Leaving Mauritania was so swift and easy, we weren’t actually sure that we had left until at a police checkpoint, I noticed the uniforms had changed. We had to go to Nioro, the nearest big town to register with the Customs and Police.
We then had to wait a few hours while some French guys on their way to the capital city of Mali, Bamako, to sell their cars, engaged in a little bartering with the customs officials over the price. With the Carnet de Passage, fortunately for us, it was a five minute affair and no charge.
The Police station was a different story and once again we were held up by the French, but this time there was an unofficial charge of 1000 CFA (1.25 E) per passport and 2000 CFA per vehicle. We argued the price for the car which left us with just 2000CFA to find. The problem was changing Oogs for CFA. As everybody wanted Euros and nobody could use a calculator, at last we managed to change money at the pharmacy and then pocket money for the Police.
The route from Nioro to Bamako is half piste and half asphalt, but the piste is very hard with soft sand and deep holes everywhere. Very soon everything including us was covered in a layer of terracotta coloured dust, we both looked like we had been made of clay. We were still travelling with the three German motorcycles and by now carrying most of their luggage because Jan now had Tobias in tow. Blanca and I looked at the dusty piste and tried not to imagine what it would be like in the rainy season, a lot of winching and digging.
Stopping for the night just a short distance from the now familiar little mud and thatched villages, Blanca and I decided to leave the others cooking and walk in to the village to have a look. The villagers where very surprised to see us as we appeared out of the bush and assumed that we were walking to Bamako, suddenly we were offered food, accommodation, etc, which was quite strange when we are normally pestered for ‘cadeaux’, pens, etc. We then had to explain that we were, in fact, camping in the bush and politely declined their offers.
Bamako is crazy!! Hot, dusty, smoky and dry, with loads of very big mosquitoes. It is also the place where most Europeans sell their old cars for quite a good profit. Pretty soon you get tired of saying, no Grommet is not for sale, I don’t have any Euros to change, microwaves, TVs or fridges to sell.
Accommodation here is limited in the centre, exorbitantly priced hotels or very expensive ‘camping’, but this isn’t camping European style. Think of a scruffy parking lot with abandoned cars, vans and caravans, a poor excuse for a toilet that may have been cleaned once, and a shower that when someone turns on a tap, you are left soapy and dry. The only positive reason for staying at Mission Lebanese is its location. Close to the bank, markets, jazz clubs, etc.
Leaving the campsite, the city smacks you right in the face. Mopeds buzz and swan everywhere like a nest of angry bees, people, animals and dangerous looking cars race everywhere. A sort of African version of Oxford Street at Christmas time. Despite the hustle and bustle, everything was tranquil, except when you try to take a photograph. The only thing that gets to you after a while is the pollution, with two stroke diesel engines and the smoke from millions of charcoal fires, very soon eyes were red and throats were sore. You can appreciate why so many locals wear surgical masks on the street. At dusk, there is an eerie scenario like a scene from an alien movie, with ghostly figures appearing and disappearing in the smog.
Next to the roads, open sewers flow or as is often the case, don’t. We amused ourselves while waiting the two hours for the visa to Burkina Faso at a street vendor’s, eating brochettes and fried bananas, sipping cokes and watching the rats scurrying from sewer to sewer.
Bamako has the only ATM bank in the country, and there are also two largish European style supermarkets where you can buy those little luxuries that you miss from home, well France, actually. But be prepared to pay the price. You begin to realise how long you have been travelling, when you wander around the supermarket, ooohing and aahing at everything for sale, cheese, wine, pate, meat with no flies, heaven. We just bought a few essentials and had to stop short for fear of blowing our total annual budget in one go!
Still the markets are cheap and stocked with all kinds of fresh fruit, some you can recognise, others a complete mystery. After the lack of variety in Mauritania it was fantastic to have a fruit salad with fresh pineapple, mango and water melon.
Sorry folks, but the hair has had to go, despite numerous protests from Greenpeace and Sting, a few swift moves with the electric clippers and a complete ecosystem was on the floor. I am sawn again. Easier, cleaner and cooler.
The African diet is also working well and I have lost a lot of weight, four holes on my belt, and no more holes left. Tight fitting trousers and shorts now only stay up with the aid of a belt. So I am starting to look a bit like a rapper. Blanca, fortunately, is pretty much the same and gorgeous as ever.
While here in Bamako, we met up again with Lilli and Steffen, our original German bikers. Along with the Dutch couple, Sietzke and Aeron. There was also a French film crew finishing a movie about a guy and his adventures on route to sell his car. We also met an Austrian called Didi travelling in a yellow VW camper on route around Africa.
Parked next to Grommet where a French couple in a Spanish-made Santana Land Rover, at last a chance for some anorak talk, there doesn’t seem to be many land rovers left in this part of Africa, all consumed by Toyotas and Mitsubishis, shame! Somebody didn’t do their marketing figures very well.
Pretty soon the pollution, the state of the campsite and George, the campsite owner, pestering for money, got to us and it was time to head of once more.
We teamed up once again with Lilli and Steffen and headed off to on route to Djenne and the biggest mud brick mosque in the world. Along the way, we were joined by Didi and found a beautiful spot for the night on the bank on the river Niger at the end of a mango tree avenue surrounded by fields of rice. The only problem was, this idyllic spot was adjacent to a local school, which had just finished for the day as we arrived. Very soon we were surrounded. The children were very polite and intrigued by everything we did. They loved seeing photos of themselves on Blanca’s digital camera. We said farewell to Didi in the morning and headed for the piste to Djenne, he opted instead to take the paved road. Crossing through the flood planes of the river Niger I was reminded of my rallying days in the south of England, with the tracks surrounded by water, rice fields and lily ponds. The problem with travelling with motorcycles is they can utilise even the smallest of tracks. Pretty soon Grommet was squishing along bicycles track in hot pursuit as we tried to locate the correct piste. At last we emerged from the bush and Djenne.
Chez Baba was a breath of fresh air after Bamako, cheap, very clean, great showers, clean toilets and roof top views of the village, and in the evening traditional music and dancing. We decided to spend a few days here and recover from Bamako and catch the market on Monday. It was fantastic to wander around the tiny village unmolested, but you need to watch out for the open drains that run down the middle of even the smallest of streets. The market was an amazing array of colours, with virtually everything on sale, from car spares to dried fish, peanut butter, fruit and vegetables, cows and goats, rice and cloth. If you had the time, you can choose the cloth in the morning and have an outfit ready by lunch time.
We left Djenne via the little ferry across the Bani River. I was amused when the ferry moved away from the bank and then beckoned me to drive on board thus avoiding grounding the ferry. Having successfully crossed the river we headed off for the Dogon Country and a guide called Ali who came highly recommended by a couple of Belgian guys, Gerard and Eric, travelling in a Mann truck with money no object.
Chez Ali is after Bandiagara on route to Sanga, near a village called Daga on top of a 300m escarpment.
Over a cold coke we arrange a days trek to the valley below and the chance to check out three typical Dogon villages, Tirelly, Amani and Irelly.
The following morning we got up very early and set off with Ali, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Errol Brown of the band Hot Chocolate, to climb down the escarpment. On the way down we met many of the villagers on their way up with huge bowls or sacks of goods balanced on their heads in the typical African style. On the descent we stopped at the first village on the list, we had to pay a small fee in order that we may take photos without offending anybody. The Dogon are a very proud people and many of their ways and traditions along with the style of village seem to have been frozen in time. High up along the escarpment are the remains of the little Tellem houses the previous inhabitants of the valley, who were forced out by the Dogon, who felled the surrounding forest in order to grow millet. On route between villages we passed a crocodile pool and at least these crocs weren’t camera shy! Blanca wouldn’t get close enough for some real action shots though. After the last village and a fantastic day it was time to make the near vertical accent back to camp.
This was not a route for the faint hearted or those who suffer with vertigo, in particular the climb on locally carved ladders! Still the views were amazing. That evening we treated ourselves to a meal cooked for us of chicken in a peanut sauce with rice, one of the best meals in Mali especially as it was the cock that had woken us up so very, very early the in the morning. The next day was spent recovering from the walk and climb, Big Brother style watched by the locals.
Now it was time to say goodbye to Didi once more, as he headed off to Timbuktu and we for Burkina Faso and yet another country. Burkina Faso should be interesting as it is said to be the poorest country in Africa.
On a final note, think of us driving African piste trying to avoid axel breaking potholes and heavily over loaded trucks crabbing towards you at speed.
Oh almost forgot Happy Christmas to all out there in cyber land……………..
Sorry, that the pictures in Mali don’t include any from the Dogon Country or Djenne, but we think the memory stick has got Malaria.
High Tech Germans in trouble
The Big Brother show comes to town
A rare straight bus
The Local Oil Company
A typical village
Germans on the piste
The Big Brother show comes to town
Blanca and friend
The domestic goddess
Flies with your meat, sir.