Posted On 09 Apr 2024
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This entry is part 51 of 26 in the series AusMotorcyclist Issue#27


Have you ever been stung on the… er, the backside by a mosquito the size of a hummingbird? I mean, for all I know it actually was a hummingbird that got me near Ain Salah in the Sahara; a vampire desert hummingbird. Whatever it was, I was reminded of its attentions and those of its friends every time I sat down for a week after our night camping at the palmeries.

Ain Salah is quite a pleasant sort of place, but then again any place would look pleasant if you had just covered near enough to 700km from Ghardaia without seeing anything other than sand. This is the real desert, and when we were there the road was a narrow ribbon of poorly maintained tar, swallowed regularly by peripatetic sandhills which challenged the XS1100 Yamaha Mrs Bear and I were riding. Not that the bike was short of power, but there is only so much soft, windblown sand any bike can manage.

To this day I am in awe of the Paris Dakar desert riders.

Mind you, they didn’t travel two up with tools, camping gear, personal luggage, food and spare fuel and water on board. We even had a plastic washing-up bowl, as close as I’ve come to travelling with the kitchen sink – and extremely useful.

When we rolled into Ain Salah after 11 hours or so from Ghardaia, we were hoping for a campsite but our hopes were dashed. Finally one of the more trustworthy-looking locals suggested that we camp on the outskirts of town in the palmeries, the groves of date palms that form just about all the agriculture that will flourish out here.

It looked pretty good at first. The long rows of palms created a reassuring kind of pattern, and there was even water in a small pond, looking remarkably like the kind of oasis you see in cartoons. We were aware of the mozzie problem, so we camped a fair distance from the pond; what we didn’t realise was that the palms had drip irrigation, so there was a bit of water everywhere; enough for the bastard insects (or hummingbirds) to breed.

They arrived not long after dinner, but we had good mosquito (or hummingbird) netting on our tent, so we just withdrew under the flysheet and played our usual evening game of Mastermind before going to bed.

When you’re travelling, your digestion can become a bit confused.

After all, what does a meal of tinned sardines with white bread and an orange suggest to you? Breakfast? Dinner? Lunch? We had had pretty much that for every meal for a while, because these were the only things you could buy in Algeria then. No wonder my digestive tract was confused.

Whatever it was, at some stage during the night I had to go and relive myself. I got up, unzipped and re-zipped the flysheet after sidling outside, and found a palm some distance away. I dropped my dacks and the mozzies (or the… you know) picked up their knives and forks.

Dinner time!

And no boring tinned sardines for them. It would be blood – my blood.

By the time I got back inside the fly’s mosquito netting I had, I reckon, lost a tenth of my blood supply. I swear that some of the suckers had to walk away they were so full.

Fortunately these vampire creatures matched their classical counterparts by not liking the light of the sun, so by the time we broke camp in the morning they were gone. No doubt telling their friends that “you shoulda bin there!”

But the Ain Salah palmeries were not finished with us yet. After a breakfast of an orange, some stale bread and a tin of sardines, we packed the bike and I fired it up. The XS11 was a fantastic bike for this kind of trip – it never caused the slightest problem, except after it had been serviced by a Yamaha technician in Rome – but that was later. The problem here was that whenever I applied any power, the rear wheel dug itself a little ditch and the back of the bike descended until the bottoms of the panniers rested on the sand.

O-kay. Unload the bike and carry the gear to the road;

collect dry palm fronds and jam them under the rear wheel; and drop the clutch. The wheel spun up, dug itself in again but provided some forward motion as well.

I dug a narrow channel for about twenty feet before the tyre finally had enough grip for the wheel to ride up onto the top of the sand.

Re-load the bike and head back north, that 700-odd kilometres to Ghardaia. But therein lies another tale…

The Bear

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