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 02:57 PM
November 10, 2007 GMT
Senegal to Gambia
Senegal To Gambia
The French have certainly left there mark on the old capital of Senegal St Louis, the crumbling buildings from the eighteenth and nineteenth centaury are all in different stages of decay but this makes for an interesting city and the streets are lively and full of colour.
The people of Senegal seem to enjoy themselves more than their Mauritanian neighbors, there are certainly more smiles in this part of the world. I was sitting on the bike outside a fire station; it wasnít long before a few of the firemen wandered out to look at the bike. I then had a tour around the fire station with a beer in my hand and a lot of shaking hands.
I had to get down to Dakar to sort some visas out for the next few countries, this can be a bit of a chore and can keep you from moving as it normally takes them a couple of days to process the paperwork.
Dakar is located out on a peninsular so to enter the city you have to negotiate the one road that leads in and out of the city, Iíve ridden on some pretty manic roads in my time but this is the worst by a long way. Thirty kilometers of slow moving carriageway trucks, buses, cars and taxis air pollution which makes you feel like youíve just inhaled sixty cigarettes. People everywhere in between the cars selling everything form mobile phone top up cards to mosquito nets and sand across the road in places just to makes things a little bit more tricky.
Once I was established in the hotel and the day had turned to night I went out with some of the guys I had met in the north of Senegal. I enjoyed Dakar it had a good music scene and good food, just what I needed after crossing the Sahara.
I got out of the city while I was waiting for my visas, previously I had been in contact with Dan and Linz they are riding a couple of Suzuki DZR400ís down to Cape town and invited me to stay with them at their friends house about thirty miles out of Dakar. Birame whose place it was had been living in London for twenty years but now splits his time between the UK and Senegal. Anyone from the village who wanted to drop in for dinner was welcome and we would all sit, around together in the evening eating off a large platter and telling stories.
I Returned to Dakar and picked up my visas up for Mali and The Cameroon. Then Dan, Linz and I headed for The Gambia. Through people that we have met or been introduced to we have been shown incredible generosity and have been put up in peoples homes this has shown me a real insight to how people live their lives in this part of the world.
Dave was a British expat in his seventies he had met his Senegalese wife Marie, while on a cycling holiday in Senegal. As the story went he was cycling along the road and she was sitting under a tree, they were married three days later. He had paid a dowry been given some land by the chief and built the house for a very moderate fee. We ate very well in their company and many of the villagers dropped by to say hello. During a seafood feast the beers were delivered to us on a tray from the next-door shop on the head of one of the local ladies, dancing away under the tray while singing. It was an interesting couple of days at Daveís!
We made a schoolboy error crossing into Gambia, after my first African border crossing I said I would only cross in the morning to avoid the mid day heat. We crossed into Gambia in the scorching midday heat, I can handle the heat and I can handle the excessive rig moral but with two together it makes for an exhausting few hours.
Gambia had a distinctly different feel to it than Senegal and reminded me a lot of the Caribbean. We ended up in the peace and love bar in the frontier town of Farafenni drinking wine out of a box and washing down our spicy chicken with the local beer. The local people all welcome you to their county and after seeing the British number plate all ask how long it takes to ride here from Britain. I tell them thirty days and they say you are a warrior or you are a lion. I donít really agree with that but I do feel very lucky that I have the opportunity to make trip like this. Iíve to had to say no to the following questions: can I have your motorbike: No sorry, Can you take me to England on the motorbike; No sorry, Iíll get in one the panniers and come with you through Africa; humm no I donít think so.
I am now staying at Maxís house on the edge of Serrekunda on the south side of the river Gambia. Max is putting the three of us up for a few days while we service our bikes and get the visa for Nigeria. Max doesnít live the modest life, heís got a seven, bedroom house with outbuildings staff and a couple of four, wheel drives parked with in the compound. I woke up yesterday to find my BMW sparkling away under the morning sun. The driver had washed the Sahara desert off the three bikes for us while we were sleeping.
Today I went for a ride down the coast to the south of Gambia there are lots of interesting fishing villages and the best way to see them is to ride along the beach. I spent a few hours in the company of three Rastafarians sitting out the front of their hut amongst their vegetable patch, the drums were brought out and Bob Marley songs were sung. I think it could be the sort of place that if you didnít start making tracks you possibly wouldnít leave. Tomorrow Iím heading east back through Senegal to Mali and I reckon the road to Timbuktu is going to be an interesting one.
Posted by Michael Beckett at 10:13 PM
We left the Auberge Sahara and headed out into the morning rush hour traffic of Nouakchott, the road south to Rosso was at the other end of the city so we had a fair amount of traffic to negotiate to leave the city. When we had passed the police checkpoints and weíre cruising along I cast my eyes off the road and took in the every changing scenery. The sand had changed to a rich red, dotted with green vegetation, which camels, goats and donkeys munched on It was a shame to be leaving Mauritania so soon after arriving, probably not the last time Iíd be feeling this on the last days ride in a country.
The heat of the day was rising and I really didnít feel like the hassle of a border crossing so we decided to pull off the road into the shade and chill out for a few hours. Letting the hottest part of the day drift past from my hammock seemed like a good idea.
No sooner had my side stand hit the sand I could spy a young boy making a beeline for us. I greeted him as I have all other locals shaking his hand and introducing us. He looked on as we ate our lunch, his younger brother joining him. He seemed very curious so I got out my camera and took a couple of shots of him and then passed the camera so he could have a look at himself. He loved that and it wasnít long before he had taking possession of the compact camera and was snapping left right and centre with himself and his brother doing funny poses and standing on their heads. This I had to video, which in turn he was amazed to watch himself. This continued for some time before I crashed out in my hammock, I woke a couple of hours later when the sun had moved and I was no longer in the shade. The two kids had also crashed out on my sheepskin, which was laid out on the ground.
I strolled off to photograph a few camels that were munching away on the trees. So much for missing the heat it was now four and time to get moving but the day was as hot as ever.
Only a few hundred metres down the road and another police check point. Can we see your insurance, I passed over my insurance certificate, which I knew full well, didnít cover Mauritania. It covered every other country between Senegal and Cameroon for the next three months but not here. Nothing a few euros in the right palm didnít sort out.
Rosso is a frontier town on the Senegal River, which at our time of arrival, was hot and busy. We topped up our water and bought bread before heading eighty kilometers west to another border crossing which Iíd heard was a lot easier. The ride was on one of the best pistes Iíve ridden so far. It followed the river passing through the national park; we rode into the sunset, birds flying overhead and dozens of wild bore running across the track in front of us.
When the sun set we rode off into the bush to make camp, which was also idyllic that was until the mosquitoes woke up! I made a speedy retreat into my tent for some well-deserved sleep, listening to the sounds of nature around me.
The next morning we were over the border in an hour or so, riding across the dam which bridges Mauritania and Senegal. I had a good feeling about Senegal right from the beginning. The landscape got lusher and it had a more liberal feel about it, women were dressed in bright coloured clothing and music pumped out of speakers on every other corner. Quite a contrast to the desert towns, which were only, a stoneís through away.
Zebra bar, Senegal 15į 51.901 N 16į 30.738W
Posted by Michael Beckett at 10:11 PM
As I rode south through Western Sahara the settlements got fewer by the side of the road and it would be some time before seeing other vehicles. I filled up with fuel and to my surprise the fuel was about two-thirds the price than the previous stop. The reason for this is that Western Sahara is tax-free.
The Moroccan controlled state is a disputed land, after the Spanish moved out in the mid seventies the Moroccans have taken control and claimed it as part of Morocco. This is still disputed by the UN and of course by nomadic tribes that live in the Region. A berm has been created and land mines placed all along the border with Algeria. A tarmac road has been laid from north to south as well as mobile phone masts. A large mine extracts phosphorus from the ground and shuffles it to the coast on the largest conveyor belt in the world, (or so Iím told). There is due to be a referendum on the control of Western Sahara although this hasnít yet taken place.
I really enjoyed everything about Morocco and would definitely recommend it as a motorcycling destination. The roads and pistes were awesome, the people friendly and there is a lot to do, I could have easily spent a couple more weeks there but I've still got a long way to go.
The Border with Mauritania was straightforward but time consuming. Three different lines Police, passport control and customs. Then a five-mile ride across the sandy no mans land to do the same with the Mauritanian officials. This was the hardest day so far.
The plan was to camp up in the desert this night but when filling up with petrol the garage owner said we could sleep in a little hut that he had a little way out into the ?desert. It made for a very comfortable nights sleep all for a couple of quid.
Posted by Michael Beckett at 10:09 PM