Across the Sahara Desert on Kinetic Honda scooter. Chapter 7

User Rating:  / 1

Kidnapped in the Sahara desert!

So early morning on the last day of the last week of the last month of last year, i.e., 31st December 1991, saw us heading into the Great South.

To complete the paperwork and formalities at the CHECKPOiNT CHARLiE, there was a long queue of vehicles: mostly trucks and other four wheelers including cars, and a couple of huge 700 cc bikes. We were in the queue for almost two hours, maybe three. I was sitting in the Jeep in the front seat next to the driver writing about the scene. I was the official chronicler of this journey as specified by my boss: Adil Jal Darukhanawala.

Two of our guys were in front of the Jeep on their KiHos. The north Algerians whom our group had met yesterday while buying foodstuff were in front of the KiHos. There were four of them in two cars. Two of them were in a Puegeuot 504 and two were in a Mercedes 220, both in station wagon trim, not sedan. Station wagon trim has rectangular rear like the current (2009) Chevrolet Tavera and Toyota Qualis. They have three rows of transverse seats or two rows and empty space. In the desert, in this empty space, there is always a huge 100 liter drum of water.

Our so called “friends” in the 504 and 220 also had a water filled drum each in their cars. The deal with them was that they lead and we follow. As the queue inched along, my team leader who was at the wheel of our Jeep said “Dilip, why don’t you go and sit in their car, so that if we get separated, you can ask them to stop”.

It made sense, so I got down from our jeep, with my notebook in hand, walked to the Puegueot 504 which was in front of the Benz 220 and got into the back seat. Two guys were sitting in the front seats. They looked at me and nodded. There was no talking. I didn’t speak French or Arabic. They didn’t speak English. Conversation was not possible. I myself had never met or seen them before though my other group members had met them yesterday. That is why I was in their car.

There was a huge signboard at the Checkpoint which reads as follows. This is the only signboard in the whole of Algeria which is written both the French and in English.






At the checkpoint we submitted Xerox copies of our passports, filled in the requisite forms and moved on.

About a kilometer from the signboard, the road petered out and the surface on which we were traveling became pure natural desert sand with no road below it. The 504 in which I was, and the 220, were moving really fast – doing sixty plus. Even on the sand Our GD240 could have kept up with the two cars, but the KiHos could not go faster than 20 – 25.

Due to this the KiHos were falling behind and our GD240 Jeep had to stay with the KiHos. The gap between me sitting in the 504 and the KiHos was becoming too large and I was losing sight of them. The continuous sandstorm made visibility very poor.

I addressed the driver of the 504 in which I was sitting: “My friends – my friends” I said, pointing back at the struggling KiHos, motioning him to slow down.

Turning his neck while he continued to drive, the driver glared at me and said, “Hah Hindu” and jerked his hand, motioning me to shut up. Apparently these people had no intention of slowing down or stopping.

While these people understood that I was concerned about getting separated from my friends, they didn’t care and kept going as fast as they could. Conversation was not possible since they didn’t understand a word of my language nor I a word of theirs, except “Hah Hindu” which was their way of saying shut up. In less than an hour I had lost sight of my friends and the KiHos, and at the speed the two cars were moving, there was no chance of the KiHos catching up.

Both the cars the 504 and the 220 were treading sand between 70 and 80 km per hour, going directly south.

I didn’t know what to do. If I had asked them to drop me off where we were right now, they probably would, at least that’s what I thought. But then what? What do I do? Just stand there in the middle of nowhere and hope (against hope?) that my friends would catch up with me? There was ‘Piste’ (sand) as far as eye could see which wasn’t very far – because of the bloody heavy sandstorm. There was no road or direction. Not a single tree or even a blade of grass. What was the chance that my team would catch up with me before dark or even come this way at all? They may not come this way. Even if they passed within 100 meters from me, they would never know where I was nor would I know they were passing by. How long could I survive? If I were to walk, which direction should I walk? How far? How long? Though it was daytime, the sun was invisible because of the sandstorm. All sense of direction was lost.

I was in the middle of nowhere which was actually somewhere, and I could keep going everywhere without reaching anywhere!

NO. Getting dropped off would be suicide. I kept quiet. The journey continued.

About five hours after leaving Tamanghrasset, the 220 had a flat tyre. Both cars stopped. I was sitting in the 504. All four got out of the cars. I also got out. One guy opened the boot (=dicky), dished out a Jack and handle and threw it at me. It was a mechanical screw jack.

“Hah Hindu” he yelled, looking at me and pointing at the flat tyre. It was obvious he wanted me to do the job. It was the rear left tyre of the 220. I put the jack under the rear axle and started turning the handle. As the jack took the load, instead of the car being raised, the jack was going into the sand. It was getting embedded in the sand. This was not going to work. I needed a hard flat board to spread the load. I looked in both the cars, both dickys, but couldn’t find anything suitable.

Meanwhile the four of them were just standing around intently watching me. I looked at them and said, “board – board” and moving my hands to suggest a flat board to keep under the jack. They just shook their head.

What now?

Ah! My notebook! At the checkpoint when I had walked out of our team’s GD240 Jeep to sit in the 504, I had my notebook with me. It was still there where I was sitting.

I opened the 504 and took my notebook. It was pretty thick and had a cardboard cover. I put it under the jack and tried again. Progress was very slow. I think it took almost an hour to get the wheel off the ground.

Anyway I fitted the spare wheel and lowered the car. Tightened all the nuts and put the flat wheel and all the tools in the boot (=dicky) of the 220, which was behind the 504.

None of these four guys lifted as much as a finger to help me in the wheel changing. This is not what I had expected. I had thought they would treat me as their guest. Apparently I was wrong. These guys weren’t even half decent. In fact, I felt they were downright hostile, but why?

The way my team leader had described our team’s interaction with them (I wasn’t with my team when they were shopping for supplies in Tamanghrasset), I had imagined they would be “friendly”, notwithstanding the fact that there could be no communication since we did not speak any common language.

I did not think of this at that time, but today, 22 years later it comes to my mind that their resentment could have been because of my 64 kg body weight. The lighter the vehicle, the lesser it gets stuck in the sand and the faster it can travel. I was slowing them down. I was their 64 kilo problem which they could do without.

As I shut the boot (=dicky) of the 220, the 504 moved off without me. The engine of the 220 started, I felt the gear being shoved. Were they planning to drive off without me?

I grabbed the rear door handle and opened it and barely managed to get in as the 220 moved off. I was convinced they wanted to leave me. I was a useless liability. If they had left me, I wouldn’t have lasted a day. I would just collapse with thirst and hunger. The continuous sandstorm would cover my body, and I would be lost without a trace. My dead body would not even rot, because rotting needs moisture (water) which just does not exist where I was.

It reminded me of Jim Taylor of the AXARA, with whom I had sailed in the Gulf of Thigh Land and the South China Sea SELLiNG HASHiSH IN ViETNAM IN 1973, eighteen years ago. In the Log Book of the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club (RSYC), Jim Taylor and the AXARA are recorded as: LOST AT SEA AND PRESUMED DEAD!

If I died here in the desert, there wouldn’t even be any record. My friends (the rest of the KiHo team from India), if they made it back alive, would go back to India and tell my parents: LOST IN THE DESERT AND PRESUMED DEAD. Story ends. Dilip Bam ends.

The drive across pure sand continued for the rest of the day. These people were definitely experienced. They were moving like they’d done this many times before. We had twice stopped briefly to drink water from the drum. I did not get down from the car I was sitting in. I was afraid they might again try to leave me in the desert. In any case I was sitting in the back seat and could just lean over the backrest and take water from the drum. Other than that we did not stop. Surprising thing, nobody urinated, even though we were drinking much water and temperature was close to zero. I suppose in the dry desert all water we drink goes out thru the skin pores.

On the way I saw dozens of abandoned cars. I wondered who owned them and why were they there? I couldn’t ask the other two guys in the car – language problem!

Sometime before dark we hit In Guezzam. This was the most desolate place I had ever been or seen, but as I found out later, there were much more desolate and more godforsaken places to see.

The cars stopped. Everybody got out of the cars and went to a café named Restaurant Yassine, the only restaurant in sight. I didn’t know what to do nor could I define my status in this group. I just followed them like a dog. They were the only humans I knew and they were my only link to the past and (I thought) my only link to my KiHo group.

They sat at one table. I joined them. They spoke among themselves and said something to the proprietor. He brought four plates of food. Each plate had a mound of boiled rice topped by chunks of meat and poured over by some dark red liquid. The rice I could recognize. The chunks of meat were probably camel and red liquid was probably some concoction made of camel’s blood.

They started eating. No food for me. They were totally ignoring me. One guy finished his food before the others, got up from his seat and addressed me: “Hindu” he said, and motioned me to follow as he walked out of the restaurant. I followed him.

He walked maybe 50 or 100 feet where the last building ended and went behind it. It was almost dark and there was nobody in sight.

He patted my buttocks and motioned his hands to indicate something like “give me”.

Eh? Did he want to fuck me? I had heard of the sexual proclivities of Arabs and their penchant for homosexuality. Indeed I had heard since childhood that Arabs are the greatest homosexuals in the world.

Did he find me attractive? Was I supposed to feel honored or disgusted? I am an absolute heterosexual and never had any homosexual proclivities. I thought this was payback time. After all they had ferried me five hundred kilometers across the most hostile terrain in the world fairly comfortably, and from the way they treated me when the tire went flat earlier in the day, as well as not offering me any food in the restaurant, it was obvious that I was definitely not in the “honored guest” category.

I looked at him and made a hands gesture like: “what?”

He again patted my buttocks. I thought this was it. I started unbuckling my belt so as to take off my pants so that he could get on with the job. I did not have the guts to refuse anything. There were four of them and they were local people. I didn’t know anybody or anything, nor spoke the ling0. I had no choice.

He stopped me and reached for my buttocks. This time he put his hand in my hip pocket and took out my wallet. He took everything out. There were some papers, a couple of hundred Rupee notes (bills) and a few ten Rupee notes.

He neither understood what currency it was nor its value. He threw everything on the ground and walked away. The wind was strong and all my papers and money were flying away. I ran behind the flying papers and managed to get everything back. This took a few minutes.

I walked back to Restaurant Yassine. The four had gone away so had both the cars: the 504 and the 220. I never saw them again. I didn’t know what to do, where to go, who to speak to, if at all anyone understood my language. Like a dumb0 I sat back at the same table on the same chair as I was earlier sitting with the other four. What was I supposed to do?

You are here: Autobiography Across the Sahara Desert on Kinetic Honda scooter. Chapter 7


Follow me on Twitter

We have 16 guests and no members online