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jorgesanchez Djamena - A travel report by jorge
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Djamena,  Chad - flag Chad -  Chari-Baguirmi
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jorgesanchez's travel reports

The Transafrican journey in horizontal

  46 votes
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Crossing Africa vertically from Cape Town to Cairo is for the brave (as daniserralta is presently doing). From Morocco to Cape Town is for the experienced (as wojtekd did in 2005). But in horizontal from Massawa to Dakar is only for the foolish.

My Transafrican journey was matured in this market in Masawa
My Transafrican journey was matured in this market in Masawa
RED SEA. ERITREA. The classical African journey from Cairo to Cape Town (or vice versa) in local means of transport, without using airplanes, was very popular among young travellers several decades ago. Today, owing to the unstable political situation and frequent wars in Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia, this route has been shortened to Nairobi, although some people still manage to obtain a Sudanese visa (I got it in Kampala). I was in Massawa drinking a Martini in a chaikhana facing the Red Sea, pondering the alternatives to get back home after eight months vagabonding around Africa, from Melilla to Cape Town and up to Eritrea in trucks, boats, trains and on foot. Now I had just to cross Sudan and enter Egypt to visit my many good friends living in the Baramus Coptic Monastery, near Alexandria, and then would catch a regular ship to Athens and hitchhike to Spain to accomplish the Tran African in vertical twice. But then I looked at my pocket atlas, that magical book, and a new plan provoked me with irresistible force: Crossing Africa in horizontal! I did not know of anybody having done it in the past (not even Wojciech!). The idea became so powerful that I could not take it out of my mind; I did not wish anything else in my life at that moment than to arrive to the Atlantic Ocean from the Red Sea via Sudan, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal. I had left only 60.000 CFA francs (around 200 US Dollars), but I am used to travel on the cheap finding occasionally jobs along the road, fasting and sleeping in temples or monasteries of any religion. I did not foresee the bureaucratic annoyances, such as bona fide letters from your Embassy to get visas to the Arabic countries, and because of that I could not obtain the visa to Chad. Anyway, I would risk penetrating that country without it, travelling as an African. Sometimes the fascination of the adventure to discover new places is so strong that you underestimate the obstacles. One sunny day I took a bus to Kassala.

Favourite spots:
Pretty miniature that my dervishes’ friends gave me
Pretty miniature that my dervishes’ friends gave me
SUDAN. “Ahlan wa Sahlan!” (Welcome!). That was the greeting of the Sudanese officers. In colourful Kassala, inhabited by the ethnic groups Beja and Rashida, I waited for 2 days my permit to travel further. The Sudanese visa was not enough. Khartoum, the junction of the Blue and White Nile, consisted in three parts: the centre was located in the South; the Northeast was an industrial area; and Omdurman, at the North and West side of the Nile, was the most interesting place for me due to the cemetery near the mosque where I would sleep in company of my friends, the whirling dervishes. That mosque sheltered the mausoleum of The Mahdi, probably the expected Prophet announced in the X century, who defeated the English general Charles Gordon at the turn of the XIX century. Every Friday the dervishes performed their sacred dances, quite different than those of the Mevlevi Order founded by Rumi in Konya. One day I boarded an open bus heading to Al Fashir, in the ancient Sultanate of Darfur.

What's really great:
Visibility in the desert during sand storms
Visibility in the desert during sand storms
DARFUR. During four days we travelled through unmarked tracks in the desert that sometimes made doubt our driver the way to follow, especially when there were sand storms. The Sudanese are one the friendliest people in Africa; when we arrived to an oasis for the muslim prayer, or to spend the night in the improvised tents, all wanted to invite me to dinner. Everybody greeted me: Asma kuballa, kulu tamam? (Hi foreigner, everything is OK?). Hundreds of flies hanged about our nose, lips and hair on our head. Nothing to do with them, you had to get used. In Al Fasher I caught a truck to Nyala (two more days) avoiding passing through the Mountains of Jebal Marrah, where the Tuareg bandits attacked the travellers and made them their slaves. In El Geneina the soldiers did not allow me to proceed to Chad because I had no visa. I argued and asked for the captain. I knew that well educated Arabs are comprehensive gentlemen. He listened, invited me to tea with sweets and let me go ahead. Shukram!

African villages that I crossed
African villages that I crossed
CHAD. In Adre the immigration clerks wanted to send me back to Sudan because of my lack of visa. After bribing them with some baksheesh I could meet their superior. I wished him in Arabic peace and long life to his dear family, what he appreciated. After one hour interrogation he ordered the driver of a truck to hold my passport until Abeche, and be delivered to the Police for an entry stamp. Abeche was a closed city. In Chad there are two military controls at the entrance of every town and two more at the exit, and at night there is curfew and you have to wait until the morning. The airport is protected by the French Army. I was granted a transit permit and left to Ndjamena in an overcrowded truck. We stopped in villages where I saw women Farchana with their hair cut below their ears and their lips tattooed in black. The Dades put knockers and rings in their mouth when they go to the market because their husbands prohibit them to talk. Finally I arrived at the gates of Ndjamena.

Tuaregs that I met along the way
Tuaregs that I met along the way
NDJAMENA. I made a mistake when, after been requested to empty my bag, I replied: “Again? I have just showed it in the previous control”. One of the soldiers then beat me with his pistol in my head. He called me “kafir”, ordered to enter in a hut and to undress. He took everything with him. I felt miserable and remembered that in that African journey I had lost part of my hearing sense in Mozambique Island when an insect got into my left ear and made me suffer horribly and cry during the two night’s journey in a dhow to Tanzania. I was robbed in Johannesburg, and in the Kinshasa of Mobutu I had to paint my face with black shoe polish to look like an African to escape from an ambush, etc., but never had I felt more in danger than in that hut. I started to shout: “Basta! I swear that I will never travel anymore! This is my last adventure!” After three hours I was freed and given back my bag and clothes except 10.000 CFA francs. I arrived to Ndjamena and stayed in the Catholic Mission.

Authorization to cross the Lake Chad region
Authorization to cross the Lake Chad region
LAKE CHAD. To proceed to Niger I needed a permit that I got in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. I reached Bol, in the Lake Chad. Up in the Tibesti live the Tubu, or Teda, feared warriors of the desert that do not allow foreigners to enter their territory. They all carry a dagger in their arm. In Bol live the descendants of the Sao, a race of tall people that cut their faces with knives. I attained Bagasola, then Liwa, and waited in vain for a truck. In the night children in the madrasas recite the Koran from wooden boards until they learn it by heart. After one week the chief of Liwa suggested me to hire two camels and a guide, but first it was essential to buy a gri gri (amulet) prepared by a marabu (wizard), otherwise the guide would refuse to go with me. When it was ready I hanged it around my neck and left. We travelled at night and slept in daytime. We were fed by the nomads and drank water from the wells. The camels ate acacias all the time. The third day I arrived to N’Guigmi.

Women buying clothes in Zinder, Niger
Women buying clothes in Zinder, Niger
NIGER. I asked for pure cold water, drank it with greed and lay in a mat. My throat was burning and my stomach in disorder after those three days drinking yellow water smelling and tasting like hell, mixed with impurities, and fighting with the camels the right to drink it first in dirty buckets. They brought me food but I was not hungry. I hitchhiked; people stopped but asked me money. From Niger to Senegal there is a “highway” filled with kiosks selling food and petrol 24 hours a day. I sold my sleeping bag in Diffa to buy boiled eggs, goat meat and for alms to the poor. Niger was a delightful country; its houses, made on adobe, looked like fairy tales and the people wore clothes with charming colours. I loved Zinder, a crossroads village. There I met many Africans heading to Morocco and Tunisia to cross to Europe to improve their lives. I was ashamed; they were real travellers travelling for noble reasons, as the Humankind did in the past, and not for leisure. I continued my journey

Young Peulh girl with her baby
Young Peulh girl with her baby
BURKINA FASO/MALI. From Nyamey I kept on travelling and crossed Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, then arrived to Bamako, in Mali, where I had already been in my way down to Cape Town when I travelled from Ghardaia to Gao in a truck carrying dates and then by boat to Kabara to visit Timbuktu and later the Dogon Country. I first saw westerners since Addis Ababa, but I was a foreigner among them and did not greet any European. I saw them bargaining for 100 CFA francs with poor barefoot women selling fruits in the market, and immediately they entered in a chic restaurant to spend a lot of money in beers and copious food, and expelled the beggars, mainly street children that called them “Patron” or “Papa”, with bad manners. I was closer to the Africans; I felt a white black. I took a train to Dakar and the controller let me in without ticket. The train was a bazaar; in every stop people sold through the windows all kind of goods. Finally I saw the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and felt passion.

Other recommendations:
Preparing “chai” in a Mauritanian tent of the desert
Preparing “chai” in a Mauritanian tent of the desert
ATLANTIC OCEAN/SENEGAL/MAURITANIA. In Dakar I made a boat trip to the Island of Goree, an ancient slave’s warehouse where the Rastafaris living there invited me to stay with them for a few days eating fish and listening reggae music all day long. Back in Dakar I headed north and stopped in Saint Louis remembering my traveller hero Rene Caillie, the first westerner that reached the forbidden Timbuktu and went out alive. Once in Mauritania I hitchhiked until Choum, sleeping in tents of the desert and drinking countless cups of “chai”. Then I took the train to Nouadhibou together with many Saharawi of the Polisario Front. At the Moroccan border I was denied access to the country alone because of the mines along the way. I needed to join a group. After ten days of unsuccessful waiting a Spanish captain invited me to go to the Canary Island in his fishing boat. One week later I was back home. Soon I forgot my promise of the hut of Ndjamena and consulted my atlas to organize a new long trip!

Published on Thursday September 22th, 2005

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Sun, Mar 25 2012 - 08:17 PM rating by mikebarton

I should not have read this. My wanderlust has returned in a big way.

Wed, Feb 25 2009 - 05:59 AM rating by hieronyma

Jorge, that must have been an incredible journey, but risky, although, I think, the political situation is one side of the picture, but the people the other side. It needs respect, but also strength and a certain aggressiveness to come through. Did you read: Michael Asher, Impossible Journey? He went with his wife from Mauretania through Mali, Niger, Chad, Sudan to Aswan in Egypt in 1986. Another incredible journey, they nearly lost their mind.
So long. Stay alive and take care.

Mon, Feb 11 2008 - 09:30 AM rating by krisek

Your pictures are perfect! And I am so envious that you went to Chad. I am a little concerned with safety at the moment... but I am dying to go. Thank for your report! I love it.

Sat, Aug 04 2007 - 06:39 AM rating by adampl

Wow! A fascinating and unique report. It shows great adventure that many would like to experience.

Sun, Apr 23 2006 - 05:39 PM rating by marcosfonsec


For me, this is the most interesting and extraordinary report, among all that I already read. In spite of your sufferings, I would like a lot to have acquaintance the unusual places that you knew, in this trip. Some day, I hope to obtain of you, more information and pictures on your heroic adventure. Truly, congratulations!!!!



Wed, Mar 22 2006 - 04:00 PM rating by sajjanka


Fri, Jan 20 2006 - 05:53 AM rating by frenchfrog

As usual, yet a perfect report, what will we do without you? It is really fantastic! What an amazing journey.

Thu, Jan 19 2006 - 06:17 PM rating by karden

Good report especially i like picture of Tuaregs.

Sat, Jan 14 2006 - 08:28 AM rating by mj2004

Brilliant, what an excellent report!

Sat, Oct 15 2005 - 08:21 PM rating by joe_schmidt

Whoa, what a story! And I thought my trip through the andes has been an adventure. Indeed, for me it was.

Fri, Sep 30 2005 - 01:54 PM rating by mistybleu

Jorge a wonderful read, I swear you should have it published, I'd buy a book of your travels.
Take care

Wed, Sep 28 2005 - 05:17 AM rating by nz_chica

- i lived in africa for a year but the essence of your journey is what makes it call to you - also encouraging that its not all about bookings and tours & $! bedouins, bugs and the earth...

Tue, Sep 27 2005 - 06:03 AM rating by magsalex

What a great report. Nicely written and illustrated.

Tue, Sep 27 2005 - 02:02 AM rating by britman

Outstanding report in every respect. A great read too.

Sat, Sep 24 2005 - 09:09 PM rating by gloriajames

5* once again!!!!

Fri, Sep 23 2005 - 08:11 PM rating by eirekay

Five stars for the pictures alone! Marvelous report, as always!

Fri, Sep 23 2005 - 09:07 AM rating by bear495

This is a wonderful compilation of excerpts from your journey. Congratulations on a safe journey. Bien hecho en escribir este reporte.


Fri, Sep 23 2005 - 05:34 AM rating by rangutan

Quite amazing! Ten reports in one :-)

Fri, Sep 23 2005 - 01:02 AM rating by bhairavee

Hi Jorge,I read this report many times and still I felt that i have not read fully ,it is so much interesting.
This is one of the best reports.

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