Tuesday 17 September 2013

Algerian Sahara

I love this image. I found it on the Internet and I don't know anything about it's provenance, but for me it's very atmospheric.

Mercenary Garage - Honda XL600M Sahara

The bike is a Swiss registered 1986-ish Honda XL600LM and it's sporting some deserty modifications including a headlight guard/rack, an engine cage and a pretty nice luggage system. It's fitted with Michelin Desert tyres which are serious bits of kit! And it has had it's indicators removed which strikes me as a bit bold for a Swiss bike. Also, the chain-guard has been cut down (rather than completely removed) to expose the chain. (Personally, I like to remove the chainguard all together - it's easier to see wear and tear, it's easier to clean and lubricate, and if the chain does come off, it's easier and quicker to replace).

It's not carrying any luggage though, so maybe the pilot has 4WD support, or maybe he's already set up camp.

The image appears to have been taken in the Algerian Sahara and I'd guess it was taken in the early 90's.

This is a part of the world I've wanted to visit for over 20 years, and the reason I got hooked on the whole desert biking thing. There's been an ongoing civil war in Algeria since 1992 and access since then has been very difficult. In 2002, access to the south-eastern part of the Algerian Sahara opened up slightly and in early 2003, after a lot of work I obtained an Algerian visa.

However, as I was about to leave at the end of January I took on a design job that delayed my departure by about six weeks. A couple of weeks later, in February 2003, 32 European tourists in four wheel drives and on motorcycles were kidnapped by Islamic Militants in the area where I was planning on going, at the time I was planning on being there...

One of the tourists was shot, but nursed back to health by her kidnappers. A group of 17 were rescued by the Algerian army (aided by the German army) in May. One woman in the remaining group died of heat-stroke before the survivors were finally released in August after five months moving around the desert. It's widely believed that the German government paid a ransom but the German government refused to admit this.

It was a very under-reported story. None of the tourists were British (or Irish) and the story never gained any traction in this part of the world. It's my understanding that everyone involved was sworn to secrecy and as far as I'm aware, no first hand accounts were ever published.

In any case, the borders were shut down again and my hard-won Algerian visa became invalid. And I'm still waiting for an opportunity to go there...

I'd spent years gathering a really good collection of Algerian desert maps and I'd done lots of research. After my Algerian visa became useless, I diverted to Morocco armed with a single, useless map of the whole country and no clue! 
It was probably just as well I didn't go to Algeria because (aside from the almost inevitability of getting caught up in the kidnapping) I learned a lot on that first desert trip and in retrospect, I wasn't as well prepared for the real Sahara as I though I was!
There are some pictures from that trip here- www.mercenary.ie/2013/04/10-years-ago-morocco-april-2003.html

There's an article on the Kidnapping on Wikipedia, here - Wikipedia.org/wiki/Sahara_hostage_crisis_2003

And the image came from here - http://www.ringgi.com/Racing-Wallpaper.htm

#AlgerianSahara #HondaXLM #Mercenary #MercenaryGarage

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