I arrived in Niamey, the capital of Niger at 3am after perhaps the most amusing flight of my life.
The fun started at the airport when my flight was called and forty people, mostly women bolted for the entry gate and were pushing and jostling to get on the plane. I waited till last and casually wandered through, only to find a bus waiting on the runway. Last on the bus, first off and first on the plane, haha. Then I watched everyone else board the plane. No line at the bottom of the stairs, just a mass of pushing and shoving to get up the stairs into the plane.
Then they all sat in the wrong seats and it took half an hour for the flight attendants to move them to their correct seats.
Then they put a two year old in the exit row in charge of the emergency door!
Once we landed the same circus occurred in reverse.
The customs and immigration official searched through every page of my passport and eventually looked up and said, “where’s your Visa? ” I said, ” I don’t have one.”
Some other officials arrived wanting to know why I was in Niger. “Tourism”, I said! I could tell by the look on their faces they don’t get that answer very often.
So they confiscated my passport, gave me an address in the city and told me to be there at 9am to answer some more questions.
Passport-less I walked out to the car park and found the local fixer that I’d organised prior to leaving Morocco. That morning I slept in past 9am, had a long breakfast, enjoyed a swim in the motel pool and he returned with my passport and new Niger Visa just after lunch.
Niger is one of the World’s poorest countries, with an average YEARLY workers income of less than $2000. Eighty percent is covered by the Sahara Desert and it has very few resources, poor agricultural land and suffers from poor infrastructure, over population as well as a multitude of other challenges. I’ve been to several very poor countries in the last six months but the situation in Niger is obviously worse than in the others I’ve visited. Niamey is more like a large country town than a city and my first outing was to the markets where I bought a couple of things and then I headed to the museum, which was fairly ordinary.
I wandered around what is surely the saddest and most pathetic zoo on the planet for an hour and decided to head back to the motel.
Keen to see somewhere else, I jumped on a plane and flew to Zinder near the Nigerian border and then to the desert city of Agadez.
I hit the ground running in Agadez and was straight off to the Sunday afternoon animal market on the outskirts of town.
Not long after arriving the city was engulfed in an afternoon dust storm creating some amazing light for photography.
I spent the rest of the afternoon and the following day exploring the city. I’d only been in Agadez two days and it was already one of my favourite African towns.
Ten years ago, before Boko Haram, Agadez was a major tourist town with three direct flights from Paris every week. Today the British Foreign Office warns there is a risk of arrest and deportation for even enquiring about travel to Agadez, given the security situation in the region. Boko Haram have recently launched terrorist attacks in the city and the governor has banned travel outside the city without an army escort. As you can well imagine the tourist infrastructure has all but disapeared.
The World Heritage listed minaret of the Agadez Mosque built in 1515 is the tallest adobe structure in the World.
Being the only tourist in the city and probably the entire country, I was given permission to climb to the top of the minaret. Even my guide had never been inside.
We opened the door and crawled through a hole and into darkness. Luckily I had the light on my phone. Walking and crawling higher I came to the local bat roost and they all decided to depart in my direction. After being wacked in the face by at least a dozen bats, I continued upwards, wiggling through passageways that were not much more than crevices, eventually crawling through a hole into the sunlight. Below is the view from the top.
After three days in the city I decided I wanted to go for a drive north into the desert. I was promptly told it was too dangerous and to forgot it but after some negotiating, hiring three armed soldiers for the day and a Touareg guide, we set off.
We stopped in an area of desert north of town with about two thousand Touareg inhabitants and I was invited to meet the Chief.
The Touareg Chief was Mustapha and I went to his house and we walked around his farm for a while and then sat down in the shade, drank tea and chattered for a couple of hours escaping the afternoon heat.
After my time in Agadez I flew back to Niamey and the next day hired a car and driver. We drove north out of the city to a small riverside village where I hired a pirogue for the day and we spent the day on the Niger River.
The high light was finding an Egyptian Plover on the river bank. One of the world’s avian oddities, it’s the only member of its family in the World and only found in the area of Africa just south of the Sahara.
The boat driver, whose English wasn’t the best noticed I was photographing birds as we went along, so he parked the boat and wanted to take me to a spot where there were “thousands” of birds. “OK”, I said. We walked a kilometer across a swamp and stopped at a huge fruit bat colony! “C’est Bon” he said, “Oui, c’est bon”
After a week in Niger, this morning I flew to Casablanca, Morocco and am writing this while sitting in a street cafe drinking coffee and watching the ocean.
Tonight I’m flying to Chad for ten days, where I’ll head back into the desert and live with the intensely traditional, nomadic Wodaabe tribe for a week during their Gerewol Festival, which very few westerners are privileged to ever see.
My next post will be from N’Djamena in ten days from now.