October 03, 2004 GMT
2004 - Peace Corps and Gold mines

After the hell of the Senegal border, entering Mali was a breeze! Obviously it took most of the day, but time is free!

Everything stops between 12 and 3pm, so we ended up eating lunch with the policeman at the Senegal side of the border before crossing to Mali later that afternoon.
We had a problem with our carnet and I had to go into the town to visit the house of the customs chief, but by 4pm we were through onto Mali soil.
We had hoped to ride to Kayes, the next petrol stop, but the dirt road was really potholed and so we ended up bush camping off the road before we lost the light. Paul found a lovely spot under a HUGE Boabab tree about 200m off the road and we set up camp.
The mosquitoes forced us into the tent quite early and then we had a donkey come by to investigate, followed by a huge herd of cows and their herder! This was our first bush camp and I spent most of the night 'on watch'.......for what I am not sure, but I was ready!
Mali was a big surprise. I had expected desert, but here in the west it was really lush.
The next day we hit Kayes, a big low rise dusty city. We needed a shower after the night bush camping, so when i noticed a white girl (Toubab!) walking down the road we went over to see if she could point us in the direction of a hotel. She turned out to be Nora, an American Peace Corps Volunteer living in Mali. She invited us to stay at their house, where we met Andy, Dee Dee, Philip and later Stephen, all PCVs living in small villages around Mali. Staying in the peace corps house was luxury!!! They had fans, showers AND beds.....fantastic! We cleaned up and spent the next 2 days relaxing infront of their video machine!!! Our good fortune continued when we met Karen, an American teacher and Michelle, a South African nurse, both working at a nearby Gold mine. They told us about their swimming pool, supermarket, air con and then invited us to stay! Obvioulsy we couldnt get there quick enough to enjoy a bit of luxury! Karen was such a lovely person and she gave us the keys to her neighbour's air con flat and we spent the day lounging around the pool!

I was getting used to the good life, so we decided it was time to get back on the road. We were heading to Bamako, the capital city. In Africa there is always 2 routes going everywhere! In this case we had to choose between the short, scenic, dirt road or the long, tarmac route. After speaking to locals and the peace corps volunteers we decided to ignore the Michelin map's advice and take the short route, which included a 60km stretch of road marked dangerous:difficult!! BIG mistake!
First of all we couldn't even find the road........perhaps because it wasn't really a road .... and when we did it was obstacle after obstacle.
There were sand beds, rocky hills, exposed rocky river beds and actual rivers to cross. It was hell and poor Paul had to ride most of the obstacles twice because it was just too difficult for me to manage.
After the first day of riding we had travelled a pityful 15kms and it took us 2 more days to complete the 60kms.
It was truly a hellish 3 days and I have a couple of issues with the Mali defintions of roads and bridges, but on the positive side, we saw some beautiful Mali villages, camped on the banks of the Senegal river and saw Chutes de Gouina, the Victoria Falls of West Africa.
We are now staying in a hotel in Bamako, where we need to get our visas for Burkina Faso, so we can relax for a few days!
The road to Timbuktu is marked as Difficult:Dangerous on our Michelin map, so the only way I am going there is by plane!!!

Posted by Paul Jenkins at October 03, 2004 01:02 PM GMT

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