Click on image for list of participants
Ouri plain, Tibesti Mountains, Chad
18th January - 10th February, 2014
Site references based on numbering system of Adriana and Sergio Scarpa-Falce, Aldo and Donatella Boccazzi
(courtesy Aldo Boccazzi)
False colour images processed with dStretch,
a freely available software developed by Jon Harman
Our original plan was to make use of the Point Afrique charter flights to Faya-Largeau as the previous year, but the cancellation of these flights in November necessitated a complete re-scheduling. Having no other option, we needed to start and end our trip in N'Djamena, requiring an additional three days both ways for the long drive across the Sahel belt and the Erg Djurab to/from Faya. By adding some days to the trip and increasing the daily trekking distances, we could just about manage our planned itinerary in ten days.
As S.V.S. were arranging the pack camels and the fuel depot in Yebbi Bou necessary to reach Aozi, news were received which required the complete re-assessment of our plans. We were quite correct in interpreting the tracks visible on Google Earth near Aozi, there was indeed a track branching off the Yebbi Bou - Gouro piste and leading all the way to Aozi village (in the nineteen nineties there was no track leading down from the volcanic plateau to the village below, vehicles could only approach Aozi to within 8-10 kilometres). Furthermore, a track built during the rebellion now led down from Aozi all the way to the Ouri Plain, permitting the use of vehicles along the entire itinerary. This changed things completely as ten days with vehicles permitted a leisurely circuit of all the more interesting sites, while with camels it would have been an exhausting trek only leaving time for a handful of the most important localities. This was all the better as there were no camels available in Aozi, all animals would have had to be hired at Bini Erde, at a distance of 150 kilometres.
Our party of diverse nationalities from five continents met up at Istanbul airport on the evening of the 17th January, taking the overnight Turkish Airlines flight to N'Djamena. Due to the closed airspace over Darfur and Libya the flight took a huge detour, flying from Istanbul to Tunis then on to Algerian airspace before turning back to Chad over Niger, taking more than six hours. We arrived without any mishaps before midnight with all our luggage and supplies, and after some surprisingly quick border formalities we tucked in to the marginally acceptable but grossly overpriced Hotel de l'Aeroport for a good sleep before departure.
Day 1. N'Djamena - Camp before Moussoro
We had a couple of hours in the morning to sort and re-pack supplies (or simply sleep a bit longer, especially those coming from two continents away...) while S.V.S. were arranging our police registration and travel permits, all of which went surprisingly smoothly. By mid-morning all paperwork was ready, we loaded the cars and set out across the town on the only surfaced road of the country running East towards Abéche. Once outside N'Djamena the road crosses a rather uninspiring flat plain dotted with a few shrubs and acacias. After about eighty kilometres, at the town of Massaguet the road forked with the main road continuing East, while our route was towards the North East, still on a surfaced road. Shortly after the junction we stopped for a quick roadside lunch in the shade of a larger tree.
The road towards the North East ends at Massakory, a town to the East of Lake Chad. From here we continued along a dirt track leading towards the North-East. This was all cattle country, we spotted many herds among the constant small villages which followed each other at few kilometre intervals. There were a few cultivated millet fields, but mostly the country was just dull and barren grey mud and dust dotted with low shrubs and acacias.
After about twenty kilometres, we reached the Bahr el Ghazal, an ancient water channel that was once a flowing river from the outlet of Lake Chad to the lower lying Bodélé depression. The vegetation and landscape changed abruptly, with doum palms appearing in increasing numbers among the acacias on patches of sand and lower vegetation-anchored dunes covering the grey mud. We made a brief mid-afternoon stop among a larger cluster of palms to stretch our legs, then continued along the piste.
We made another stop in the village of Kouri Kouri to buy some firewood. It was a bit larger and perhaps a bit neater than the ones we passed along the track, but it was not a particularly welcoming place with just a few adults and some shy children approaching us as the negotiations were concluded.
We made our first camp at sunset on a patch of sandy ground reasonably distant from Kouri Kouri and any other village. As darkness fell the air became filled with bats and all kinds of other flying creatures, one of them (a large striped hawk-moth, Hyles livornica) landed in Gabor's cup to sip the last drops of the sundowner.
Day 2. Moussoro - Camp in Bahr el Ghazal
The last major town before crossing the 500km Bodélé desert to Faya was Moussoro, about 15 kilometres from where we camped. We only went into the town to fuel, we had everything else we needed. The place was a typical sahelian town: hot, dusty and rather miserable in general appearance, with large vultures circling overhead. We were rather glad to move on as soon as all cars were filled at the gas station by the main square.
Despite the unpleasant appearance of the town, Moussoro actually lies in a rather pretty area, among fairly high parallel sand dunes anchored by grass and acacias, with the basins among them filling with lakes after rains, providing fertile farmland and pasturage. The outskirts of the town are partially built on the dunes. We stopped here at a well to fill our water canisters before setting out Northward.
After leaving Moussoro, for the next couple of hours we were driving along the Bahr el Ghazal as it zigzagged among the vegetation covered dunes. There were no more cattle to be seen, replaced by goats and ever increasing number of camels, with neat villages perched on the top of the dunes. This was by far the most pleasant looking country we have crossed since leaving N'Djamena.
The dune country ceased about eighty kilometres North of Moussoro, replaced with a featureless plain where the bed of the Bahr el Ghazal was quite imperceptible on ground level, only marked by denser vegetation as the landscape turned increasingly arid elsewhere. The land was still densely populated, with one village after another along the track.
At some point the track left the bed of the Bahr el Ghazal, and continued on the plain to the east of the wadi. With less vegetation the going was much better and we picked up speed, covering as much distance in an hour as in all the morning before. We stopped for lunch under one of the last big acacias visible on the plain. We were now at the very edge of the Sahel, about to enter the fringes of the true desert.
Beyond our lunch stop the country changed again, the shrubs disappeared and we moved onto an endless plain with yellow grass, dotted by a few small acacias. This was camel country, we saw hundreds of them grazing on the plain, alone and in small herds. The permanent settlements ceased, the few huts we passed were those of nomads, ready for disassembly and moving at any time.
We made a brief halt on the grassy plain, where the ground was dotted as far as one could see with a field of colocynths, both old and fresh green. We spotted a couple of cream-coloured coursers (Cursorius cursor) among the colocynths, a wader species occurring all along the semi-desert belt of the Sahel and West Asia. There were also traces of ancient human habitation, I saw several ceramic sherds embedded into the hardened mud underlying the sand, a remnant of the floodplains of the ancient river flowing in the Bahr al Ghazal into the Bodélé depression many millenia ago.
At some point we passed a stranded Toyota Hi-Lux that was clearly not going anywhere anytime soon. The engine was taken out and disassembled, with one of the four pistons cracked and seized in its bore. The two men were attempting a makeshift repair extracting the seized piston and plugging the cylinder with a wooden block to restore compression in the remaining three. Ichaou, our mechanic was also on the opinion that it was the best thing they could do. We gave them some water and departed, not knowing any more of their fate (but the car was certainly not there on our return).
Approaching sunset, we turned towards the bed of the Bahr el Ghazal a few kilometres to the left of the track. We were aiming for the well of Beurkia in the ancient riverbed which was a barely perceptible depression only a few metres below the general level of the plain. The well itself was on a prominent rise visible from a distance, as the dung of millions of animals over hundreds of years accumulated around its mouth. Hundreds of camels and donkeys were visible on the plain, either moving towards or away from the well, with each probably having an allotted time at the precious resource.
We made camp in the sandy riverbed a few kilometres from the well. While there were still bits of vegetation around, much to our relief it was finally a proper desert camp unlike the grey dusty ground of the Sahel a day earlier.
Day 3. Bahr el Ghazal - Erg Djurab
In the morning after breakfast we set out to visit the well while the camp was being packed and the cars loaded. The evening scene was repeated, with camels converging on the well from all directions.
The well itself was about 50 metres deep, as attested by the length of the rope attached to the camel that was pulling up the water via a simple wooden pulley. There was a concrete ring protecting its mouth at the top of the mound, with a multitude of camels and donkeys jostling to take their share of the water. The men tending the animals were welcoming, but not too keen on being photographed, I could only take a few quick clandestine shots arond the mouth of the well.
In the meantime the cars caught up with us, and we could continue along the way. We passed a few more huts, then all traces of human habitation ceased as we reached the gleaming white country that was formerly the bottom of Lake Megachad, the huge body of water reaching up all the way to Faya in the middle of the Bodélé depression. We bumped along this thick diatomite layer for over thirty kilometres, stopping briefly at an area covered with white yardangs.
After another dozen kilometres the first low dunes appeared, and soon all of the lakebed was swamped in yellow sand. This was the Erg Djurab, a 70km wide belt of low parallel dunes, a continuation of the same dune belt originating in the Great Sand Sea of Egypt that passes between Jebel Arkenu and Jebel Uweinat before being driven across the gap between the Ennedi and the Tibesti by the south-westerly trade winds for a distance of more than 1000 kilometres. Under normal circumstances they offer an easy crossing, but we soon found out that due to the good rains the previous summer the dunes were covered with a dense growth of grass, with each tuft forming a small dune that gave the cars a mighty jolt as the wheels passed over them. With the grass getting ever denser we soon realised that the direct shortcut we were hoping to make will take the whole day, so we limped back towards the traveled track that we were hoping to avoid in the first place.
The sand along the track was very soft, churned by the many passing vehicles along this main (and only) route North. We encountered many grazing camels, lured by the abundant pasturage among the dunes. We also passed a stranded Mercedes truck coming from Faya, with the lower half of the engine completely taken apart, the men busy making repairs to the crankshaft in an amazing display of desert mechanics. I really don't know how they manage to keep the blowing sand out of the oily engine parts, but they appeared confident in what they were doing as they waived off our offer of help, and the truck was gone by the time we came back the same way three weeks later.
We stopped for lunch on the top of one of the highest dunes, hoping for some cooler breeze in this shadeless country, which however did not come. From the top one could see over the whole area of low joined barchans, not particularly difficult to cross off-piste if there is no grass about. The weather was not particularly inviting for a longer stay, after a quick bite and some rest for our drivers in the narrow strip of shade beside the cars, we continued along the track snaking along the valleys between the barchans.
By mid afternoon we emerged on the Northern side of the dunes, and continued on a good hard gravel which finally offered good going after nearly three days of bumping along in deeply rutted mud or sand. After going about fifty kilometres parallel to the dunes towards the North east the track finally turned North, direct towards Faya. Near this point there is a well built to service the passing vehicles, but it also caters to a few nomads living in the area. We also used the opportunity to fill our jerrycans with good water.
As sunset was approaching we were about 50 kilometres from Faya. We moved off the piste to a lovely area of golden sand, green tamarisks and white yardangs along an eroded area of the ancient lakebed to make camp for the evening.
Day 4. Faya - Borku
We got up at sunrise and packed our camp for departure. After a drive of only half an hour we reached the edge of the depression leading into Faya, with the town visible among the distant green belt of palm trees. This was a new route, only recently cleared among the minefields that protected Faya from the south.
Although Faya appeared close, it was almost an hour of zigzagging among the yardangs and dunes and going around marked minefields until we reached the row of barchans adjacent to the airport which marked the edge of the town.
Faya is definitely not an endearing place, it is rather difficult to say anything nice about this dusty, filthy and rather miserable town. We went about our chores as fast as we could, first registering with the Gendarmerie, then continuing to the dodgier end of the town to purchase fuel, fresh vegetables and some supplies to top up what we already had with us from N'Djamena. It took a good three hours to complete everything and turn our backs on the place, much to the relief of everyone.
We only drove far enough to be comfortably out of town, then we stopped under a cluster of date palms to have our lunch. Gábor wandered off as usual, and soon returned with a red sandstone slab full of the familiar Silurian Arthropycus trace fossils.
We continued along the track leading North west through the palmeries and small villages of Borku, stopping at a well that supposedly had particularly good water. As usual there was a tyre protecting the well mouth, and the shaft was sunk into the white diatomite layer. Surprisingly water was touching the lower rim of the tyre, groundwater must be just below the surface in all of the Borku depression.
We made another stop in the village of Gourma, where Hajji Senoussi had a house and members of his family. He also proudly pointed to a large group of fine date palms on the outskirts of the village as his palms, one of the prized family possessions.
We made camp before sunset on the top of one of the large dunes among the palm trees about sixty kilometres from Faya, not far from Ain Galakka, the last of the palmeries before reaching the open desert.
Day 5. Borku - Tugui
We got up at first light and started to pack the camp. We were getting better, but it was still a good hour until we could load the cars and continue towards the Enneri Miski, the entrance of the Tibesti which we hoped to reach by the evening. As we were about to depart, I caught a smallish cricket (Gryllus sp. ?) which appeared different than the common black crickets I've seen elsewhere in the Sahara.
Not far from our camp we passed the village of Yen, which has an artificial artesian spring with good lukewarm water, a welcome opportunity for the wash after four days of dusty roads. We also filled all our empty jerrycans not to have to stop for water for the next couple of days.
As we continued, we passed a couple of larger lakes at Ain Galakka. Unfortunately the old fort, the scene of the 1913 battle between the Senoussi and the French forces was far off the track on difficult ground, with our tight schedule we could not afford the detour. At the largest lake we spotted flock of ducks splashing about merrily in the water. A few rapid lucky shots confirmed them to be marbled teals (Marmaronetta angustirostris), a rare threatened species once common all over the Middle-east and Persia, but now only surviving in small pockets, some along the southern fringes of the Sahara.
After Ain Galakka we left the chain of oases and entered into the generally flat featureless desert. The only point of interest along the rather dull track was an abandoned Libyan BMP-1 personnel carrier, which we did not spot the year before even though we passed along the same track. The most interesting feature of the wreck was a large desert hare hiding underneath, which waited for our approach till the very last moment before bolting, probably scaring us as much as it was scared. It happened in a flash, by the time I grabbed the camera it was already a hundred metres away.
For most of the day we continued along this flat uninspiring ground, interrupted occasionally by a few low barchans. We only paused for a brief lunch stop at some dunes, and made good progress. By mid afternoon it was possible to make out the faint outline of a row on sandstone spires on the horizon to our right, marking the entrance of the Enneri Miski, the main gateway of the Tibesti. As we made good time, we aimed for the rocks, the site of two important rock art sites, Tugui and Tugui Tungur, both first reported by Le Masson in the early nineteen sixties. Andrea and Hajji Senoussi have visited both but over 15 years ago in pre-GPS days, so while we knew the general area we had to search for the exact locations. We made camp in a shallow valley near the centre of the cliffs, to explore on foot in both directions. First we started North, as we expected the large panel of cattle engravings to lie somewhere in that area near the Northern end of the rocks.
We did not need to search much, the Tigui engravings were right where we expected them to be near the North end of the cliffs, perfectly illuminated by the low sun. This frieze of large cattle is perhaps the best manifestation of the large scale Borkou cattle engravings (and is also the westernmost occurrence of this particular style).
The engravings are made on two separate panels on vertical rock surfaces. The most striking feature on both are a procession of almost life-sized cattle, but there are also many lesser figures including the characteristic Borku-Tibesti round-headed lancers, many smaller cattle, giraffe, elephants and some other animals (contrast of photos below enhanced for better clarity).
To the left of the main panels and at right angles to them there is another wall with lesser engravings, the most interesting among them being a procession of elephants.
Tugui Tungur, a shelter with paintings was thought to be a little beyond the engravings as the rocks turned East. Sunset was approaching so I could only make a quick exploratory dash to the next bay beyond. I did find a shelter with a single painted round headed human figure of the same type as on the engravings (this is the only style I'm aware of in the Sahara where paintings and engravings are nearly identical), but saw no trace of the larger shelter. Darkness was approaching fast so we had to make a hasty retreat to camp.
Day 6. Tugui - camp under Tarso Tieroko
While we went to find the engravings, Gábor wandered off in the opposite direction, and found a large terrace with a number of engravings. At first light we set out to check them out. The best of the scattered engravings was a fine panel of giraffe and ostrich, but we also found a panel of paintings in the deep interior of a low shelter at the far end of the terrace which Gábor missed the day before.
Our main discovery however was made on the return, when taking a different way we passed a long shallow shelter in the side of a vertical cliff. It did not look very promising as there was no real shelter floor, but checking it out we found the rear wall to be completely covered with paintings - we have unexpectedly stumbled upon Tugui Tungur, in a rather different place than where we expected it to be. We returned to camp to collect the others and the camera gear, postponing our departure to see this bonus find.
The site in fact consists of several wind-eroded shelters along the same softer strata in the rock, all very shallow and not really suitable for habitation, except for a small deeper part to the right of the main shelter. The story of their discovery is not entirely clear, as later we found out that the shelter reported by Le Masson is a smaller one a few hundred metres further West along the same strata, there seem to be no tracings of the main shelter in the 1964 publication of Huard & Le Masson (Peintures rupestres du Tibesti oriental et me΄ridional, Objets et Mondes IV/4)
This deeper right shelter contains a fine panel of paintings on the left wall, mainly from the late/historic periods with the characteristic round-headed figures, and the enigmatic lancers of which only a few white traces remain (like at the site of Tirgui Cocoïna not too far at the foot of Emi Koussi). There also was an uncommon scene of a mounted cattle, and a faint earlier giraffe painting.
Between the right shelter and the main shelter there is a small hollow with some engravings, and some very enigmatic white paint blobs covering some earlier paintings of human figures and two negative handprints.
The main shelter is really just a wind-carved hollow, with no flat floor at all. The paintings are on the upper left ceiling, in a very awkward-to-reach position. From afar the most prominent feature is a large engraved lancer (about 1m in height) in the middle of the lower part of the shelter, now impossible to approach either from above or below due to the steep slope.
The figures of the main panel of paintings are in a very good state of preservation, depicting mainly cattle and humans, with a number of distinct layers distinguishable. The "smiley" is probably a representation of a hut or other enclosure, but it is hard to think of any parallels.
The most interesting paintings are in fact the faintest and earliest ones. There are a couple of both positive and negative handprints, and several figures of the Karnasahi style wearing what appear to be white animal skins, the only known manifestation of these paintings on the Western Side of the Tibesti. Some of these are pecked, and in part overpainted by much cruder figures that appear to imitate them in body posture. There is also a unique scene of four women, one of whom clearly carries a pot on her head.
The small shelter originally reported by Le Masson lies about 200 metres from the main one along the same strata, on the far side of the rocky promontory, high up on the cliff in a hard to reach place. There is a very vivid and fairly recent panel of paintings at the rear of the shelter. The older layer depicts cattle, while in the more recent layer there is a fine scene of hunting a barbary sheep with dogs (which was used as cover illustration for the book of Beck & Huard on the Tibesti), and an absolutely unique depiction of a house or hut on stilts, with a flight of stairs leading up to the entrance.
By the time we finished our cars were packed and ready, we continued North along the lower Enneri Miski, with the big cliffs of the Ager Tai passing to the left. We could just about start to make out Emi Koussi on the East horizon 50 kilometres away, almost completely lost in haze.
We drove about 70 kilometres North on the broad sandy plain before entering the main watercourse of the Enneri Miski, broadly following a major fault dividing the sandstone country to the East from the uplifted basement rocks to the West. We continued up the riverbed towards the village of Bini Erde, the border between Borku and the Tibesti.
We stopped for lunch at the only trees offering shade among the last of the picturesque sandstone hills before reaching the wide lava flow just south of Bini Erde. Sometime during the height of the Pleistocene volcanic activity along the ridge to the North of Emi Koussi this basalt flow blocked the valley completely, diverting the Enneri Miski from into the hills of basement rocks towards the east. The original way to Bini Erde was via the Miski watercourse, but it was mined during the rebellion and a new route was made across the lava.
After lunch we continued over the basalt barrier, the top of which offered a good view of the village to the North and the remnants of the ancient volcanoes and Emi Koussi to the East. The huge mass of Tarso Tieroko was there somewhere straight ahead beyond the upper reaches of the Enneri Miski about sixty kilometres away, but was completely lost in the haze.
We had to check in at the Sous prefecture, but it was a fairly quick affair, it only took ten minutes and we were free to continue to the artesian well where a big diesel pump was extracting water for the few surrounding gardens. Filling our empty jerrycans, we immediately continued North.
After an hour's drive Tarso Tieroko came into view, first just about discernible over the haze then becoming more defined. By the time we stopped to take photos it was beginning to fill the horizon, the perspective from the rising terrain making it deceptively low despite the 2750m height.
We made another stop for firewood along a riverbed choked with rounded basalt boulders. This was now mostly black volcanic country, with the last of the yellow sandstone pinnacles sticking out from the surrounding lava flows before becoming completely submerged as we ascended along the flanks of Tarso Tieroko.
We made camp before sunset near the highest altitude reached by the track along the South eastern flanks of the Tarso Tieroko, in a small wadi just off the road. It was noticeably cooler here at an elevation of 1300 metres, it was the first time I pitched my tent since the Bahr el Ghazal expecting a cold night to come.
As we had our dinner around the campfire, we had an uninvited visitor, a small solifuge (camel spider) that scurried all about us until taking refuge on one of the green water canisters.
Day 7. Tarso Tieroko - Yebbi Bou - Volcanic plateau west of Aozi
The night was cool but not as cold as expected, with a spectacular sunrise. Emi Koussi stood out clearly in the backlight on the southern horizon, with the pointed peak of Tarso Tieroko catching the first rays of the sun.
With the crisp morning packing went rather quicker than usual, and about half an hour after sunrise we were ready to depart towards Yebbi Bou. As we drove along the track the sunlight and the clouds created an amazing show for us among the peaks of Tarso Tieroko.
We reached the comparatively neat village of Yebbi Bou by mid morning, too early in fact as the Sous-prefect was nowhere to be found, it took a lengthy search to locate him in the village. We were hoping to get a guide to show us the trail to Aozi, however it emerged that the person in question left for Aozi a couple of days earlier, we had to rely the sous-prefect's description of the way to Hajji Senoussi. We also had a pre-arranged fuel depot here, while the tanks and jerrycans of the cars were filled up we had a quick walk around the village.
We managed to finish all the chores and leave the village before noon, first heading back along the road we came for a few kilometres till the junction of the track leading towards Gouro across the high volcanic ridge of the Eastern Tibesti. The airport of Yebbi Bou was near the junction, an 1300 metre dirt strip cleared of the volcanic boulders covering the surface everywhere. There were the remains of a Lockheed C-130 piled up at the end of the runway, Hajji Senoussi thought it was a Chadian plane that was shot up by the rebels during the Tibesti rebellion.
We continued along the bumpy track that appeared to get less and less distinct. Finally we reached a small hamlet of a few huts where Senoussi found out that we have missed the main trail turnoff at the airport, but by continuing along the track we will rejoin the main piste. At first the going was reasonable on a ridge of exposed softer ignimbrite, but soon the way led over the top of the lava flows. While the larger boulders were cleared, what remained was still dismal, slowing us to a snail pace.
We made our lunch stop under a large acacia in a small riverbed. Looking back the black lavas stretched all the way to Tarso Tieroko sixty kilometres away, still looming large on the horizon with the eastern face giving a better impression of its true scale. Towards the west the land looked a bit more hospitable, with some scattered acacias leading up to lighter coloured ignimbrite hills. Near our stop we encountered the remnants of clearly man-made structures on the lava plateau, stone walls and circles, and a large tumulus. The ground was littered with flint and obsidian flakes (the former imported from a considerable distance) and shards of decorated pottery, it appears that we have stumbled upon an ancient settlement, though hard to tell from a superficial look from what period (The Tibou have used flint and obsidian tools well into the iron age, metal being a rare and precious commodity).
After a longer rest we continued along the track, and indeed we did hit the main way after a couple of kilometres. After about half an hour we reached a place where the track forked, the right continuing across the hills while the left went ahead in a riverbed. As the sous-prefect in Yebbi Bou gave the instructions to always take the left track, we followed the advice, continuing in the valley and across a col in the general direction of Aozi. After another hour we reached a large open volcanic plain littered with a curious mix of eroded ancient volcanoes with only the central basalt pipes remaining, and several recent looking cinder cones that could not have been older than 10-20 thousand years. This area must have been continuously active for millions of years.
The plain of volcanic ash allowed good going, but soon we started having some other concerns. Instead of continuing East towards Aozi, the track turned away generally to the North, apparently leading to a different direction. Hajji Senossi was however confident in the received instructions, and we decided to follow the track for another ten kilometres to see if it is perhaps just avoiding some bad terrain. In five kilometres it did make a wide swing back towards the East, seemingly confirming Senoussi's expectations. However the terrain turned worse, with the trail leading over lava flows again, slowing our progress to a crawl.
As sunset was approaching it was clear that we will be nowhere near Aozi by nightfal. There was no suitable campground on this inhospitable field of rocks, but fortunately just as we were contemplating stopping wherever we are we spotted a valley bordered by a low ignimbrite cliff, with plenty of flat ground. We approached the eroded ignimbrite boulders to make camp among them, clearly it was a frequented camping place for the local nomads too as attested by the numerous stone windbreaks about the rocks and a couple of crude camel paintings in a shelter above. It was already cool at sunset, we at an elevation of 2200 metres at the centre of the volcanic ridge very close to the watershed between the Eastern and Western sides of the Tibesti range, the highest point reached on this trip. We were expecting a cold night, and were quite fortunate to stumble upon this cluster of rocks that offered at least some shelter from the cold winds.
Day 8. Camp on volcanic plateau - Camp near Aozi
The night was cool but not as bitterly cold as expected, the evening wind subsiding after a few hours. We rapidly packed camp and were hoping to make it into Aozi by midday. We continued along the track that at first appeared to turn East towards Aozi, but after some time it turned firmly North-west again into a valley that was leading down towards the Northern part of the mountains with Aozi at our backs. We halted, took some photos of this amazing moonscape with the towering basalt spires and cinder cones, then decided to return till the fork we encountered a few kilometres before our campsite, where we took the left path based on the advice, even though the right one appeared to be the right direction.
Returning to the fork, the right track indeed continued in a beeline towards Aozi among some fantastic eroded basalt volcanoes. We reached another ash plain, with the descent into Aozi thought to be somewhere on the far end. However the track twisted again and descended into a small gully (which in fact was the head of the Enneri Korossom, the valley passing through Aozi), where it ended at a couple of empty huts. It was quite clear by now that we were on a completely wrong track, and the real one must branch off the main Yebbi Bou - Gouro track much further East than where we thought. We had to retrace our route of the previous afternoon till the first plain, and take the right fork near the point where we first started to have doubts about the direction of the track. By the time we achieved this it was past midday, with the early start and the frustrations of the morning we called for an early lunch-stop before continuing, now hopefully on the right track.
After a couple of kilometres the track we took re-joined what was clearly the main one, and after a few more kilometres a very clear well used piste branched off towards the left, probably the left turn the well-intended Sous-prefect meant. The somewhat tattered confidence of Senoussi returned, proclaiming that this was indeed the Aozi track, a statement than now fortunately matched both the GPS and the IGN map as well. The route snaked among some magnificent basalt towers, the most impressive we have seen so far.
As we continued, we reached the plain above Aozi with the conspicuous basalt spire, now confirming without doubt that this indeed was the right track. We have also reached the downloaded satellite imagery on my Garmin GPS, which also confirmed that we were approaching the area where the occasionally visible car tracks led towards Aozi. A large fresh-looking volcano on the far side of the plain marked the edge of the volcanic plateau, beyond which the ground dropped rapidly towards Aozi and the Enneri Korossom.
As we were approaching the Tarso Aozi volcano, we were again given a choice of a track going left or right in the turn of a riverbed. The right one continued in the wadi, while the left one ascended the bordering lava plateau, seemingly towards Aozi. We climbed to the top of the lava, and bumped along the track to the foot of the volcano, where the track met a dead-end beside a few empty huts near the camel path that led down below. This must have been the terminus of the motorable road at the time when it was not possible to drive down to the valley below. We re-traced our route once again, and as the end of the day was nearing we made camp in the riverbed where the tracks forked.
Day 9. Aozi - Korossom Timmy
By now packing-up camp was routine, we were ready to depart soon after sunrise. The night before we had a good look at the satellite imagery and concluded that there can be no other way down to Aozi than the car pass visible up the volcanic cliffs, though no trace of the continuation of the trail could not be discerned on either side of the pass. The general direction was that of the track continuing in the wide riverbed next to our campsite.
After a while the track left the riverbed and ascended the lava plateau, before entering some much eroded volcanic badlands with hardly any flat navigable surface. We bumped along this contorted terrain, making several steep descents into gullies, until after about an hour we emerged at the edge of the steep cliffs, looking down into the deep gorge carved out bu the Enneri Korossom, with the sandstone rocks bordering the Ouri plain visible on the far horizon. We were not down yet, but at least after eight days of non-stop traveling we were in sight of our final objective...
The car pass was immediately ahead of us, as anticipated very steep and difficult in places with loose rolling boulders, but there were no steep drops on the side, it all looked altogether manageable. We got out to make the cars lighter, and followed them down the winding track, with not much difference in the time required to get down on four wheels or two legs. In half an hour all our five cars was safely down, together with all of our party. In retrospect the pass was much less formidable than feared, despite the frightening perspective it was only an altitude difference of sixty metres over a distance of a half kilometre, just a 1:8 gradient.
We were not down yet, the car pass led to a terrace formed by the lava flow from the Aozi volcano blocking and filling a former valley. Aozi was another 250 metres lower, but there were no more cliffs to tackle, the track continued on the eroded top of the lava flow as it descended along a shallow gradient into the Enneri Korossom. It was a good hour until we reached the bottom of the descent, hitting the track going from Aozi towards the Ouri plain. Turning left, we could soon see the village perched on the lava terraces on both sides of the Korossom riverbed, with palmeries above on the hillside below the volcanic cliffs marking the location of the springs that support this tiny oasis.
Aozi was a surprisingly neat village, but it also conveyed a feeling of immense remoteness. At present it is the only permanently inhabited place along the Eastern edge of the Tibesti (Ouri had been abandoned since more than a decade due to the drought), the nearest other village is Yebbi Bou a good 80 kilometres to the west, at a distance of at least three days on foot. There are perhaps two dozen houses, all built in the central Tibesti style, with a ring of stones supporting a palm thatch dome, probably a very good analogue for the numerous prehistoric hut circles that one may encounter all over the Sahara. We entered the village and Senoussi started looking for the foreman, who was located in the upper part of town, near the main palmerie. The village seemed to have no camels or any larger beasts of burden, we only saw goats.
The discussions progressed well, the foreman was aware of our expected arrival, our requested local guide (to ensure we stay on mine-free tracks and terrain at all times) was ready, all that renained to do was to fill every possible container we had with water at this last source before continuing. The spring was located among a very pleasant palm grove with a few leveled fields among them (mostly fallow, only a few small onion plots were tended).
Leaving Aozi we returned on the single track, passing by the remnants of the old French fort, then continued East on top of the black basalt flow that filled the valley passing the junction where we came. After a couple of kilometres the terrain began to drop rapidly, and at a turn among the lava humps we had our first unobstructed view of the sandstone pinnacles and the yellow sandy plains bordering the Ouri plain. As we descended further, we passed a prominent stone wall that descended on both sides into the V shaped valley of the Enneri Korossom. This wall was already sketched by Marius Dalloni (leader of the 1931 expedition, the first scientific mission to the Tibesti), nobody knows its age but it appears ancient.
Soon after the wall the track crossed the Enneri Korossom at a place with relatively shallow sides, then for a couple of kilometres we could drive on the delightful smooth sand terrace parallel to the riverbed, pure bliss after four days spent bumping over the black rocks. However this did not last long, the track twisted back over the lava that filled the ancient valley, with the river cutting a fresh gorge into it along the weak points, reaching into the yellow sandstones underneath. About 12 kilometre downstream from Aozi the track descended into the main riverbed, and there it practically disappeared among the large rounded boulders. Here and there it was possible to make out the semblance of a way, but over the first couple of hundred metres the cars mostly had to balance and struggle over the boulders, with some serious road-building necessary in places. As attested by some graffiti on the rocks, this way was "built" around 2001-2002 when Aozi was an important stronghold of the Tibou rebels (probably the pass leading to Yebbi Bou was cleared at the same time).
We continued along this torturous terrain along the bottom of the Enneri Korossom, walking beside the cars, helping them wherever necessary. We stopped after covering one kilometre, at a bend with a large rock offering good shade for lunch, with the first major rock art site, the shelter of Farouanama being only a few hundred metres away on the terrace above the valley.
The rock art sites of the Ouri plain were first noted by a young French officer, Francois d'Alverny. While on a patrol in October 1934 he discovered the main shelter at Fofoda, and over the next two years he systematically searched the area when given the opportunity, finding a good number of the principal sites. Sadly he was killed in action in Indochina during the final months of the War, and his paper and photographs on the discovered paintings were only published posthumously (d'Alverny, 1950). Farouanama was one of the sites found and described by d'Alverny, while it is not one of the most spectacular sites, it is known for a number of superpositions that well illustrate the later sequence of rock art in the region.
The most prominent scenes in the large shelter are herd of cattle and a pair of archers from the late pastoral period, and a larger group of camel riders and a group of humans holding swords. There is a flock of faint white ostrich under the camels, and to the left of the shelter, standing apart from the rest, there are some faint but fine Karnasahi style figures. There are some more of these figures underneath the younger cattle herd, something already observed by d'Alverny who correctly concluded that the fine Karnasahi type figures, associated with large herds of sheep and cattle were substantially older than the cruder late cattle pastoralist paintings, which in turn were superseded by the sword-wielding camel riders, a cultural sequence observable throughout the Ouri plain.
As we returned to the cars, I found a classic dotted wavy line pottery sherd not far from the shelter, a type found all over the eastern and central Sahara and associated with the pre-pastoral cultures. There were also many fresh animal tracks, mainly gazelle and barbary sheep, but we also came across the tracks of a large carnivore, which Andrea identified as striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena), a rather surprising find this far north of the edge of the Sahel.
To make the cars lighter over the boulders (and the life of their drivers easier), we started walking downstream in the Enneri Korossom, with the cars following. The first kilometre was filled with large boulders, and road-building was needed in several places, but as the riverbed deepened into a narrow canyon among towering sandstone walls, the going got easier with sandy patches appearing among the rocks. The track too became better defined, and after two kilometres it appeared good enough for us to re-mount.
We continued another six kilometres down the Enneri Korossom, approaching "Korossom Timmy", a place with a solitary palm (timmy) in the riverbed at the point where the landscape finally opens up at the edge of the Ouri Plain, with wide sandy plains filling the space between towering sandstone spires. Here the river is impassable due to a number of deep rocky cascades, at the bend before the cascades the track climbed a very steep slope out of the valley to the plateau above, following the course of the old camel trail. We decided to make camp in the sandy riverbed just downstream, with the broad valley with a number of important rock art sites to the North of the riverbed within easy reach. After ten full days of traveling in the cars, at last we could prepare for proper trekking along a chain of sites the next day.
Day 10. Enneri Korossom - Enneri Daobou
d'Alverny discovered a site, Tiézy with some fine Karnasahi style paintings a few kilometres upstream from where we camped. That one we intended to visit on our return journey, our objective being to reach the farthest and most important sites (Fofoda) as fast as possible, after which we could afford a more leisurely return to Aozi. A further consideration was water, as to our knowledge there was none to be found on the Ouri Plain. It sounded more prudent to be approaching Aozi as our reserves were getting low leaving the option of sending one car for water if needed. However after spending over a week sitting in cars we were desperate to get away for them, so a morning's walk was planned on the broad plain to the North of the Enneri Korossom. d'Alverny apparently passed by along the valley bottom without exploring this plain, but in 1951 Capitaine Scheibling found a large shelter at the edge of the plain near the "timmy" palm in the Enneri Korossom, and named it Korossom Timmy. The paintings inside proved to be unlike anything previously seen, showing strange human figures with merged tape-like bodies and heads. They appeared to me more ancient than the Karnasahi pastoralists. Little attention was given until the early nineties, when the end of the Libyan Wars permitted Adriana and Sergio Scarpa-Falce to organise an expedition to locate the sites of d'Alverny and others. A year later Aldo & Donatella Boccazzi joined, and the objectives were expanded to survey larger areas. over several seasons hundreds of new sites were found, including many with the archaic "Korossom Fantastic" figures. The plain above our campsite contained a dozen sites, all found during the nineties. With the most distant being just under four kilometres away, it appeared a comfortable mornings' walk to see six interesting ones (the remainder were described as just a few figures or traces of paint only).
At sunrise we packed camp (allowing the cars to ascend the steep and difficult-looking car pass while we were away) and climbed up to the edge of the Northern plateau. The first couple of hundred metres were on the black rubble of the ancient Lava flow that filled the valley, but beyond the flat sandy plain started. This was not yet the true Ouri plain, just one of a series of terraces flanking the Enneri among the sandstone towers, the main plain was still at another hundred metres lower altitude.
We were making for site Korossom North (KN) 07 which was closest to camp, prominently visible from afar at the foot of an immense sandstone cliff. The site was a very large but shallow shelter, with paintings once covering much of the upper rear wall well above human height (probably a metre or more of the original surface has eroded in the elapsed thousands of years). Unfortunately the scenes are now very faded, it is very hard to make out anything on the spot.
Even with dStretch it is very hard to make out individual figures any coherent scenes. The whole wall was once covered with hundreds of human figures in the "Korossom fantastic" style that clearly pre-dates all the cattle pastoralist paintings. Their age is also evident from the markedly worse weathering for all the sites with these very particular paintings.
The best preserved figure fortunately is also one of the most interesting, an example of an apparently imaginary "Fantastic beast" that is characteristic of these paintings. One cannot avoid drawing the parallels with the similarly unique and ancient Wadi Sora style in the Gilf Kebir some seven hundred kilometres away. This feeling of deja vu is just strengthened by the double row of negative handprints covering a large part of the left side of the shelter. On the other hand the human figures are markedly different from anything seen elsewhere in the Central or Eastern Sahara. dStretch reveals that the blob under the "Fantastic beast" is another smaller and less elaborate, but similar creature.
We continued past the rock face to briefly look at KN 06, another shallow and partially collapsed shelter with just some hard to interpret pattern of white paint (and some unrecognisable paint marks).
Site KN 04, one of the most important sites of this enclosed plain was another kilometre further, across a wide patch of sand between the huge blocks of sandstone. The shelter was clearly visible from afar, a smallish wind-carved hollow at the base of the towering sandstone cliffs. Again there were strong echoes of Wadi Sora, the landscape and appearance was incredibly similar. The rear walls of this small shelter are completely covered with some very vivid paintings from several periods.
The most eye catching figures are a pair of exceptionally finely drawn camels, complete with their riders. Usually camel depictions are rather crude, these examples (and a few others less well preserved in the same shelter) are arguably the finest paintings of camels anywhere in the Sahara, and save for a few other examples in the imediate vicinity there are no known parallels. The presence of camels suggests that these depictions are fairly young, at most 2000-2500 years old, and the nearby men and women wearing white sandals (the men holding bows or spears) seem to be of the same period (camel riders have same arm bands). The prominent cloaked figure also appears to belong to this same layer, but more importantly so do a group of cattle at the lower right of the shelter, suggesting that the later cattle pastoralists survived in this area beyond the appearance of the camel, something that may also be observed in the Ennedi paintings. On close scrutiny it becomes evident that there are a number of earlier faint Karnasahi style figures below this younger layer. On some of the younger figures (but not on the Karnasahi ones) there is evidence of deliberate pecking damage, whether contemporary or later is hard to tell.
At the upper left of the shelter there is a panel of better preserved typical Karnasahi style human figures. What is rather curious is their apparent association with a group of barbary sheep. While the solitary animal at left is superimposed on a Karnasahi figure, another similar human, also superimposed seems to touch its tail, suggesting the wild sheep to be of the Karnasahi period - and as such a rare representation of this species from the cattle pastoralist period. They usually appear across the Sahara on paintings that are significantly older, then re-appear on relatively recent paintings or engravings.
A narrow passage led out through an eroded crack in the rock from the small bay holding KN 04 to the open plain. High in the side of the passage we noted a few Karnasahi style paintings, which apparently were not noticed before. Outside there were some further cattle painted on the rock wall, including a faint large dark bull that was of exactly the same style as the paintings we have discovered in the Enneri Zoumeri in the central Tibesti in 2014.
It was a further two kilometres across the sandy plain to the farthest site in the immediate area, KN 12. As we walked, we passed many traces of former inhabitants, mainly shards of pottery, some with the characteristic zigzag decoration of the cattle pastoralists common all over the Sahara. We did not know the precise location, but the large shelter located halfway up a huge lump of sandstone was clearly visible from afar.
The shelter was a wind-eroded hollow along a horizontal crack in the rock a good 15 metres above plain level, but easily accessible on sloping rock along a vertical fault. Facing South, it offered good shade at any time of the day, and its location enabled total command over the entire plain. The rear wall contains an almost continuous panel of paintings. Apart from the prominent large figure of unclear (but evidently ancient) affiliations that first catches the eye, all others are of the "Korossom fantastic" style, making this shelter one of the best examples. We were not quite prepared for the wealth and good state of preservation of paintings in this shelter which was never published in any detail.
At the right there is a pair of "fantastic beasts" (one apparently incomplete), plus a multitude of human figures in the characteristic Korossom fantastic style.
The figures at the lower left are more sheltered, and are much better preserved. While all of the figures are of the same general style, two layers can be observed with more schematic and very elaborate yellow figures under cruder red ones which have more pronounced heads. Also there is a very fine "fantastic beast" among the humans.
After a longer rest in the shade below the shelter we started walking back towards the Korossom Timmy shelter, four kilometres straight ahead near the Enneri Korossom gorge. As we passed KN 04 we reached a small rock in the plain, which contained some rather weathered cattle pastoralist paintings, another site that was apparently unrecorded earlier.
We continued along a long narrow corridor between vertical sandstone walls, past the rock island that held KN 07 on the far side where we started in the morning. Near the middle of the corridor there was a long shallow shelter, KN 01 which contained numerous but very weathered Karnasahi style cattle pastoralist paintings.
While we looked at KN 07 in the morning, Andrea went around the rock island and took the long way to KN 04. As he walked along site KN 01, he noticed a couple of very faint paint patches some distance from the cattle, which turned out to be three spectacular elephants, drawn in very elaborate detail. To our understanding this unexpected scene was not noted by any previous visitors.
Soon after KN 01 we reached the end of the sandy corridor that overlooked the lava terraces flanking both sides of the Enneri Korossom. The site of Korossom Timmy (or KN 00 - Boccazzi's numbering reserved "00" for the known sites of d'Alverny and Scheibling in each area) was just behind a promontory to the East. The passage from the plain to the general area of the site was blocked by a high wall constructed from basalt blocks that led all the way to the edge of the gorge. The site itself was a very large crevasse hollowed out by flowing water in the geological past, leading deep into the rock along the base of a large vertical fault
The paintings are principally on the vertical walls along the left side of the shelter, some at fairly inconvenient locations. It is rather likely that at the time the paintings were made the floor was substantially higher.
At the left entrance of the shelter there is a large and well preserved panel of very curious human figures. They appear to be associated with some Karnasahi style cattle, but the relationship is not very clear, some cattle seem to be over these figures which are definitely not Karnasahi style. They are executed in a very elegant and sure-handed manner, with thin lines lacking pigment separating body parts instead on an outline, a very rare and refined technique (observable on some Iheren style paintings in the Tassili n'Ajjer). These particular figures only appear here at Korossom Timmy (and at the Enneri Daobou 01 shelter a little over five kilometres away), we have not seen anything similar at the other Ouri plain sites we visited. There is a group of "Korossom fantastic" figures at the upper right, a few faint superpositons and their noticeably fainter state of preservation confirm their greater age.
The centre half of the shelter is dominated by a group of very large and excellently preserved "Korossom fantastic" figures. The surrounding rock surface hosts numerous negative handprints, echoing a similar "wallpaper" at the Cave of Beasts at Wadi Sora. The figure at the left is clearly a woman, the breasts clearly visible. Interestingly she is kneeling while all the men are in a dynamic posture, something already observed at KN 12.
To the right of the large figures the "wallpaper" of negative handprints continue, and there are a number of strange enigmatic shapes, resembling inverted boats, that appear to be contemporary with the handprints. There are a number of very faint large human figures painted over then in white outline. The body proportions appear normal, they are not the "Korossom fantastic" style, but appear to be similarly ancient.
Further right, near present-day ground level there is a very faint scene which nevertheless appears very interesting. Below more visible cattle there are two rows of very faint figures with large featureless round heads, a particular style which appears to be distinctly different from the other paintings in the shelter. The number of different types of the most ancient paintings, as well as their relatively good state of preservation makes Korossom Timmy one of the most important Ouri plain sites.
Along the right side of the shelter there is a panel of Karnasahi style paintings, mainly cattle with some human figures. While not of bad quality, they pale in comparison to the unique scenes on the left side.
Having left the best for the last, we completed our round of the sites and headed towards the Enneri Korossom. Our cars have tackled the pass (it was not easy, we heard that it took over an hour to get all of them up on the loose steep slope) and were standing at the edge of the lava flow on the far side a few hundred metres beyond the rim of the gorge. We needed to descend into the valley and then climb up the far side to reach them. For lunch we drove to the broad strip of shade at the foot of the prominent cliff in the near distance.
After our afternoon break we continued along the track towards the Ouri plain. At first the route traversed the sandy terrace to the south of Enneri Korossom, then a couple of kilometres downstream it descended again into the riverbed on a steep winding pass. There was a well defined track with a loop near the descent, clearly the driveable section of the valley ended here before the difficult trail was built during the Tibesti rebellion. Downstream from here the going became much faster in the now flat and sandy riverbed. After following the winding watercourse for about six kilometres we reached the mouth of the Enneri Daobou. Our plan was to camp in its upper reaches, but the approach route to the selected spot appeared much easier from the plain, so we continued some distance further along the Enneri Korossom.
Not far after the Enneri Daobou junction there were a set of tracks ascending out of the valley on an easy slope. Driving through a narrow passage among some low hills, the landscape suddenly opened to an unobstructed view for ten kilometres over the flat sandy plain, surrounded by sandstone inselbergs all around. Luli Edrenga is the name of this lower part of the Ouri plain, separated from larger open area to the North by a low range of rocky hills (possibly the name only applies to the hills themselves, not the plain). We drove towards the closest of the rocky hills separating the plain from Enneri Daobou, to site LE 10, a small shelter with a number of fine Karnasahi style paintings.
Another site, LE 11 was a kilometre away in a small side valley of a passage leading into the Enneri Daobou, blocked by a low dune. We knew nothing of this site other than it was to contain some "Korossom fantastic" figures. We found a huge vertical rock wall, which was densely covered with archaic paintings over a surface of dozens of square metres. Unfortunately the exposed surface meant that the paintings were very weathered, there were only a few patches where preservation was better, on the spot one could mostly make out only some indistinct traces, much like at site KN 07 earlier this day. However they became much clearer looking at the dStretch enhanced photographs. The body postures were similar to what we have already seen at other "Korossom fantastic" sites, but these figures had distinct round heads and very prominent hands and feet. Clearly there is a fair degree of stylistic variation among these archaic paintings in the area.
With sunset approaching we continued into a small valley leading into the Enneri Daobou basin, and made camp at a small sandy plain surrounded amphitheatre-like with towering sandstone blocks on all sides. We still had a little time till darkness, so some of us set out to see site DB 01 less than a kilometre from camp, reachable through a shortcut along a narrow water-widened crevasse leading out towards the Enneri Daobou. This site too must have had much of the foreground eroded, as now it is impossible to reach it on the steep rock slope underneath, and there is now only a very narrow ledge at the base of the paintings in the very shallow shelter, barely accessible from the side and hardly wide enough to hold a person without slipping.
To the right of the shelter, on the vertical wall there is an intriguing scene with four Karnasahi style figures. It appears that both pairs are engaged in the same activity, the right figure apparently touching the head of the left figure. The leftmost figure is clearly a woman, the sex of the others is unclear. The scene could possibly represent hairdressing, but of course there could be any number of other possible explanations.
The paintings in the main shelter are equally interesting. At the right a number of "Korossom fantastic" figures may be discerned, while the left side is covered with Karnasahi style pastoralist paintings. In the middle there is a unique depiction, with a body and extremities made up of red circles arranged in a pattern that seems to be a human figure though the head cannot be made out. There is nothing similar to compare to, so it is very hard to make any sense out of this strange scene.
With dusk rapidly approaching we made a hasty retreat towards the camp, taking the main valley this time instead of the shortcut through the crevasse. We reached camp at twilight, a fine ending to this rather full and splendid day.
Day 11. Enneri Daobou - Fofoda South
We were to spend two nights at this campsite, a very welcome change after being continuously on the road for ten days. The plan of the day was to see the important sites along the Enneri Daobou valley in the morning, then visit the Fofoda South area, a mass of rocky hills equidistant from Enneri Daobou and Enneri Fofoda about five kilometres from our campsite, with one of the most important "Korossom fantastic" sites. With no packing to do we set out early after breakfast, aiming for the principal site of the Enneri Daobou, site DB 03 about five kilometres upstream from our camp. We did well to start early, as when we reached the immense vertical rock wall hosting the site, a portion of the paintings were already exposed to sunlight and the shade was rapidly retreating from the remainder.
The right side of the rock wall was covered with a near continuous panel of cattle and Karnasahi style human figures, fairly faint (not surprising due to the exposed location) and partially out on the sunlit part. While fine in quality, they were not exceptional in any sense, except one small and somewhat removed scene, which depicts an elephant that is surrounded by a family of baboons, one of which is pulling on the elephant's tail while another clings on to the belly. We did not appreciate all this on the spot, the finer details only emerging with dStretch.
The main scene of the site was at the left side, fortunately well in the shade. It ranks among the finest masterpieces of the Karnasahi style art, depicting a compact and distinct composition of several herds of polychrome sheep intermingled with cattle and human figures. The way the overlapping animals are depicted is both unique and artistic, one of the finest manifestations of pastoral art in the Sahara, only comparable to some of the Iheren style paintings in the Tassili n'Ajjer (the striking similarities in the way multiple animals are depicted are certainly thought provoking...). While the panel is faint, dStretch brings the paintings vividly to life.
We just managed to finish photographing the main panel before the sun rose above the hills, immersing the whole site with in sunlight and rendering the paintings almost invisible till late in the afternoon. With all the rush of seeing the paintings we only now started to take in the grandiose surroundings of the site, situated in an enclosed sandy bay with vertical rock walls all around.
There was another important site (DB 05) with "Korossom fantastic" figures on a rock island about a kilometre away towards the main watercourse of the Enneri Daobou. Unfortunately this too was on a vertical rock face adjacent to a very shallow shelter, and facing south it was exposed to the sun practically all day from soon after sunrise till sunset. With no chance of re-visiting the site in better light conditions we took some photos, which at least permitted the paintings to be visualised with dStretch.
All the other sites we were planning to see were on the far side of the watercourse, along the eroded ridge separating the Daobou basin from the Korossom North plain we visited the previous day. We followed a track leading down and across the wide and shallow riverbed in the middle of the plain, filled with dark volcanic sand and pebbles washed down from the Tibesti, a stark contrast to the golden sand and rocks of the surrounding plain. The flanks of the eroded 3100m Ehi Mouskorbe volcano were visible on the horizon far ustream, but the main bulk of the mountain was hidden from view. As our target sites were further upstream, we drove along the main water channel for some distance before setting out on foot for the last stretch.
Leaving the watercourse we rounded a sandstone promontory and entered a narrow valley with yellow sand and towering cliffs on all sides. We found site DB 06 at the base of the huge cliffs near the end of a deep bay, a shelter that appeared minuscule from afar against the backdrop, but which turned out to be a large and spacious accommodation from up close.
The shelter was inhabited until recent times. There was a well-built storage silo made of mud-consolidated sandstone blocks in the middle, and a dried guerba (water-skin) was still hanging from wooden pegs secured into crevasses. The rear wall of the shelter was covered with some very fine and well preserved paintings from both the "Korossom fantastic" and Karnasahi styles.
At the left of the shelter, (above the storage silo) intermingled with a few cattle there are a number of "Korossom fantastic" figures, but also there is a group of thread-like human figures (one holding a bow) which appear similarly ancient, but are of an entirely different style. They resemble the faint round-headed figures seen in the Korossom Timmy shelter, here much better preserved.
The middle of the shelter is dominated by a very fine and excellently preserved Karnasahi style scene, with a number of fine cattle and some very typical and elaborate human figures. The most interesting part of the scene is a hut with several utensils inside, something that is echoed in cattle pastoralist art at several other areas of the Sahara.
At the right there is a large "Korossom fantastic" scene, unfortunately a large part of it has been eroded away, possibly by animals rubbing against the rock (or perhaps deliberate human action) as there seems to be no evident natural cause. On the spot only the two large human figures with the prominent eyes are discernible from the rather confused mass of paintings, but with dStretch one can see that the indistinct shape half covering the paintings is in fact the rear half of one of the "fantastic beasts" with a thick yellow outline marking the body and the two visible horizontal legs.
Leaving site DB 06 we continued past another promontory into a parallel long valley (at the end of which a pass leads over to the Korossom North plain). Site DB 07 was about halfway into the valley, at the foot of an immense vertical rock wall, in a little hollow at the base of the rock with an elevated platform formed by falling rubble. The shelter contains two very fine panels of Karnasahi style paintings.
The right part of the shelter contains herds of sheep and cattle with associated humans, and in the centre another hut scene.
The left panel is a bit more compact, and sheep predominate among some human figures, with a couple of cattle executed only in the outline.
There was a lesser site on the far side of the valley, DB 09. Aside some faint Karnasahi cattle and figures along a vertical rock wall, there was a more interesting scene of several cattle with a thin red outline and a yellow infill in a niche, and a little further a very curious animal (probably cattle) with the body entirely made up from small dots in a wavy pattern.
Having completed our round of sites in this area we returned to our waiting cars in the Enneri Daobou. We continued downstream along the track for some distance before ascending the sandy terrace, reaching another huge vertical cliff with a prominent water-hollowed shelter at its base along a crevasse. Strangely the shelter itself was void of any paintings, but along the adjacent rock wall there were many paintings of the Karnasahi style and the late pastoral period (site DB 11).
This completed our round of the more important known sites in the Enneri Daobou basin (there are another half dozen small sites with just a few figures scattered about the lower course of the valley). we returned for lunch and a short rest to our camp, then we set out again with our cars in the afternoon to the towering rocks of Fofoda South about five kilometres away towards the North East, which were hiding one of the most important early "Korossom fantastic" sites, plus a scatter of others. Finding the main site to be fully exposed to the afternoon sun, we decided to spend the time walking to the nearby other sites among the hills and rock towers.
We reached site FS 07 after a three kilometre walk through the amazing landscape. It was at the base of a huge cliff, unfortunately also facing west with just a small portion shaded by the very shallow shelter. This site also contained a number of "Korossom fantastic" figures, unfortunately the main panel was much weathered. By using Andrea's headscarf for shading it was possible to take some photos which revealed that the majority of the figures were wild animals (apparently some antelope or gazelle) with only a few human figures, depictions which are rare for these early paintings.
Returning towards the main site we passed FS 06, a small site with only a few late pastoralist paintings, which however were well preserved and quite unusual.
By the time we returned to the principal site, FS 03 the sun was below the hills, casting a shadow along the entire rock face that continued for a good 150 metres. This is an immense site, one of the largest single ensemble of paintings I have seen anywhere in the Sahara, archaic paintings once cover nearly the entire length of this rock face. Unfortunately despite our high expectations the paintings were mostly a let-down, exposure to water and wind-blown sand have erased most of them leaving only a few recognisable figures in more protected patches.
The best preserved part of the site was on the inward-slanting roof of a very shallow shelter at the left-center of the rock face. Here a large composition of "Korossom fantastic" figures remains, some on a very large scale. Based on published photos we expected something spectacular, but it soon emerged that all publications contain heavily photoshopped images, the actual scene is very faint and only becomes properly visible when enhanced with dStretch.
There was another patch of "Korossom fantastic" figures further along the wall, protected in a small hollow in the rock face. Near the extreme right there were two panels of cattle pastoralist paintings, one of them clearly superimposed on earlier "Korossom fantastic" figures.
We returned to camp at sunset, and I took the opportunity to re-visit site DB 01 near the campsite, where we made a rather hurried and superficial visit the night before. This time taking along the external flash I was able to capture the full shelter from a distance, and have noticed many more details than the previous evening. Very clearly there are several layers of paintings, with a group of "Korossom fantastic" filling the right side. in part overlain by the strange figure made of red dots in the middle. To the left there is a large faint human figure (body proportions and posture suggests a woman) overlain by later Karnasahi style cattle, apparently associated with another human lying horizontal, with outstretched arms and legs. There is also a large antelope like animal, partially overlain by the dotted figure. All the earlier figures have the same tone and patination, but the ones on the right are definitely not of the "Korossom fantastic" style, they appear to be of the same type as the entrance group at the Korossom Timmy shelter (KN 00). There are also a number of negative handprints scattered about the shelter. The freshness of the Karnasahi style cattle at the left suggest that a considerable time period elapsed between them and the faint lower layers.
The better lighting also revealed a second large figure made out of polychrome circles, like the one in the middle of the shelter, but this time the circles had no filling, and an outline of a body and head seems to suggest it is a human figure (as likely is the other). Significantly a few Karnasahi style cattle are partially painted over the circles making up the right leg.
Day 12. Enneri Daobou - Fofoda
After the usual commotion of packing camp following a day or two of rest, we set out towards the North West, to reach the main concentration of the Fofoda sites (Fofoda North) on the far side of the Enneri Fofoda, some 20 kilometres away. This would have been a full day of walking across the shadeless sandy plain in the scorching sun with camels, we have a lot to thank our good fortunes for having been able to do this in an hour on wheels. Going with cars also permitted us to make a little detour to site FS 02 among the row of hills separating the Luli Edrenga plain from the large open Ouri plain, something we would have had to miss otherwise. This site too was a long vertical stretch of rock with archaic paintings along the base of the wall for a good twenty metres.
The paintings along the left of the site were of a large scale, with some human figures exceeding a metre in height. They appeared ancient, but were different from the typical "Korossom fantastic" paintings which appeared further right. The paintings on the left also depicted several wild animals, including a large barbary sheep of which only the horns and ears are discernible even with dStretch.
At the right of the wall there are several groupings of "Korossom fantastic" figures, some quite well preserved with prominent eyes on their bulbous heads.
It was a quick and easy drive across the eight kilometre hard sand plain till the Enneri Fofoda, which gouged out a wide shallow channel a few meres below the plain level, prominently marked by a row of acacias along the riverbed. On the far side of the watercourse we could see the rocky massifs hiding the principal sites for which we have traveled so far. The right horizon was dominated by Ehi Kodoss, a prominent pointed basalt peak, the core of an ancient volcano that also anchored some of the original sandstone plateau which was eroded away into the fantastic shapes dotting the plain.
The main concentration of sites at Fofoda is among a row of prominent rocky hills 4-5 kilometres to the North of the riverbed. We aimed for the nearest site, Fofoda North 08, along the Northern side of a sandstone ridge, shielded by a long low dune that formed along the rock face. The shelter, like most in the region, was very shallow, it was more a vertical rock face covered with a huge number of Karnasahi style pastoralist paintings.
Unfortunately the state of preservation is not ideal, due to the exposed location and all the windblown sand the rock face is rather weathered, but still a number of very fine details are discernible, including a number of homestead scenes. One of the unique scenes appears to be a flute player (?) lying on his back, a rather rare theme in Saharan rock art with just a few scattered examples (there are a number of similar looking scenes in Southern African rock art, particularly at the Brandberg, called "flute players" but what they really do is much debated).
Walking back towards the cars we passed by site FN 11, a panel of engravings along the same rock wall about 600 metres to the East. The depicted figures were a mix of crude cattle, giraffe and some ostrich, their quality a far cry from the splendid paintings we have just seen.
We continued to the cluster of prominent hills about three kilometres away, with the most important of the Fofoda sites, KN 01 among them. We chose a suitable campsite at the foot of a towering rock spire near the principal site (which is exposed to the sun for most of the day, so can only be viewed in the early morning and evening), and immediately set out by foot to make a round of the other nearby sites before lunchtime. Site KN 02 was the closest, it was a fairly spacious hollow at the base of a cliff with a panel of Karnasahi style paintings, and some almost disappeared larger cattle. A broken grinding stone was lying on the floor of the shelter. It only became evident with dStretch that these large cattle represent an older underlying herd of red cattle, with a human figure drawn in outline that appears distinctly different from the Karnasahi people painted over the scene.
We crossed to the far side of the valley to site FN 10, a much larger and deeper shelter that was apparently a major habitation site, attested by the many artifacts and ceramic sherds scattered in front of it. The sherds bore the typical impressed and zigzag decoration characteristic of the cattle pastoralist ware practically all along the central Sahara, including Jebel Uweinat. We also noted a fine polished celt, a type common in the Tenerι further West, but which is completely absent from the Gilf/Uweinat region.
Despite the large shelter, the paintings at this site are few and in a rather poor state of preservation, with only one panel of reasonably well preserved Karnasahi style paintings. A small watercourse runs right in front of the left part of the shelter, very clearly several metres of sand and rubble have been removed in the elapsed millenia, as there is a panel of painted cattle a good 4 metres above present ground level, at a location now impossible to reach.
The original site of Fofoda, the first set of paintings discovered by d'Alverny, were a kilometre away on the far side of the same rocky hill. It lies on the main natural route North, adjacent to the only apparent gap in the chain of hills that is visible from afar. It is a prominent shelter at the base of a promontory jutting out of the hill, catching the eye of anyone approaching from the South, commanding the plains as far as the Enneri Fofoda and beyond.
The right side of the main panel of paintings are at a protected location in the left part of the shelter, They are truly spectacular, with a multitude of cattle and Karnasahi style human figures in fresh vivid colours. There is a large cattle above the Karnasahi scene, probably of an earlier date like at site FN 02. It appears incomplete, even with dStretch it is not possible to see more than the visible lines of the head and the foreleg.
The left of the main panel is a bit more exposed and the paintings are fainter, but dStretch restores them to full glory. Here too it is apparent that the larger cattle are below the Karnasahi style human figures, but it is hard to tell whether this also signifies a considerable temporal distance, or just represents different phases of the Karnasahi paintings.
The finest scene of the site is outside the shelter, to the left of the main panel on the vertical rock wall. It was already partially exposed to the sun as we reached the site, with shadow starting to disappear as we spent our time taking the photos. It is a scene of a lovely herd of polychrome cattle, with a distinctly animal-headed human figure standing in front of them. As the panel was directly facing west, we took a mental note to return here just after sunset for better photos.
We returned to our cars for lunch and an afternoon rest. Our campsite was at the foot of the rocks, from where we could really appreciate the surreal surroundings, with 150-200 metre rock towers reaching to the sky around us on one side, while the flat sandy plain rolled away to the southern horizon.
Mid-afternoon we set out again on foot towards site FN 09, about two kilometres away from camp across the sand plain, located along the side of a low ridge. For a considerable way we were following the tracks of four waddan (barbary sheep) which we saw fleeing as we approached our campsite in the morning.
The site was another of those that barely qualify as a shelter. The paintings were mainly on a vertical rock wall that was only protected by a very small overhang. Interestingly just next to the painted panels there was a proper shelter, which was obviously a living site as attested by the innumerable potsherds and artifacts both in the shelter and in the surrounding area. Despite the perfectly suitable surfaces, the shelter itself lacked paintings, clearly the artists preferred vertical sections of rock which were clearly visible from afar.
The most important scene in the shelter is a pair of very fine elephants, apparently being attacked by a group of human figures with a prominent coiffure. These figures clearly underlie the Karnasahi style paintings, though interestingly a flock of Karnasahi sheep were drawn with part of the flock seemingly behind the leg of the lower elephant. Apparently the Karnasahi people incorporated this earlier composition into their own paintings.
We did not notice on the spot, but there is a third elephant, made entirely in yellow, that only becomes visible when viewing the photos with dStretch. The red figures are the same as the single one associated with the large cattle at FN 02, apparently these elephants too belong to a cattle pastoralist phase pre-dating the Karnasahi people.
While certainly the elephants were the highlight of the site, there were more fine Karnasahi style scenes further to the right, unfortunately all very faint due to the very exposed location.
We have seen all the important sites at Fofoda North (except of course the largest one, FN 01 near camp), we had the rest of the afternoon to just wander about to take in the amazing scenery.
There were two minor sites along the southern side of the hill to the South of our campsite. While neither of them were something to go out of our way for, they were on the direct route towards site FN 00 which some of us wanted to re-visit after sunset. The first one, FN 07 contained some faint and rather damaged paintings of cattle and a pair of Karnasahi style human figures.
The other site, FN 06 was a larger shelter at the southern tip of the hill, at a commanding position overlooking the plain towards the South. It only contained a few damaged cattle, but the view was absolutely stunning in the low light.
It was a quick rush over the remaining one and a half kilometres to site FN 00, which we did manage to reach just as the sun disappeared over the horizon.
With the sun gone, we could properly photograph the wonderful panel at the left of d'Alverny's shelter, one of the finest scenes from the Ouri plain. Now it was possible to see that the paintings continue much further to the left than what we could discern earlier, with several faint but fine cattle and a white, apparently animal headed human figure.
Most of the figures have a thin black outline with a vivid internal colour fill. This scene is clearly a single composition, with the outlines of the figures ending where the animals overlap. I cannot readily think of any parallels with similar refined technique and artistic appeal. dStretch also reveals that one of the cattle was re-drawn to a larger size, with the old contours covered by the white infill.
Darkness was approaching, so we made a hasty retreat to the campsite about two kilometres away, just reaching it before all light faded.
After dinner I took my pack and mattress and walked the couple of hundred metres to the narrow crevasse hiding the main site of Fofoda, site FN 01. The half moon gave enough light to reach the spot which I already saw as we returned to camp, but purposefully avoided not to spoil the first encounter. I prepared my bivouac in a sand-filled hollow at the end of the crevasse, then started walking back towards the entrance, shining my torch at the vertical rock wall. At first there was nothing, but after a dozen metres or so I encountered the first small running figures clad in white skins or robes, some of them holding bows. Then came more figures, dozens, then hundreds, filling all the space on the rock face in front of me with incredibly life-like postures and gestures. In the moonlight the whole wall was seemingly alive with them, one of the most magical moments I experienced in nearly 20 years of traveling in the Sahara.
This site was the finest discovery made in the mid nineties, the sheer quantity and quality of paintings ranks it among the ultimate Saharan rock art sites, yet only known to a very select few. Even though it was published by Aldo & Donatella Boccazzi; with tracings of the entire wall, reading about it does not prepare one for the amazing experience of walking along dozens of metres of rock face completely covered with extremely fine little figures. Moving on, the human figures were replaced by extremely detailed herds of cattle and flocks of sheep and goats. While the figures themselves have parallels at other Karnasahi style localities, there is nothing comparable in terms of sheer quantity. The rock wall does not differ from any of the dozens or hundreds all about, but this place clearly carried some very special meaning for these people.
The paintings in reality covered about 25 metres of the vertical rock face, but in the darkness they appeared to go on forever. I must have spent over two hours just marveling at the scenes in the torchlight before finally returning to my sleeping bag to tuck-in for the night.
Day 13. Fofoda North - Karnasahi
As soon as there was enough light, we all returned to site FN 01 to see it again in the morning light. Now we could appreciate the site in its entirety, with the thousands of figures covering the rock face up till a height of about 3-4 metres. Clearly here too the original ground surface was significantly eroded (the water channel runs just in front of the paintings), leaving many of the paintings well beyond reach.
We spent a long time taking photos of all the fine details, spotting many which we overlooked the previous day. Some of the little human figures can only be truly appreciated on the photos taken with a strong zoom, being high above ground level.
Among the many of the hard to discern fainter figures, I was quite surprised to find a butchering scene which I missed altogether when looking at the paintings the previous day.
With the sun rising, the paintings rapidly started to become fainter in the strong reflected light, then disappeared completely as the sunlight hit the rock wall. Somewhat reluctantly we returned to our now packed cars, to set out towards the south again, Fofoda North being the Northernmost point we could access. There are many more paintings along the wadis crossing the Ouri plain further North, but all those were indiscriminately mined during the Tibesti rebellion, rendering all of the Northern part of the Ouri plain inaccessible.
We soon reached the Enneri Fofoda, a 500 metre wide belt of dark gray volcanic sands and rocks, contrasting sharply with the golden sand of the plain. The present day watercourse is just a couple of dozen metres wide, the much broader valley is a relic of the wetter climate of the early Holocene when all these valleys draining the Eastern Tibesti must have been large seasonal rivers. The present-day climate is very similar to Jebel Uweinat, with rains coming every 8-10 years, but still that is enough to support a row of acacias lining the main water channel. We also took the opportunity to collect some firewood, not knowing whether there would be any to be found before reaching the Enneri Korossom again on our return journey.
We were aiming for a rocky promontory about five kilometres to the South East of where we crossed the Enneri Fofoda. There are two painted shelters here, quite isolated from the others with no known sites in a 8 kilometre radius - though in part this could be attributed to a lack of any exploration of the hills further to the South East.
Site FS 09 was right at the tip of the headland, where a huge rock collapse created a spacious shelter, with several "windows" leading through the rock wall to the far side. There were a few very crude engraved cattle at the foot of the shelter, and some very faint Karnasahi style paintings on the rear wall. They did not appear very exciting on the spot, but dStretch reveals one figure, partially obscured by a bull, with an exceptional headdress.
The other site, FS 08 was a short distance beyond, on the far side of the outcrop. This was a major site, with several panels of well preserved paintings, mostly in the Karnasahi style. Unfortunately many of the paintings must have been washed away by water flowing over the rock face in several places after the infrequent rains.
The most interesting panel of paintings is at the left side of the shelter, with a pair of prominent elephants (and a small one under the more indistinct large one), plus possible the large yellow blob further down the panel is also an elephant. As there are no direct over-paintings, it is not possible to establish their relative age compared to the surrounding Karnasahi style figures, but the colour and state of preservation of the larger red elephant is not markedly different. There is a perfect line drawing of an equid above the better preserved elephant, which overlaps both the elephant and the fine Karnasahi walking figure above (but of course this only signifies it was made later, but that could have been as little as a matter of hours or days).
The most interesting and unique set of paintings are a little below the elephants, a group of polychrome catfish. While fish representations are not unique in the Sahara (there are several of them in the Tassili) this group is one of the finest and best preserved. Again here are no over-paintings, so it is not possible to tell whether they belong to the Karnasahi horizon or are earlier/later. However there is a flock of polychrome Karnasahi sheep just adjacent to the lower ones (of which mostly only the heads remain) with matching colours and seemingly similar degree of weathering, so cautiously I would assign these fish to the Karnasahi people.
Further to the right there is a very fine panel depicting a herd of Karnasahi cattle intermingled with a polychrome flock of sheep and goat, all in a very good state of preservation. To the right of the flock there is a shelter with a number of vessels and utensils hanging from the domed ceiling.
The paintings continued sporadically along the rock wall for another 10-15 metres (mostly exposed to the sun), ending in another large panel, dominated by another fine Karnasahi style flock of sheep and human figures, bordered by a hut or shelter and a very fine female figure.
There were also some very curious figures at the right of this panel, apparently all from the earlier pastoralist type. A number of human figures are almost completely covered by an amorphous shape (perhaps cattle skins ?) that is repeated in an identical form several times. Overpainted Karnasahi cattle again confirm that they pre-date the Karnasahi figures. The strange shapes, while always identical in form, show a variety of surface pattern ranging from just an outline with no infill to a polychrome patterned interior, but some are just a monochrome shape without any border.
Having taken out time at FS 08, we continued to the hills of Luli Edrenga about 10 kilometres to the South East, lining the Northern bank of the Enneri Korossom as it crosses the Southern part of the Ouri plain. Landscape-wise this is perhaps the most dramatic area, with jagged sandstone spires rising from the surrounding golden sand, which here is stirred into larger dunes. Not surprisingly it was this area that featured on the cover of George Steinmetz's book Desert Air.
Our first target was a shelter at the Eastern tip of the most prominent hill, facing the Enneri Korossom a few hundred metres beyond (Korossem East, site KE 01). The shelter contained no paintings, but there were three very large scale elephants engraved onto the rear wall of the shelter. They were nearly impossible to photograph, as the grooves have weathered to the same colour as the surrounding rock, and there was no contrast at all in the shaded shelter. One dStretch filter improves the contrast just a bit, making the best preserved animal more visible.
We continued five kilometres upstream between the Enneri Korossom and the row of hills to a cluster of three sites containing Korossom fantastic paintings located near the middle of the hills in a patch of eroded country. As these sites were discovered in the early nineties in pre-GPS days, we were planning to search the area for them while Jonathan set about to prepare our lunch. We left the cars on a sandy rise with good shade beneath rocks along its edge, and started walking up a small wadi. As the watercourse reached the cliffs, we found the first of the sites, LE 02 high above us on the vertical rock wall. Clearly at least six metres were removed from the original ground level since the paintings were made, they were now well beyond reach on the slanted roof of a shallow shelter.
The paintings were very faint, almost invisible on the spot, especially from the five-six metre distance. We could make out the larger of the "Korossom fantastic" figures, and we could also discern a few white outlined figures over them with prominent digits on the hands (of the type also seen at the Korossom Timmy shelter). With dStretch it becomes clear that the entire wall is covered with "Korossom fantastic" figures for a stretch of about 10-12 metres. One would need to take a large ladder to be able to photograph this site in any detail.
While the bulk of our party returned for lunch to the cars, some continued the search for the remaining sites, especially LE 06 which was a major site with some very intriguing paintings. Not far from where we left the cars, on the far side of the little wadi, I noticed a place where the sandstone was distinctly worn, either by the repeated passage of animals or humans. It was not difficult to follow the traces which became a distinct trail leading over a col on the far side of the little rocky hill. From the col we could look into a deep valley, and on the far side there was a very prominent deep shelter, providing a commanding view over the plain adjacent to the Enneri Korossom.
As much as we were hoping, this was not LE 06, it turned out to be a minor site, LE 03. Despite the superb shelter and location, there were only a few scattered and very weathered panels of paintings inside, all from the archaic period. dStretch reveals numerous over-paintings in a rather confusing manner, and a long row of tiny human figures which were completely invisible on the spot.
At the left of the shelter there is a more recent and very strange painting, consisting of concentric rings of red and yellow paint, in part overlapping the older figures. At first it resembles an embedded concretion which sometimes occurs in sandstone, however chips of missing surface clearly indicate that it is a painting, it does not extend into the rock.
While we found and photographed LE 03, Andrea went the other way, up to the small plain above where we left the cars, and found the main site we were looking for (LE 06), at a very unusual location high up a steep rock slope at the base of the vertical cliffs. It barely qualifies as a shelter, but the hundred metre high vertical rock above provides good shade throughout the day (except early morning) at this commanding location high above the plain. He broke the news as we returned for lunch, after the meal we all set out to see and photograph this site, the main reason why we came to this spot.
There are numerous well preserved scenes in this shelter, mostly of the "Korossom fantastic" stile, but the most intriguing and thought provking ones are smaller scenes at the extreme left of the shelter. Adjacent to a large "Korossom fantastic" panel, but unfortunately not overlapping in any way, there is a group of figures which bear a remarkable resemblance to the "swimmers" and some other figures of Wadi Sora at the Gilf Kebir. Near this scene, there is a group of almost caricature-like elephants, which do not resemble any of the other realistic elephants seen on the Ouri plain. There is one analogy however, a very similar shaped elephant engraved at the Cave of Beasts. Of course one cannot draw any conclusions from such small number of samples from a single site, but the thought of relations or migration between the Ouri Plain and the Gilf Kebir 700 kilometres away in not inconceivable.
There are a number of other complex panels of paintings at this site, unfortunately mostly very faint and barely discernible. The site ends at the right with a large but very weathered Karnasahi style panel depicting a mixed herd of cattle, sheep and goats.
Returning to the cars we drove a kilometres back towards the West to see site LE 04, located adjacent to the only easy passage through the hills. It was a multi-level shelter at the base of a low cliff, with a couple of Karnasahi style paintings, including a figure partly hidden behind a cow with an unusual coiffure. There were also some intriguing late pastoral paintings on the lower level of the site.
We continued southwards, searching for a suitable place to cross the Enneri Korossom. This proved to be more difficult than anticipated, as the lava flow from the Ehi Aozi volcano reached the plain, and there was a rough belt of basalt along both banks, with steep boulder slopes along the sides of the present day watercourse, impassable for the cars. We finally found a little sand-filled wadi descending into the silty riverbed, and we drove along it until finding another one to ascend on the south side.
We were heading for the hills of Tcherughé to the south of the Enneri Korossom, to a major Karnasahi style site along the southern side of one of the prominent hills. A large whaleback dune piled up against the hills seemed to offer easy access to a clear gap among the two main rocks. There was a perfect view over the entire southern part of the Ouri Plain from the top of the dune, but alas no passage as the gap was blocked by a low rock step, not insurmountable for humans or camels, but impassable for our cars.
With the direct route blocked, we made a big loop around the hill with the cars, reaching the far side of the rock outcrop with a huge vertical cliff. At its base, four adjacent shallow shelters all contained mostly cattle pastoralist paintings. This was site TC 01, we reached it in the last moment, as the sinking sun started to reach the level of the paintings. Fortunately the most important scenes were still in the shade, allowing a very hurried photo session.
The most important panel was in the third shelter, with a large wall covered with paintings of Karnasaki style cattle and human figures on a varied scale. The most interesting element is an elaborate elephant, seemingly confronting a woman, at the lower right of the panel. Based on style and lack of any discernible relative weathering, contrary to other examples we have seen so far, this animal appears to belong to the Karnasahi style paintings.
There are a number of other fine Karnasahi style panels at the third shelter, which was clearly the centre of activity, all others have fewer and less significant paintings. Of particular interest was a large scale cow (unfortunately the body mostly exposed to the sun) painted over the Karnasahi figures, and an animal in full gallop associated with the Karnasahi humans, which is probably cattle, but could also be an equid based on body posture and proportions.
At the right of the third shelter there is a scene of Karnasahi cattle executed in white paint. It appears like all others at first glance, but there is a white figure below which appears to be holding a bowl under the udder of one of the cows. This little detail is almost unique. There are thousands (if not millions) of cattle representations in the Sahara, with prominent udders indicating the importance of milk as a food resource, yet there are less than a handful of scenes which unambiguously depict milking, this being one of them.
The second shelter also contained some Karnasahi paintings, but also several figures of the late pastoral period. There was a row of what appears to be the tops of palm trees, with stems having completely disappeared, with what appears to be a lion or other large feline executed in yellow above them. Several late pastoral figures holding lances were on the lower part of the shelter, completely exposed to the sun.
While we were busy photographing the paintings, Gábor wandered about and picked up some lovely examples of Cruziana (Trilobite traces) and Arthropycus trace fossils from among the rubble at the base of the cliffs. By this time all the paintings were fully on the sun, so we returned to our cars to drive to our campsite at Karnasahi about eight kilometres away.
Karnasahi is located along the banks of a small wadi descending from the surrounding rocky hills. At some time this must have been a very pleasant green patch with dense vegetation, but now all the trees in the riverbed were dead, indicating the several decades of drought that drove out the Tibus from the Ouri plain. We made camp on a fine patch of soft sand beside a low dune. The more curious of us immediately set out to see the main Karnasahi shelter a few hundred metres upstream from where we camped.
Approaching the low cliff harboring the principal site, one is immediately drawn to a prominent deep shelter at the end of the rock island. This however is not the main site but KA 01, a lesser site recorded by d'Alverny, with a number of paintings from the Karnasahi and subsequent periods. There was a small dune piled up inside, we decided not to enter to enable undisturbed photos in a better light the next day.
The main site of Karnasahi, KA 00 is located a hundred metres further right, on a prominent rock wall under a shallow underhang. It does not contain as many paintings as some of the other pastoralist sites, but the figures here are done in a very exquisite, fine detail, and are fortunately in a good state of preservation. These figures are perhaps the best examples of these very particular paintings, hence this site was chosen by Paul Huard to name the entire style.
On approaching the paintings one realises that there are many more figures than what initially meets the eye. Many of the cattle and several of the human figures are just done in a very fine black outline. Here too the ground level must have reduced since prehistory, as many of the paintings are high up on the rock face, well beyond reach. A telephoto lens is needed to capture individual figures with their incredibly fine and well preserved details.
One totally unexpected find was made back home, after processing the photos with dStretch. There are some faint paintings on the lower level of the panel, barely discernible on the spot, including a large animal in red ochre at the lower left of the shelter, possibly associated with a human figure. After enhancement it emerged that this unclear red animal is a very fine rhinoceros, and in fact there is a smaller one in black just to the right of it. While the Karnasahi figure to the right could be interpreted as fleeing from the larger rhinoceros, it is clearly superimposed on the smaller black one, so it is likely these animals pre-date the Karnasahi paintings (like most of the elephants at other localities).
There is a smaller shelter about two dozen metres to the right of the main panel with some further Karnasahi type paintings, not mentioned in any of the relevant publications.
The sun was just setting behind the hills as we finished photographing the principal site. All left for the day was to walk back to camp for the well-earned sundowner and dinner.
Day 14 Karnasahi
Sunrise showed that Karnasahi is not only spectacular in its rock art, but through its setting and landscape. The small wadi is enclosed on all sides by huge sandstone spires and cathedrals, separating the area from the open Ouri plain just beyond.
This was another two-night camp, and as all the sites to be seen were within a three and a half kilometre radius we could see them all on foot, there was no need for the cars ths day. With no camp to pack, we had a leisurely breakfast before setting out to see the sites to the South and East of the main site.
Our first target was site KA 06, within sight of our camp 1.5 kilometres away on the far side of the plain bordering the Enneri Karnasahi. It is one of the most important "Korossom fantastic" sites, located on a small rock island at a rather strange location. The paintings are in a shallow wind-hollowed depression on a rock face, with a deep crevasse just in front of them (narrow enough to be stepped over), leaving just a foothold under the paintings, but no resting place. We arrived in the nick of time, the paintings were well illuminated by reflected sunlight, but not yet exposed to the sun. By the time we finished photographing though, sunlight started to reach the bottom of the panel, and the paintings are fully exposed to the sun for the rest of the day.
The site has a single panel of paintings, which aside the Korssom Timmy paintings are the best preserved of this early and usually much weathered style. The most striking feature are the two large fantastic beasts, surrounded by a multitude of the characteristic human figures with elongated bodies and heads. The beasts are both the largest and the best preserved depictions of these apparently imaginary beings, with their features well visible on both examples.
At the right of the site, there are a number of intriguing figures with huge bulbous heads that do not seem to fit into the regular canon of the "Korossom fantastic" style. There is also a figure that appears to be a therianthrope and a number of underlying negative handprints. There is another cluster of handprints at the extreme left, a little removed from the rest of the paintings. On close scrutiny one may observe that all the prints were made by the same left hand, with the little finger apparently truncated.
We continued to the most distant site, KA 04 on another rock island at the edge of the open Ouri plain. On the sand we spotted a series of fresh carnivore tracks, which on close inspection proved to be those of another striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena), having passed here no more than a few days earlier.
Site KA 04 was a bit of a let-down after all the fine sites we have seen over the past days. It was a large vertical wall with many paintings, but in a very bad state of preservation. Here too much of the ground must have eroded as the paintings were high above human height. The most conspicuous feature was a very large cow, with small Karnasahi style cattle surrounding it (and partially superimposed). There were also some traces of older human figures, but very difficult to make out and photograph given their height.
From this far point we started walking back towards the main site of Karnasahi along the southern edge of the valley, which was dotted by a number of lesser sites. The first one was KA 05 at the corner of a rock island out on the sand plain, containing a couple of very weathered Karnasahi style paintings.
The rock art site may not have been spectacular, but the view from the rock island was. Being at the entrance of the little bay of Karnasahi, one could see all around the Southern Ouri plain, bordered by the jagged rocky hills, with the volcanic Ehi Muskorbe plateau peeking out among the hills to the North West.
We crossed the plain and walked past site KA 06 which was now half exposed to the sun. In the next valley we encountered some trees, all dead just like in the main valley of the Enneri Karnasahi.
A short distance after the valley with the dead trees we reached site KA 07 in a small niche in the side of a rock island formed by the widening of a crevasse in the rock. The site was guarded by a big striped hawk-moth (Hyles livornica) sitting on a rock right in front, and apparently unperturbed by our sudden appearance. There were several panels of paintings along the wind-hollowed side of the niche, mostly in a weathered condition.
The paintings mainly depict herds of sheep and goats in the Karnasahi style, with a few human figures discernible. Despite their generally bad state of preservation there are a couple of fine details, including an exceptional scene of three very fine rams. At the right of the shelter, on a vertical wall there is a well reserved herd, in a place that is very awkward to photograph due to the lack of space.
We continued along the edge of the rocks to the south of the Enneri Karnasahi, passing our campsite on the Northern bank. The last site we were aiming for before the main site was KA 10 on huge vertical rock wall a few hundred metres to the south of the principal site.
The paintings were mostly very faint Karnasahi style humans, cattle and sheep in the customary scenes, barely discernible on the spot. Near the right end of the wall we have spotted a group of giraffe, which are very rare in paintings of the area - we have not seen any other, tough there are a few more at sites in the Northern part of the Ouri Plain. Unfortunately they are very weathered, even with dStretch it is not possible to discern them fully, however an interesting addition does emerge - there appear to be a row of ostriches (?) in front of the giraffe. Given the state of preservation it is not possible to ascertain whether they are to be associated with the Karnasahi paintings, or belong to an earlier / later period.
The biggest surprise at the site was completely invisible on the spot. What I took to be some faint remains of cattle in fact turned out after processing with dStretch to be a very large (~1m) seated figure, apparently in the Karnasahi style, with the same characteristic animal-like head and arm gestures. If it is indeed a Karnasahi figure, it is exceptional as humans are almost universally depicted on a very fine, small scale.
We crossed over the Enneri Karnasahi among the dry trees to the principal sites. The evening before we have left the small shelter untouched, now after everyone had the opportunity to take photos of the site with the little dune inside undisturbed, we went in to have a close look. While we took our photos there, shadow crept over the main panel too, with all the fine paintings becoming visible.
The small shelter, KA 01 contains an interesting ensemble of paintings from several periods, ending with a couple of crude camels engraved over the paintings. The left panel is the more interesting, with the lower layers containing a series of fine Karnasahi cattle, but also a couple of curious human figures that seem to be of the older 'large cattle' period, associated with the characteristic white horned cattle. Some Karnasahi figures clearly overlie these older humans in a scene which also appears to include a dog (?).
The right of the shelter is less exciting, with a long row of weathered late pastoral cattle along the wall, and a cluster of fine but also rather weathered Karnasahi cattle on the ceiling.
The main shelter (KA 00) was now in a perfect light, with the sun still illuminating the sand in front of the panel, making it possible to zoom in on the small figures without the need for flash. We spent a long time taking in all the fine details, before heading back to camp for lunch.
After lunch and some rest we set out to see the remaining sites among the rock islands rising from the sandy plain to the West of the principal shelter. We were not expecting much of the paintings as the sites were minor, however the landscape was fabulous in the low afternoon light.
Site KA 02 was in a small bay formed by the widening of a deep crevasse along the eastern side of the most prominent rock island. It took some time to find it as the location information was a bit ambiguous, but after searching in the wrong place we were attracted by the likely looking shelter. Evidently here too the ground has been much eroded since prehistory, as the shelter is now very difficult to access, with a two metres high vertical rock step below it.
Once the entire shelter was covered with paintings, but now very few remain visible. The most conspicuous is a barbary sheep superimposed on some faint Karnasahi cattle. In a more sheltered location there is a pair of very fine Karnasahi cattle done only in outline, surrounded by late pastoralist figures. What were just two indiscernible blobs of red paint turned out to be several giraffes after processing with dStretch, probably also from the later pastoral period. There were two very faint "Korossom fantastic" figures which were barely discernible even after enhancing the photos.
As we approached KA 02 we also noted a huge vertical wall on the adjacent side of the same rock island which appeared to be a likely alternate location. After the site was found and photographed, we passed by this wall on our way to the next known locality, and found some very damaged paintings of cattle (and a barely discernible human figure) in a low shelter at the base of the wall. This site appears to have been unnoticed (or at least unreported) before, so we assigned it the next available site number, KA 12.
The last known site of any importance, KA 03 was on large rock island facing the Ouri plain about a kilometre away, a beautiful walk in the low light of the late afternoon, with all the ripples in the sand clearly standing out.
Site KA 03 was a small shallow shelter on the North side of the rock island, sheltered by a low dune piled up against the rock. It only contained a few Karnasahi style cattle and human figures, mostly very faint and weathered.
With the sun nearing the horizon we started converging on the campsite, as everyone wandered off to various directions in the amazing landscape. In a long day we have seen all the sites worth visiting in the Karnasahi area.
Day 15 Karnasahi - Enneri Korossom
In the morning we had the same sunrise spectacle as the day before. This time we had to move on, so after sunrise we had a quick breakfast and packed up our camp. Before departure we chose this perfect spot for our group photo, then we departed towards the Enneri Korossom.
We had to drive quite far out on the plain to the North East to find an easy descent into the Enneri Korossom, from where it was an easy drive upstream till the old end of the road loop two kilometres downstream from Korossom Timmy. The ascent at this pass was not too difficult, and soon all the cars were up on the lava plateau above the valley. We aimed for one of the towering rock islands not far from where we had our lunch stop on our downward journey, to site KS 03.
The majority of the rock art sites on the Southern Ouri Plain are paintings, site KS 03 is one of the few engravings (there are numerous engravings farther North, mainly in the Enneris Borou and Ouri Sao). There is a large but fairly crude elephant (with a superimposed incomplete cattle), but much more interestingly a row of seven "femmes ouvertes". These sexually explicit female depictions are very common in the Messak-Tassili region of the central Sahara, usually associated with ithyphallic humans or therianthropes and large African fauna. However finding them here was very surprising, to my knowledge these are the easternmost occurrence of these peculiar figures, otherwise completely absent from the Eastern part of the Sahara.
Our next challenge after the short stop at the engravings was to descend on the steep pass near our first campsite into the Enneri Korossom. Going down was much easier than going up (it took more than an hour to get all the cars up, while we were visiting Korossom Timmy and the other sites to the North), in less than ten minutes all the cars were safely at the bottom of the pass.
As we drove upstream in the Enneri Korossom, after one bend we startled two barbary sheep (Ammotragus lervia) who were grazing the vegetation in the riverbed. We have already seen several running away in the distance, but this time I could jump out of the car quick enough to snap two lucky shots of them as they were running up the steep valley side among the lava blocks.
Our target for the day was the Tounden plain, the Eastern extension of the Korossom North area which we explored earlier. The principal site of Tiézy (reported by d'Alverny) is along the eastern edge of this sandy plain, together with a number of other sites. We made camp in the Enneri Korossom near the closest access point to the sites, and set out on foot to explore the plain and its sites for the remainder of the day. After about two kilometres from the cars we reached the first site, TO 07, on the shaded rear side of an enormous detached sandstone block.
The site contained a couple of Karnasahi style scenes, including a figure wearing some kind of apron, and a fine archer accompanying a flock of sheep. There were several other scattered figures, mostly in a damaged condition.
It was another two kilometres walk along the edge of the plain to the principal site of Tiézy (TO 00). As we continued from site TO 07 we passed a large dry guelta which must have contained water fairly recently, as there was a bright green fresh looking Fagonia thebaica growing in the outflow channel not far away. We also passed the foundations of some large but fairly ancient looking Tibu structures.
The site of Tiézy (TO 00) is along the North side of a long narrow side valley leading out onto the plain. It is a shallow shelter, with many of the paintings extending out to the vertical wall to the right. The main panel was still shaded by the shelter, but the other paintings were fully exposed to the sun. As the valley was oriented exactly East - West, we had to wait till the end of the day to photograph all of the panels.
We hurriedly took photos of the main panel, as the shaded area was rapidly shrinking. The upper part of the panel contains some very fine Karnasahi style scenes. There are many more paintings lower down, but those unfortunately are very faint and weathered.
Like at Karnasahi, one needs a srong zoom lens to capture the finer details as the paintings are presently well above human height. Some of the figures rank among the finest Karnasahi style paintings.
We left our packs in the shade along the South side of the Tiézy valley, and continued to explore the next valley two hundred metres to the North which contained a fine "Korossom fantastic" site, TO 01. This next valley was very similar in appearance with huge vertical walls, which unfortunately also blocked the GPS signal, so the accuracy of the presumed location was rather questionable. We explored the entire length of the valley till we found the site at the far end of the rock wall, fully exposed to the sun, about a hundred metres beyond where we thought it to be. This site too had to wait until the sun set behind the hills closing off the valley to the West.
The valley ended in a narrow canyon, which led into a small enclosed amphitheatre with sand-filled bottom. It must have been a very pleasant sheltered living space, however we found no rock art anywhere. The crevasse which gave rise to the canyon and the valley beyond continued into the rock, and after a few dozen metres we found a deep basin that must have been a reliable water hole in the past when the climate was wetter. Even now the mud was moist just a few centimetres below the crust, probably by digging a deeper hole one could have obtained water.
We returned to our packs at Tiézy for lunch, then made a plan for the remainder of the afternoon. Originally we were to make a big loop around the perimeter of the Tounden plain, returning along the row of hills bordering it to the East, where there were several lesser Karnasahi style sites. However this would have put us far from the two principal sites we wanted to return to before sunset. We decided to only visit the pair of sites about a kilometre further North, then return to photograph TO 01 and Tiézy in the shade before heading back. Leaving our packs again we set out in the direction of a prominent rock finger marking the location of the sites, passing a small wadi marked by a huge dead acacia and the remains of several Tibu huts.
We quickly found site TO 06 in the crevasse formed by a split boulder in the small bay just before the rock pillar. It contained a single panel of late pastoral paintings, with numerous cattle painted in a style very similar to those of engraved cattle in many localities in the Eastern Sahara, including those at Jebel Uweinat.
Despite searching all suitable shelters and rock walls within a 500 metre radius we failed to find site TO 05, a panel of Karnasahi style paintings marked to be within 100 metres of TO 06. All we found were two abandoned Tibu huts in the lee of a large rock island.
We returned to site TO 01, where we had to wait a good hour until the sun descended below the hills and finally shade covered the panels. The rock face was full of "Korossom fantastic" human figures for a stretch of about seven-eight metres, plus there was a smaller removed panel about ten metres to the right. There were no fantastic beasts, but there was a unique element not observed elsewhere: a very large "Korossom fantastic" human figure, made out in white outline only, was superimposed on the much smaller red figures.
Finishing with TO 01 we went back to Tiézy (TO 00), where the shade just about reached the right part of the shelter. In the better light we have noted a fine panel of paintings in the low shelter to the left of the main one, which appeared completely empty when we looked at it during the sharp light of midday.
The panel to the right of the main shelter contains a number of very nice scenes, including a herd of very fine cattle, and a large flock of sheep depicted in an overlapping perspective. There are also a number of human figures and a damaged but discernible shelter scene.
Here too the paintings are well above human height, and the finer details can only be seen on photos taken with a long lens.
We could see two more details which were masked by the sunlight during midday. Below the main panel there is a large engraved cattle that is more recent than the Karnasahi paintings (some of which were damaged in the process), and a large late pastoral lancer is painted next to it in white. At the lower right of the main panel there are the remnants of a very large painted cattle (also later than the Karnasahi figures) of which strangely only the horns remain visible, even with dStretch.
The sun was getting rather low and we still had four kilometres to go back to our camp in the Enneri Korossom, so we made a hasty departure as soon as we finished taking the photos. On our way back we paused to search for site TO 08 with two large cattle engravings. We did not see the cattle, but where the site was supposed to be we found a small shelter with some engravings on the adjacent rock face. On close scrutiny they turned out to be three ithyphallic therianthropes, matching the open women ween at site KS 03. There were also a few paintings in the shelter, a small Karnasahi style scene, and an ambiguous painting, a part of which appeared to be a bird on the spot, but with dStretch it appears to be the rear of a very crude cattle.
We made the remaining one kilometre to the Enneri Korossom in the last light of the sun, with the now almost completely full moon rising over the yellow rocks. We reached camp at dusk, to the welcoming glow of the campfire.
Day 16 Enneri Korossom - Camp near Aozi
This was our last night at the Ouri Plain, our time was up and we had to start our long way back to N'Djamena the following day. We were also low on water, we needed a replenish in Aozi latest by the end of the day (though while we were visiting Tiézy, one car did go up the Enneri Korossom empty, and could bring back some brackish water from a water hole a few kilometres upstream in a small side valley, avoiding the need to go up all the way to Aozi, still at a considerable distance). However there were still several fine rock art sites to see in the upper Enneri Korossom area. After breakfast we set out upstream in the riverbed, while the cars were to follow with a lighter road over the rough boulders after camp was packed.
As we walked upstream the patchy vegetation started to become denser and greener, clearly there was a little flowing water in the valley after rains during the previous summer, with remnant vegetation visible all along the watercourse. The dominant species was a plant I have not encountered before, Solenostemma argel, a fairly big soft-stemmed ground-hugging shrub with large composite white flowers at the ends of the stems, producing big green-purple pods. It has a number of medicinal properties, our drivers collected a fair amount already on our downward journey, and were drying the stems with fresh leaves on the car bonnets when we were not moving.
There were a couple of intermingled other species, all known from Jebel Uweinat. Fagonia thebaica was the most common, with a few Zilla spinosa and Euphorbia granulata. In a sandy patch we saw a single green Schouwia thebaica.
We also passed a couple of green Salvadora persica bushes, which indicate that there is at least some rainfall here every 3-4 years, that is the maximum these can tolerate (while the acacias can survive for up to a decade or even more without rain). We also saw a single Cassia lanceolata, another shrub which does not exist at Jebel Uweinat.
The cars caught up with us after about two kilometres, but soon they got bogged down in the rocky terrain and we passed them again. For the next half hour it went on like this, with us helping the cars as much as we could by clearing the larger boulders from the track.
As we walked, we could also observe the fairly complex geology of the valley. The original watercourse carved its way through the sandstone, probably forming a vertical-walled narrow canyon, which was filled with a pitch black, fast-flowing frothy lava from one of the earlier Tibesti eruptions. This black lava was already being eroded, in parts exposing the sandstone valley floor, when a second series of eruptions attributable to the Ehi Aozi volcano filled the valley to a much greater thickness with successive layers of solid basalt, in places up to 20-30 metres thick, completely covering the earlier relief. The modern river once again cut through this infill along the joints with the sandstone, reaching the original level of the riverbed, with steep sandstone and lava cliffs on both sides.
Little over an hour after starting from camp we reached the last stretch of the track in the riverbed, about five kilometres upstream from our campsite. Again we had to do a bit of road construction to get the cars up among the big immovable boulders, but in about 30 minutes we had all five cars up on the lava terrace high above the valley without any mishaps.
We were now a good 200 metres above the elevation of Karnasahi, at the edge of a sandy plain extending some kilometres to the North among the sandstone hills bordering the lava flow filling the Korossom valley. This plain is called Teffi Drossou, and contains the last concentration of paintings if approaching the Korossom valley from the East. We were aiming for site TD 01, a huge rock wall with a shallow indentation, which nevertheless forms a perfect shady location from morning to late afternoon due to the orientation and the sheer height of the vertical rock. "Korossom fantastic" paintings cover the upper parts of the rock wall for a width of about 30 metres, making this a huge site. Here too apparently the ground was eroded as the paintings are high above present-day human height, though here no watercourse is evident that could have been responsible. Perhaps there was a dune piled up against the rock in antquity which since disappeared.
At the extreme left of the shelter there are some late pastoralist cattle paintings with a few human figures, a pair of white spotted giraffe (also relatively late by their appearance) over a white handprint, and a herd of late pastoralist goats. All these paintings are close to present ground level.
The "Korossom fantastic" paintings start to the right of, and substantially higher than the herd of goats. There are many characteristic elongated human figures, but also numerous animals are discernible. Unfortunately large sections of the rock face had been affected by flowing rainwater, there are only a few patches where the paintings are discernible, but even there dStretch is necessary to actually see the figures. In water affected areas the only thing one may recognise is that paintings once existed.
While not readily visible on the spot, the best preserved paintings are a row of "Korossom fantastic" figures near the left end of the shelter, high up on the rock face about six metres above present floor height. While they are faint, dStretch restores them to be perfectly visible. It is a different story with the unclear shapes below. Clearly there is something long extending below the figures, with repeating patterns of red paint, but even dStretch provides little further clues. There are also large yellow shapes, possibly examples of fantastic beasts, but as they were only recognised after processing the photos, I did not take any single photo that shows these clearly.
Further to the right there are several complex scenes with many overlapping layers which are hard to make sense of. There are several examples of the fantastic beasts, including one which appears to have a human leg, but dStretch reveals that it is of the usual body plan with short legs, the extension is another unclear figure.
At the extreme right of the shelter there are a few paintings somewhat removed from the rest. On the spot only two are readily visible, a very elaborate "fantastic beast" (possibly the finest example among the dozen or so known), and an apparent antelope. dStretch reveals several human figures and two more similar animals just to the left of the visible scenes.
After finishing with the TD 01 shelter, we continued along the rock wall bordering the sandy Teffi Drossou plain. At the corner we passed an outlying rock the silhouette of which bore a striking resemblance to the profile an Egyptian Pharaoh.
A half kilometre beyond the rock face we came upon a small indentation in the otherwise vertical rock wall, and found a couple of "Korossom fantastic" figures high up on the rock (about 6-7 metres, well beyond reach), including one which appeared to be a very stylized fantastic beast. This site was apparently unrecorded, we assigned it TD 08, the next available number in the Teffi Drossou sequence.
Continuing a further five hundred metres along the rock wall we passed a minor site, TD 03 which only contained a few very faint, barely visible cattle, mostly in white.
We were aiming for a site a hundred metres further, TD 04 containing some "Korossom fantastic" figures. By this time only the hardcore members of our team continued, the rest split off to wander about on the sandy plain among the small rock islands, enjoying the amazing scenery on this last day in the area. As we approached the expected location, it did not take long to find the group paintings, all executed in white, high up on the rock wall. With the strong glare of midday the figures were hardly visible, and one could only get a good perspective balancing on a pointed rock about 7-8 metres away, with the sun shining into the viewfinder, not exactly an ideal photo location. Unfortunately with white paint dStretch is of little help, but two groups can be discerned, a lower one with numerous human figures, and an upper one where two typical "Korossom fantastic" human figures are associated with two white animals.
I moved over to take photos from a shaded narrow ledge requiring a precarious balancing act with the camera. From this slightly oblique angle I took a photo of the entire wall with flash that brings out faint paintings. Invisible on the spot, on the photo I noticed parts of what appeared to be two very large human figures at the entrance of the small dark shelter to the left. Orienting the camera properly, I could capture them in their entirety, both about natural human size, with featureless round heads of a style we have not observed elsewhere on the Southern Ouri plain. Moving closer, another large red figure appeared to the left of the two white ones, and further left, deep inside the dark shelter we found a multitude of "Korossom fantastic" figures in perfect state of preservation at this protected location.
The large human figures are both of the same general plan, the one on the right substantially shorter than the left (their feet, barely discernible, are on the same level). On first look the right one appears to have prominent hair which the left one lacks, but dStretch reveals that the right one also has a similar hairdo, barely discernible in outline, with some ornamental tufts protruding on both sides. The bodies have been executed in a dark paint, later covered with a thick white outline and a thinner white infill, which is more marked on the right figure. Both wear loincloths, necklaces, arm and leg bands. Overall the figures appear very ancient, and this is confirmed by several faint but discernible "Korossom fantastic" figures superimposed on the arm and chest of the larger figure.
To the left there is a smaller human figure in what appears to be a squatting or sitting position, and executed in solid red in a very different style. dStretch shows that there is another similar figure a little further right, and they are both apparently superimposed over the numerous surrounding faint "Korossom fantastic" figures. There are also fine but very faint cattle superimposed over the entire scene. The large figures appear to be of the same type as the one we have seen at site KA 10.
The interior of the shelter to the left of the large figures is filled with "Korossom fantastic" figures. They are in no way exceptional, we have seen many more elaborate ones, however here the state of preservation is excellent due to the protected location. They may be viewed without the need for any photo enhancement.
To the left of the visible large red human figure there is also a faint but recognisable Karnasahi style homestead scene with several white/yellow cattle, superimposed over the earlier figures. This makes this shelter a unique location with a clear (if faint and difficult to decipher) series of overlapping paintings from practically most principal periods of paintings (excluding late pastoral & historic) on the Southern Ouri plain.
The site was important enough to go back to the cars and call the others. On our way back we passed another minor site, TD 02 with a large panel of Karnasahi paintings, unfortunately very faint and damaged.
We could return with the cars to within a few hundred metres of site TD 04, giving the opportunity for everyone to see and photograph this unique site. The photos with Richard and Gábor for scale give a good perspective of the location of the paintings inside the shelter, very hard to notice from a distance of more than a few metres.
Returning with the other camera, I also had the opportunity to take better photos of the faint white "Korossom fantastic" figures which are high up on the wall outside the shelter.
Finishing with the Teffi Drossou sites we continued upstream following the trail on the sandy plain adjacent to the black strip of lava marking the Enneri Korossom. We could continue for about eight kilometres, until we reached a place where the lava flow piled up against the bordering hills and the narrow rocky watercourse was not passable with cars. While Jonathan set about to prepare lunch, we set out on foot to see the last rock art site on the list, Goneké, another of dAlverny's original sites. The narrow valley that blocked our way soon opened to another broad sandy plain, Tuhimmi, the last of the series of sandy terraces rising step-wise to the foot of the thousand metre high volcanic cliffs of the Tibesti.
The site of Goneké was just over a kilometre away from our cars, a huge shelter under a rounded hill visible from afar, formed when a huge slab collapsed from the ceiling. The paintings are on the roof and sides, and the upper side of the fallen slab is covered with a number of engravings, including a life-sized rather crude human figure and numerous spiral motifs which are well known from the Wadi Djerat and elsewhere in the Central Sahara.
The paintings all appear to be late pastoral to historic, though perhaps a couple of very faint cattle on the rear wall could be Karnasahi style. The most striking are a row of very fine lancers and an adjacent camel rider also holding a lance. The spears appear to be metal tipped, and all the men display the typical sheathed Tibu knife strapped to the upper left arm. The state of preservation also indicates that these must be fairly recent paintings. There are a couple of fainter cattle all about the shelter, including a pair where only the elaborate body decoration remains, the paint showing the body outline vanished completely (even dStretch reveals no remaining trace).
As we walked back we passed what first appeared to be a deposit of red mud adjacent to some camel engravings in a bend of the valley. On close look it turned out to be an ancient termite nest, a relic of the wetter times when the plain must have been an arid savanna with the giraffe and elephants depicted on the paintings. We also found a large prehistoric settlement site with numerous millstones and grinding stones.
After lunch and a midday rest we returned to the main path leading to Aozi. After crossing the Korossom valley we started ascending the steepening lava flow, with a good view of the Goneké shelter in the distance. After a bend we spotted a lonely dorcas gazelle in the valley below, intently gazing at us but strangely not making any move for several minutes even while our cameras were snapping away. Finally it bolted, but only for a short distance, looking back at the strange noisy wheeled creatures making the rattle along the path.
We continued up the steep bumpy track on the lava flow, having our last views of the sandy plains below. Approaching Aozi we passed the remains of the old French fort, which must have been one of the loneliest outposts of the French Empire, built quite far from the village at the foot of the ascending camel path leading into the interior of the Tibesti.
We reached Aozi by mid-afternoon. We only needed to take water for a day plus some reserves, we spent less than an hour in the village making a quick dash to the well and exchanging the inevitable farewell greetings before moving out again to re-trace our journey from N'Djamena. We still had a reserve day, which we intended to spend exploring the largely unsurveyed eastern side of the Eneri Miski to the North of Tigui.
The sun was fairly low by the time we reached the junction leading up towards the pass and the Gouro - Yebbi Bou track. Our plan was to reach the bottom of the main pass leading down from the volcanic plateau, but the route up the steep lava flow proved to be much more difficult than coming down. In steeper parts the loose gravel immediately started rolling under the wheels, and we had to walk for a considerable way to lighten the cars. Not that we minded that so much, the view over the Eastern cliffs of the Tibesti were absolutely stunning in the low sunset light.
As the light was rapidly fading, we made camp before our intended location, at the only suitable looking spot - a small flat sandy basin on the top of the lava flow adjacent to the track.
Day 17 Camp near Aozi - Camp near Yebi Bou
The Sunrise spectacle at camp was stunning, with the cliffs of Ehi Mouskorbé on the opposite site of the Korossom valley turning a glowing orange, before turning to the customary pale cream colour as the sun rose. We packed camp and set out on the way back to Yebbi Bou.
The pass up to the volcanic plateau was just a few kilometres from camp, we scaled it on foot while the now light cars slowly but steadily crawled up the winding trail. The top of the pass gave us the last glimpse of the maze of sandstone hills bordering the Ouri plain before we entered the volcanic hills of the Tibesti proper.
As we reached a small wadi we passed a tree that looked like a dense acacia from the distance, but on passing it we realized it was something rather unusual. The tree was in fact not one but three, a pair of large Maerua crassifolia shrubs entwined by a very large and old Cocculus pendulus vine, the stem of which was nearly as thick as those of the host trees.
We continued along the track towards the main Yebbi Bou - Gouro piste, passing the surreal basalt hills and spires along the way. After a bend Tarso Tieroko came into full view, much clearer than on our onward journey.
Soon after we joined the main piste, we reached a small fort located strategically on a ridge commanding the entire country for a considerable distance. We already spotted this structure from a distance on our onward journey, now we had the time to investigate. We presumed it to be Carré d'Abzac, a French fort established along the Gouro piste by Capitane Abczac during the Leclerc campaign in 1942 (and marked on the IGN maps at this location), but the construction with the irregular walls and small cells inside suggested an earlier date. This was further confirmed by several old photos of Alain Beauvilain on the internet taken of the regular "carré" about twenty kilometres from this building. The style of construction suggests Ottoman or Senoussi origins, guarding this strategic route along the very southern fringes of the Ottoman empire. At some point (probably the nineteen thirties) it was taken over by the French as attested by the uniform button found by Ryan (manufactured by W & W Breveté, Paris) of the type that was a part of the French Colonial Troops uniform from the early 1900-s till the mid-thirties. This was further confirmed by a French beef tin which I was not able to date. Strangely Dalloni does not mention this fort, its history for now is a mystery.
We continued along the piste, this time with hindsight making all the right turns, and by midday we were on the outskirts of Yebbi Bou. We had a quick lunch by a well and filled our water canisters before moving into the village to uplift fuel and report our presence at the Sous-préfecture. While Andrea tended to the chores, we had the opportunity to visit the palmerie in the valley below the village, guided by the son of the Prefect. We were surprised to find the stream actually flowing in the valley, and just below the village a low dam created a very picturesque artificial lake which supplied plenty of water for the small gardens among the palm trees.
By the time we left Yebb Bou it was late afternoon. We set out on the road towards Bini Erde, and made camp about 25 kilometres after Yebbi Bou in a shallow wadi near the watershed between the North-flowing Enneri Yebbigué and the Enneri Miski basin, along the Eastern flanks of the Tarso Tieroko.
Day 18 Camp near Yebbi Bou - Camp near Kla Uenema
Our camp location provided a perfect sunrise view of Tarso Tieroko as we packed up and had or breakfast, before continuing south along the road.
After crossing the watershed to the Enneri Miski, we skirted the flanks of the Tarso Tieroko until we reached the narrow canyon where the watercourse cut down to the layer of sandstone below the volcanic strata. Among the multitude of modern graffiti we spotted a few ancient cattle engravings, and we also found the mark of the 1981 GEO expedition.
After the canyon the road turned straight South, and Tarso Tieroko slowly became lost in the haze behind us as we reached Bini Erde. We did not linger for long, we only stopped at the well with the diesel pump for a quick wash, then moved on.
In Bini Erde Hajji Senoussi learned that the old road via the Enneri Miski has been cleared of mines in the past year, and was now safe to follow. We decided to try this way, as an alternative to the bumpy track crossing the lava flow blocking the valley. The route was indeed better, with the track winding among bright green Salvadora persica bushes with their characteristic scent tainted with ammonia. We stopped for lunch at a large tamarisk offering good shade, then continued down the valley.
By mid-afternoon we reached the broad plain along the lower Enneri Miski, with the Emi Koussi volcano coming into full view. We were moving towards the cluster of sandstone hills hiding the strange painting at Kla Uenema, one of the most enigmatic and intriguing rock art sites of the Tibesti region.
The site of Kla Uenema is a small sandstone hillock, with a large water-hollowed fracture forming a shallow and uncomfortable shelter at its Eastern side, hidden from the plain. We have already visited it in February 2014, but the direct morning sunlight reflecting from the shelter floor was not ideal for taking photos. Now we came in the afternoon in a much better light, enabling good photos not only of the enigmatic double animal painting, but also of the many engravings immediately below. There are several ancient giraffe, superimposed by rather fine cattle, some bearing traces of red paint, though it is unclear if the paint was related to the cattle, or some previous figure that was partially effaced by the engravings.
It was becoming late, after taking our time at the paintings we set out to find a suitable camping spot. After two days in the black volcanic land, we were back again in the golden sandstone country, we chose a site on a little rise among dunes with a beautiful unhindered view of the entire Miski valley all the way to Tarso Tierko on the Northern horizon.
Day 19 Camp near Kla Uenema - Camp near Tigui
With no major delays or mishaps along our route to date, we still had our reserve day available. With the difficult terrain of the Tibesti behind us, we decided to use this day to survey the low sandstone hills flanking the Eastern side of the Enneri Miski between Kla uenema and Tigui, an area which to the knowledge of Hajji Senoussi and Andrea was never systematically surveyed for rock art. Such a survey was beyond our capabilities too given the short time, we started out by searching for prominent rocks and hills where shelters were either likely or apparent. Our first promising site was spotted about 20 kilometres to the South of Kla Uenema, a small solitary sandstone hill with a prominent shelter along its side. We did not find any paintings, but the shelter wall was full of crude giraffe and cattle engravings. Walking around the rock, we found several more panels of similar crude engravings on all sides.
Five kilometres further along the row of low rocks and hills we made a random stop, waiting for a flat tire to be repaired. The place was guarded by a small but fierce spiny tailed lizard (Uromastyx geyri) that took up the threatening raised pose as we approached, and did not give up its stance for several minutes despite all the approaching and clicking of the cameras.
Already on our February 2014 expedition I have noted that the Tibesti region almost completely lacks Palaeolithic implements that carpet the sands and gravels elsewhere in the Sahara. This locality was one of the rare exceptions, close to the lizard I found a large (palm sized) and very weathered Levallois point, one of the very few old stone age implements seen on the trip.
While waiting for the other cars to approach, I checked out a prominent sandstone pillar a few hundred metres away, and found a large panel of engravings on its shady side depicting the usual crude wild fauna mixed with cattle and some human figures.
As we continued, a few hundred metres further we entered a maze of low rocks, and on a prominent rock we immediately found a large panel of cattle engravings. Looking around, we found several more similar panels in the immediate vicinity.
Another engraved rock was found in the maze about half a kilometre from the previous ones, with a panel of engravings depicting humans associated with cattle wielding spears and shields, very reminescent of similar engravings seen in Karkur Talh at Jebel Uweinat.
After a further couple of kilometres we reached an area with prominent sandstone hills. We made a stop in a valley with a prominent shelter in the side of a large hill, but it proved to be empty, as were all the rocks and smaller shelters in the area.
As the going was rocky and very difficult close to the border of the hills, we moved back closer to the centre of the Enneri Miski plain, where large playas were formed by the intermittent rainfall runoff. We aimed for a cluster of rocks, and stopped for lunch by one with a prominent hole in it. Despite the good shade and the shelter there was no rock art on the rock itself, but searching the area after lunch we found another rock nearby with a good shelter and several panels of giraffe on the shady side.
While we were busy with the giraffe Gábor found a rock slab with some worn Arthropycus trace fossils in the sand, and soon traced it to a layer of marine sediments on the top of a low rise adjacent to the giraffe shelter. The area was littered with some very fine, unworn specimens of this characteristic Ordovican - Silurian trace fossil occurring in rocks of the same age all across the Central and Eastern Sahara. It is hard to imagine that when the traces were made, they were done in the bottom silts of a shallow icy coastal sea at the edge of the South polar ice sheet that covered much of what now is the Sahara.
Our experience prior to stopping for lunch showed that cars are more of a hindrance than use when trying to approach the prominent rock spires extending in the direction of Tigui along the edge of the Enneri Miski plain. We therefore decided to make an early camp, and try to survey a smaller area thoroughly on foot. We aimed for a prominent rock spire flanked by low dunes about 15 kilometres before Tigui, secretly hoping that there might be an undiscovered shelter with paintings lurking somewhere among the towering rocks. We immediately found a panel of crude cattle and other animal engravings on the rear of the spire, and after setting up camp we all spread out to explore the environs.
We had a lovely peaceful afternoon wandering about the rocks and the dunes, enjoying the time just for ourselves without any particular purpose or task. We did not find much rock art (in fact the best panel we saw was on the spire at camp), but there were some scattered engravings along the lower rocky ridges out towards the plain (the big rocks were all empty). We took our time till sunset, when everyone converged on the spire marking the camp. The most interesting find was a pair of Acheulean handaxes found by Gábor just adjacent to our campsite, the only ones we have seen in the Tibesti region.
Day 20 Camp near Tigui - Camp near Ain Galakka
Our trip proper was now finished, the remaining five days were simply to re-trace our onward journey as fast as possible to reach the flight out of N'Djamena on the last evening. We packed our camp at sunrise and departed towards the main track, stopping in the main watercourse of the Enneri Miski near a small village to collect some firewood.
The rest of the morning was spent driving along the featureless plain to the west of Borku towards the well of "Rond Point De Gaulle" (on account of all pistes in the area converging on it) where we made a brief stop before continuing. We stopped for lunch in the shade of the only meager acacia we have seen for several hours.
It was late afternoon by the time we reached the first oases of Borku at Ain Galakka. We stopped at the well of Yen to take some water (and took the opportunity for a quick wash in the pleasantly warm artesian spring), then stopped in the village to replenish some depleted stocks (cigarettes for Andrea and our drivers being high on the priority list) before continuing for a few more kilometres to make camp among the dunes and palm trees, not far from where we had our camp on the onward journey.
Day 21 Camp near Ain Galakka - Camp at the edge of Erg Djourab
In the morning we drove the remaining 80 kilometres to Faya in a couple of hours, then set about to complete our chores as fast as possible, fueling the cars, reporting to the police and buying some fresh vegetables for the return journey. We had our lunch in Faya before setting out on the journey southward.
About 25-30 kilometres outside Faya we spotted a large herd of camels on the horizon. While we waited for them to approach for some photos, Hajji Senoussi explained that they were from the Ennedi, driving the camels up along the western side of the Tibesti to sell them in Sebha in Libya. In the old days this trade went directly via Ounianga to Kufra (a much shorter route), but since the Kufra route was closed by the Libyan revolution only the long route to Sebha remained open. We watched them approach, about 200 camels herded by six mounted people. As they came near, another herd of the same size appeared on the horizon, about 2 kilometres behind the first. This amazing spectacle was repeated five times, there were altogether six herds counting a total of well over a thousand animals in the caravan. Senoussi said that usually from the price received for the camels each of the herders could return with a brand new Toyota Landcruiser. We stood there for nearly an hour watching as this amazing spectacle passed slowly ahead of us, seemingly not taking notice of our cameras and our presence.
After the camel encounter we continued on our journey to the edge of the Erg Djourab, where we made camp as sunset was approaching, which also provided the opportunity to open the bottles of cold beer that we managed to obtain in Faya.
Day 22. Camp at Erg Djourab - Camp in Bahr el Ghazal
In the morning we continued crossing the dunes along the main track, not attempting any shortcuts this time. There were many camels grazing on the tufts of grass growing along the dunes, especially around a dug well in the middle of the dune belt. As we stopped for photos, one of the large six-wheel drive Mercedes trading trucks passed us, doing the run between Sebha and N'Djamena, the only route still open at the time between the two countries.
On the far side of the Erg, where the white bed of the ancient Lake Megachad emerged among the dunes, Andrea led us to a spot where several partially fossilized skeletons of large catfish were embedded in the lake sediment, surrounded by innumerable scattered vertebra and other bones.
As we drove back to the track among the tufts of grass, suddenly we startled a pair of fennec (desert foxes, Vulpes zerda) who dashed out of therir den on hearing the rattle of the cars, and froze for a few seconds (just enough to snap a pair of photos) before dashing away among the sparse vegetation. They were almost white in colour, blending in with the white diatomite earth surroundings, probably a local adaptation as they are usually of a darker sand colour. It was the first time I have actually seen fennec in the wild, as they do not exist in the more arid parts of the Eastern Sahara.
We stopped for lunch under rather unpleasant windy conditions at the white yardangs near the deepest part of the ancient lakebed. On one hump there was a solitary Capparis decidua, bearing many fruit as well as blooming flowers, probably indicating groundwater somewhere not far below as elsewhere there was no sign of any life.
By mid-afternoon we reached the village of Kouba Olanga, a rather wretched-looking place near where the Bahr el Ghazal river once entered the lake. The village marked the end of the true desert, from hereon we were crossing the inhabited Sahel belt, with ever-increasing vegetation. We stopped to fill our water jerrycans at the communal well, which proved to be a lengthier process than planned, as the well was locked with a big chain and padlock, and half the village went searching for the woman guarding the precious key.
After filling our water cans from the well, we drove to the village store half-heartedly, and were very surprised (and rather pleased) to find despite the lack of electricity an ice chest full of cold fizzy drinks, a very welcome treat after the hot and dusty day.
We continued South along the track following the Bahr el Ghazal, passing many grazing camels and several solitary huts. After some time we met with a surreal sight - a large trading truck was parked by the track, and before it, at the prescribed 50m distance, a proper red hazard triangle was placed in the sand to warn passing motorists of the obstacle ahead. Health and Safety would be proud...
For the evening camp we moved off the road into the bed of the Bahr el Ghazal about 50 kilometres further upstream from our onward camp at the well of Beurkia. Here there was more vegetation in the ancient riverbed, and the ground was littered with the empty bleached shells of freshwater snails, mainly the tennis-ball sized Pila wernei, a species still prevalent in all larger freshwater bodies in Africa.
Day 23. Camp in Bahr al Ghazal - Camp near Moussoro
In the morning as we had breakfast entertainment was provided by a flock of fan-tailed ravens (Corvus rhipidurus) fighting over scraps of leftovers, performing some amazing aerobatics in the process.
After packing camp we returned to the piste and followed it first along the grassy plains bordering the Bahr el Ghazal, passing an ever increasing number of villages along the way.
By lunchtime we reached the more densely vegetated cattle country, stopping among a dense cluster of acacias. A large herd of cattle also decided to take their afternoon siesta in the shade of the acacias, providing a perfect analogy for all those painted cattle in the Ouri plain shelters. As we continued cattle appeared everywhere in the villages too.
We continued, now in the wide bed of the Bahr el Ghazal, passing many more villages, and by mid-afternoon reached the pretty country with dune-top villages as we were approaching Moussoro.
At the outskirts of Moussoro we found a pair of camels grazing on an acacia, with their long outstretched necks it was plainly visible how closely they are related to their taller cousins, the giraffe. We waited for all our cars to close in (we were spread out due to the huge plumes of dust) before entering the city.
We did not linger for long in Moussoro. After fueling we parked discretely beside a closed travel agency, where signs on the door unambiguously prohibited smoking or the possession of kalashnikovs on premises. After Andrea and Jonathan bought the few things needed we rolled out of town, passing on the way the flashy modern house of Somebody Very Important, totally out of place among the other mud and adobe buildings.
We stopped at a village well just after Moussoro to take on some water, then drove for a couple of dozen kilometres to a suitable camping spot away from all human habitation, not far from our very first campsite on our onward journey.
Day 24. Camp near Moussoro - N'Djamena
This morning's entertainment was provided by a pair of pied crows (Corvus albus) which exhibited the same type of behaviour as the ravens the day before (to whom they are closely related - even some interbreeding is reported from the Horn of Africa).
We continued through the grey dusty country dotted with low shrubs, passing many herds of goat and cattle. We stopped for some photos at a particularly fine herd of cattle, with the variety of coats and horn shapes echoing the ancient paintings.
In one village we passed a green field with ripening tomatoes, the first sign of any large-scale agriculture. We immediately jumped at the opportunity of having a fresh salad for lunch. This was also the first place where our stopping drew a small crowd, mainly women and children, but they just looked at us silently without disturbing.
As we were approaching Massakory we made another stop before the spot where we left the Bahr el Ghazal. Here many hundred years ago someone planted three African baobab trees (Adansonia digitata) which are not native to the region, occur only several hundred kilometres further South. By now the trees have grown a huge size with trunks thicker than a metre, one of them partially overgrown by a Cocculus pendulus vine. Being mid-winter they have all dropped their leaves, but some still had the characteristic large fruit hanging on long stalks.
While we were taking photos of the baobabs a fine herd of cattle approached and passed us. They were mostly like the ones we have seen before, but amongst them I was rather excited to discover two with forward facing horns, exactly like the curious but prevalent cattle on the Jebel Uweinat paintings.
We continued along the track to Massakory, and soon after reaching the tarmac road we stopped for a quick lunch under a large shady tree just beyond the outskirts of the town. After an hour's rest we set out again for the last stretch of our car journey to N'Djamena, reaching it mid-afternoon.
We went again to the Hotel de l'Aeroport where after a lengthy negotiating session we succeeded in renting two day-use rooms for all of us to take a shower before having dinner in the favorite expat restaurant of the town, after which we drove to the airport to take either Turkish or Air France on our way back home. It did not quite register on arrival, but the old terminal building was in the process of being demolished, yet it continued to "serve" passengers who had to complete an obstacle course with their luggage through the construction site, making for an interesting but quite fitting ending to our trip.
We are currently planning another expedition to Northern Chad for the winter of 2016, with an itinerary to the Northern and South-western Ennedi (the rock art sites of Niola Doa, and the area around Fada/Archeï). The trip will start and end in N'Djamena, and will take 18 days using cars, with some shorter treks to and around the sites. A detailed itinerary is now available. Please visit the News page for any updates (or "like" the FJ Expeditions FaceBook page).