Across the Sahara Desert on Kinetic Honda scooter. Chapter 12

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Arlit – Republic of Niger: Scorpion King!

It took us two days to cover the 230 km from Assamakka to Arlit and we arrived in Arlit on 9th January 1992. As we entered the so-called town around noon, crowds gathered around us. In isolated places like these small desert settlements such as Arlit, the arrival of any traveler creates much curiosity, because travelers are so rare; because travelers bring news, real news: of the desert, of Tuaregs, of water. Sure, Radio as a technology existed, but due to their poor quality, most radios were broken down and inoperative. In any case the locals were hardly interested in what was broadcast from their national capital, far away across the desert.


People made us offers to buy our KiHos, and even our GD240 Jeep, which of course we were not selling. Then one guy came to the Jeep window and showed us a solid silver box, half the size of a cigarette packet, and said, “Twenty five Dinar”.

The box itself was quite solid and heavy and the hinged lid had various motifs engraved on it. For 25 Dinars it was a solid bargain. That much silver in India would cost me ten times 25 Dinars.

I said OK and reached for my pocket to take out the money. But the guy yelled at me saying, “open, open”. So I opened the lid.

To my horror, there was a live scorpion inside. I quickly shut the lid and returned the box to him. What kind of joke is this, I gestured?

In reply, he stuck out his tongue and pointed to its tip and touched the silver box to his tongue. I could not understand what he was trying to imply. I could not carry on this conversation any longer because nothing was making sense to me. So our interpreter took over, spoke to the scorpion man and explained to me:

“Twenty five Dinars will neither buy you the silver casket or its contents. Twenty five Dinars will buy you a scorpion bite on your tongue. This one scorpion bite will give you a kick, a pretty strong one that will last you maybe 36 hours. The kick will be as good as you get from Heroin shots which will cost you more than ten times what the scorpion bite will cost.”

I was dumbfounded. What harmony with nature! No synthetic drugs here. No Heroin. No Morphine. No Cocaine. A purely natural high! There was no law against keeping scorpions. And no law can stop scorpion from biting.

Making money out of scorpions! This is something I had never seen before. Nor have I since. Talk about innovation!

We had thought of crashing in Arlit, but could not find any place where we could feel our vehicles would be secure. The greatest drawback was that our Benz Jeep had a canvas top, and anyone with a blade could slash it and steal our stuff. So we just ate some lunch and pushed on towards Agadez, a much bigger town. There is a pukka (=tarred) road southwards from Arlit, but on both sides of the road is still stark desert with not a blade of grass or greenery of any kind, and of course, no water. We covered the 260 km to Agadez on the same day, reaching there a few hours after dark.

One of the KiHos was acting up, and after checking into a hotel in Agadez we stayed up almost the whole night repairing it. The problem was with the reed valve but thanks to Mr. Sambomatsu, we had a spare reed which he had procured for us in Algiers. We were able to fix the reed and set the KiHo right. We could move again.

Even though the last of us had gone to sleep after four a.m. and our vehicles were parked in the walled hotel compound with a locked gate and a watchman, our Jeep got burgled between 4:00 am and 6:00 am. We lost a lot of money, some clothes, food, and other things. We thought better not to report to the police because it would mean delay and a lot of Hoo-Ha. So we set off from Agadez about 09:30 the next morning.

By now, we had done two unique things: 0ne, we had crossed the SAHARA on ungeared scooters, the first people in the world to do so; and second, we were the first people to make a telephone call from Agadez to India. Nobody had ever made a call from Agadez to India before. The phone call to Pune cost forty times what a call from Agadez to Timbuktu would cost, but this was one time we didn’t mind paying.

We had thought, having crossed the ‘piste’, the worst was over, but half an hour out of Agadez we were hit by the worst sandstorm and strongest crosswinds we had ever encountered. Visibility fell to less than 10 meters and the heavy shifting winds limited our speed to 15 kph in stretches. A sand drift would suddenly confront us, and it was just luck that we didn’t skid and fall, especially since most of the time we were riding at an inclination of 15 degrees to the vertical. If the surface under our tires had been ‘piste’ instead of tarred road, we would not have been able to cover even an inch of ground that day.

The sandstorm lasted almost till dusk after which it abated, and we were able to hit Birni-n-Konni (about 600 km from Agadez), the border town between Republic of Niger and Nigeria, by 21:00 pm on 10th January 1992.


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