December 01, 2007 GMT
Burkina Faso and Niger

In the last six days Iíve ridden thirteen hundred miles thatís from Timbuktu in Mali to Dongondutchi in Niger crossing Burkina Faso along the way. So Iíve mainly seen life in this part of Africa form the seat of my motorcycle, which is an excellent way to observe life. Itís easy to tell if there is a market in the next town, often Iíll pass or see coming in the opposite direction dozens of; people carrying things on their heads, bicycles loaded up, carts being pulled by donkey or cows or cars with animals on the roofs. The villages with markets taking place are full of bustle and it can be difficult to negotiate my way through.

There are many differences between the many ethnic groups in this region particularly between the often-nomadic peoples of the desert regions and the people that live in the south. It doesnít seem to be the International border that dictates where the different people live they were living here long before Europeans put the borders in place. I would estimate that there were at least twenty-five different ethnic groups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

The roads have been good for most of the journey so the riding has not been difficult. So this morning I decided to take the scenic route, I selected a route on some pistes that were on my map and headed off down a dusty track, life moved at a slower pace away from the tarmac. I followed the River Niger once again through villages, bush land and fields. Changing direction and headed roughly in the direction of the road, I wanted to get up to speed in the afternoon when the day turned from hot to scorching hot and the road was the best place to do that. There was less activity on this piste and I wasnít too bothered when it turned into more of a footpath, no problem for me on the bike. I was still occasionally seeing mud huts and the odd person. I continued on my way, as the path got a little trickier as the surface turned to sand.

Setting a waypoint on the GPS for a village half way between me, and the road. The path snaked off track quite a lot but seemed to be heading in the right direction. I donít know what happened to the piste though as there was nothing with more than two wheels going down this way.

I reached a different village that wasnít on the map, Iíd been riding for a few hours by now and it was starting to get hot, I thought Iíd top up my water supplies. I was sure there would be a well somewhere amongst the huts made of mud, wood and straw.

A local greeted me and welcomed me to his village he showed me the way to the well. The people of the village were all gathered around a central area where the well was located. A group of women were under the shade of a tree, while another group of girls were pulling buckets of water out of the ground. I was sat down and given a cup of water and offered food. I topped up my camel back and chatted to one of the girls who spoke a little French while all the other villagers turned up to greet me. Everyone was very friendly and curious talking amongst themselves in the local language which was probably Hausa, I would like to have understood what they were all saying.

Iím sure this is an experience that I will never forget but unfortunately I had to get going. I asked where the piste led away from the village and half of the village led me through the mud huts and waved me off.

The footpath led away for some kilometers before getting, to be quite a challenge. It was sandy and twisty so much so that I couldnít keep up the speed necessary to keep the bike in control. When the path led off in the wrong direction Iíd just pick my way through the bushes and trees making progress towards the road. It was now only sixteen kilometers away so not too far.

Well I eventually made it after exerting a lot of energy zigzagging left and right. I have to add that Iíve now got the technique down when it comes to picking the fully laden BMW weighting in around 270 Kg off the ground. I donít think Iíve been so relieved to see tarmac again I accelerated up to sixty MPH and let the breeze cool me down.


Posted by Michael Beckett at December 01, 2007 04:47 PM GMT
 



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