Thursday, 31 July 2008
Sahara Routing Conundrum
We’ve been developing our Saharan Rally route in a bit more detail.
When I say more detail, I mean opposed to not actually considering our route beyond just drawing a line on a map that seemed to go through some interesting places.
If you’ve visited our www.saharan-rally.com ‘route’ page recently, you’ll see our proposed route has changed quite a bit. Well the map above will probably explain this Saharan conundrum.
The ideal place to enter North Africa is Morocco, drive down to Spain and ferry over. The ferry crossings are relatively cheap. It would be nice to drive through parts of Morocco then to casually drive into Algeria, (orange route on map) except there is a slight issue with the Moroccan/Algerian border which has been closed for almost 15 years (1). While there have been the odd talks earlier this year about re-opening parts of the Moroccan/Algerian border (2), it is showing no signs of a grand re-opening anytime soon (3).
Then alternative, drive into Mauritania (black route on map), which although is perhaps not the safest country in the region, it should be safe enough to make a crossing if you are cautious. Well that would be fine, except the border between Mauritania and Algeria is usually closed or very restricted (4).
No problem, we’ll go through Mali, I always wanted to visit Timbuktu. Well there are some serious security concerns if we go through Mali (5).
I usually take the advice of Foreign & Commonwealth Office travel service in consultation with other sources, as there is a tendency to err on the side of caution. If I followed the FCO advice to the letter, I wouldn’t travel anywhere, almost every country the FCO advises on is, and I quote: “There is a general threat from terrorism. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign and travellers.”
I must add however, that the FCO website and the travel advice is really useful and should be taken seriously. Following on from the FCO advice on Mali, a couple of Google searches on Mali and you’ll soon realise that you are risking a bit more than just your petty cash if you drive through Mali. (6) (7)
Having decided that the idea of having our car taken from us by armed bandits, or even worse, getting shot at by a group of ex-military rebels heavily armed with AK47s who are probably suffering from some sort of power trip charisma, we decided to ditch the idea of going to the Sahara via Morocco.
The next option is to either enter North Africa via Algeria or Tunisia (red route on map). The ferry crossing to Algeria is very expensive, however the crossing to Tunisia is a bit more reasonable. We thought we were onto a winner with this route, we would drive through Libya, then Egypt, crossing briefly into Israel, then pass Jordon and enter Syria. Enter Syria? No chance, once you have been through Israel, the Syrian authorities deny you entry, if you’ve been to Israel, ever, you are not welcome in Syria! (8)
The alternative to exiting Egypt at Israel and then onto Syria, is to try and ferry out of Egypt to Turkey or Greece. It sounds like an expensive idea, but worth investigating. It doesn’t take long to figure out that there are no active ferry routes out of Egypt on the Mediterranean side, there haven’t been for 15 years according to the RAC travel advice service when we called them. However doing some Google searches shows limited and very unreliable ferry services out of Egypt, upon further investigation we discovered that during the last Olympics, there were some ferry services between Egypt and Greece, but they were discontinued soon after. We did consider the possibility of trying to get our car onto a cargo ship out of Egypt, but the risk of being stuck in Egypt for weeks while we get that arranged are too high.
Our last option is to return to Libya from Egypt, then ferry out of North Africa from Tunisia. The problem with this route is that no multiple entry visa for Libya exists. Actually, upon further investigation and speaking to a few Libyan travel agents, we found out it is possible to get a multiple entry visa for Libya, but only if you’ve been to Libya in the past on a single entry visa. Since we have never been to Libya, this option is out of the question. It is possible to get a new visa for Libya in Egypt, but there is a good chance you’ll be waiting a few weeks to get it issued!
So after spending many hours researching our route options, we came up with the Tunisia – Algeria route (blue route on map). A multiple entry visa for Tunisia is possible, the entry from Tunisia to Algeria, although not easy, is again possible. Ferry crossings to Tunisia are relatively inexpensive and while there are a few danger spots, most can be avoided. Algiers and the surrounding region in the north is not particularly safe, with a few bombs going off every year (9). The area to the north west, bordering with Morocco is also considered unsafe, but we’ll be avoiding all those regions.
Our final Saharan route sees us spending just over 3000 miles in the Sahara desert, looping around in Algeria before returning to Tunisia to ferry back to Italy. Algeria, being the largest country in North Africa, has a varied Saharan terrain on offer and we’re getting very excited about taking on the Sahara there.