After a mammoth effort by my Mum and Dad and DHL we finally got our new spokes and after 3 weeks lazing around in St Louis, Paul fixed his wheel and we set of to Dakar.
On our final night in St Louis Martin, the owner, invited us for dinner. Unfortunately this didn' t agree with Paul and he was up all night fertilizing the campsite!!! He was determined to get moving the next day though and so we packed up and set off.......although he didn't do up his helmet in case of a sudden bout of on-road nausea!!!
It was good to be back on the road again, Senegal hasn't got spectacular scenery, but it is a very pretty, green country (well it is in the rainy season at least!). The road to Dakar was easy, but by the time we arrived Paul was feeling dreadful and I thought the Alien was in my tummy..... I searched for a hotel with parking for the bikes, while Paul sat with his head between his knees and once we had checked in we climbed straight into bed and went to sleep......such party animals!
Although it feels like we spent most of our 3 days in Dakar in the en-suite bathroom at our hotel, we did manage to drag ourselves away from the toilet bowl to see a bit of the city!!!! We visited the Malian embassy for visas and Pauls broken spokes were no longer broken, but his wheel had a serious wobble, so we spent most of the first day walking the streets trying to find a mechanic who could sort it out. After asking around we found, Toubab (his name means 'white man', so he prefers to be called by his middle name because, as he pointed out, he is a black man!!!) and he fixed the wobble easily. That evening we decided to treat ourselves and went out to a restaurant for some food. We had a traditional peanut dish called Mafe. I don't know if we were still off our food, but i can only describe this dish as minging!!! Luckily it came with chips.....
Day two in Dakar we pounded the streets and bought lots of stuff. Paul had lost his flip flops in Morrocco and in a moment of madness I had allowed him to go shopping alone. Consequently returned with some bright blue, platform flip flops aka baby spice! Thankfully they were very low quality and so we needed to buy some more. It took most of the day to look around the markets, fend off the hoards of vendors and then bargain for everything you buy, but in the end we bought some nice slim-line flipflops and a pair of touristy trousers for Paul and a sarong for me! We had heard some terrible stories about Dakar, but in our experience the people were very persistent (you can never walk alone!), but freindly.
Now that we could keep our food down, we decided to sample some of the famous Dakar nightlife and we hit the town.......unfortunately, it was just me, Paul and about 8 'young ladies' who had decided to 'hit the town', so after a couple of beers in the Jazz club we called it a night!!
The next day we packed up and headed off the the Mali embassy to pick up our visas, before hitting the road. The Malian embassy decided to have an unscheduled holiday, but luckily they had left the gate keeper with full authorisation to issue visas, so we collected our passports and headed east to Mali! (We decided to skip the Gambia because we had spent so much time in Senegal and we need to beat the rainy season in Central Africa).
The road to the border took us 2 days and was pretty badly potholed, but passable. We stayed one night in Kaolak in a Catholic Mission, where we met Pushkar, a Nepalese guy cycling around the world.....and you thought we were wierd!! He had been going since 1998 and hoped to finish in 2009!
The next night we camped in a concrete yard (don't ask, we were too tight to get a room!!) in Tambacounda. This town was our last sure bet for petrol before Mali, so the next morning when we left it was quite distressing to find that they had run out of petrol.....everywhere! Luckily someone had had the presence of mind to stash a barrel of something which looked like beer, so they rolled it out for us to fill up!!! Nervously, we put the brown frothing liquid into our babies and drove off to the Malian border expecting the engines to cut out at any moment!!!!
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!!!
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