My friend Johnny Mac is a photographer and recently took this, which may be the best thing ever...
Oh Lord Yeah!
ps - I'm in Mali. It's great.
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?
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