March 11, 2005 GMT

14th Feb 2005. Bamako, Mali.

Shitty Death! If Jesus Christ himself had owned the ideal off-road motorcycle - a perfect blend of lightness, agility and power - rather than the more commonly accepted bicycle, He would have completed the Nioro-Diema road red-faced, furious and cursing like a hungover docker.

nioro road.JPG
A good bit

It's just unbelievably bloody awful. 60 miles of every form of road-based shit imaginable. Corrugations, huge bunkers full of sand, potholes, lungfuls of grit from other traffic, suicidal livestock and feral children who flag you down in the middle of the most difficult bits to ask for a cadeau.

nioro sweat.JPG
Very sweaty indeed

Seven hours later it's tarmac-kissing time. Sadly it only stretches 500 metres so I stay the night in Diema. They have hot beer and sweet goat meat and a chair to sit in and wince and groan.
The next day the road is better but still horrible. 100 miles of corrugations and more facefuls of grit. Accelerating up to 50mph, as The Book suggests, improves the bone-rattling horror, but only because you float over the top of the corrugations. It all feels a bit dicey.

I look at the trip meter a lot, trying to do 10 miles between breaks. About halfway I meet a French fella on a gigantic BMW. He did the Nioro-Diema "road" in 3 hours, but dropped his bike 7 times. Ha! I may have taken 7 hours, but I only dropped it once.

diema frenchy.JPG

The last couple of miles seem to be the worst, but suddenly I'm in Didjeni, and soon I'm sitting in a cafe eating chicken (or maybe guinea fowl) and potatoes in some kind of very tasty sauce. It's still a hundred miles or so to Bamako, but it's brand new whitelined tarmac all the way.
Nevertheless, by the time I get there I'm a broken man. A waif-like husk. Not really. I'm just knackered. I'm so knackered that when I spot the 40-storey Sofitel rising above the dusty streets, gleaming and twinkling like Santa's Grotto, I think "sod it" and head for the entrance.
After a few minutes of being ignored at reception I'm politely asked to move the hell away sir, as I'm upsetting the other guests with my appearance and odours. What they actually say is;
"There is no disponibility sir, as my colleague explains to you just now."
I know they're lying. But I also know I look like shit.

I end up in Chez Fanta, which is the opposite of the Sofitel in every imaginable aspect.

15th Feb 2005. Bamako.

A few days at Chez Fanta with five people sleeping in a room big enough for fewer. Big game includes cockroaches and rats. Matt and Erin from the U.S. of' A. are here doing some sort of charity malarkey. One night we drink beer in Doug's cheap bar, the next it's G&T's in the superbly expensive Thai restaurant. There's also a canoe trip up the Niger, which is very tranquil apart from the constant baling-out needed to stop us sinking and thus ruining my new camera.

niger boat.JPG

niger view.JPG

Posted by Simon Fitzpatrick at March 11, 2005 11:46 AM GMT
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