7th Feb 2005. NKT.
It's nearly the end of my prolonged stay at Auberge Sahara. Those guys are grrrreat.....
...and laughter with Herman
I have decided to bin several things to save weight, including my second pair of jeans. This means I will smell like an incontinent death's door tramp more often, but I should be immune to the stink within a fortnight.
9th Feb 05. NKT - Magta Lahjar.
Up at 7.00 and away at 9.00. Travelling alone again feels exhilarating for the first 5 miles, and worrying for the next 95. During one cig stop the bike blows over in the wind. I can't pick it up and have to flag someone down to help. The final 125 miles are a mixture of exhilaration and botty pain.
The road after Aleg is brand new tarmac with white lines! It's like being in England except there are camels all over the highway. There's nowhere to stay in Aleg and I've resigned myself to sleeping in a pole-less tent - a bag, if you will - by the side of the road. 25 miles shy of Sangrafa I spot an Auberge sign. It's very simple and barn-like and a lot better than the alternative. Also it's a mere 125 miles to Kiffa where there's a proper place to stay for tomorrow night.
If you're wondering, my tent poles are in Bamako. I can't remember why at present.
On the day I leave Auberge Sahara, the guests are
A. Eight completely mental evangelist/fundamentalist/missionary-ist Christians.
B. Ten underprivileged/disturbed/just plain bad teenage boys. "Enfants perturbe" in French. Not as perturbe as I was when I found out their two favourite pastimes;
1. Stealing vehicles.
2. "Making fire to" vehicles.
I foresee a re-run of the eternal battle - good vs evil. But which is which?*
The Christians are by far the most joyless guests I met there. Frowning at people and indulging in late night weeping sessions are their chosen methods of spreading the Good News.
Their leader really really really looks like a David Koresh/Rev Jim Jones wannabe.
I'm so glad I got out before the flame-throwing tanks arrived.
Uh-oh - a hole in the floor toilet. Call me a big nancy boy if you like but I haven't used one yet and I'm not starting today.
*The Christians are the evil ones of course.
10th Feb 2005. Kiffa.
There's exactly 1 pothole in the 145 miles of tarmac between Magta and Kiffa, but it's a big one. I'd still be planted face down in it now if a gust of wind hadn't blown me into the middle of the road, as I was gazing at some camels as I passed it.
I'm rushing this bit of the trip (as far as my coccyx will allow) because I want to get to Ghana ASAP. I've heard various reports about when the rains start. Also Doug is in Bamako and he's found a cheap bar (this is booze-free day number 5).
Now onto the topic that's on everyones lips - my bowels.* Here at the "Phare du Desert" auberge, they have hole-in-the-floor crappers with, unusually it seems, a flushing mechanism.
I managed to hold out yesterday (at one point I found myself addressing my complaining intestines with the phrase "sorry lads - nothing doing") but today their arguments seem to have gathered weight.
"What's the worst that could happen?" I ask myself, immediately picturing several horrific scenarios involving inaccuracy and slippage.
Of course it all turns out to be fine, and the most natural thing in the world and so on. To the uninitiated I would suggest waiting until you find one with a shower no more than two feet away.
I reckon I can get from here to Bamako in four days. But then I thought I was only going to spend two days in Mauritania.
11th Feb 2005. Ayoun El Atrous.
A mostly-easy 130 miles from Kiffa, with a section 100 miles in of big potholes. Having read Doug's description of his pothole day I adopt his technique of imagining myself to be a spitfire pilot and treating them as bursts of anti-aircraft fire. It works up until the road becomes more hole than pot; then it's just a case of going slow and praying for it to end soon.
On the way I'm asked by a policeman for a 'cadeau' for the first time. Bidding opens at my phone; I end up giving him a pen I nicked from the hotel in Valladolid. Half a mile down the road the Customs johnny tries it on as well. I decide to refuse (smiling of course), and nothing bad happens so I go on.
By 4pm I'm in Ayoun, and that night I sleep in my first actual bed for 100 days.
This is the Last Town in Mauritania. Tomorrow - the Mali border.
I stop somewhere today and the whole village comes out to meet me. Eventually some of the women start trying to beg aspirins from me. I have to explain that I don't have any to spare, given how plastered I intend to get once I'm over the border. I think they understood. I'm guessing fist-waving is an Arabic gesture meaning "bon voyage".
12th Feb 2005. Nioro, Mali
Utterly disgraceful weather today. Filthy dusty sandy gusts most of the way from Ayoun. Couldn't see the sun. Something ought to be done. I may write to the council.
More lovely tarmac all the way though. Sadly this is where it stops.
Nioro, after a lifetime in Mauritania, is Las Vegas. They have proper beer! Women with figure-hugging apparel! Trees! The lavatory situation hasn't improved though. Today's test of will involves an actual hole in the ground - not even a porcelain tray - and it's open to the elements. Semi-walled in but with a wide slice of sky above....
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.
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.
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.
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 M.F.in' 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.
19th Feb 2005. Bamako.
I move into the Catholic Mission, which is quiet and Jesusy. Doug's back from the UK with spare parts (unfortunately for an entirely different motorcycle) which means we can continue the important work we started in Senegal in the field of alcohol experimentation.
Yesterday we went to the Ghanaian Embassy for visas and met the ex-UK ambassador. We had a chat about the curry situation in Tooting. He was very nice but he didn't spoil us.
I think last night, after a few stickies with Doug in the Grand Hotel, I may have harangued the nuns about the futility of organized religion. Might just keep my head down today.
21st Feb 2005. Bamako.
At the reasonably fancy Hotel Nord-Sud. I just met Kolo Toure's brother! The Ivory Coast team are here for a game with Mali. KT - Arsenal defender and truly great all-rounder - is from Ivory Coast, so I approached them and asked if he was here. "No, but his little brother is", they replied, introducing me. Kool!
According to CNN, Hunter S. Thompson is dead at 67 from self-inflicted gunshot wounds. If you haven't read "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" or "Hells Angels", I suggest you go and buy a copy now, stop off at the rum shop on the way, and fuck some shit up, in memory of a genius.
I've lost my map. What am I supposed to do now?
24th Feb 2005. Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso.
We stopped at Sikasso in Mali for a night on the way. It's a long hard hot sweaty pain in the arse from Bamako. Every checkpoint and customs post is a sweaty hot waste of time. It's about 40 degrees and while riding you get blasts of even hotter air. Eyes full of grit and shirt encrusted with salt.
In Sikasso we saw two of the most repellent hotels on the planet before going to the Mamelon, which is clean, A/C'ed and has a fine restaurant with PORK!
The next day it's another painful 100 miles to Bobo, though the scenery is getting more contoured and slightly greener after thousands of miles of flat barren dust.
Thousands of miles of this
Doug and I decide on a day of rest. The food and Brakina beer at Casafrica is superb and Noel is a gent. We meet a guy who has organized a local football team called "Chechen Independents".
Otherwise we just sit and drink and it's very very hot and all quite relaxing. We have Ghana visas and Pineapple Paradise is less than a week away...
Big Game Report:
Quite large lizards and huge butterflies. Doug is scared of lizards. Ha! Although I did go a bit John Inman when a giant* butterfly got caught in my jacket on the way.
*at least 1.25 times normal size
26th Feb 05. Boromo - Sagou.
The FESPACO film festival in Ouagadougou means that the city will be full of every two-bit hustler, pimp, drug dealer and beggar in West Africa. We've met them all already, so we've planned to stop either side of Ouaga rather than in it. In Boromo we eat a "chicken" that must have been in its late 40's when it finally died of a muscle-wasting disease. We stay at a new place that'll be quite nice when the water's plumbed in. They have proper toilets and showers but they're for looking only. Unfortunately we don't know this and Doug commits a minor atrocity in the evening. By 10am it's become Fly Disneyland. Time for a swift exit.
It's 55 miles up the the road to Sagou, and the sacred crocodiles. They're 50 yards from my bed and there's no adult supervision.
I've eaten four whole chickens in the last three days.
27th Feb 2005. Po.
For the last couple of days I've been slightly concerned that a tropical spider may have laid eggs in my right hand. Bumps have appeared that are too close together to be mosquito bites, and in Mali I was attacked by, or more precisely saw, a jumping spider.
Today the bumps appear on my left hand as well and it strikes me that what I'm actually dealing with is contact dermatitis from a slight nickel allergy triggered by the poppers in my gloves. Phew!
Ghana tomorrow! Africa update - It's very very hot and everyone is very very friendly. What did you expect? Sleet and frowns?
28th Feb 2005. Tamale, Ghana.
We are fever-browed with excitement as we approach the Ghanaian border. It turns out to be easily the slowest crossing since Tangier. But suddenly we're in Pineapple Paradise and speaking English, which is like coming home after nearly six months in foreign-land. The guide book says Tamale is a dusty hellhole with a 10pm military curfew. In fact the curfew was over months ago and whoever thought Tamale was dusty hadn't just been through Mali and Burkina. The friendliness level is increasing. I stop for a cig and water break - maybe seven minutes - and four people stop - cars and bikes - to see if I'm OK. 7500 miles from Islington...
1st March 2005. Kintampo.
In a small town halfway between Tamale and Kumasi I stop at a turning with a hotel signposted, and sit on a hillock to wait for Doug. After 10 minutes a guy comes out of his workshop to bring me a wooden chair.
Ghana has scenery! Rolling hills and lush greenery seem to start here. And the termite mounds are like cathedrals...
Unfortunately I forgot to get a photo of the two relief-carvings on the walls of yesterday's hotel, one of a seven-foot bleeding-heart Jesus, the other of a leopard with huge, eye-wateringly tumescent love organs, about to sodomise a horrified crocodile.
It's bloody hot.
2nd March 05. A Monkey Sanctuary.
It emerges in conversation today that Doug committed not one but two crimes against lavatorial decency in Burkina. It pains me to go into detail, but picture the two most revolting scenes from the movie of "Trainspotting". He recreated them both.
Ghana continues to be really startlingly friendly.
In other news, my trousers are starting to fall to pieces and they're the only pair I've got.
4th March 2005. Kumasi.
Drinking beer one evening, we meet a girl called Flora. It takes every ounce of self-control I possess to stop myself asking her if she spreads easily.
6th March 2005. Kumasi.
Two footer matches in two days. Today's is Kumasi Asante Kotoko vs. the Morrocan Armed Forces, a CAF Champions League game. One-nil to Kotoko!
Everyone wants our email addresses. It's becoming ever so slightly OPPRESSIVE.
9th March 2005. Cape Coast.
I stop for a fag somewhere in Southern Ghana and within seconds a man-and-wife team materialise from the undergrowth and offer me two - er - things in exchange for a cigarette. They're not coconuts but they might be cocoa-pods.
All things must pass, as George Harrison put it so succinctly, and we part enriched by the encounter. Ten miles down the lane I'm stopped by an aggressive copper who begins to denounce and shame me in an African language, making it clear that transporting a cocoa (or whatever it is) on a motorbike is AN INFRACTION, and that the fine is 100,000 cedis. I protest in English - a bloke gave me them by the side of the road officer *tremble*. He continues to tick me off, now about the fact that I can't speak "vernacular". Well I'm sorry officer but I was off sick the day we did "vernacular". Then he almost-grins and says
1. Only joking about the hundred grand.
2. I speak English, German, French, Spanish, Latin and two or three African languages.
3. Learn an African language!
4. Piss off!!
10th March 2005. Cape Coast.
Conversations I've had in Ghana:
Young Man - I want to be your best friend. I will follow you anywhere.
Me - Uh, thanks.
Baby - HOWAREYOUIMFINE!
Me - Uh, fine.
Waiter - I really really like you.
Me - Uh, OK.
Mad Woman - These are my children! Come to my birthday! I will follow you to London! Plenty fruit in *indecipherable*!
Me - Uh...
Ghana is extremely friendly and chock-full of nutters.
11th March 2005.
I book a flight home for AB's funeral. One week in England. I fly tomorrow, six months to the day after I left.
I feel a moral weight lifting after I book the flight. Doug and I celebrate by spending the whole day drinking beer and eating three platefuls each - where one would have sufficed - of record-breakingly good spicy prawns. BUUURP.
12th March 2005. Kotoka International Airport, Accra.
"Pissing down" is a vulgar and insensitive phrase used in vernacular UK English to signify heavy rain. I'm waiting to get on the plane to London and they won't even let us on the bus from the terminal to the plane, because - if I may - it's fucking shitting down. Beaucoups de lightning etc. But the first busload of people have made it onto the plane so it must be OK.
Accidentally had 10 large gins on the way, six with Doug in Accra and a further four at the airport. There are only two ways to approach a flight of over six hours.
1. Stone cold sober. I've done this a lot and it's fine.
2. Rat-faced shit-arsed drunk. I've done this as well and it's fine. You pays yer money and you takes yer choice.
Here's the thing with American dudes; when you overhear them talking, for example in an airport, you can't help thinking "Lawks! How brash". But when you actually meet them and have a conversation they invariably turn out to be
A. hilarious, and
Ain't that freaky?
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