundred kilometres till Djanet.
Day 16. – Djanet - Algiers
After saying our good-byes in the evening, it did not bode well to hear the voice of Kent in the morning. It soon emerged that the overnight flight was canceled because of the sandstorm, and now their only option was to take the same flight as us, then figure out the onward route in Algiers. With the small plane in the afternoon there was bound to be chaos at the airport so we went well in advance, hearing with some relief that the afternoon flight, while delayed an hour, was in the air and due to arrive soon. However quite predictably only the passengers booked on this flight were accepted, all others waiting at the airport including Kent & Thomas were told that a relief flight will operate later in the evening to pick them up. No amount of persuasion from the side of Abdou could get them on this flight.
Once the plane arrived the reasoning became a bit more apparent. The flight was severely weight restricted on account of the reserve fuel needed because of the weather, and even all checked bags were left behind, being offered the choice of gong without bags, or staying in Djanet with them. With all of us having onward connections the next morning staying did not seem like a good idea, so with some misgivings we boarded the very bumpy and long flight (it took more than 4 hours for the ATR to reach Algiers in the headwinds). Once in Algiers we checked with the baggage desk, which was manned by surprisingly competent staff, who assured us after taking the numbers of the tags that the evening flight will bring all our bags, and they will be re-tagged to our final destinations.
After a night at the airport Ibis we went to the airport, only to bump into Kent & Thomas who just arrived from Djanet. It emerged that the promised evening flight was nothing but the regular overnight service, which arrived well after midnight to Djanet with a several hour delay, and reached Algiers around 7am in the morning. After some serious arguments with the Air Algerie staff they did manage to re-book via London, reaching Calgary in the end with only a half day delay.
The unexpected surprise came as we landed in Budapest. I did not expect for one minute to see our bags (despite repeated assurance at check-in), yet by the time we cleared passport control there they were, merrily going around on the carousel, still bearing the traces of the Djanet sand.
With the apparent ease of restrictions we plan to return to the Tassili n'Ajjer again in November 2018, please check this page periodically or "like" the FJ Expeditions FaceBook page to receive notices of news and updates.