The Sahel in Chad - traveling from savannah to Sahara desert

February 12-14th, 2018 

Getting to Sahara desert from N'Djamena in Chad requires 3 days of travel throughout the Sahel. The journey, however, is not just a transfer, but is a new opportunity to explore interesting environments with extreme landscapes, including that of Barh el Gazel (the Gazelle River).

Roads near N Djamena
The journey to get to the Sahara desert begins along a paved road that leads from N'Djamena in Chad to the north, which will soon become just a dirty track not always traced on maps. The arrival in the Sahara and its Ennedi plateau, is expected three days later: in the meantime we enjoy the landscape that changes slowly, becoming more and more dry, but not without life.
Savannah becoming Sahel Southern Chad
The southernmost areas of the Sahel, bordering the savannah, have a relatively rich vegetation, mainly with acacia trees, low bushes and dry grass which feeds goats and other farm animals.
Village in the Sahel Sahel villages
Homes in the Sahel Rural village in Chad
The villages in the Sahel among western Chad, have buildings made by raw clay bricks and thatched roofs.
Children in Chad
Curiously, along the edges a dusty track in the middle of nowhere, suddenly appears some child, sometimes busy to bring the animals to pasture.
Sahel Dromedaries feeding on leaves
Continuing to the north, the Sahel becomes progressively drier, with camels eating leaves from taller trees.
Sand storm Dusty wind
Dust storm Desert storm in Chad
Dust and sand storms are an event always possible in the Sahel and the Sahara. Generally they last one day, sometimes (much) longer, but they still represent an opportunity to experience firsthand this meteorological phenomenon.
The scorpion is quite widespread in much of the Sahel and the Sahara Desert. The animal prefers to stay sheltered, so, to prevent close encounters, it is good to handle large stones, branches or anything that have remained long on the ground, very carefully.
Pre-desert Bed of dried lake
Central Chad Barren land
Across the 16th North parallel, conventionally, there is a narrow transition zone where the Sahel becomes a kind of "pre-desert". The landscape quickly becomes even more dry, with wide expanses of sand that looks like an immense beach at low tide. During the rainy season, these areas are occasionally flooded, making travels very difficult. Here we are not far from Koro Toro, at N15°46', in the central part of Chad.
Dried lake bed Fossilized clay
Fossil clay Fossils of diatom algae
Chad Sand and clay
Sand dune

Driving further to the north-east, we cross dry beds of ancient lakes dating back to when the Sahara desert was dominated by large inland seas and long rivers, rather than by a barren land. Now the water has given way to endless desolate plains, dotted by remains of clay resulting from the fossilization of primitive diatom algae, as well as small sand dunes.
Gazelles in the desert Bahr El Gazel
The pre-desert belt between Bahr El Gazel (Gazelles river) and Koro Toro is home to many gazelles that are often seen hopping in the distance.
Sahel vegetation Limit of the desert
Camel droppings Camel
The desolated landscape along the border between Sahel and the Sahara desert in central Chad.
Fennec fox
A fennec, a small fox with big ears, which lives in the driest regions of North Africa.
Desert of pebbles Pebbly desert
Large stretches of sand alternate with more pebbly areas created by the action of ancient rivers.
Desert pumpkin Citrullus colocinthis
Pumpkin of the desert
The desert pumpkin (Citrullus colocinthis) is widespread throughout the Sahara, and Chad is no exception. It lives on the ground and produces lot of fruits sized like an apple. They are eat only in case of prolonged famine, but only after long cooking to reduce its toxicity.
Well in the desert
The Sahara has a vast network of underground rivers, sometimes quite deep, reached by wells that allow the survival of nomads and their farm animals. The numerous droppings of camel on the sand, which can sometimes be exchanged for stones, testify to the "traffic" that this source of water supply generates.
Ancient river bed
Dried river bed River bed in the desert
Bed of a dried river
The bed of a seasonal river shows a vegetation composed of numerous bushes and large trees with leaves that fall during the dry season. The inactive watercourses, or only occasionally active, are very common in the Sahara and they are marked on maps as well. When the Sahara was not a desert, they linked together lakes and larger inland seas.
Huts of nomads in the desert Nomads of the desert
Unbelievably, such hostile environment hosts small villages of shepherds isolated in the middle of nowhere.
Well in the Sahel
A well in the desert, equipped with a pump to bring water to the surface.
Dromedary herd Dromedary
Chad dromedary Dromedaries in Chad
The dromedary herds can be frequently seed in most of central and northern Chad.
Acacia tree Acacia flower
The Sahel and the desert are home to various species of Acacia trees that have adapted to living in an arid environment by reducing the surface of the leaves and developing strong thorns to discourage herbivorous animals.
Jujube in the desert Ziziphus mauritaniae
Even the jujube (Ziziphus mauritaniae) has leaves smaller than normal and strong curved thorns.
Boulders of granite
Granite boulder
After three days of travel from N'Djamena across the Sahel, we are now at the gates of the Sahara desert, not far from the village of Kalait. Here the landscape is dominated by large granite boulders.
Where to sleep in Chad
My comfortable and versatile hotel room for almost two weeks, mounted each night in a different place.

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