We finally wearily rode into town last night at 10 pm having had to negotiate the final 70 kms in the dark due to having been delayed by various problems - my chain jumping off the sprocket at one point, and something simple like trying to find a solid piece of ground to do repairs in the desert is not easy.
Then my headlamp fixings both broke -thanks to an earlier bodge job fix-it from Clive (when we were in Bordeaux 3 weeks ago) I knew all I needed to fix the headlamp was a piece of wire,
however where do you find wire in the middle of the Sahara at 6pm on a Tuesday evening?
A burst of inspiration - my bra!
Yes the underwire worked perfectly, we did the repairs and rode on through the night with a headlamp working well and a semi-functioning bra!
As we reached the welcocome to Timbuctoo sign, we expected to see the lights of the town twinkling in the dark, however, all that was visible was a large expanse of water - nobody told me there was a big river to cross- I thought this was the desert.
Touaregs appeared beside us and directed us down the sandy river bank where they then started naming cash sums to get us across the river- we did some tired bargaining - all the while I was worriedly looking at the limited selection of vessels available
They assured us that two GS bikes could easily fit in a dug-out canoe and they were right- though the boat was extremely low in the water and it had been a nerve-wracking experience to watch them loading the bikes on.
The boat journey turned out to be one of the highlights of this trip- silently drifting down the River Niger with a full moon above us and the knowledge that I was almost at Timbuctoo.
The final kms from the river were on tarmac - a relief for us in our tired state.
It feels great to have got here- and they even serve cold beer.
Time to rest, watch the camels and then think about coming home.
We got the Mali visas in Dakar and have been on the road for the last 4 days.
The first 80 miles in Mali- from Kayes (for those of you with an atlas) were bloody hard, it took us 24 hours. Hopefully the photos will do some of it justice as we had to scale some rock faces (I kid you not) and there was a particularly memorable moment when Ethel and I were in mid-air halfway up one rock face;
We are now in Bamako,the capital of Mali and have been promised tarmac for the next 500 kms which will be a relief after the dust, sand and rock we have been on.
We took what turned out to be the back route from Kayes the border town, it was mostly a footpath with various obstacles including a couple of rock faces to scale - I just hope that the photos will do it justice.
The "real" route goes to the north of Kayes and is longer but less risky - we would have taken that one if we had known about it.
The running tally at the moment is Germany -5 England -6
...... that is for the number of times we have each fallen, I have got 3 indicators attached with duck tape and it seems like more parts are falling off by the hour!
I have got dust everywhere, more sand ahead as we continue to Timbuctoo
Well, I have fairly quickly arrived in sub-Saharan Africa and all in one piece.
I got here (Dakar) on my birthday which was also the day the Dakar Rally arrived in town and so we were weaving our way through the typically African virtually stationary traffic alongside the huge trucks and strange-shaped sand buggies, chatting to the British drivers as I passed them.
The ride down has been looooong and hot, almost completely on tarmac until Mauritania where it was time to hit the sand.
The Hein Gericke Tuareg desert gear has performed superbly in the hot conditions, the others I am riding with are most envious - it is the first time I have used light-weight desert gear. It helped to make me a more convincing Rally competitor as we blagged our way into Senegal through the maze of passport and customs procedures. We had to create a convincing distraction as Tobi's bike is 13 years old and therefore officially he is not allowed to bring it into Senegal.
So far, sand and camels have been the main obstacles - often at the same time which makes for perilous riding and much cursing. I am getting the knack of speeding over the surface of the sand for the smoothest ride.
At one point, out in the middle of nowhere, with only sand for miles and miles, a landrover appeared in the distance, driving erratically (which seems the norm here) it came all the way over to me, stopped and two Berbers jumped out to ask for a light! It seems that nothing changes wherever you go in the world.
We have had some fantastic evenings camping out amongst the sand dunes and enjoying the peace and quiet of the desert.
Ethel is running really well - one day I got an amazing 300 miles from her small 17 litre fuel tank which was great. The next stages are going to be tarmac until Mali where conditions will once more deteriorate.
Currently rough camping on the beach 5 miles outside of Dakar with some German surfers I met in Mauritania, improving my surf technique while I wait for my Mali visa to be processed.
I crossed France with three other GS bike riders I had met on the ferry - also members of the UK GS Club, I relaxed and sat back as their GPS systems guided us down avoiding motorways, a luxury for me to just follow another bike and not be doing all the navigating myself. I was really lucky with the weather and had sunny days every day while travelling through France and Spain.
Barcelona was fantastic as everyone seemed to be convinced I was a competitor in the Paris -Dakar Rally. The atmosphere was electric in town as hundreds of vehicles rolled in.
I watched the special stages on the sandy beach - visualising myself on the desert sand in a week's time....
New Year's Eve and a send-off party for the competitors who are setting off on this 10.000 kms course- I said goodbye to Nick and Simon (friends who are competing) and promised to buy them beers in Dakar in two weeks time.
Maggie had flown out to Barcelona and we rode down the coast to Malaga where we managed to track down Kieran with his KTM.
Maggie then flew home and Kieran and I took the ferry to Tangier where Tobi was waiting with his BMW R100GS, yes this is the intrepid trio that is about to undertake the desert crossing ahead- an Englishwoman, an Irishman and a German. Lets hope we can put up with the smelly feet and bad jokes.
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