2004 - Muck Mosques etc..
Well, it feels like such a long time since we updated the weblog.....I think last time I wrote was in Mali's capital, Bamako, where we were enjoying a hotel room (with fan) and were recovering from a hellish ride on a non-existent road!!!
Time is definately a healer because even I have been heard to recount the rocky track and dried up river bed experience as a good one!!!
Bamako is pretty small and low rise, but it is a great city to walk around. Because we are too tight to get taxis we always walk miles when we get to cities, but it is a great way to get a feel for the place...and of course, it is free! After our disasterous attempts to experience the famous West African nightlife in Dakar, we were determined to see something in Bamako, so one evening we headed out to a 'popular nightspot' (oh dear I sound like my Dad) called Espace Bouna, a huge open air live music club. It was Saturday night and we had both got dressed up.....Paul had his African print 'tourist' trousers on and I wasn't wearing socks with my flip flops (a necessary fashion faux pas when there are mosquitos about!). It would have been great if anyone else had turned up, but unfortunately it was just the two of us and quite a few waiters....even the band didn't show! Typical!
Our main reasons for visiting Bamako were to go to the only ATM in Mali to get some cash and for Burkina Faso visas. Sensibly we had arrived in Bamako on a Friday evening with no money and only ATM in the whole of Mali was out of service......needless to say it was a lean weekend!!! The bank opening on Monday morning brought us a much needed cash injection and in a moment of extravagance we took a cab to the Burkina Faso embassy, which was a stroke of luck because it happened to be so far out of town I thought we were driving to Burkina Faso to get the visa!
So, with all our admin done we headed North-East towards Mali's second largest town, Segou. Segou is a lovely French colonial style city and it feels a bit like you are walking through history as nothing seems to have changed for a hundred years. We stopped off for a fanta and a plate of chips at a hotel and met Mattheus, a German guy living and working in Mali who told us about a great place next to a river where we could camp for the night. Apparently it was only 10km off the main road, so we thought we would have a look......20 miles later we still hadn't found a river and it was getting dark! At first when we are looking for a place to camp we are really picky.....it needs to be on the banks of a river, or under a palm tree....after a few hours of looking around our standards drop and on this day we had had enough and just stopped in the middle of a dusty track in the bush and pitched the tent!! It was actually really nice and no-one spotted us, which is a novelty!
After Segou, (or should I say the bush near Segou) we travelled to Djenne, which is famous for its muck mosque.
I am not sure what the technical term for their building material is, but in Yorkshire we call it muck! It is a strange sight, you arrive by ferry at Djenne and the whole town is built from muck, there are no tiles on the rooves or glass in the windows, every building is totally made from muck. The mosque stands in the market square (also muck, in case you were wondering) and our hotel overlooked the whole lot and yes, it was a muck hotel! That night there was a huge thunder storm and I was slightly concerned that my muck hotel room would dissolve around us, but it held OK!
We had decided to give Timbuktu a miss......it was a hard decision because we were only about 100km away, but we had heard mixed reviews of the road. Some people said it was a hellish sandy piste, in which case we didn't fancy it, but others said it was a good piste and would be a breeze. The whole point about Timbuktu is that it is in the middle of the desert and very difficult to get to, so if the road is very easy, it takes away the mystery.......anyway, that was our exuse for not going and we are sticking to it!!!
We did howver visit the Dogon country on our way to the Burkina Faso border.
Those of you who read the National Geographic will know (hmmm, looking at our mailing list, I think it is only my Auntie Moira!!!) it is one the most spectacular sights in the world. It is an escarpment where the ancient Dogon people have built villages on the cliff face.
We stayed the night in Bandiagara, a town which sits on the top of the escarpment and decided we wanted to buy a souvenir of Mali. Because we have bikes it is hard to buy souvenirs as we just don't have the space to carry them, but we have decided to get one small thing from each country. Mali means Hippo, in the local language and so we wanted to get a small carving of a hippo. No-one had a hippo and although they tried to tell us that an elephant was the same as a Hippo, we stood our ground and eventually someone said they would carve one for us! Alarm bells should have started ringing when they asked me to draw a hippo for the wood carver......we can't draw, so eventaully they found a picture of a hippo on a beer mat and took it to the 'artist' (now we were getting slight reservations bearing in mind that this is their National symbol and Mali means hippo and no-one seems to know what one is!!!). Anyway, the next morning we were presented with our Malian sounvenir, which I can only describe as a Hipporocerous. It looks like a fat pig with a horn on its nose! Oh well, you live and learn!!!
So that day, we took the road down the escarpment, which was breathtaking and then headed to the Burkina border, which was a breeze and we were through in a couple of hours.
We don't have the money to visit every place in every country, unfortunately Burkina was one of places we had decided to fly through. We were just going to the capital, Ouagadougou (I am not joking, that really is a word!) to get our visas and then heading straight out to Ghana. As usual we had arrived on a Friday evening and so the embassy would be shut, so we decided to bush camp before we hit the capital. Easier said than done in Burkina because there are so many people....everywhere! We did find a spot, but it was only a matter of time before a group of cattle herders found us hiding under a tree!!! They all called there friends and we had a stare squad of around 50 cattle and 10 kids until sun down!!
In Ouaga, we stayed at a really nice hotel where we met Karen, a Canadian travelling around Mali, Burkina and Niger on her own......she was a total nutcase, but very brave! We had a great weekend with her and FINALLY managed to successfully see some live African music!!! The first night we saw a local Reggae band, who were fantastic. We enjoyed it so much we went back and saw a traditional drumming/xylophone band, who were totally amazing! The lead musician had a 6 foot xylophone, which he played upside down, on his back, in a handstand...in fact every which way you can think of...sometimes it made my eyes water!! We enjoyed Ouaga and had a great time hanging out with Karen, but once we had our Ghanaian visa we jumped ship and headed for the Gold coast! We had been land locked for too long and Pauls milky white legs were in need of some beach therapy!
Posted by Paul Jenkins at 08:48 AM
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 01:02 PM