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Desert Travels - Motorcycle Journeys in the Sahara and West Africa!

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  #1  
Old 12 Dec 2009
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Attempting to enter Niger via Assamaka, Dec 2009

Attempted to cross In Guezzam - Assamaka a few days ago. Had obtained Nigerien visa at the consulate in Tamanrasset, 3 days waiting, 4500DA. Asked the consul if the border was open and if the situation on the Assamaka-Arlit-Agadez route was ok. The answer was reassuring: there are no more convoys Assamaka-Arlit, so it must be relatively safe. There are still convoys Arlit-Agadez, twice a week.

Good. With these news I arrived at the border. Checked out of Algeria, no questions asked, no particular warning given in regard to Niger. I asked them in fact - the Alg border police told me everything is fine as far as they know.

Raced across to Assamaka. Different news there. The Chief (I couldn't figure what exactly he was chief of, as he was wearing plain clothes, but I figured he was chief of customs) insisted that he would only give me laisser-passer on the condition that I hire a private convoy to proceed to Arlit. He said without hiring a private military convoy he wouldn't let me into the country.

I anticipated some hard bargaining for the cost of a private convoy, but the figure he voiced was unimaginable. He said (after a lot of thinking, and even walking off 'to talk to the military') that I needed to hire two vehicles with fifteen soldiers on board to accompany me from Assamaka to Arlit, and that it would cost me 360.000 CFA (550 euros). I made it clear that I am not paying this kind of money, but I would be happy to hear another offer. He refused bargaining. He just said buy it or return to Algeria.

It didn't help that some other people in uniforms around him were drunk (possibly himself too but I am not sure), and they were all participating in this discussion. Those of you who've been at the Assamaka border crossing would easily imagine the pressure from all those people who descend upon you all at once. Whilst bargaining over the cost of the convoy I had to unload the entire contents of my vehicle on the ground, and was worried about a dozen hands going though my bags at once. Someone else took my passport, another the driving license, and the third (the drunk one) took my GPS and mobile phone. Oh-la-la.

In any case, I said that I have forgotten something on the Alg side (I actually did), and that I would think about their offer on the way to In Guezzam and back. I managed to get all my things and papers back, and drove back to Algeria.

The Algerian police and the customs took a couple of days to allow me to re-enter (I didn't have another visa, so technically I could not enter). They tried their best contacting their superiors and eventually succeeded in getting me back into the country again - they annulled the exit stamps somehow. I had to camp outside the border post of course, but that didn't worry me much, as I could see those guys were genuinely trying hard to help me. They were offering me food and drink, took good care of me, and didn't charge me anything for the re-entry.
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  #2  
Old 12 Dec 2009
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well wow. Sounds like a real mess. Reminds me too much of our experience in May this year, attempting the same thing.
Only we never even made it to the border. We were refused visas after five days of waiting in Tam. They said that from then on all foreigners must apply for Niger visas in their home countries. This was verified by the consul himself after I asked to talk to him in private.
We later found out through a Nigerian friend that the real reason was that I had given my partner's profession as photographer. Niamey don't like journalists.

We spent the days of waiting checking everything with Niger; customs, convoys, possible alternative desert routes etc. I have a name and number somewhere of a guide who will escort tourists from Assamaka to Arlit, if it is of any use to you.

We went through Mali instead, which was exactly what we had decided we would not do. Next attempt to go Algeria-Niger is in February. But I won't even try if it will be this tricky.
One solution in your case may be to round up a number of travellers so could split the cost, if they insist. But there may not be many tourists going that direction? In May, we were the only Europeans around.

What are you going to do now? Your original visa may run out of time, and the Algerians are very strict about that.

edit: one of the precautions I am going to take is getting a double-entry visa for Algeria in case of a situation like this.
We will also get the Niger visa here rather than relying on the consulate staff in Tamanrasset.
We're flexible on time, but we won't attempt the trip unless the situation appears to be stable and foreigners can actually get into Niger.

Last edited by priffe; 13 Dec 2009 at 11:07.
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  #3  
Old 13 Dec 2009
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Hi All,

That's not such good news... I'm planning to enter Niger from Algeria in mid-Feb 2010. Anyone around at the time to share convoy costs? Priffe, would you reconsider?
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Old 13 Dec 2009
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It may well be that things have changed by Feb. I have a strong feeling that the refusal to let me in without a private convoy was a personal decision of the chief of customs (or whatever he was chief of). The guys on the Algerian side have never heard of such thing as private convoy; the consul in Tam said the road is clear.

One thing is definite: there are not many tourists who go this route now. I asked at the Algerian side - they mentioned a couple of groups which crossed in the past month. Not much, and it would be really difficult to find others to split the costs. Besides, the figure given me was totally arbitrary, and could increase if a bunch of westerners turn up at the same time.

I am coming back up this time, won't be trying Mali or anything else. Besides, the vehicle needs some attention, so I rather not take extra risks.

Peter
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  #5  
Old 14 Dec 2009
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Are you travelling with a guide? It seems like a good idea to go with a guide all the way from Tam to Arlit, aiding with the border passage. Preferrably someone well experienced with both Algeria and Niger. He should be able to talk you through. His services may cost quite a bit but still be good value if he's up to the task.
It can drive you crazy trying to find a solution when you are alone facing African bureacracy and/or corruption.
Good luck with your trip which should be enjoyable anyhow!

Jens
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  #6  
Old 14 Dec 2009
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>the real reason was that I had given my partner's profession as photographer. Niamey >don't like journalists.

Not just Niamey. It's a very bad idea all over North and West Africa. Especially journalists and photographers. Whoever I'm traveling with we always write marketing on 'le fiche'. Last time the whole bus was 'marketing' They don't give a damn if you're not a journalist.


A.
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  #7  
Old 14 Dec 2009
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You're absolutely right and it was a stupid mistake. We had the fiches made up before the trip and I forgot to change it.
Trip before last I was a boucher.
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  #8  
Old 14 Dec 2009
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A contact of mine in Tam just wrote that the border from Algeria to Mali, at least at Tessalit, is closed for tourists now. The Malians do not let you in because of bad security. But she said the border to Niger is open. I agree with Priffe it better to hire a good guide. Do not try to arrange these border crossings yourself, especially in this area under the current tense circumstances.
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  #9  
Old 15 Dec 2009
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taking the piste

In case anyone is in any doubt this guy at Assamaka is running a big scam. It can be tricky there but 550 euros is really taking the piste - as their reaction at IGZ clearly showed.

It's easy to say it here of course, but I also think even waiting for a group to help share the cost of this bogus convoy is setting a bad precedent.

Best advice seems to be get a double entry Alg visa, as others have suggested - and when back in Tam try and cause a scene at the Niger consulate.

IME I dont think Algies like going to Niger as, unlike for Mali, I believe it requires getting a visa too just like us. That could raise the cost of an Alg guide going all the way to Arlit and then his trip back.

I'd even be tempted to avoid Assamaka and run straight through to Arlit and let them sort immigration out there. Just say you got lost in a sandstorm.

With all the other bad news it looks like it's springtime for Wadi Halfa...

Ch
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  #10  
Old 16 Dec 2009
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It is true that Algerians need a visa to enter Niger. I saw many Algerians queuing at the consulate in Tam. They pay less for their visas though. Most of them go there to sell cars - I saw dozens of French and Italian registered sedans at the border, driven but northern Algerians.

The guy at the Assamaka border was indeed running a scam, as the consul in Tam had never mentioned anything like a private convoy. On the contrary the consul (or was it his assistant) told me that the convoys no longer exist because it is safe now. I am not sure just how safe it is, but that's another matter.

A double entry Alg visa would be a necessity if anyone attempts to do the same thing. The Alg border guys tried hard to help me, and they managed well, but perhaps only because it was an extraordinary situation. Also, I imagine that the chef at Assamaka gambled on the fact that I didn't have a re-entry (he checked my Alg exit stamp), and thought I'd have no other way out.
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  #11  
Old 7 Jan 2010
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Presently a military escort Assamakka-Arlit is required (not by dodgy guy at border, but paid in Arlit). This confirmed by Niamey. We waited 2 days, then paid Eur500. This week, though, was a decommissioning of rebel arms in Arlit, so we were really trying to go through the middle of things.

Try to get through without paying, but it could be difficult.

Sam.
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  #12  
Old 7 Jan 2010
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A consolation (that it is a legit fee and not a scam), but still expensive, especially for one person in one vehicle. Yet, prior to driving to the border in Dec 2009 I'd asked at the Niger consulate in Tam, and the consul was positive there was no convoy between Assamaka and Arlit.

How much escort did you get for the money? How many were you?
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  #13  
Old 8 Jan 2010
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2 toyotas, with 21 soldiers in/on them and a bunch of guns (though perhaps not much ammo).

They came to Assamakka, direct to us, waited 15 mins with us and then left with us - so nothing 'scheduled' about their visit (ie not the 'convoy every wednesday...').

'later, Sam.
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  #14  
Old 19 Jan 2010
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Thanks for the news Sam, sounds like it is legit then - quite a high toll for 100 odd miles but I guess that's the way things are there now so best to group up.

Ch
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  #15  
Old 2 Feb 2010
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the other way on public transport

Hi,

Reading this thread i got a bit worried. I'll be attempting the road from Agadez to Tamanrasset on public transport in 2 months. I already have an algerian transit visa and will get a niger visa without problems.

do you think i might get stopped in some way in Agadez or Arlit? What kind of restrictions apply to people travelling on public transports?

I've been told on another forum that there were buses from Agadez to Tamanrasset... anyone to confirm?

Thanx.
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