Oct. 2012 trip report
Replies: 11 - Last Post: Mar 14, 2013 8:19 PM Last Post By: ohnoyoko
Nov 25, 2012 2:47 PM
Oct. 2012 trip reportHello. As mentioned in another thread, I went to Chad last month with a group organized by Undiscovered Destinations. The trip was incredible! I'll skip the tout-like raving. Instead, I'm going to touch on a few things to try to bring light to Chad, at least for the English-speaking world. There's a lot of bad info out there, some of which seems to come from this forum. I want to do my best to dispel the bad info.
Be forewarned, this post will ramble a bit. The tone may be a bit uneven. Most importantly (at least for some people), there won't be a ton of useful info for people bent on doing Chad solo. If you want info on how to flag down a lorry and hitch a ride to Aozou, buy a plane ticket and find out for yourself. You probably won't succeed, as formalities are very important in Chad, but feel free to try anyway, at least if you're fluent in French and maybe Arabic. (If you're not fluent in French, go with a group. This is not up for debate. You'll waste everybody's time if you show up and babble in English about needing to get to the Tibesti mountains, or anywhere, really.)
With that said, let us proceed!
The first question most people will probably want to ask: "Is Chad safe?" The answer, with minor qualifications, is YES. Let's get something straight. The on-the-ground operators were SVS Tchad. (Spazi d'Avventura, which LP mentioned in their Chad guide, is the arm that organizes trips for people speaking Italian, French and German. They have an English-speaking guide but I hear his English is rough.) They've been running tours in Chad for ~20 years. Piero (the founder) and Tommaso (his son, and the guide on UD's trek) may know the country better than anybody else in the world, as they travel around the country a lot. Rhetorically speaking, would it be smart for them to send their clients, and themselves, to a certain death? (Granted, I believe at least one of their guides was kidnapped back in the late-90s. He survived, though.) These people are very practical. Niger was their bread & butter for awhile, but then the Tuareg rebellion restarted. Piero then moved the operation to Chad, which had, until then, been a bit of a side trek. That should tell you something right there, along with the fact that, for now at least, they don't run tours in Niger.
Now, is every square inch of Chad safe? Of course not. At least two no-go zones exist.
1)The area north of the Tibesti, near the Libyan border. I'm told Chad's army has cut a deal with drug smugglers that lets them operate north of the Tibesti. (If the smugglers enter the Tibesti or go south, the army will attack them.) It looks like you can make it to Aozou but going any further probably isn't a smart idea. Overland crossings between Chad and Libya aren't possible anyway, AFAIK.
2)If you somehow manage to go east of Abeché, you'll be entering land that is a bit lawless. I'm told this is particularly true around the refugee camps near the Sudan border. So, if you're planning an overland border crossing to or from Sudan, you should probably put those plans on ice.
I'm not aware of any other hotspots, other than perhaps some areas of Zakouma where poachers may roam. Even then, Spazi runs Zakouma tours. (I'd have gone myself had the rainy season not have been ongoing down there.)
Anyway, yes, Chad is safe. There were tolls on paved roads but no military checkpoints (or at least, none on the roads/paths we used). People were a bit surly but typically left us alone, so long as nobody was shoving a camera in their face. (More on that later.) No tiptoeing around landmines. No random gunshots ringing out. No "DEATH TO AMERICA!!!" chants. Our only encounters with the military involved helping them get a stuck pickup truck out of deep sand (man, I wish I could've photographed that!) and them coming by our camp one night in search of two missing soldiers. All was well. Hell, we took a toilet stop somewhere between Abéché and N'Djamena, and some government official (a tourism minister?) in a snazzy suit drove over to greet us! Does any of that sound like a war zone where death is certain? The only potential headache we ran into was that groups are sometimes detained in Abéché for several hours. We weren't detained, but it's really not a good destination unless you have a reason for going there.
I know there was a post here last year regarding somebody getting held up twice. My guess - and yes, this is just a guess - is that the person worked with an NGO. The NGOs send people into the truly sketchy areas. You, as a tourist, have the luxury of picking and choosing where you go. Does that mean you're guaranteed to not get in trouble? Of course not. But, if you play it smart, I believe the chances of getting in real trouble in Chad are reasonably low.
There is no such thing as a photography permit, at least not anymore. If I'm somehow wrong, this is widely ignored, even by the military if they see you carrying an SLR around. (Such a person would include me.) If you go to Chad, be smart if bringing your camera (see below), but don’t be afraid to take photos.
That said, things are far from perfect. Shooting around N'Djamena and other "large" cities (loosely defined), including Abéché, still isn't feasible. Don't even think about photographing sensitive government facilities or officials, including the military. If somebody in military garb indicates that you should stop shooting, stop shooting immediately. (A couple of people did accidentally snap pics of a soldier in Kalait. He said "No photo!" and waved a lot, but nobody got in trouble.)
Again, there was a post here where somebody said a friend landed in jail for a week for taking photos. I can only speculate, but my guess is the person didn't follow the rules above. At "best," this person was just unlucky. At worst, they photographed some angry soldiers or something similar. Maybe things are different if you're by yourself. If you're in a group, though, I can promise you that you'll be able to take loads of photos, even in villages and small towns.
Something else needs to be said about photography. We drove through Kalait twice. Kalait is full of Tubu people, who are notorious for not liking photography. The first time through, we were able to snap a few photos, but most people wouldn't allow it. (A couple of people even became a bit violent!) When we came through again, President Déby had just come through. This meant a large gathering of regional governors and chiefs, not to mention a big public rally/party. At the party, we couldn't take even photos to satisfy those people (most or all of whom were Tubu). It was a total 180. They, and their camels if they were riding them, would intentionally strike very regal poses the moment you looked interested in photographing them. It was quite a sight.
My theory is as follows. The Tubu, among other things, don't like being photographed in their day-to-day lives. They're wearing dirty workman's clothes, they're busy, and they just don’t want to be treated like animals in a zoo or whatever. (How would you feel if some group of people jumped out of a van and started photographing you during your lunch break?) However, if you give them a reason to dress up (and perhaps their camels), they're just as vain as anybody else. Hopefully you'll get lucky and catch these people in such a state! They looked great.
Strictly speaking, I flew into N'Djamena twice, once upon entering the country (via Air France) and once on a Camair flight from Garoua to Douala. (Yes, a domestic flight with an international stop to drop off and pick up passengers. Fun stuff!) I found N'Djamena's airport to be relatively pleasant. It's small, yes, and there are checks here and there, but it doesn't have the feeling of mass chaos that I found in Bangui's airport, nor the bribe-seeking tendencies in Douala's airport. As long as your visa's in order, you should be fine.
For those obsessed with details, such as myself, here are the steps to follow when you arrive.
-Deplane and board a bus that drives you to the arrival hall.
-Fill out the entry card (French-only, although I'm sure there were Arabic cards somewhere).
-Walk over to the non-CEMAC desk. Present your passport, YF cert and entry card to the agent. The only question I was asked was which hotel I'd be staying at that night. After answering, I was good to go. No funny looks for being a tourist or whatever.
-Walk past the desk. Present YF cert to somebody who I assume was a doctor. It’s hard to imagine government officials wearing Winnie the Pooh shirts. ;)
-Present passport to a policeman for inspection.
-Walk to the baggage claim area and get your bag(s) from one of the two carousels. They’re small, so only a few bags are loaded at a time. I waited ~30 min. I get the feeling you could wait upwards of an hour if you’re unlucky.
-Place all bags, including carry-on bags, in an x-ray machine at the end of the arrival hall. Once x-rayed, some bags will be searched. I got lucky and didn’t have my stuff searched.
-Present baggage claim ticket to some random official. If you try walking by, you’ll be stopped.
-Walk through a rotating gate into the main hall.
Due to a land border crossing into Cameroon, I can't comment on what it's like leaving N'Djamena's airport. I hear it's not too bad. When I arrived on the Camair flight, I stayed on the plane. Plenty of soldiers with automatic rifles surrounded the plane, though! I don't know if it was because of the VIPs coming and going on our plane. Oh well.
I did a land crossing from N'Djamena to Cameroon via Kousseri. Three of us arranged a private transfer for 40,000 FCFA, or ~20€/person. (The guy also waited around in case we had problems.) I can't comment on how much it'd cost to take a taxi but I'd imagine you won't get a cheap fare. Taxis are quite expensive in N'Djamena! That's just how it is.
Anyway, the border crossing was a little annoying but it wasn't too bad. The crossing isn't as chaotic or ugly as described in Jeffrey Taylor's Angry Wind (aka The Lost Kingdoms of Africa ). Busy, yes, but I thought it wasn't all that bad. There are a few steps, as described below.
1)Walk to the final building on the right before the bridge. Enter the last door, with a sign saying “Poste Police Frontier Ngueli” above it. (Strictly speaking, Ngueli is the border town, not N’Djamena.) Fill out the exit form and get an exit stamp in your passport. We arrived around 7:45 AM, and this took ~10 min.
2)Leave and go into the door on the right, with a sign saying “Surveillance du Territoire Sit (sp?) Ngueil” above it. (“Sit” is probably incorrect. My handwriting’s awful.) You should fill out another form. I don't recall what exactly was on it, as one member of our expedition received the last blank copy. :) He filled it out. The rest of us just got a second signature on our exit stamp. I suppose you could get asked questions here.
3)Exit and walk away from the water, to the next building. Enter the door with the sign saying “Douanes / Customs” above it. Present your passport. You may be asked questions.
4a)Exit and head over to the far-left side of the bridge, where all pedestrian traffic must go. In all likelihood, you'll run into a policeman who'll want to see your passport. It’s pretty hectic, though, so you might be okay.
4b)I don't know if this was official but, as I was about to enter the walkway, someone asked if I was looking for work in Cameroon. I said no. He left me alone at that point. It was a little weird.
5)When you cross over into Cameroon, you’ll see a building on the left. One of the doors (the one on th far right, I believe) will have a sign over it saying, “Surete Nationale - Poste Emi-Immigration Kousseri”. Enter, present your passport, and prepare to answer simple questions. (The official should speak English.) you’ll get your entry stamp here.
6)Exit, then walk to your right and through the other door. (I don’t recall there being a sign. Customs, perhaps?) Present your passport to the official. We weren’t asked any questions and didn’t have our stuff searched.)
That's it. The entire process took us about an hour starting at 8 AM on a Sunday. It's not fast but it could be a lot worse. Bring something to keep you cool, and keep your cool.
Okay. As somebody who traveled with a group, keep in mind that there may have been certain formalities I never knew about. All info provided here is given with the understanding that it could be incomplete. I take no responsibility if you follow my advice end up in jail and/or deported, or if your hair falls out, or if a swarm of locusts descends upon you when your firstborn is delivered. Visit Chad at your own risk, at least if you're traveling solo. Also, I can't help regarding the south of the country, which may be a totally different experience.
Anyway, everybody who visits Chad does need to register with the police within three days of arrival in Chad. (This fact is stamped in alongside your entry stamp.) In practice, this means virtually everybody will do it in N'Djamena. As of this posting, the info at Chad Now is partially correct. You only need two passport-sized photos, although you should bring more just to be safe. They'll be attached to two separate forms that you must fill out. (Strangely enough, the forms ask for the same info but are on sheets of paper with different sizes and different designs.) The forms ask for a mix of passport/visa-related info and some personal information, such as your profession and your religion. If you're atheist/agnostic, fear not. Several people put down "None" for religion and had no problems. The registration should be good for the life of your passport.
If you're registering on your own, try to get to the police station as early as possible. (I think they open at 8 AM. I could be wrong.) I'm told the process can take awhile, and the station's usually busy. It can't take too long, though. The twelve of us had our passports back around 9:15 AM, complete with a ½-page stamp ("Vu et enregistré le DD-MM-YYYY") in our passports.
Here's the biggest reason why solo travelers will have trouble getting around the country. At various towns in and around the Sahara, there are regional officials who require you, or some representative, to come by and go through some formalities. I don't know the exact details; all I know is what little I've been told. The process is very painful if the officials don't know you or your rep. The process can take hours, or even days. This is where tour groups come in handy. The officials will know the tour leaders and will (hopefully) make the process a lot smoother thanks to the personal relations. With our group, between formalities, shopping for supplies, obtaining gas and fuel, and walking around the markets, I don’t think we ever stopped longer than 90 min.
How will this work if you're sitting on top of a truck destined for Oubinaga Kebir or Aozou? I don't know. As I said earlier, go find out for yourself and report back here. ;)
That being said, it's pretty easy to get around a large portion of the country. For example, between N'Djamena and Abeché, we only had to deal with a few (3-4?) toll barriers. Pay the toll, collect your ticket, and move on. No police checkpoints or anything like that. In fact, not once did we encounter a police/military checkpoint. Some soldiers came by our camp one night but that was because they were looking for a couple of lost soldiers. Other than that and helping one of their pickup trucks get out of some deep sand (not required, but we wanted to be nice), we never dealt with the military. This was a nice contrast to Cameroon, where there are plenty of gendarmerie around Douala who will be happy to hold you up and cause problems.
There are several paved roads in the country, although the conditions can be a bit rough here and there. The two we traveled on the road between N'Djamena and Moussoro (or maybe Massaguet???), and the mostly paved road between N'Djamena and Abéché. The latter's not finished yet but the Chinese are working on it. (I'm told it's a gift to thank Chad for selling China oil.) Maybe it'll be complete next year? In the meantime, several portions around Abéché are still packed dirt.
Be careful when driving, especially around N'Djamena. Drivers aren't particularly courteous, and you also have to deal with roaming livestock and people. We came upon a fresh accident when leaving N'Djamena. A guy on a motorcycle was hit by a taxi. The motorcyclist looked dazed but okay, thankfully, but it could've been far worse. Another truck completely lost a tire, causing the wheel to grind into the pavement before the truck stopped. A few overloaded bush taxis were spotted too. At least traffic is virtually non-existent once you get relatively far away from N’Djamena.
1)I’m told it takes ~6 weeks for mail to arrive. I had the crew send some postcards for me and budgeted 485 FCFA for the stamps. (485 FCFA was what they costed in the Central African Republic last year.) It’s been almost three weeks, and none have arrived yet. I’ll post here if any postcards arrive.
2)Upon re-entering the United States, the TSA official who read my re-entry card wasn't happy that I went to Chad. That, and a cowrie necklace I was wearing (!), caused her to clack away on her keyboard. I wasn't taken aside for further questioning but I was marked for extra screening by Customs. (In the end, they were about to search my bags but suddenly let me go after the agents huddled and talked for a minute.) I'll be curious to see if "SSSS" is printed on my next boarding pass. Oh well.
Hope this helps! If you have any questions, let me know.
Nov 25, 2012 3:00 PM
Nov 25, 2012 3:08 PM
2Oh, and I forgot a few money-related items. (Alas, now that somebody has posted, I can't seem to edit the OP. Oh well.)
-Outside of a bank, I'm not sure where one's best served when trying to exchange currency. That said, if you can afford a night at Le Meridien, they'll exchange currency. Euros are best, as you'll get 655 FCFA per Euro. (The peg is near 656 FCFA, so this is a great rate.) They'll also take US dollars and UK pounds. A sign posted on the wall will tell you the exchange rate for all three currencies. When I went, it was 470 FCFA per dollar and 720 FCFA per pound.
-Try to spend your coins in N'Djamena. I think everyone who tried to use coins outside the capital kept getting rejected. I'm not sure why. You might be able to spend them in larger cities, but probably not in outpost towns and the like.
-In general, people in Chad don't seem too keen to haggle. Whenever we bought stuff, we were quoted a price, and that was that.
Nov 25, 2012 11:00 PM
Dec 5, 2012 1:44 PM
Dec 8, 2012 8:28 PM
5Hello everybody. I hope this will be the final post where I add information unilaterally. Sorry! I probably should've sat on my original post a bit longer. I'm just eager to share. :) So anyway, here you go.
I just wanted to clarify one point from an earlier post. I said that Le Meridien would exchange US Dollars and UK Pounds. This is true, but it’s important to point out that the rate won’t be great. For example, when I went, the exchange rate was roughly 505 FCFA to the dollar, while the hotel was exchanging at 470 FCFA per dollar. I’m guessing the real excahnge of the UK pound was somewhere around 800 FCFA per pound, whereas the hotel was exchanging at 720 FCFA. If you can help it, you’re probably best off exchanging your money into Euros before going over. If the post by Hollychad is accurate, perhaps the Grand Market is your best bet for all currencies. Knowing French will help but I’m sure somebody will have a calculator that can be used for negotiations.
On a related note, if you’re transiting via Paris, you might be best off just hanging onto whichever currency you have. I don’t know when it happened but it looks like all the ATMs, at least in Terminals 2E and 2F, have been replaced with those awful Travelex ATMs. You’ll get ripped off when you use Travelex’s ATMs or their in-person service. If you have the time and don’t mind going through security and immigration both ways - yes, it’s very annoying - you should exit out towards the trains. As of last December, there were some HSBC ATMs there that offer decent rates (although the transaction fees partially offset that). I hope they’re still there. If they are, consider using them.
Earlier, I said the border with Sudan was still a no-go region. I've done a little more research. This may not be completely true. It sounds like there are border crossings that are open. That said, I'd be very, very careful when trying to make the crossing. First, banditry does still happen out that way, from what I've heard. Second, both Chad and Sudan place an emphasis on travel permits, formalities when entering various areas, etc. In all likelihood, you'll need local assistance in both countries in order to smooth things over with the authorities. Such assistance is possible, I'm sure, but I have no clue how you'd pull it off. Third, I have no clue where these supposed border crossings exist. :) You'll just have to get a map and figure it out for yourself. Once again, unless you're fluent in French and, in all likelihood, Arabic, don't even think about trying this on your own.
Chad does have post offices in the larger towns. I have a photo of the post office in Kalait to prove it. :) Granted, I'd be wary about sending anything from any place other than N'Djamena. I think the post offices will just pay truck drivers, missionaries, etc. to haul mail to the next town. Even if you get your mail, it'll probably take a very long time to arrive. EMS should also be available at the post office, although I don’t know how effective it is outside N’Djamena.
Postcards from Chad are just starting to arrive at their destinations. Looks like it takes 3-4 weeks for mail to arrive. Overseas postcards are 450 FCFA. FYI, I didn't see a single postcard for sale in the entire country, even at the hotels. Plan on bringing your own. Due to time constraints, I had to give the postcards and some money to a crew member, so I can’t describe how one goes about mailing stuff at the post office.
If you must send or receive something at all costs, DHL, FedEx, and UPS all operate in Chad. Based off what I read online just now, FedEx operates only in N'Djamena. DHL operates in N'Djamena, Sarh, and Moundou. UPS apparently operates in dozens of towns & cities, but be prepared to pay a lot of money and wait several days depending on where the package is going or where it's originating.
Contrary to what one might think, cell phone service is relatively widespread in Chad, even deep in the Sahara. You'll see some cell phone towers when driving around out there. Granted, service will be spotty, and most of the towers will be near outpost towns. Still, it's better than nothing. Several people in my group made at least one call while in the Sahara. They sometimes had to stand in certain areas to get reception, and sound quality might not have been the best, but the calls worked.
Internet access appears to be very difficult to find outside N'Djamena. I saw a flashing "INTERNET" sign at a shop in Abéché but I don't know if the owner actually had a connection. You might have some luck if you have a mobile data account and can use the cell towers, although the speed will probably be very slow.
I stayed at two hotels in N'Djamena. The first was Le Meridien, which everybody knows about. It is indeed overpriced. Rooms aren't much better than what one would find at Motel 6 (US-based chain of cheap motels). At least the breakfast buffet is pretty expansive (and expensive, at 12,000 FCFA, I believe) and the exchange rate for Euros is unbeatable. They also spray the area for bugs. If you wake up early enough and walk outside, there will literally be a thin layer of bugs all over the walkway. When somebody comes to sweep them up, they create an impressive pile of bugs! Such are the joys of staying next to the river. Anyway, I think they offer Wi-Fi but they may charge for it. Drinks at the bar feature Western prices, albeit on the lower end of the scale (i.e., they're not quite as expensive as New York, Boston, etc.).
The second hotel was Le Sahel. I was told that it wouldn't be that great. Frankly, I really liked it! Nothing special, but my room had a shower with plenty of hot water, an air conditioner that worked (and even if it didn't, there was a huge overhead fan), a comfy bed, a calm atmosphere, a TV that sort of worked, no bugs (at least in early November), free laundry if I had stayed 5 or more days, and even a small fridge for drinks I bought outside the hotel. What more do you need, other than perhaps Internet access (which, sadly, isn't offered)? The posted price was 55,000 FCFA for singles but my rate ended up being 45,000 FCFA for one night. They definitely offered way more bang for the buck than Le Meridien.
That said, I don't think you can book Le Sahel online, and I don't know if any bookings will satisfy officials when trying to get a visa. You may want to book one night online at Le Meridien or Hotel Kempinski - I think it's safe to say Novotel should be avoided if possible - and then book at Le Sahel when you arrive or beforehand via alternate means (e.g., e-mail or phone). The location on Google Maps seems to be accurate, although I can't say that with absolute certainty.
Outside N'Djamena, I'd be very surprised if there are any hotels. There might be some guesthouses, and maybe even a hotel or two in places like Sarh, but hotels just don't seem like a priority in Chad, even in N'Djamena. If you're planning to leave N'Djamena, plan to do a lot of camping. As long as you find a space sufficiently far from the road/trail/piste and perhaps hidden from sight, you'll be fine. (Keep in mind that the lack of manmade light means any fires or manmade light you create will be seen several miles away!) Once again, we never encountered bandits. Most nights, you heard no traffic at all, especially if you weren't near a trading outpost. Group members were genuinely surprised to hear a single truck humming along in the background!
If you plan to wander around the countryside by yourself, you'd damn well better have a plan for food and water. Import any comfort foods/condiments, always stock up in the market towns, and have tools to prepare what you buy. Bottled water's available everywhere but you're probably best off bringing Micropur tablets or something similar and just drinking treated water, if only due to space issues. Water can also be obtained from wells and various buildings/military outposts/donkeys/whatever. How do you deal with the locals so that they'll actually give/sell you water? No clue!
Due to people in the Sahel and Sahara (and maybe everywhere other than N'Djamena???) not liking coins, prices essentially break down to whichever FCFA bills exist. So, a 1 1/2 L bottled water will cost 500 FCFA, a 500 mL bottled soda will cost 500 FCFA, several small packages of tissues together will cost 500 FCFA, etc.
Don't count on drinks being cold! If you must have a cold drink, you're best off leaving it outside overnight and hoping the air will be cool enough to chill it. Needless to say, even if you somehow find a place that can put ice in your drinks, the ice probably won't be treated.
In N'Djamena, some of us had a farewell dinner at Le Carnivore, a restaurant popular with expats and prostitutes. (The latter never bothered us. I suspect they stick to the bar and/or people who actively seek them out.) After two weeks in the desert, I was craving pizza, so I got it. Bad call. Their pizza's not very good. Stick to the meat-centric dishes, which I hear are pretty good. Like Le Sahel, I don't know the exact location, but Google Maps appears to be accurate.
For the record, the flatbread was fresh and tasty throughout the country. No complaints about the meat either, although you'll want to inspect the meat first if you're buying it personally.
I didn't walk around N'Djamena a lot for various reasons. I did walk a couple of blocks at night at one point to go to Le Carnivore from Le Sahel. That was fine. Would I want to go on long walks in the city at night? Probably not, more out of fear of suspicious policemen/soldiers than muggers. A cab would be a much safer alternative.
Out in the desert, you're free to walk as you see fit. Just keep an eye out for scorpions, sand vipers, and swarms of ants! I woke up one morning and found a scorpion camped outside my tent. Not fun. Anyway, a UV (blacklight) headlamp is probably your best bet. Scorpions will show up much more easily with a UV flashlight. Sand vipers...well, you'll just have to keep an eye out.
---MEDICAL ISSUES & INSURANCE---
I know people who travel overseas are always told to make sure their medical insurance will work if they go overseas. I normally ignore that. (My choice, and I'm not here to start a debate, so move on if you want to debate.) In Chad, I realized that perhaps international insurance is a good idea. I got sick out in the Sahara, and it lasted for awhile, with the peak around the point where we were furthest away from N'Djamena (and anything remotely close to modern civilization, really). Nothing too serious, but it did drain me and make the trip somewhat less enjoyable. If I had fallen seriously ill, or if I had been stung or bitten by something venomous, I'd have been in a world of hurt. Keep in mind that, outside N'Djamena, you really can't count on any sort of medical facilities being available. (Even in N'Djamena, they're pretty limited.) Any facilities you find in the Sahel/Sahara will be extremely rudimentary at best. You do the math. In cases like these, not only should you have appropriate insurance, but you should consider medical evacuation insurance.
Looking back, I'd have preferred paying US$500 or whatever and not having to worry whether or not I'd get stuck with an astronomical bill if I'd needed an evac to N'Djamena and then on to the closest place with decent facilities. The only other alternative would've been a 4-5 day drive over horrible roads in order to get to N'Djamena, where insurance would've mattered anyway and an evac may still have been necessary. I'm not trying to scare anybody or tell anybody to stay away. I'm just saying you should stop and think about this if you're planning to travel so far off the beaten path. Don't count on things like anti-venom to save you. (We had three doses with us.) They may or may not work depending on the exact type of venom in your system.
wild speculation alert Finally, regarding mosquitoes, I didn't encounter any in Chad. They're definitely not in the Sahara and probably not in the Sahel either, at least during the dry season. (We went right as the dry season was starting.) I'd imagine they stick more to the south of the country. Maybe N'Djamena too, which does have quite a few bugs. I recommend bringing malaria meds to be safe but I think you'll be okay so long as you minimize your time in N'Djamena and/or the south. end wild speculation
---DRESS / APPEARANCE---
Casual dress seems to be tolerated in most places if you're Western. One guy in the group wore shorts on occasion. (I wouldn't do that, but no locals complained.) A couple of the women sometimes wore stuff that was a little low-cut and/or form-fitting, and they had no problems either. T-shirts were fine so long as they weren't vulgar. I'm not saying it's okay to dress like a femme fatale or wear Speedos or anything like that. Just use common sense and you'll be fine. Chad isn't Saudi Arabia! The local Muslims seem devout but also seem practical, what with many of them having not converted until relatively recently and having blended local beliefs with Islam.
I noticed that Tommaso, the tour guide, had a couple of visible tattoos. No locals gave him grief about it. So, don't feel obligated to cover your ink if you have it. (Well, if you've got a naked Bettie Page look-a-like on an arm....)
You can purchase alcohol (spirits, beer and wine) in N'Djamena, both at stores and in hotels and restaurants. Selection will be limited and will probably be limited to lower-shelf alcohol. Outside the capital, you'll have a tough time finding alcohol, especially in the Sahel and Sahara. (The Christian/animist south may be different. I can't confirm.) It is possible but you'll be taking a risk of getting bootlegged alcohol, or stuff that's okay to drink but just tastes awful. You're best off buying whatever you need in N'Djamena or bringing it from elsewhere.
Beer selection appears to be pretty limited in N'Djamena. I only saw Castel, never Mocaf. Western-oriented restaurants should have a few more brands.
I never confirmed but I believe you're allowed to bring up to 2 L of spirits into Chad duty-free. Get just 1 L if you want to play it safe. I can't comment at all on any other customs restrictions.
Electricity seems to be readily available in N'Djamena, although there are occasional outages. Don't count on an uninterrupted supply unless you've arranged to use a generator 24/7. Outside N'Djamena, you'll have to wing it. That said, some of the outpost towns did have solar panels that I presume were put in place by an NGO. Plan to be self-sufficient if you can (e.g., bring DC chargers for your camera batteries) but you may be pleasantly surprised if you're lucky.
From what little I saw in N'Djamena, I got the impression that public transit's not very common. Are there buses? Probably, but you'll need a local to teach you how to get around. Minibuses seem a lot more common. I think there are even marked minibus dropoff/pickup points. I suppose you shout out your destination and pay the driver an appropriate amount of money. I've also supposed many things that were incorrect. ;) Go and see for yourself.
While driving around the country, we saw a teeny tiny handful of buses. They were all Chinese-made and seemed pretty new, indicating once again the growing Chinese influence in the country. The only ones I recall were seen between N'Djamena and Abéché. I don't know anything about how one catches these buses, where exactly they're going, what they do during the night (the route takes two days if you stop and camp overnight), etc. I wouldn't count on these buses running anywhere other than between N'Djamena and perhaps Abéché, Sarh, and Moundou. Any other destinations would be a pleasant surprise.
wild speculation alert In my original post, I mentioned Aozou. Looking at the map again, I may have misspoke about it being safe to go there. It is north of the Tibesti, meaning drug runners and other sundry types may be running around. Looking at my map and at Spazi’s planned Tibesti itinerary, it looks like Zouar may be about as far as one can go right now.
Despite that, for now, Chad seems like a stable travel destination. The Tuaregs who were working for Gaddafi have no roots in Chad, so they went to Niger and Mali. Déby may not be popular - it's impossible to tell how locals really feel - but I didn't get the impression that any sort of revolution was in the making. The authorities, from what I hear, keep a close eye on who invests money in schools and such, not to mention who's running around in the desert. With Bashir no longer funding Chadian rebels (and Déby, in turn, not funding Darfurian rebels), no potential rebels seem to have traction. I'd gladly recommend a visit to anybody interested in seeing a spectactular country few in the Western world, much less the English-speaking world, have seen.
The only possible issue I can think of is that Islamists could try to stir up trouble if Chad sends soldiers to northern Mali. Even then, I suspect the Islamists would have virtually no local support. Chadian tribes tend to be distrustful of outsiders, and the Christian southerners probably won't want anything to do with Islamist whackos. Other than the potential for Islamist outsiders causing problems, things seem very quiet at the moment. end wild speculation
I’ll include a few thoughts here on how SVS Tchad’s trips work. This should give you an idea of what to expect should you decide to travel with them, via Undiscovered or Spazi or whomever.
When you arrive at the airport, a guide will meet you once you enter the main hall. You’ll then be driven to a hotel for the night, where you’ll fill out the police registration forms and leave them, the passport pics, and your passport with a helper overnight.
The next morning, you should get your passport back by 9-9:30 AM. Along the way, your large bag will be weighed and placed on top of one of the Land Cruisers. (There seems to be a formula that determines how much weight will go where. Please respect all requests made by the crew.) This means your bag will get dusty and will get pounded by the sun, although foam mattresses will be placed over the gear to dissipate some of the heat. You can keep a carry-on bag with you in the 4x4. Please take anything you’ll need (camera equipment, meds, books, etc.). Anything strapped to the top won’t be accessible until you arrive at the campsite.
FYI, the crew should consist of something like the following: 4 drivers (1 of whom will be a mechanic, and another of whom will be the guide), a cook, and a general assistant. Everybody was very professional on our trip. It's doubtful any of them will speak more than a few words of English. Even if you know French, don't count on getting to know them very well. For example, it's a bit rude to ask Chadians about one's family beyond general "How is everybody?"-like pleasantries. That said, they were all nice enough people who worked really hard.
The Land Cruisers range in age, and are all probably secondhand, but all are well-maintained. (Toyotas are common in central Africa. This makes it easier to get parts.) Lots of spare parts are brought along on trips. I suppose you’ll be in trouble if, say, the transmission blows. But, for things like flat tires and other minor issues, everything will be fine. A satellite phone will also be available in case of emergencies. The only real bummer is that the crew won't use air conditioning. LCs are tough vehicles but the drives are just as tough. Gas also needs to be conserved. (Jerry cans are filled along the way but only so much gas can be lugged around.) So, you’ll need to rely on open windows and drinks to keep cool out there.
We always traveled in a pack, with the lead 4x4s waiting or turning around if they notice that 4x4s in the back are nowhere to be seen (hey, those dustclouds are big and thick!) or if there’s a problem. This is critical. You don’t want to get lost out there! The crew also has a GPS unit, although this won’t necessarily be in the lead vehicle.
Most of your daylight hours will be preoccupied by the drive. If you can’t entertain yourself by talking with your fellow passengers, or observing the landscapes, or reading a book (writing’s out due to the bumpiness), you’ll be bored to death out there.
Sunrises are around 5:15 AM. Once you're out and about, breakfast starts around 6-6:30 AM and ends around 7 AM, at which point you'll go for a short walk while the crew makes final preparations. Driving should start around 7:30 AM, at which point the day's heat will already be picking up steam. The lunch break will be around noon, usually in a shady spot. If a shady spot can't be found, the 4x4s will form a loose square, and the crew will do their best to rig up some shading from the roofs. Driving typically starts again around 2 PM (sometimes earlier), with driving ending around 5 PM. Dinner's served around 7-7:30 PM. After dinner, you're on your own. Hang out, read a book, do some writing, sleep, whatever.
Lunch breaks range from 45 minutes to 2 hours. It depends on how much driving remains to be done that day, whether or not any work needs to be done on the 4x4s, etc. Sometimes, you’ll just sit around and want to take a nap. Sometimes, you’ll get a chance to see nomads drawing water from a well, or see 3500 year old cave paintings that surround you, or see other cool stuff.
Camps are made no later than 5-5:15 PM, with the sun setting around 5:45-6 PM. The crew drives around until they find an appropriate space that’s reasonably flat, not covered by spiky grass or other undesirable things, and is reasonably secluded. Tents are easy to set up. Foam mattresses are available but you may want to bring an air mattress if you’re a germophobe. (The foam mattresses are shared by everybody.) You’ll need your own sleeping bag/sheet, pillow, and anything else you desire. If you intend to share a tent with anybody, keep in mind that the tents are relatively small. I recommend you get two tents, with one for sleeping together and one for storing your collective gear. The tents have flies that you probably won’t need at first but may want to put on when going to bed. Once you get out into the mountains, nights will get pretty cool, possibly even a bit cold. You may find yourself going to sleep using just a sheet, then switching to a sleeping bag when you wake up shivering.
On my trip, the tents were reasonably nice. They were used, yes, but none had huge holes or other major issues. Don’t expect luxury, but don’t expect ratty junk either. (That said, I presume the tents get a bit ratty as the dry season progresses and more wear-and-tear sets in.)
Out in the desert, the world is your toilet. Try to be courteous, but understand that you’ll almost inevitably see people doing their business and vice versa. If you’re painfully modest, you’re going to have major problems out there.
The crew recommends burning your toilet paper, as the dry air means the toilet paper won’t break down easily. At least one person on the trip would just put their paper in a Ziploc bag and then throw it away at the campsite. In retrospect, I think the latter may be preferable. Sometimes, it’s really windy out there, making it difficult to keep TP from flying away. Sometimes, TP just won’t burn. Sometimes in the Sahel, you’ll be in an area with a lot of dry brush, making for a fire hazard if you burn anything. (Somebody who shall remain nameless - and forever ashamed of his foolishness - did start a brush fire at one point. The crew immediately ran over and helped put it out.) Just tossing your TP in a bag and then tossing it away at the campsite is probably the best idea.
When packing, bring plenty of TP! If you get sick, like I did, you could easily use it all up. I recommend bringing at least one roll, but you should tear it off in large clumps that are then folded and placed in Ziploc bags. It’s much more compact and handy than just carrying a roll around.
If you’re taking using electronics, either bring lots of batteries, or bring DC-powered battery chargers, or both. I had to charge camera batteries six times while out there, and could’ve charged more had I not gotten sick and started taking fewer pics. Don’t always count on vehicles having functioning cigarette lighters (i.e., DC power outlets). One of ours didn’t, and another was always used by a GPS unit. That left two functioning outlets.
---MAPS / BOOKS---
If you're curious, the crew used the IGN map mentioned in the LP guide. (I wish I had brought mine on the trip! I could've highlighted the path as we went.) It is true that the map doesn't seem to have been updated in many years, other than a new cover and new typeset and such. For example, Oum Chalouba is still listed on the map, despite the village having been abandoned in the 70s/80s due to the war with Libya and the underground water source running out. (OC now consists of nothing but a few abandoned buildings and military vehicles. I don't think people are allowed to wander around out there.) The people moved a few miles east to a ramshackle village called Kalait. I know of no map that includes Kalait. I’d imagine other villages on the map are now gone, and new ones have sprung up, and so on.
If you're looking for a recent book on Chad with info (albeit in French) and lots of photos, the book "Le Tchad Aujourd'hui" (Les Editions du Jaguar) should work. I have a copy and have been looking through it. My French isn't particularly good but I can usually pick out enough words to get an idea of what's being written. The book was published in 2010 and, as best I can tell, has plenty of up-to-date info. The pics are lovely too. Even if you can't read a word of French, this might be worthwhile just to get an idea of just how beautiful the country can be!
Unfortunately, I know of no decent English-language books that really cover Chad. “China Safari” dedicates a few pages to China’s connections to Chad - and they’re good pages - but even that book was translated from another language (French). If you want to read up beforehand on modern-day Chad, you’re best off learning how to read French.
---ALTERNATIVE TOUR OPERATORS---
Tchad Evasion is mentioned in LP's guide. You’ll even see a few of their stickers in the outpost towns. What little I've read elsewhere online makes them sound overpriced and underprepared. What I heard on the trip backed that up. For example, I'm told Tchad Evasion's tours feature drivers who just wander at will and arrive at the campsite when they arrive, with vehicles getting lost, showing up hours later than the others, and even overturning. Is this true? Is this SVS Tchad's crew badmouthing the competition? I don't know. Once again, feel free to book your own trip and report back here. Tchad Evasion might be more flexible with smaller groups but I do know that SVS Tchad can also handle smaller groups. For example, that North Face video shot in the Ennedi was organized by SVS Tchad.
Depending on where you go, you may encounter abandoned tanks, mostly T72s the Russians sold to Libya. It should be okay to get out and climb on the tanks, even though they appear to still have live ammo in them. Just follow the directions of your guide if you have one. Landmines are out there and can still go off.
Unless you happen to bump into another SVS Tchad group, as happened to us in Kalait, you're virtually guaranteed to not see any other tourists while in Chad. If you're looking to get away from the masses, you can't get much further away than in Chad!
I think that covers all the logistical stuff I have to say. I hope somebody out there finds it all useful!
Dec 14, 2012 6:34 PM
Dec 17, 2012 8:15 PM
Dec 18, 2012 6:48 AM
Jan 18, 2013 4:24 PM
9Very helpful post - as a frequently-solo traveller, I especially appreciated your explanation as to why Chad isn't ideal for that (rather than just a throwaway comment about it being unsuitable for solo travel or something)
Jan 18, 2013 4:34 PM
10I was also looking for your original post to add the info below - as I recall, before TT forums were disabled for a time - you had mentioned the visa process in the US. The website seems to have gone out of service since you got your visa, and I found that many sites had an outdated address/phone # - it looks like the embassy moved at some point in the last few years. I wanted to post the address and phone that were successful for me at the time of this writing (January 2013) - my apologies if this is covered in your post:
Embassy of Chad
2401 Massachusetts Avenue Northwest Washington, District of Columbia 20008
In calling to request the visa application and info, the phone was answered promptly (not always the case for embassies in my experience) and the helpful lady who answered emailed me the visa application info that evening. As in your experience, they turned it around in just a day, even though I had not paid for expedited service, and even emailed me to let me know it was en route.
Mar 14, 2013 8:19 PM
11Hello. Just wanted to add a couple of links to posts by Romanian_Bat, which will be much more useful for those of you looking for info on how to get around Chad. The links are below, along with specific revisions I wish to make to things I wrote above.
Original post by Romanian_Bat
Post by josephescu, who accompanied RB on the trip
Blog entry by RB with more detailed info on Chad and CAR
My notes on U.S. visas and such
-I said the area north of the Tibesti is a no-go zone. This isn't exactly true. There is some sort of official border crossing between Libya and Chad if you're determined enough. Such a crossing wouldn't be easy, though, and I think the crossing's closed as of Dec. 2012 anyway.
-Passport registration is possible outside N'Djamena. It sounds like the amount of time you have to register varies on where you enter, though. It's 72 hours in N'Djamena. When crossing from CAR, RB was given 24 hours to register in Moundou or N'Djamena.
-RB's details regarding paperwork are probably accurate, if my experience in CAR is any indication. Paperwork is very important in that part of the world, no matter how you cut it. I can also see how taxes and fees could be played fast and loose out there. If you're going solo, I hope your negotiating skills are good! Patience will also be a virtue. In any event, the important things to remember are that, technically speaking, you'll need an Autorisation de Circuler if you want to be outside N'Djamena, along with a registered passport. There are various formalities if you want to wander around in the north, too. For those, you'll just have to show up and negotiate with the appropriate authorities. (If you're in a group, all that you personally need to worry about is a registered passport.)
-RB indicated that, contrary to what I wrote, photography permits still exist. I'm glad RB figured out how to get one. I'm just not convinced that one really needs such a permit, other than perhaps as a souvenir. It might be useful if you're on your own and don't have somebody who can smooth things out. Otherwise, if you're in a tour group (and several people reading this undoubtedly would require a tour group), I'm sure you'll have no problems so long as you respect the locals and don't photograph anything related to the government or military.
Thanks for reading!
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