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Desert Travels - Motorcycle Journeys in the Sahara and West Africa!

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  #1  
Old 4 Jun 2003
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Mali

As Chris' winter tour was cancelled after the problems in Algeria, I shall instead be in Mali for a shortish trip in December.

It's hardly a massive trip, but once we get to Timbuctou (or Gao) we will have 10 days to travel into the desert. The hope is to spend 5 or 6 days walking with camels, and 4 or 5 days driving. We won't have our own vehicle, so it will be a case of hiring a 4WD and driver.

Three questions:

1. Can anybody recommend outfits from whom to hire guides, camels, vehicle and driver?

2. Routes - the obvious walking route is all or part of the way from Timbuctou to Arouane. However, I'm only guessing at the type of desert landscape in this area. As a huge generalisation, I'm more into dunes than rock formations, but more into rock formations than 360 degree flat to every horizon (although a bit of everything is fine). Similarly for driving - from Timbuctou or Arouane (or elsewhere in northern Mali) does anybody have recommendations for the most interesting desert environment?

3. Is the very north, up to Tessalit and Taoudenni, a wise move, or does this fall into the same current security problem as southern Algeria?

Simon
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  #2  
Old 4 Jun 2003
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As I happens a guy Alistair B just send me in a trip report in this area:

"...Briefly though, on the practicalities side, the journey was organised
through a guy called Dramane Alpha in Timbuctu. (-his name was mentioned
in the Lonely Planet West Africa book, and he organised the National
Geographic expedition to Taoudenni in the late '80's) I had planned on
going as far as Arouanne and back, but he assured me that if I wanted to
go to Taoudenni, he could organise that too.
I was asked to 'budget' for 40 days, and
lastly his first price was reasonable (CFA600,000) and within my budget.
(None of this haggling at all)
I left all my documentation and cash with Dramane -I
trusted him completely- he and I each had a signed copy of a statement of
what I had left with him. It was all there when I returned, both on the
1999 and 2001 trip. Dramane now owns and operates a new superior class of
hotel in Timbuctu, the Hotel Hendrina Khan.

So Dramane (who speaks excellent English) appointed me a guide, and
ensured that supplies were procured, and that the guide understood what
was expected (etc), and informed me on the practicalities of going. I
then left Timbuctoo with my guide (Mohammed !), and 4 camels. After a few
days we joined a caravan heading north, calling in on Arouanne. For the
south bound journey, we also travelled with the caravans loaded with salt.
It was just the most extraordinary experience -isolating, but not lonely.
It is significant that I went alone (with guide), and NOT with a friend
or partner -I am certain that the experience would be easier with company,
but not as rewarding. It I
repeated the journey two years later in 2001, and intend going again later
this year. In 1999 the trip was 32 days and I spent two nights and one
day at Taoudenni, but in 2001 the trip was 35 days and I spent 5 nights
and four days in Taoudenni...."

For what it's worth I have had a lot of very useful camel feedback right across the Sahara lately which I plan to put into the next edition, making it as much a camel handbook as for cars, etc.

Ch



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Author of Sahara Overland and the Adventure Motorcycling Handbook, among other things

http://www.sahara-overland.com
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  #3  
Old 4 Jun 2003
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Hello Simon

From Timbuktu to Araouane it is mainly flat, in the beginning even Sahel zone with bushes, not pur sanddunes.
But what you will meet in winter are salt-caravanes. They carry salt plates from Taoudenni to Timbuktu, quite an event!

2 adresses for Mali:
http://www.nomads-of-mali.com/index1.html
http://www.tafouk.com/index.html

If you travel with a local guide there should be no problem visiting Tessalit or Taoudeni. But there were rumours about some Belgians and Italians beeing kidnapped lately between Timbuktu and Nema by bandits. They were discovered by an algerian security patrol.

Have a nice trip!
Ursula

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Old 5 Jun 2003
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I confirm that I wrote the words quoted by Chris Scott.

1. Can anybody recommend outfits from whom to hire guides, camels, vehicle and driver? Certainly Dramane Alpha can organise camels, guides and 4WD in Timbuktu. His services are highly recommended.

2. Routes - the obvious walking route is all or part of the way from Timbuctou to Arouane. However, I'm only guessing at the type of desert landscape in this area. As a huge generalisation, I'm more into dunes than rock formations, but more into rock formations than 360 degree flat to every horizon (although a bit of everything is fine). Similarly for driving - from Timbuctou or Arouane (or elsewhere in northern Mali) does anybody have recommendations for the most interesting desert environment? You have to go beyond Arouanne to see dunes, and then they tend to be long narrow bands that run from east to west. They are not the huge dunes that are found in Namibia, Algeria or certain corners of Morocco (eg Merzougha) Ursula is correct saying that the country between Timbuctu and Arouanne is mostly flatish -neither rocks or dunes feature much at all. There are certainly lots of areas which are flat as far as the eye can see. If you want to see rocks, then have you thought about visiting Hombori on the road between Bamako and Gao. -they are spectacular mountains of rock some of which can be climbed (some not), and is popular with rock climbers. There are guys in Hombori that can guide you to the climable rocks. The desert per se toward and beyond Arouane is not particularly spectacular.

3. Is the very north, up to Tessalit and Taoudenni, a wise move, or does this fall into the same current security problem as southern Algeria?
I am not aware of particular security issues north of Arouanne -but this of course can change rapidly. You are certainly much more at risk of bandit attack -as it did occur a week before my camel trek in 2001- if you are in a 4WD. I had no problems in the times I was there, beacuse I was not in a 4WD, and had left all my cash and documentation in Timbuctu in any case. Dramane Alpha is the type of guy though that has his finger on the pulse, and will be aware of any security issues -if any- when you get there.


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  #5  
Old 5 Jun 2003
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Alistair & Chris - Thanks for your information.

Alistair - Is there any way I can contact Dramane before I get to Mali? I don't have long there, so need to get things fixed up in advance.

Secondly, it sounds like we might get much better scenery north of Arouane. In your experience, where am I likely to find the sort of landscape I'm looking for - close to Arouane going north, not until we get to near Taoudenni, somewhere in the middle, (or elsewhere in Mali, or am I going to the wrong country?)

If you want to correspond direct, it's simon.heginbotham@abbeynational.co.uk

Simon
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  #6  
Old 6 Jun 2003
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I found Ali Ould Sidi helpful and reliable in Timbuktu for arranging a boat trip, and I guess he could help out with guides. He runs the cultural mission there and speaks good English. Contact details:

Ali Ould Sidi
Cultural Mission
Timbuktu
BP63
Rep. Mali

Tel (Home) 00223 2921077
Tel (Office) 00223 2922079

If you e-mail me I'll send you his e-mail.
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  #7  
Old 7 Jun 2003
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Hi Simon,
thanks for your mail.
I will send a few pictures of the northern part Araouane/Bir Ounane/Khnechachich/El Guettara to you.
There are also some impressions to get from this video "Trek to the salt mines of Taoudenni"
http://www.npr.org/programs/re/archi...2003/may/mali/

Ursula
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