04-Mar-2007 -- We got ourselves into a bit of trouble the first day of our field trip. Our plan for the day was to travel from Niamey to Tahoua, some 400 km to the Northeast, taking the main highway across Niger. We were setting out to document some of the great successes farmers were having in improving their natural environment. We were especially interested in measuring the much increased tree cover on their farmlands. We had aerial and satellite photographs that showed that tree densities were much higher today than in 1975, despite the relatively low rainfall and a much higher human population.
We headed out of Niamey in two 4x4 vehicles. Our Nigerien counterparts included an ecologist, a forester, and a soil scientist from the University of Niamey. It was Sunday, and it was to be a relaxed 6-hour drive to Tahoua. However, two-thirds of the way there, we decided to leave the paved road and follow minor tracks to take a closer look at the diversity of landscapes – from completely degraded land to relatively productive farmland surrounding century-old Hausa villages. I mentioned the Degree Confluence Project and pointed out that there was an unvisited confluence point near our route. Both my American and Nigerien colleagues took great interest in the Project and in the challenge, so we decided to try to capture the Confluence. After all, it was only 10 km east of our sandy track.
At 4 p.m. we left the track and headed directly for the Confluence. The terrain turned out to be incredibly rugged – fields, scrubland, and Mars-like rocky hills. Near the Confluence, deep gullies blocked our way, so we covered the last kilometer by foot. We nailed it – 14N 5E – as the sun was setting. A great capture to be sure, but now we faced nightfall and a long, difficult drive to Tahoua.
With no tracks to follow, I navigated in the dark using Venus in the West and Sirius to the South. Skirting ravines and rocky hills, we finally found a track, then a village, then more villages. Driving through the Hausa villages at night was surreal. They were cloaked in darkness, with only the occasional flicker of an oil lamp. As everywhere, the villagers were helpful, guiding us onward toward Tahoua. Finally we found our way to the city, arriving at our hotel at midnight.
Continued at 14N 6E.