The P38 and The Dunes of Chegega
Deep in the heart of Lac Iriki the dunes of Chegega sit waiting for us to arrive and then continue our adventure as we cross the high peaks and valleys within.
The night before we entered Chegega our group camped in a vicious sand storm close to the base of the dunes. Each car was driven close into the acacia trees to give some protection against the wind blown sand that finds its way into everything. You do not cook because if you do your meal becomes a variation of the infamous desert dish of “A la Sable”
By dawn all was still and silent, not a breath of wind stirred and there was not a hint of the maelstrom from the night before, the only sound that entered this desert of quiet, almost embarrassingly, was the beautiful song of a Hoopoe Lark that serenaded us while we enjoyed a breakfast free of sand. By the time the sun had begun to warm the air we had packed up camp and were heading into the dunes to continue the Impala adventure. We always finish off our dune journey with a long high climb where the blue sky fills your windscreen for seemingly minutes before (with a flash) the sky is replaced by the sight of sand as the car climbs over the top before sledging down the steep decent.
Cars often get stuck up here at the top, even an imperceptible lift off the throttle will stop the car even a distant thought of doing so at the back of your mind will result in your car resting itself on top of the dune. Any more power and the wheels will merrily throw sand high into the air making it even more difficult to extricate oneself.
This picture shows the Impala Support team of Neil, Manley and Rob moving sand away from underneath a P38 Range Rover that had the audacity to plant itself on top of the dune!! After a few minutes of moving sand by hand the wheels will once more have a firm contact with the sand so that a positive application of power will result in a victorious decent of the dune.
The Lake Near Monchegorsk
There are two choices about three miles before the lake: One is to stay on the reasonably distinct track that would take us towards the massive uranium mine north and then east to “pop” out onto the main road from Murmansk to St Petersburg and the other is to continue east onto a very indistinct track that gets progressively more challenging as it works its way alongside the lakes that run along the valley from Monchegorsk, we of course always take the more challenging “straight ahead” route.
It takes about three hours from this junction to travel to the lake. On the way we have to cross two small challenging rivers and circumnavigate an impassable bog to the side of the lake itself. In the past there was a wooden road that followed this route but that has long since succumbed to the ravages of the harsh winters and of course time.
The lake crossing is always fun, as we slowly work our way along its edge, being very careful not to stray out to far as the shallow water is only there for a little way out. When we arrive at the opposite bank traditionally we make camp so that we can enjoy the views and congratulate ourselves on a job well done. I remember some years ago that while we were camping a boat with two Russian fishermen arrived and they came ashore, greeted us warmly. We spoke no Russian and they spoke no English but with smiles and sign language with much head nodding we enjoyed a conversation of sorts for an hour before they went on there way once more. While they were with us we spent some time comparing the Kelly kettle that we use to heat water with the Russians equivalent, both worked equally well. As they left they insisted that we had some of their firelighters which were extremely good at being lit in this damp environment and I am sure that they were telling us that the Russian ones would be better than ours, a view reinforced because they very politely refused the offer of some of our firelighters in exchange!!
The sky in England is full of birds: Rooks seem to circle every wood and strut across the fields when I walk in the countryside in Leicestershire and outside my office the garden resounds to the sound of Blackbirds, Thrushes and of course the “numerously” rare House Sparrow.
In Spain however the most extraordinary thing is the amount of Vultures that you see: They are as common as our Blackbirds and Rooks: Theses birds are big, very big and quiet, very quiet and there is something a little disturbing about them too. The routes that we use in the Ebro Valley take us up to a high mountain with almost vertical sides. Up here the wind from the Atlantic hits the rock and then roars upwards, the resulting up draught tugs and buffets you as you stand feet away from the edge. Vultures soar with consummate ease above and below you, the wind ruffling the feathers on the leading edges of their wings, while eyes fix you with a hungry stare.
I have not tried this yet but I have been told that if you want to get really close then just lie down and keep still, as still as a life model and they will come and have a look to see if you are worth filling their stomachs with!! Of course as soon as you move (I have been reliably informed) then they will veer off to find another tasty morsel.
With a modern camera you can get beautiful pictures without the need to risk being munched and this week’s picture was taken by Ian Roy during one of the days on our Spanish Adventure.
Halfdecker’s at Ranworth
I am very lucky to be asked to skipper the beautiful wooden boats that sail out of Womack Water in Norfolk. These boats were built in the 1930’s and have a lightness of movement that epitomises boats that were built without the weight of an engine.
The white boat in the picture is Sundew, she is a halfdecker, the distinction between her and a cabin yacht is that she does not have a cabin and the occupants have to face whatever weather hits them on the day. This particular day’s sailing was with a crew of naturalists from the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and they had come along to watch whatever nature would grace us with her company today and enjoy the trust’s centre at Ranworth Broad.
Summer in 2012 was a rather wet one with pouring rain and lowering skies, the days leading up to our sail were no exception.
As I drove up to Norfolk the promise was off a fine day. The wind was just right for a brisk sail along the Thurne and up the Bure to Ranworth and as the sky filled with clouds that were white not grey things just got better and better. By the time the naturalists had arrived the sun was hot with ranks of white clouds marching across the big Norfolk sky.
All day the sun shone so the wildlife came out to show us some of its brilliance. We were treated to a show all day and two sightings of note were: two swallowtail butterflies flying across the bows of our halfdecker and high above us while we were sailing near St Benet’s a crane soared. We spent some time tacking back and forth to keep the bird in view, much to the bemusement of passers buy.
By the afternoon a good stiff sea breeze had set up which necessitated a reef in the main so we stuck the bows into the bank to reef before setting off to enjoy a splendid sail back to the yard in wonderful sunshine with the songs of Reed Buntings and Reed Warblers serenading us along the way.
Extraordinarily enough, summer returned to its normal rain and lowering skies the next day!!
Snow Drift on top of The Saja-Besaya Mountain
Photo by Sue Monk
All week the Saja-Besaya’s peaks have been there, an ever present tower of rock capped in a late spring fall of snow. From every track that we have driven in and around Polientes the Saja’s peaks have been a stunning backdrop to many of the pictures taken as we wandered from one spectacular view to the next.
There is a route that takes in the lower slopes of these beautiful mountains and we were going to travel along its trail sometime during our adventure here.
Later in the week we set off from the Molina with a hot sun warming our backs and the snowy peaks in the distance white against a blue, blue sky. The route that we were going to enjoy has three tracks with mountain roads in between, each very different. The first runs across the mountain above the historical village of Barcena Major and is of stone and mud. As we drove along its heights twenty or so Griffon Vultures soared in the sky around us. When we stopped for lunch one or two came close just to see if we had died or not!!.
The second track has an incredible climb through a beech forest where the green of young leaves is like a delicate mist drifting through the forest. We burst out onto a high plateau and found ourselves with a challenging rock climb before dropping down into a valley on the other side of the mountain. This valley looked as though it had been plucked out of the High Atlas in Morocco.
The third and highest track runs very close to the peaks of the Saja. The climb up to the top was unbelievably spectacular, and there is only one word for it: awesome. We watched an Imperial Eagle holding itself still against the wind on the way up as well, the first that I have ever seen and what a majestic bird it is. All was going well, any snow drifts easily passed until at the highest point we were confronted with a drift that was higher than our cars and would have been foolhardy to try to cross. We looked around for another way but that would have involved driving off piste which is something that we would not do here.
The sun was warm and there were many “streams” running fast from beneath the snow as we stood any enjoyed the spectacle of it all up here in the sky. Eventually we turned round and headed back down for tea feeling very content after this spectacular day in Spain.
Zebra’s and The Park
When you watch any television programme concerning wildlife the screen is full to bursting with beautifully filmed shots of the animal or animals in question from all angles and showing many exciting if occasionally bewildering “bits” of behaviour.
Because of this “picture” of the natural world, it is often a great disappointment to many an intrepid wildlife watcher, as they sit quietly and very, very still waiting for the Gemsbok, Kudu or Chapman’s Zebra that fail to make the expected appearance. The bush is supposed to be teaming with them and no matter how hard you stare and how often the movement of a bush heralds a false alarm you just do not see the thousands that you had expected to see.
The only places where you will see the wild animals in some abundance is in the Game Parks such as Etosha in Namibia where this picture was taken. Out in the bush beyond the parks a Zebra will let you get within half a mile before they move on. If you walk forward ten paces they will move away ten. We once had an incredible two hours sitting on top of a hill watching a small group of Grevy’s Zebra before they flicked their tails and raced off across the hills. We did not follow as that would have been a grave intrusion into their space
The only way to get real close up pictures is to go and visit one of the parks where the animals are so accustomed to us that we have become part of their landscape. The predators become more dangerous though, but that is another story.
Le Gardien, Maroc
Vehicles flow through Marrakech very much like a river: the buildings that line the busy streets are the banks that funnel cars, buses and lorries along with a swarm of mopeds and bicycles from one part of the city to another. Traffic lights are the log jams, only temporary though, which even before the red gives way to green have begun to succumb to the pressure from the traffic pushing and honking from the rear. Even as the electricity begins to flow into the green the flood begins across the junction, seemingly engulfing the solitary policeman whose strident whistle barely pieces the maelstrom of sound and smoke!!
Eventually vehicles need to park and their occupants themselves flood out onto La Place or Le Jardin de Majorelle. To anyone from Europe our “ruled” car parks are but a memory as here in Marrakech there would not be enough room at all for an orderly line of cars to park: The Solution: very simple and far more effective and a lot more fun than our way.
It all revolves around Le Gardien. They each have a section of street, pavements in all, under their control. As you arrive at your destination Le Gardien will appear from between the already parked cars or from out of a café and beckon very enthusiastically for you to squeeze your car into what seems an impossible gap. They have already worked out its width, turning circle and length with a precision that would make an engineer proud. You may only just be able to squeeze yourself out of the door between the gaps but you have arrived and are safely and securely parked.
The next part of the story is a revelation to most as you pay upon your return a very small sum that seems to have no bearing at all to the time you have spent away in the narrow streets and numerous café’s of The Medina. It is in fact so safe here that you can even leave the doors unlocked and a thousand Dirham’s on the dashboard and it would still be there upon your return.
As you leave Le Gardien will ease your way back into the “flow of the river” urging you to visit again soon.
Azrou Klane Rock Carvings!!
The vastness and immense landscapes of bare rock in The Sahara are spellbinding. One of the greatest rivers that flow from deep within the High Atlas is the Oued Draa, this river’s flood plain stretches wide across the landscape, travelling south until it meets the immense wall of the Jebel Ouarkziz where the river is forced west to eventually flow into The Atlantic.
The Jebel Ouarkziz are rich in those enthralling remnants of our species past-Rock Carvings. Most are inaccessible as they lie on the south side of the mountain, on the Military side where Morocco and Algeria still bare their teeth at each other, but one of these treasures was very conveniently carved deep within a blind valley some miles north of the Jebel Ouarkziz.
We at Impala always look for tracks that require a four wheel drive car to get down, ones where the challenge adds to the awe and wildness of the landscape that we cross and that is exactly what is presented to us deep into the valley where the rock carvings of Azrou Klane lie.
The carvings themselves tell of a time when the rivers flowed all year and the desert was full of life. This picture shows a small part of the rock carvings with ostriches carved into the rocks surface. Elsewhere there are carvings showing lions, antelope and camels, as well as figures on camels with some that appear to be half human half animal.
As we arrive at the carvings and begin to walk amongst them, there is a sense of ancientness and spirituality in the mountain around the rocks that is enhanced because of our challenging journey to get into the valley of Azrou Klane.
I just had to do it!!
I was going for a walk with my brother in law and our English Springer Spaniel Poppy, honestly I was, that was most definitely my intention when I left the house with my Discovery Td5!!. We did eventually go for a walk, but not before we did something that I hope all of you did or have done who own a four wheel drive vehicle when it has snowed or is snowing.
Poppy and I enjoy a walk that criss crosses between rolling hills and The Grand Union Canal near South Kilworth and it takes us only around seven minutes to drive there from our house before we are off to enjoy the beautiful landscape of this part of Leicestershire.
Today it took us over half an hour!!,why you ask, well it has snowed and I just had to go and drive a track that is sort of on the way to our walk. The track did not disappoint, as the snow had drifted between the gaps in the hedge leaving drifts that were a couple of feet deep in places, deep enough to enjoy without the risk of getting stuck. At the end of two miles of exhilarating fun, pushing our way through the drifts and enjoying a particularly interesting climb our Discovery had a snow filled front and our faces sported big smiles.
I hope that you all enjoyed yourselves in the snow too before the important things in the day had to be done.
An Englishman, a Moroccan, a Nigerian and an Abyssinian
There is a strip of tarmac that runs below the Sea of Sand in Libya between the towns as Ghat and Ghadames and eventually leads to the Acacaus Mountains. These towns are on the tourist routes, (if that is what you can call a route that is only visited by very well equipped four wheel drive cars) and because of this the signs telling you where to go next are in Arabic and English.
On one particular adventure Louise and I had to take a car out of the desert, a car that had broken its differential after the challenging crossing of the sand sea so we had to travel further to the east than “the tourist” would normally go. The road took us into a town, an extremely large town where ALL of the writing and speaking was in Arabic. At this time my Arabic was sketchy to say the least and after an hour of trying to drive east we were finding a lot of dead ends or roads that became narrower and narrow and we had to back out-nobody seemed to mind our preambles at all.
I will just have to ask someone I thought, so as a cafe hove into view we stopped and I popped in. To my delight I discovered that all three of the men inside spoke English, so we got talking and astonishingly discovered that they hailed from a all the corners of North Africa. There was a Moroccan, a Nigerian and an Abyssinian and I wondered why they were here in Libya and soon found out that it was not safe for them in their own countries but Gadafi welcomed them here!!
Eventually after a few cups of tea and much talk of life the universe and everything the Abyssinian hailed a taxi and guided us to the outskirts of the town where we headed north towards Tripoli to rejoin the rest of the group who had crossed the sand.