You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2010.

Rest day. We’ve got a shaded part of the back garden where we are staying. Nouakchott is a dusty inferno. Absolute chaos when we got a taxi to the market. Our taxi driver said there was a new government last year and this is the reson for the JCB’s and upheaval whilst they make new roads in the capital.

Five minutes in the sun is enough. The taxi driver said it was cooler today! This isn’t quite the hottest time of year. It cools off in November.

We went to the Grand Marche, then the artisan market right after. Good to see. Bun wanted to buy some malafa, a crinkly fabric Moor women use as veils. Men wear varying designs of a boubou, a sky-blue or white folded sheet type garment with a slit in it for the head and a pocket thats there for carrying mobile phones and money. The sort of thing you want to instantly to wear. The Port de Peche (fish market) is the must see thing here. We will head down there this afternoon and get something to cook later.

The Moors of Mauritania are of Arabic origin and speak Hassaniya. Their society still remains hierarchical. Black skinned slaves from the south, known as harratin, hold the lowest position with the fair skinned bidan. Hassane nobles being the highest caste.

No more visas to sort out now for the rest of thr trip. We are free from any running around. Western Sahara comes under Morocco. We can enter pretty much enter Morocco like anywhere in Europe.

29/09/2010 – Kiffa to Nouakchott – Mauritania

Route taken –  Kiffa, Guerou, Sangrafa, Aleg, Boutilimit, Nouakchott –  362 miles – max temp 42c

It was always going to be a long day. From Kiffa, we reckoned we could do it in eight hours to the Nouakchott, taking into account the police stops. We were already running low on photocopies, so we stopped before Aleg to get some more down!

We bought some bread from the side of the road and got some other bits out of the fridge and we were on the move again. Much improved sticks of bread here and there everywhere when you pass through a town.

We kept seeing dead animals on the road. Left to rot in the searing heat, turned on their backs with bloated bellies. We couldn’t understand why there were so many. When we got to one section of road, there was some carnage with a smashed  Renault Espace. Beyond that some lorries which looked like they were also involved. In amongst this, were what must have been 20 or so sheep, all dead. They came off worse, either a collision (they are always in the the road or at the side), or the lorry was carrying them and it went into the nearby pond, still there from the wet season and drowned. We didn’t hang around.

The most stunning section of road was the desert area after Aleg. On our map it says Trarza. Not sure if this is part of the Sahara proper, but there were many dunes extending into the distance. We got a glimpse of the french trucks on this section and there was a hooting match as we passed. Good to see them again. Not sure where they ended up last night. We passed a few other overland vehicles passing the other way and gave them a wave.

We got to Nouakchott at about four. Seems quite a small capital and very sandy. It wasn’t hard to find our spot for the night at Auberge Menata.

Not sure what the next plan is. We will suss out if it’s ok to head up to Atar to explore the desert up there. Think we need a few days taking it easy here first and catching up on things.

Mauritania may possible be the last Saharan country where exploring the desert is still possible without a guide. Some say that will not last for long. There are some great and relatively easy routes, including the piste that runs from the border with Western Sahara to Choum that follows the railway track.

28/09/2010 – Ayoun el ‘Atrous to Kiffa – Mauritania

Route taken: Ayoun el ‘Atrous, Tintane, Kiffa – 127 miles – max temp 42c (camped at Hotel Emel, 7km west of town. If you camp, you can take a room to use the shower and toilet., and watching BBC World News on the TV)

We thought an early start would be a better idea today. Mainly because we were not sure how far we would get. We had expected to have got to Kiffa the first day but got stuck behind the french convoy the first day!

We wanted to get to Kiffa and then take it easy for the rest of the day. Kiffa had a camp site and we knew would stay there. It was safer than where we were last night. We didn’t want to bomb on through, so though lets take one extra day and take it easy. The French guys were trying to get to Aleg, 344 kms beyond kiffa and right in the edge of the desert.

We got going at 7.30. We said morning and quickly later a goodbye to the police who guarded us last night. It didn’t take long it would take a long time ot get to Kiffa let alone Alegf. The French guys were still making coffee when we left. We decided to leave them behind. We could have made it to, possibly, Noukchott if we were felling particularly suicidal. It was already boiling hot when we left and thought Kiffa will do for today. It took us three and half hours doing 100km an hour to get to Kiffa.  The road was really bad in spots. Washed away edges in quite a few places and deviations. Added to that potholes and sand over the road.

Lots more police checks. Less tedious than yesterday. Good to see the Moorish/Berber settlements along the road. Colourful tents and plenty of camels. Masses of cows that decide to cross the road exactly when you are passing. Unlike in Mali, no farmer in sight to keep them away.

When we got into Kiffa , we got some bread, water and fuel and moved on the the camp at the edge of town. It’s peaceful here. A very hot wind known as the rifi, has kicked in. As soon as we got out of the vehicle it hit us. We are relaxing under a tent, keeping us cool, having some lunch. Thank god for fridges. We have one ice cold coke in the fridge which we are about open.

We will see if the French trucks show up later……………

27/09/2010 – Nioro to Ayoun el ‘Atrous – Mauritania

Route taken: Nioro (Mali), Gogui (Mauritanian border post), Kobenni, Ayoun el ‘Atrous – 196 miles – max temp 36c

This was a first. Sheep brains for breakfast! We got invited in again for breakfast and to see the family. They all sit in a courtyard, a typical African village type scene and we got asked to sit round the same table as last night.

Another guessing game as to what might be under the large dish that was covered with another dish and a cloth, there to keep the flies away.

One of the French guys made a gasping sound, followed by saying in french ‘ this is for breakfast’. Surrounding the head were lots of fried dough type things resting in sauce. I thought at least I can get away with just eating those. Once we started eating, we all dug into whatever meat we could find on the head!

That was all good, but then a Malian guy, travelling with the French guys, shook the head and it’s brains fell out. One of the french guys went first (names come and go so hard to remember most of them. He was the one that looked rough and was drinking quinine leaves brewed overnight to shake his fever). Then we all followed. It was tasty, like a liver or kidney flavour. the sight of the head was more off putting at first. Some more hot milk to finish and then we went to pack our stuff up.

At this point we were thinking we should get going. If we were on our own, we would have crossed the border by now. But we decided to go in convoy with the trucks after all that we had heard about safety in Mauritania. One last round of goodbyes to the family and we were on the move. It was very kind and generous of them to invite us in like that and feed us. Good memories of the short time we spent with them.

The French guys had explained that they travel at 70 kmh. This is snail pace to us. We are both up for taking Africa at it’s own pace, but that was a little to slow. We thought let’s go with it today.

We finished off things in Mali, by heading into Nioro, to get loads of photocopies done. In Mauritania, police ask for details from your passport and other information at every road check. It is known as a fiche, and is just details of your passport and vehicle details, like registration and chassis number. It speeds things along a little.

There are now more checks because of the security situation. Temperatures get to 30c by 9am, so by now walking around town to find a photocopier was already a task! We found a small shop with an old Olivetti copier. We managed to get 20 copies each out of it. It took as a while as the machine got jammed after 5 copies!

Off to the border at snails pace. 60kms to the border, took over and hour. We got immigration out of the way. All 6 passports stamped and we went off to have the carnet stamped.

Here we go. The customs office, could approve the exportation of the vehicle, but couldn’t stamp the carnet for us. This would have to be done back in Nioro. We hadn’t heard about this, and after getting slowed down by the snail convoy, we had to bomb back the 30 miles to Nioro.

What can get you in trouble sometimes in Africa is not allowing enough time in case of things like this. We calculated an hour and a bit to go back and get the stamp, then an hour to get through the Mauritanian border post at the most, would then give us two hours to cover the 130 miles to Ayoun el ‘Ayous. This would be ok, so we got going. We passed a man who must have had a close miss with a goat or donkey, because his motorbike had left lots rubber marks on the tarmac and his load, a few sacks of charcoal, was all over the road. We stopped to ask if he was ok. We went on after he said he was fine!

Luckily for us, the first compound we came to as we entered Nioro was the bureau of finance. It had lots of foreign plate vehicles inside, so we thought this must be the right place. I got the stamp in a few minutes and we were off again.

We said to the French guys that we would meet up in Ayoun. We were working out how quickly we would catch them after the border.

The border was ok and a lot easier than had been described. The only hassle was the first police check we got to, the police man asked if we had any contraband. We had stashed the rum and the one bottle of red wine I’ve had since South Africa in the tent the night before. It’s illegal to bring alcohol into Mauritania, like in Sudan, but like the most of Africa, the police are too lazy to do any serious searching.

He then got interested in the inside of the Land cruiser and got excited by the gps and the iphone, like he wanted them. I interupted him by opening the back door. This always works as it shows what a mess the back is in and they get put off by any more searching and questions.

Despite the police checks, they are well needed in Mauritania right now. You feel much safer travelling there and the photo copies are well needed. We got rid of five copies each on the first  day. We were told security was ok but should avoid any travel at night.

Just before arrived in Ayoun, the sky turned to a golden colour. It looked like rain at first, but it could also have been sand mixed in there as well. Some rain fell, and the sand storm didn’t hit us. We got through the last check point into Ayoun around 5pm.

The police knew we were coming. The French guys must have said something to the police. We hadn’t arranged to meet them anywhere, but knew it was a small town. Before we left that check point, we were handed the phone by one of the guards. The officer at the other end asked if we were with the French trucks and where we intended to stay. We had no idea, but went in search of the frenchies to find somewhere.

After driving round town for ten minutes, we couldn’t fail to recognise their massive trucks. We acknowledge we had found them and then followed them to a back street where we could camp for the night.

The Malian who was with them, had a friend of his fathers living in Ayoun. So what looked like a normal sandy street, was our camp for the night! We had read people had been kidnapped here before a few years ago. We were happy to have met up with them again, so assumed the Malian was in the know and with the police knowing, we were fine here and the police were aware of us being in town and where we were staying!

We spilt, the frenchies and the Malian man went for food, and we stayed and Bun made chicken noodle soup and looked after the vehicles. Pretty much a normal night played out on the centre of Ayoun on a desert like back street, with young boys looking on, to see what we were up to. One came over to have his photo taken with us both.

There was a amazing light display that night form the lighting in the distance. After we got an early night. We had the laptop, and started watching some episodes whilst we suffered in the heat that night. The ovens been turned up a notch since leaving Mali. Welcome to Mauritania!

Maybe an hour later. the French guy that spoke english shouted up to us. There was a police truck that had pulled up next to all the vehicles. There was a conversation in french that went on for a while. We were told we were not safe camping here tonight and we were to follow the police to a checkpoint on the edge of town for safety.

What we found out later, was that the French guys had been given two options by the police when they arrived in Ayound el ‘Atorus. They were to either drive into town and camp or stay somewhere 70 km away. After along day and just before dark. they had really only one choice. We had missed out on this information as we were delayed at the border with going back for the carnet stamp.

We groaned having to get up and packed the tent away!  Ten minutes later the frenchies had the dogs in the back and we were off with the police. We followed behind the first truck. The second truck was busy getting stuck in the sand! It was stuck and needed pulling out by the other truck. We shuffled the vehicles around and we took first place behind the police. The policeman tried to entertain us with his english whilst we waited!

We got going after a while. It was weird being taking in convoy through the town to safety. It hadn’t felt unsafe where we were, but it was still only 8.30pm. Fifteen minutes later we were at a check point on the edge of town. We found a spot each and that was it. The lightning was in full display still and the wind was picking up strong. It was still bloody hot, but we went back to watching the laptop. What a day!

26/07/2010 – Bamako to Nioro – Mali

Route taken: Bamako, Kolokani, Metanbougou, Djema, Nioro – 265 miles – max temp 36c

Bamako’s a hard city to pull ourselves away from. We needed the morning to finish up in the capital before heading to Mauritania.

Hardly any hassle in Mali regarding the police, so we were surprised to get stopped by an idiot who tried to send us to the police station because we happen to have blacked-out rear windows! I think his beef was with the glass having a plastic layer rather than the actual glass being black. Anyway we got rid of him by calling over his less annoying colleague. Looked like he wasn’t going to let us go easily at first.

It took four hours to cover the 270 miles to Nioro. The bush started to thin out as we headed north after Djema.  It’s always good to see landscape changing in front of your eyes – this time from green to semi-desert. As we got near Nioro , we started to see the odd sand dune in the distance. Men wearing head tubans and a little of arabic starting to creep in.

As we got through the last toll gate as we entered Nioro, we got sight on a couple of trucks with French plates. Not unusual to see here, but these trucks looked like they were overlanding. They could have passed for local trucks, but the whacky paintings on the side of one of them gave it away. We followed behind them into town and then got out to speak to them after we arrived.

There were three of them, from different parts of France, and they had all been together, spending four months in Mali, Three months in Senegal etc and were now on their way back into Morocco, taking the same route as us. They had two dogs with them for company. They looked like the cast of the Lord of the Rings!

We had found one place to stay in Nioro on the internet in Bamako. It was our only option, so didn’t hold much on it being any good. Luckily, travelling with the frenchies, was a Malian who’s family lived in Nioro. We got invited to stay with them to cross into Mauritania the next day. The option was to camp outside of the family house on some land. We took them up on their offer and got invited to meet the family and share some food with them that evening.

We got given Wigila, a Malian dish Bun had ordered in Djenne. Dumplings, but softer, served in a meat/tomato sauce. It was better this time and very tasty. We’ve had quite a few sit down situations with families, and your never sure what you will be given. After a long day, it was a real treat. The passed around the bucket to wash our hands and we then all dived in with our hands to take a piece. They finished of with mint tea and another drink of hot milk.

We all spent the rest of the evening chatting with the a few of the men. I say chatting, we tried our hardest with only a small amount of French. One of the French guys could speak English, but had trouble with the accent!

Not quite, but we need to head on. It would be easy to spend a lot of time in Bamako. Next stop today will be Nioro du Sahel, in the Kayes region of Mali, 275 miles from Bamako. A crossing point into Mauritania the next day.

25/09/2010 – A little retail therapy in Bamako. Last night was very good. We ate near the hotel and headed out to find Le Diplomate, but ended up at another venue called Le Savanah. Thinking lets call it a night, we got a taxi back around midnight but then saw Le Diplomate a few minutes after we got going in the taxi. We jumped out and headed inside. Some great live music. Different  singers taking it in turn to sing on stage.

The women singers are known for their beauty and powerful voices in Mali. Bamako has to be one of Africa’s top cities for music. I still reckon it has some of the best music around right now anywhere. The griot tradition seems to produce endless great musicians.

We’ve been approached endless times to sell the Land Cruiser. It’s not uncommon here for locals to convert right-hand drives into left hand drives. They expect you to sell your vehicle for a lot less to allow them to do this after they purchase it. So a few pointless phone numbers taken to keep a few people happy.

One of the only cars you see here is a Mercedes 190d. They are everywhere. Taxis drivers spray them yellow. A very easy place to sell one if you can drive it from Europe.

24/09/2010 – A good day on Friday. We got our Mauritanian visas quickly on Friday morning and had all the filters and engine oil changed for the last time on the Land Cruiser. If anyones needs a 4×4 workshop in Bamako, M.F.M Sarl is very good. Tel: 73 28 38 72

Were aiming to leave Bamako and head to Mauritania on Sunday. That leaves time to enjoy some music in Bamako tonight and Saturday before heading on. We are off to Le Diplomate, the legendary club in Bamako that has live music on Friday night. It is owned by the well known kora player, Toumani Diabaté.

We left our base on the outskirts at Le Cactus and have moved into central Bamako for the weekend.

Gps for Mauritanian embassy in Bamako  – n 12 39 710 w 007 57 999

Route taken: Segou, Bamako – 149 miles

Easy route to Bamako. Nothing of great interest along the way. We stopped off at a village with a market in progress to see what we could find. We came away with one of those large calabashes.

We arrived in the capital, Bamako, just in time for Mali’s celebration of 50 years of Independence. More a display of military prowess from what we have seen on TV. We found a way around town without getting held up by the celebrations. We are camping at Le Cactus, 10km from the centre on the river Niger waiting for the city to return to normal. Run by a Canadain couple who have been in Bamako for the last 30 years. A good spot, but feels like a long way from the centre.

Route taken: Djenne, San, Bla, Segou – 206 miles

Route taken: Sevare, Mopti, Sevare, Somadougou, Djenne (ferry to Djenne) – 87 miles – Stayed at Djenne-Djenno

Luckily we timed ok to get to Djenne for the Monday market. Before that, Mopti is a bit crazy at the best of times, so after a bite to eat at the Bissap cafe we had a quick look around, avoiding the Tuareg men trying to sell us all sorts of souveniers, and got out of town quickly to make our way to Djenne. Al managed to find a really nice Fulani wedding blanket which you can find in Mopti.

Some blurb –  Djenne is the oldest city in Sub-Saharan Africa and remains the World’s largest mud built structure. It has a fascinating history. It flourished as a main trading centre in the 16th century, taking advantage of its location to Timbuktu which is 220 miles upstream. It also linked all the countries north of the Sahara with central Africa. Moroccan kings occupied the city for a time and this can be seen in the design of some buildings near the mosque in the centre of Djenne.

Being made of mud, the maintenance of the Great Mosque is supervised by a guild of 80 senior masons, who also coordinate the annual spring replastering. Many of the citizens of Djenné work to prepare banco (mud mixed with rice husks) for the event.

We made our way from the main Bamako-Gao highway, and stopped to make a turn towards Djenne. The ferry which would take us to Djenne was working – the water was really high. The ferry couldn’t really stop working during the wet season and it still had a good amount of trade, especially on market day, despite some people staying away because of the rains.

When we finally got to see the market, it was something else. Instantly we were transformed back a few hundred years. It was chaos – there was mud everywhere. We got a guide, more to stop him hassling us than something we actually needed, and he navigated us around the worse patches. He took us around the mosque and then through the market to see what was going on. Some funky smells coming from things we didn’t recognise. There was the usual market display. Fulani women dressed in colourful dresses everywhere. Vegetables, dried herbs, cooking intstruments, tools, large calabashes (great carrying tools, not seen anywhere else, but in Mali, it’s a big thing). We  are starting to see mint for sale as we head slowly back into mainly muslim/Arabic countries. Hibiscus (bissap) is a big thing and that is also sold in the market.

After a long look around we headed back to the cafe for some food and tried to decide if we could bear coming in this weather. A resounding No, so we headed to a hotel in desperate need of a hot shower!

Route Taken – Tour of Pays Dogon (Villages – Djiguibombo, Kani-Kombole, Teli, Ende, Yawa, Dourou) Bandiagara, Sevare – 110 miles

We woke up to clear blue skies, and it stayed that way. Thank god no rain after yesterday’s mission to get to Bandiagari in a downpour. We had sorted out a guide after we arrived yesterday and arranged to meet him early on Sunday for a day trip to Dogon country, an animist group living in the Bandiagari escarpment, a 150km stretch of sandstone cliff found in Mali’s central plateau.

Al had seen it before, in the dry season, but it was looking absolutely stunning in the green of the wet season with waterfalls falling from the cliffs in places. We went to Teli where there are mud huts built into the cliff face. No longer inhabited, the village is now on the ground. They were originally built into the cliffs for defence against wild animals that used to be in the area.

When we arrived at the turn off to Teli a man who was there said that the road had been badly damaged by the rain and we would not be able to go any further,  but we decided to take a look.

Al and the guide got out and decided on a route through, where the track was badly eroded by the rain. It involved us driving along the edge of one side and then swapping to the other, across a crevice in the middle. Al edged forward but when we hit the soft sand in the middle the wheels span. I knew what this could mean so screamed “stop stop!” and then “try to reverse.” The wheels span again and I thought oh s*** we are stuck again & out here there is no one to help. Then we realized that the wheels were not straight so we put that right and the Landcruiser reversed out easily.

Al then edged forward again at less of an angle and this time we got through easily. When the guide climbed back in he said “your car is very strong, very strong”

Having seen the strength of the car he then decided that we could go on up the valley after seeing Teli. The previous day he had said this was not possible.

We spent a while exploring Teli, then headed to Yawa, A cliff top village an hours drive around the plateau to avoid the worst of the track.

When we made it to the top of the cliff in Yawa, all the ladies were together pounding millet. When they saw Al they got very excited and took a real shine to him. They were asking the guide if we were married. Is he really from London? Can’t he stay? Al enjoyed this! I pointed out that he was free to stay here and have 3 wives! Miles from anywhere, with no modern amenities – or a Liberty’s!

We would be hard pushed to find a more idyllic location amongst the villages of Dogon country. A Fantastic place. we could see the plateau extend to where we had come from over the last few weeks. A green valley and on the opposite side a huge long red dune covered in grass nearby. Beyond that, a view as far as the eye could see. Flat green plains and red sandy tracks all the way to Burkina Faso & Benin were out there on the horizon.

Hoping to hit the Monday market at Djenne tomorrow –

And where we came from today –

And, more news from Mauritania’s clean-up of the desert regions near Timbuktu and beyond. All happening over the weekend.

Route: Ouahigouya, Koro, Bankass, Bandiagara – 110 miles

We seemed to get stuck in Ougadougou with Al getting maleria. We needed a change. There were still differing stories as to whether or not the northern areas were safe, so we felt it better to leave it.

Burkina wasn’t particularly well set up for overlanding. We knew Mali would be, so headed there today – a good chance to gain some time. We are going to need some time to play with once we hit Mauritania!

A beautiful drive to get here. We are right on the edge of Dogon country. The scenery changed into Sahel, desert like, conditions and Bun got all exicited when she saw the first camels in ages.

We helped someone else out who was stuck in the mud this time. A Mercesdes that was on its way to Badiagara.

Lots more rain overnight. We were not sure what state the roads would be in, after the border  in Mali. Luckily it wasn’t as bad as people were saying. Still, great chunks taken out of it in parts and lot and lots of holes.

17/09/2010 – Ougadougou, Yako, Ouahigouya – 123 miles

As always, good to get going again. We aimed for Ouahigouya, north of the capital, but had no luck finding our dream place to stay! We got a pointer to some open ground that had a restaurant that may let us camp. We let the storm pass by, watching the rest of a film on the laptop.

The owner to the resturant was amazingly friendly. She had us follow her back to her house. We were introduced to her family and sat and watched some television for a while. She would allow us to stay for the night for free, but we decided to stay in an hotel. We didn’t want to cramp their style and all we really wanted was to crash out and get some food that night.

Five days later and Al’s been given the all clear this morning. The latest blood test came back negative. Great news and we can get moving again in the morning.

September 2010