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Chad - 8 days
The Gerewol Festival
Prices from £2,249
The Gerewol Festival
Prices from £2,249
One of our most pioneering Chad holidays. Each year the semi-nomadic Wodaabe people gather for a week of incredible celebrations known as the Gerewol, a colourful festival that is one of Africa’s most spectacular. Few westerners are privileged to see this, but over the years we have built up excellent local contacts, allowing us to travel to a remote part of Chad to stay with these intensely traditional people, joining them as they congregate for feasting, racing, dancing and finding lovers. The Gerewol is renowned for the way in which young Wodaabe men decorate themselves, donning make up and jewellery and ‘displaying’ to young women in search of a partner - either for life, or something less 'permanent'...! Camping in the Sahel, we stay with the Wodaabe for several days, gaining more than just a fleeting glimpse of their lives but immersing ourselves in a culture that lives very much outside of mainstream society. The Wodaabe adhere to a complex set of traditions that stretch back centuries and across borders, but are in danger of becoming lost in the future; this is a unique opportunity to meet these unique people for a celebration of their culture that will simply take your breath away. Of all our Chad holidays, this is the most exciting for those who are fascinated in the varied ethnography of Africa, and an absolute delight for photographers - as this is essentially an elaborate and archaic beauty contest, the Wodaabe are keen to show themselves off to visitors! Whereas many people have heard of the Gerewol Festival of Niger, immortalised by Michael Palin in his 'Sahara' series, almost no tourists venture this far into Chad and we can expect to have a very intimate experience.
Africa is known for its festivals, but few – if any – can rival the Gerewol.
Day 1 – N’Djamena
Arrive in N’Djamena and transfer to the hotel.
Day 2 – Durbali
We drive to the region of Durbali, through the Sahel, to join the Wodaabe people in their celebration of the Gerewol festival.
Days 3-7 – Gerewol Festival
We spend these days immersing ourselves in the culture of the Wodaabe and witnessing the rituals and ceremonies of the Gerewol festival. This is one of Africa’s most fascinating cultural encounters, unchanged for centuries and with very few traces of modernity. We can expect to see traditional singing and dancing, and perhaps some horse racing.
Day 8 – N’Djamena
We return back to N’Djamena, where day use rooms are available to freshen up. After heading out to a restaurant for a final farewell dinner, transfer to the airport for your onward flight home.
Day 1 – N’Djamena
Arrive in N’Djamena and transfer to the hotel. Depending on when you arrive there may be time to explore, or you can simply relax at the hotel and prepare for your adventure. Overnight Hotel Mercure or similar.
Formerly known as Fort Lamy, Chad’s capital sits on the banks of the Chari River facing Cameroon and is the largest city in the country. Founded by the French at the turn of the 20th century, it has grown from a town with a population of around ten thousand in the 1930s to something approaching a million now. Over the years it has seen its fair share of conflict, largely destroyed during the civil war of the 80s and stormed by rebel forces in 2008. Its wide boulevards were once flanked with trees, but these were cut down to deprive attackers of covers, and only in recent years did its dusty streets become paved. Rather devoid of traditional sights, N’Djamena is home to a large and sprawling central market which is interesting to explore, and also contains the National Museum with a collection of prehistoric artefacts from the surrounding area. It is also the most ethnically diverse place in Chad, with people from both the southern and northern ethnic groups as well as Lebanese, European and more recently Chinese populations.
Day 2 – Durbali
We drive to the region of Durbali, through the Sahel, to join the Wodaabe people in their celebration of the Gerewol festival. Overnight camping. (BLD)
The Wodaabe form part of the largest group of semi-nomadic people in Africa, stretching from Senegal to Sudan and following a migratory lifestyle in search of grazing for their cattle. The Wodaabe belong to the Fulani ethnic group (a distinction typically being made between the Wodaabe and the Peul, who tend to live more sedentary lives); in Chad you can often hear them being referred to as the Mbororo but this a slightly derogatory term given to them by outsider, meaning something like ‘dirty shepherds’. The Wodaabe can be distinguished from the Peul not only by their migratory habits but by the fact that they are still largely animist, while the Peul have become mostly Islamised. The origins of the Wodaabe are shrouded in mystery but it is thought that they first arrived in the region from the north, moving south as the Sahara became drier and offered less grazing for their cattle; ancient rock paintings in parts of the Sahara depict some of their characteristics. Groups of several dozen relatives, typically several brothers with their wives, children and elders, travel on foot, donkey or camel, andstay at each grazing spot for a couple of days. The Wodaabe are very traditional; women plait their hair and often wear silver coins or discs into their hair, and often have tattooed faces. The code of behaviour of the Wodaabe is called ‘pulaku’ and emphasizes reserve and modesty (semteende), patience and fortitude (munyal), care and forethought (hakkilo), and loyalty (amana) to their chiefs, as well as the right to dismiss the authority of those who are thought to be undeserving. They also place great emphasis on beauty and charm. Parents are not allowed to talk directly to their two first born children, who will often be cared for by their grandparents. During daylight, husband and wife cannot hold hands or speak in a personal manner with each other.
The Wodaabe are split into several different clans – perhaps eight or nine exist in Chad and two of the most significant are the Sudosukai and the Njapto. Normally we spend time with the Sudosukai during our time here but often the Njapto are close by and if there is an opportunity we are able to meet both. Of the two, the Njapto are slightly more traditional – their faces and bodies are more heavily tattooed and women are often bare-breasted, whereas the Sudosukai women cover themselves. Both have different styles of dress which are particularly pronounced among the dancers of the Gerewol.
Days 3-7 – Gerewol Festival
These days are spent staying amongst a Wodaabe community and witnessing the rituals and ceremonies of their annual Gerewol festival. Due to our excellent relations with the local Wodaabe sultan we are welcomed as guests amongst these incredibly friendly people, and have the opportunity to see one of Africa’s most fascinating cultural encounters, unchanged for centuries and with very few traces of modernity. We can expect to see traditional singing and dancing, and perhaps some horse racing. Young Wodaabe men daub themselves with extravagant and colourful make up, feathers and traditional jewellery to ‘display’ to young women – the Gerewol is an elaborate mass courtship ritual and truly one of the most fascinating ceremonies you can see in all of Africa. Dances generally take place during the morning and evenings, and can last well into the night, with people coming from far and wide to take part and watch.
Unlike the festival in Niger this has maintained its traditions largely intact, and makes no concessions to the outside world. We have plenty of time to visit the various camps dotted around the landscape and learn about Wodaabe culture – the Wodaabe are an open and curious people and we are made to feel very much at home in a completely authentic community. You should be prepared for the fact that this is not a ‘non-stop’ festival and during the middle of the day the Wodaabe are generally resting in preparation for the evening’s festivities, which gives us a great opportunity to meet the various families camped here. On the afternoon of Day 7 we reluctantly leave the Wodaabe and start to make our way back towards N’Djamena. Overnight camping. (BLD)
The Gerewol Festival
The Gerewol festival takes place at the end of each rainy season, and the specific place is chosen according to where local elders deem there to be the best grazing for their cattle. The Gerewol takes place at the same time as the ‘cure salee’, when cattle are brought to grazing grounds that are rich in salt and minerals; the minerals help to strengthen the cattle and rid them of parasites. The Gerewol itself is an opportunity for scattered groups of Wodaabe to meet once a year, exchanging news and embarking on a series of dances. The purpose of these is for the young Wodaabe men to show off their beauty, with the intention of finding partners – the mean usually range from about 17 to 25 in age, although ‘noble’ men, those who have the potential to become chiefs or sultans, do not take part.
The Wodaabe place an emphasis on male beauty and the dancers will spend hours applying make up, which differs greatly from clan to clan – the Sudosukai typically paint their faces red and orange while the Njapto decorate themselves with white dots and patterns. The morning dances are generally a sort of rehearsal, with the main event taking place in the evening and often going on quite late. At some point in the festival young girls – typically 14-16 years old – will approach one of the dancers and signify their choice by humbly walking up to him and touching him, before returning to the crowd. This can signify either a desire for marriage or for something more brief; the Wodaabe are polygamous and only the very first marriage is fixed by the family according to tradition, while during the Gerewol festivals men and women can embark upon casual affairs – to which no stigma is attached – or develop stable relationships.
The dances themselves involve the men standing in a line, singing traditional rhythmic songs and chants while doing their best to show the whites of their eyes and baring their teeth, two symbols of male beauty. Every so often a dancer will step forward, almost as if in a trance, with jerky movements which imitate the courtship dances of local birds. These songs and dances can last for a long time, seemingly without stop, during which time some of the dancers seem to almost enter into a different consciousness, trembling as they continue with their rituals.
The clothing of the dancers is highly decorative – the Sudosukai wear beautiful tall hats and turbans while the Njapto decorate their turbans with ostrich feathers. The Gerewol is an astounding celebration and something that few people will ever witness up close, and we have plenty of time to absorb the different facets of the celebration.
Day 8 – N’Djamena
We return back to N’Djamena, where day use rooms are available to freshen up. After heading out to a restaurant for a final farewell dinner, transfer to the airport for your onward flight home. (BL)
Important: Please note that the exact date of this festival is usually determined around June each year, when the Wodaabe elders have decided upon the best time to hold it. The Gerewol festival is held around the end of September (at the end of the rainy season) and so the precise date of this trip may move by a couple of days either side. You should not book flights until this date has been confirmed by us.
Airport transfers – We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers. However, if you are arriving apart from the main group (on Air France flights) there may be an additional transfer charge.
Accommodation – You stay in a good quality tourist class hotel in N’Djamena, and camp while at the festival.
Guides – You will be accompanied by an expert English speaking guide who has good contacts with the Wodaabe.
Meals – All meals are included outside of N’Djamena.
Entrance fees – Not applicable.
What’s not included:
Visas – We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively a visa agency such as Travcour (www.travcour.com) can assist.
Airport taxes – If there are any departure taxes to pay that are not included within the cost of your ticket, you’ll need to pay these yourself.
International flights – Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.
Travel Insurance – If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.
All travellers will require a visa to enter Chad, which must be obtained before travel. Most travellers will also need an invitation letter, which we will provide if requested. Visa regulations can change however and so we recommend that you contact your nearest embassy for the most up to date information.
Health and vaccinations
We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.
Please note that Yellow Fever is a compulsory vaccination for entering Chad and you must bring your vaccination certificate with you, otherwise you may not be allowed to enter.
It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.
Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.
Arrival and departure taxes
There are no arrival or departure taxes applicable for Chad.
The local currency in Chad is the Central African CFA, a currency that is shared with many other countries in the region. It is not however the same as the West African CFA, and the two are not interchangeable. It is best to bring Euros for exchange purposes as the CFA is not obtainable outside of the region.
You will not be able to change money outside of N’Djamena and so we recommend that you change money at the hotel upon arrival.
When to go
Chad is a large country with different climate zones, from the arid desert of the north to the tropical savannah of the south. The rains fall between April and September, making many roads impassable, and so the best time to visit Chad is outside of this period, in the dry season.
Culture – language and religion
Chad has two official languages – French and Chadian Arabic, which is slightly different from the Arabic spoken in other countries. In addition to this the various different ethnic groups will also have their own languages. Almost no-one will speak English, although of course your guide will, and you will find it easier to communicate with people if you know at least a smattering of French.
Roughly half of the population are Muslim, and the country is split along a north / south divide, with Islam holding sway in the north, and both Christianity and indigenous beliefs in the south.
Eating and drinking
Chad doesn’t have much a distinctive cuisine, and typical meals in a village will usually consist of rice and stew, either vegetable or meat. However on our trips to Chad you will be accompanied by a cook who will provide a little more variety than this. Breakfast will usually consist of bread, jam, biscuits and coffee or tea, while lunches usuallly take the form of a salad, sometimes with pasta or tuna and usually with bread and fruit. Evening meals will be a mix of European and African cuisine and a typical meal could be pasta, stew or spaghetti. There is not a huge variety of foodstuffs to be bought, espeially once we leave N’Djamena, but your cook will provide tasty and wholesome meals.
You may wish to bring a bottle of alcohol for the evenings, as it is almost impossible to buy any en route. Similarly, if you wish to bring any lightweight snacks or energy bars (particularly if you are hiking the Trou au Natron), then these are often a welcome treat in the desert.
You should advise us when you book if you have any special dietary requirements. We will try to accommodate you as much as possible, but we cannot always guarantee this.
Luggage and packing
The first rule of packing is not to bring too much. There will be plenty of occasions where you’ll need to carry your luggage yourself and so you should be able to do this without help. Most people are surprised at how little they actually need to bring, and it’s normally possible to get laundry done along the way. It doesn’t matter whether you bring a suitcase, rucksack or holdall, but please don’t bring more than 15kg of luggage as this may be difficult to accommodate in the vehicles we use. You’ll also need a day pack.
Chad is a reasonably conservative country and you should dress accordingly. Women, and also to a certain extent men, will find that the way they dress will often determine the degree of respect they receive from both men and women.
It does not really get cold in most of Chad, but early mornings can sometimes be a little chilly and so a light fleece is recommended. If you are travelling in the Tibesti Mountains, you should expect it to be cold at night, especially at the Trou au Natron – it can dip below freezing in the winter months.
You will need to bring a sleeping bag with you for our trips in Chad.
You will also need to bring two passport photos with you so that we can register you with the local authorities when you arrive.
You don’t need to be especially fit to join our trips in Chad, but there will sometimes be instances when we explore on foot – in particular when we walk to the Guelta d’Archei or into the Trou au Natron. The walk into the guelta involves a one and a half hour walk each way over rocky ground, with ascents and descents, and you should be prepared for this. If however you would prefer to miss this out, the guelta can be accessed via an easier route, although it doesn’t have the spectacular views. Similarly, the walk into the Trou au Natron can take anywhere between two and four hours down, and three and five hours back up again (depending on your level of fitness), again over uneven ground, but you can stay with the vehicles at the top of the crater if you wish – there are stunning views from the crater rim throughout the day.
In Chad, like many of the destinations we offer, environmental thinking is not at the forefront of everyday life and you will see a lot of litter in places. However, we ask that you don’t contribute to this and to dispose of litter properly, including cigarette butts.
You may well come across beggars. There’s no hard and fast answer on this and everyone has a different view – some feel that giving simply encourages begging while others see it as helping someone in need. Some guidebooks will tell you that you should only give if you see a local person also giving, to determine whether the beggar is genuine. The issue is particularly difficult when it comes to children, but we’d ask that you don’t give to children as in poor communities this can often act as a discouragement to going to school. If you feel that you’d like to contribute then speak with your guide who will be able to make appropriate suggestions.
Most people like to take photos, and it’s sometimes easy to forget that the photogenic person in front of you may not want their picture taken. Always ask if it’s okay, and respect their wishes if they say no. You’ll often find that in remote villages or among more traditional communities the older generation, and women in particular, are not comfortable with having their picture taken. This is particularly pertinent with regards to the Tubu, who are generally very averse to photography – it is very important that you respect their wishes so as to avoid any unpleasant incidents.
On the subject of photography, it’s often forbidden to take photos of ‘sensitive’ areas such as military buildings or border posts, and doing so can land you in trouble with the authorities. If you’re not sure, ask your guide. Exercising both common sense and courtesy avoids any problems in this area.
If you have been happy with the services of your guide, cooks and drivers, you may want to consider leaving them a tip. A reasonable amount would be between €50-70 per crew member for a two week trip, split between the whole group of you travelling. This is of course not obligatory and if you do not wish to tip this is up to you.
When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.
Chad is one of our most pioneering destinations. Not only is there very little tourism here but the nature of the destination means that you should be prepared for challenging conditions. Outside of the capital very few hotels or accommodation options exist – in the desert these are non-existent. There are few opportunities to buy supplies en route and so we carry the majority of these with us, stocking up on fresh vegetables and fruit in the small towns that we travel through, where possible.
There are no formal bathroom facilities on our trips in Chad, although on many nights you will be provided with water for washing, depending on how far we are from any wells and how much water we have used that day. Priority is given to drinking water which is drawn from wells and treated with a sterilizing agent to make it safe to drink.
Our trips in Chad travel to some of the most remote parts of the Sahara, and it is essential that you appreciate what this entails before booking a trip. We cannot promise home comforts or luxuries and if you expect these, then Chad probably isn’t the right destination for you. However if you are prepared for sometimes challenging conditions, then Chad offers an adventure that is difficult to match through some of the most untouched, traditional and isolated corners of Africa.
We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the FCO advises against travel to all parts of Chad.
We work very closely with our local team and are fully confident that we can operate tours safely in Chad. Should you have any concerns over safety please do not hesitate to contact us and we can address your concerns.
This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.
From Libyan Sands to Chad
Grains of Sand
The Conquest of the Sahara
The Lost Kingdoms of Africa
Please note that the information contained above is highly susceptible to change, and while we endeavour to keep up to date we recommend that you use this as a guide only. Should you have any questions, please donít hesitate to contact us.
Updated 23 July 2015
I’ve just returned from Chad and wanted to say a huge thanks for enabling me to visit the Gerewol Festival. Spending time with the Wodaabe during their celebrations was a huge privilege, and the fact that there were only six of us there – and no other tourists at all – made it all the more special. Andrea’s knowledge and obvious connection with the Wodaabe enhanced the trip, and added to my understanding of what was happening during the various different stages. Food was surprisingly good given the limited supplies available, and I felt very well looked after from start to finish. I had a particular interest in the relationship the Wodaabe have with their cattle, and Andrea took time to make sure I could ask the questions I wanted to, with the tribal elders. This has whetted my appetite for more travel in the region – I’ll be in touch again shortly, no doubt!
Chad never ceases to amaze you and the Gerewol festival is no exception. This festival of love is a true feast of colour and excitement: from the first days of rehearsals to the final crescendo when the young girls choose their future husbands we were right there as welcome guests. The camping experience was well organized, the tents perfect for the hot climate and our camp situated in close, yet respectful, proximity to the Wodaabe family camp sites. Being much smaller than its Nigerien counterpart, this trips allows you to get close and personal with the families over the days that the festival lasts. A true experience of a life time.
Chad was fantastic from start to finish. It was a true privilege to experience the life style of Wodaabe people from their wonderful Gerewol festival to observing them pack their belongings and moving on to pastures new.
Andrea is a great tour leader and worked hard looking after us, the food was good, especially the Italian treats of coba de Parma and cake. It was good having a small group of six as it felt a little less intrusive, although all the Wodaabe were very welcoming.
Will certainly recommend this trip to my friends. I can not even think of a criticism !
The festival has a very special feel to it and I thought the team and the organisation all worked well. It is clear that the time you spend cultivating a harmonious working relationship with the people there is well spent. Andrea particularly is an experienced, knowledgeable and very personable guide and I felt that the whole group benefited from the mutual respect that clearly exists between him and the other members of your team and the nomads. To me this is critical to the success of the tour as even before we arrive there is a feeling that we are welcomed. Keeping the group size small I think also helps as it doesn’t feel that the event is overwhelmed by our presence.
I wondered if I might get frustrated by it being a single event without a large number of activities over the course of the week, but I enjoyed not having to travel long distances and the staying for the duration and seeing how the mood changes over the week was an important part of getting to understand the people and what Gerewol means to them.
This is the first trip I’ve taken through Native Eye – but I’d looked at a few options on your site before selecting this one. I will certainly think of using Native Eye in the future.
The trip was absolutely amazing. It was one of the best experiences I have ever had during all my travels. The organization of the trip was superb and exceeded all my expectations. The guide Elena is such an extraordinary person, she is one of the best guides I have ever met. The local crew that we had on the trip was amazing too. I am so happy that I went on this trip. It was truly an unbelievable experience.
|29 September 2019||£2,249||£135||Limited Availability||
|27 September 2020||£2,249||£135||Available||