November 26, 2007 GMT


We left the Atlantic Ocean on Gambiaís coast and headed east following the river Gambia. There were now six of us in total Dan and Linz on their Suzuki DRZ 400ís, Dan and Ed on the Honda Africa twins and Chris on the CCM 400. It was good to be on the move again we all now had our Nigerian visas in hand although we checked the entry date when we left the embassy we only had a month to reach Nigeria.

This was no problem in theory although I kind of like not being tied to any dates or times for me that is part of what the ride is all about. Riding in a group was a lot of fun and working as a team a little bit can make things easier.

Although I ended up heading of on my own into Mali I was the only one interested in visiting the Dogon gorge and Timbuktu. Iíd heard good things about the Dogon country so didnít want to miss out on it. As for Timbuktu I was really close to the Mystical city and didnít know if Iíd ever be back so it would be rood not to pay a visit.

In three days I had covered eight hundred miles and had two more visas in my passport. This was a good feeling getting visas a little bit too much like hard work for my liking. I now had visas all the way to Cameroon so it would be a while before Iíd have to worry about them again.

The Dogon country was nothing short of incredible geographically it was a plateau with a gorge running around one hundred kilometers down the length of it. I realised this as the road I was riding on dramatically came up to the edge of the plateau and snaked itís way down the cliff face onto the Dogon plains below. There are around thirty-five villages in the Dogon and everywhere seems to be a hive of activity with animals being herded here and there, crops being harvested and millet being pummeled.

On every wooden surface there are carvings, they are a crafty lot the Doogon people. They exchange lengthy greetings with one another in their language you hear it every time they pass each other;

How are you? Iím good thanks
How is your mother? She is well.
How is your farther? He is good.
How is your village? This goes on the greeting goes back and forth the people that live in this region have real warmth to them.

It was a shame to leave after only a couple of days, with my local guide I rambled through many of the gorges and Africans seem not to be in much of a hurry with day to day life. Itís a completely different matter when they are walking to say I broke into a sweet keeping up with him was an understatement!

I rode down to Mopti a town they refer to as the Venice of Africa. Mopti is on the edge of the river Niger; boats ply the river up and down stream.

Timbuktu was always on my list of places to visit on this trip although my interest was waning a little I had heard that the piste was quite difficult and perhaps the mystical city of Timbuktu was perhaps maybe not so mystical after all. The maps that I had on me didnít really show a direct route I had read in two different guidebooks that it was seven hundred and twenty two miles. Thatís quite a way to go especially when itís north in the opposite direction that I need to go.

After much deliberation and haggling the bike was loaded onto a boat it was going to be a three-day cruise up the river to Timbuktu. I wasnít quite sure how they would get the two hundred kilogram BMW onto the roof of the boat but in Africa anything is possible. They just picked it up and sat it down in its place; I think I counted nine of them although it happened so quickly I canít be sure.

The voyage was an amazing experience amongst other things the vessel was carrying bags of cement and charcoal there were around thirty passengers onboard. I slept next to the bike on some blocks of foam this was a perfect way to see the banks of the Niger. The best thing about the trip up the river had to be the other passengers we all shared each otherís food and enjoyed each otherís company. The truck engine that powered the vessel continued running through the night and we reached Timbuktu in the very early hours, after a couple of nights.

Three days was long enough off the bike, I met up with Radek he was riding a KTM 640. We both took a ride out into the Sahara I learnít a lot about the GS, it can do dunes. Iíve never had a more rewarding experience on a motorcycle before now. When you learn to ride sand itís awesome!

I stayed with the Touareg people in the desert and rode camels but now it was time to get going again. The piste south of Timbuktu was corrugated with patches of sand. On the corrugations there is no going slow unless you want your bones shaken out of their joints. Fifty MPH was the speed and this made for some intense riding, I do enjoy being just a little of control. Forty-eight hour by boat and six hours by motorcycle.

Itís now time to make some steady progress towards Capetown, next country Burkina-Faso.


Posted by Michael Beckett at November 26, 2007 02:57 PM GMT

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