Towards the end of last year, Will Jones helped host Conde Nast Traveler in Chad‘s Ennedi Plateau. Not ever having the opportunity to visit himself, it was a dream come true, and so stimulating as to persuade him to report on the experience live. Here, we republish the field notes that ended up on the JbD Instagram feed. It was, clearly, quite the trip.
And so the adventure begins. A long-awaited ambition to visit the soul of the Ennedi Plateau in northeastern Chad. Hosted and guided by brothers Rocco and Tommaso Ravà of SVS Chad, we are on a mission to better understand this haunting and deceptively beautiful desert landscape. We are travelling with celebrated writer Aminatta Forna, and the exemplary photographer and friend Alistair Taylor-Young. What treasures await?
A full day to Guelta de Bachiguele, a permanent water source for the desert nomads of the Tubu, Zaghawa and Bedeyat peoples. We walked down the stream backed by steep red sandstone walls dotted with rock-splitting figs. Camels waded across metre-deep streams fed by recent good rains and freshwater springs. An air of contentment in an otherwise harsh but beautiful landscape.’
We awoke to the sound of camels. The light in Warda glows orange on the sandstone walls. Today we visit the d’Oyo, a labyrinth of sandstone pinnacles and sand paths. Falcons perched on ledges. My highlight was a three-hour walk down a hidden valley to access Guelta d’Archei. Probably the most iconic setting of the Ennedi where herders bring their camel to drink water — although not today given the healthy rain across the region. We were blessed to see such a crocodile — only one of four left in the Ennedi. And then lunch in the shade of a tree.
Moving day. Bags packed early and five Land Cruisers loaded and rolled out with all for the next phase of the adventure. 162km north west and six hours of desert driving later, we arrive in Onua for our first fly camp night in the dunes overlooking the vast expanses to the west. The scale of the seamless unfenced landscape is boggling. I can’t remember the last time I felt this free and unstructured. At 50,000 sq km, the Ennedi is hard to encapsulate in one’s mind and we will cover only five per cent of it in six days. Lots of stripped hyena tracks. A few late-night drinks and laughs with the team.
A rare moment. Father Piero Ravà with his two sons in the desert. Time to say goodbye to an exceptional journey. The road was tough. Things weren’t always easy. This is exactly as it should be — like every great journey ever worth taking. Truth is, if a journey is easy, it probably isn’t worth the taking; and if it’s worth it, it probably isn’t easy. Chad wasn’t always easy, but it was worth it: it was a privilege to see so bewitching and beautiful a desert and on such a scale. I’d be confident that were I to return in 30 years, the only thing that would have changed, would be me. That is rare.
Thank you SVS Chad for sharing this specialist world of yours. Original character exists in the margins and deep in the niches. Stay strong, my friends, to your original ways.
If Will Jones’s field notes have tickled your travelling fancy, please do get in touch with either Will, Kyle de Nobrega, or Squack Evans. While Ennedi in and of itself is worth the trip alone, it combines very well with Chad’s Zakouma National Park.