Ani Soko Ma, (Bamara- Good Morning)
Before you shake youre head and brand me a lazy blogger on vacation who has complete disregard for his small amount of followers, let me try and explain the reason for my absolute lack of updates over the last 2 weeks.
As I met up with Dave in Lome we decided that because we wanted to head up to Timbuktu we should keep a low profile on facebook and my blog for the slight chance that any terrorists keeping an eye on the site should still think that we are in Togo. It sounds paranoid but we did it purely for the unknown. So I hope youre Wifi and 3G is super fast today as the blog is quite huge!
I met up with Dave the Aussie at the Le Gallion hotel in Lome. Dave had some visas to organise and I updated my last blog for the next couple of weeks. I only met Dave in Lome, he read my blog and saw that I was only a couple of days behind him and dropped me a mail!
So after hooking up in Lome and getting our last small things sorted out we headed north for the Burkina Faso border. The trip up was quite scenic, with lovely tree lined roads and small little villages scattered along the one and probably only tar road running north in the small and unassuming little country. Benin and Togo are one of those countries poeple, espessially in South Africa dont even now exist. I didnt, I only realised there existence when planning for my trip started. They are lovely little countries, with good roads, friendly people and a great vibe. Most problably one of my favourites in West Africa.
So we headed north and stopped for a couple of cokes and I realised that the “jungle” is starting to fade out and returning to more normal scrubb and bush. It was 300 odd kilometers to Kara with not much excitement, we just had the normal waves from friendly locals and lazy police chilling under the tree in the midday heat as we passed the many police check points. They have become part of life on the road here, every few kilometers you get too a barricade with drums or poles across the road. Most of the time the police or military just wave you through.
As we neared Kara in the afternoon we entered the mountainous area of northern Togo, the road was terrible with huge ruts created by overloaded trucks. There was great views though and they made up for any state the road was in.
We spent the night at a small hotel that Lonely Planet suggested. We sat down for a beer and peanuts, looking forward to a nights rest in the airconditioned room. We had some local food from the many roadside stalls next to the road which consisted of some grilled meat, dont know what and some more beers at a local shebeen with the loudest speakers in the world!
We packed up and headed for the Burkina FAso border. We stopped just outside town to get some pics as we knew the gravel road started just around the bend, the same gravel road that will take us across into unknown territory. We decided to stop at a local cafe next to the road, we didnt have any breakfast so we decided to see what they had. And so the love affair with the ommelette roll started. We sat down for breakfast and some good coffee before we tackled the gravel road and border formalities.
We hit the gravel which was terrible for me as it was covered in a thin layer of surface mud. I was so slow and just trying not to put the bike down. Dave chilled out behind me just ploding along. Dave rides a BMW GS650 X Challenge kitted out with all the touratech goods. Its an offroad bike so he had full offroad tires on and could easily triple the speed we were traveling at. The thing is Dave knew I would kick his arse if he left me behind because on the tarmac I have to keep at a cruising speed of 80-100km/h as his bike is not geared for high speeds. So its a good compromise and he stuck by my side like a real trooper.
The road dried out in the fierce midday sun and soon enough we were back at decent cruising speeds and riding on the new stretch of gravel they were preparing for tarmac.
We rolled up to a bridge being built and had to take a detour through a dried river bed. I got stuck, Dave had a god laugh as he just burped the 650cc single passed me. Some locals building the bridge came running over and helped me out of the sand.
We crossed the border and did all the formalities which were quick and decided that we wont make Ouaga before sunset so we opted to head out till sunset and bushcamp next to the road for the night.
Its very hot in this part of the world, the landscape started drying out and there were no more green bush next to the road. We were heading north towards the Sahel and heading into what I have been looking forward to the whole trip. I opted for no rain cover on the tent and fell asleep looking at the stars.
We had an early start and headed for the Capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou or as the locals call it Ouaga.
It was hot and sweaty but atleast not as humid as further south. I saw some minibusses with luggage on the roof atleast 3m high and some seriously clever techniques to keep the average speeds up and making sure that the passengers goods stayed on the roof where they were supposed to stay.
We arrived early sunday morning at the Le Pavilion hotel owned by a french guy Gilluime who was a huge MotoX fanatic. We dropped our stuff and headed for the biggest hotel in town so that Dave could what the Formula 1.
When we got back I realised the final drive or diff on my bike was leaking oil through the seal. I was very worried as the final drive only takes 180ml of oil and riding further with an unknown quintity of oil in the diff was just plain stupid. I called Deidre back home and asked her to send all the parts she has bought over the last few weeks including a new diff seal and courier it to my vis DHL. She was on top of it and by monday night the parts were in the air! Thanks Angel!
Dave headed out to sort some more visas on monday morning and came back relieved that all visas was done now for the remainder of the trip. I informed Dave of the new plans and problems on my side, he then opted to head for TB2 alone and update me on the conditions up north. It was concerning as the same night a group of terrorist took control of a town a mere 40km west of TB2.
Dave left early tuesday morning and headed for Dogon Country and the TB2.
I chilled at the hotel waiting for my parts. Edited a few videos and did nothing else really except eat and drink a few beers at night. That would be my routine for most of the week.
Dave got in touch 2 days later from 20km south of TB2 at 10pm. He said the road is terrible and by far the worst corrugations he’s done to date. Dave has done to big trips before and did the Lae Turkana route up north in Kenya. So when he says its bad I knew it was bad. He told me that he dropped the bike a few times and broke his frame. No ferry till the morning and he will have to sleep at the ferry terminal for the night. I asked if it was safe and he only replied: Couple of guys on my left speaking Arab, situation doesnt look great.
So Dave made it to TB2, got stopped my the French Military and was told to basically undress as they were scared he was a suicide bomber. He got the frame welded and headed back south to meet up with me again. I trashed my plans to head up there as Dave said the sand is hectic and the road is in a very poor state. I was very disappointed, it was one of my must see items on my list but so it goes. Well done Dave! Only biker in TB2 in over a year as per the locals.
So back to Ouaga. My parts arrived the friday morning. I was put in touch with Hama the local motorbike mechanic in Ouaga who rides an 1150GS and 1200GS. He was a close friend of the hotel owner and they arrange the biggest MotoX event in west africa. I phoned Hama and he said no problem, he’ll send someone to collect me at the hotel. 20min later a guy pulled up on a bike and said follow me.
We arrived at Hama’s workshop. I was blown away by the amount of KTM’s, Yamaha YZ250′s, Honda CR250′s, 450′s that he was preparing for the bike race on Sunday.
In no time my bike was stripped and they got to work changing the broken mirror, petrol cap, diff seal and changing the diff oil. I asked him to check my valve clearences again as the motor wasnt running the way it was supposed to. There is a lack of power and a stutter when you grab a handful of throttle to over take.
He did the valve clearances again and realised that the plugs were totally shot! I had some new ones which he replaced.
After everything I paid him all-inclusive R600 or $60. What a bargain. I was so impressed by their work and for the first time in over a month I started the bike and he sounded like his old self! Perfect!
I was packed and ready to hit the road saterday morning at 5am. I wanted to get to Dogon Country as early as possible. I also had the Mali border to cross and they take some riding time out of the day.
I stopped just outside Ouaga and had a omelette roll and some coffee and blasted through towards the gravel stretch 100km before the Mali border.
The crossing was a piece of cake and I was in the country I have been dreaming over for the last 6 weeks and 8500km.
The gravel piste (track) was good with some huge holes were the concrete pipes collapsed underneath the road. I was heading towards Ende in Southern Dogon country. I had one problem though, I could draw money from the ATM in Ouaga to I was very low on cash. Only had $15 or CFA7500 on me. I reach the turn off and decided to skip Dogon country as I probably didnt have enough for food and accommodation. I was swearing at myself for driving past. So 10km down the dirt track and made a Uturn and headed back.
Was I glad I did. I rolled up to Kani komole, a town right in the south of Dogon Country. I had to take a small and sandy 7km piste to the village of Ende. I was hot and tired after the sandy stretch but made it! I was absolutely awe-struck.
Here is a piece on the Dogons, read it!: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dogon_people
I was introduced to Abdoulla, a 26-year-old Dogon. He said he could guide me up the mountain for a small fee. I had a shower and headed up with him. On the way up he explained that they havent seen any tourist except for me and Dave for the whole year. My heart broke as he told the story as these guys rely so heavily on tourism for their daily life. I admired their believe and how they clung to hope that the tourists will return in the near future. He said that for 18 months they only had a handful of guys popping in and that it wasnt the fully packed Dogon Country they were used to for years.
As we finished up just before sunset he took me to the locals were they were preparing crafts etc. He said that since Dave and I rocked up the locals have been hard at work creating crafts for the tourists to buy. They believe the dry spell has ended and that tourist were coming again and that they had to prepare their local goods. Amazing!
After a couple of hours with Abdoulla I retreated to the roof where they prepared a clean mattress and sheets for my night’s rest. The hospitality of the Dogons are next to none and I felt so humbled by the way they treated me and not wanting anything in return. Like most of West Africa everything was done for “give me something”. By far my most unsatisfying experience in West Africa. The constant “give me something” and the constant efforts of locals to rip you off. Fuck off! I dont want to give you anything was my attitude from Cameroon right through Ghana and Burkina Faso. But here they only wanted to know about my trip, always willing to answer a question and the big proud smile of Abdoulla reflected the proud ness of “I was the guide and this white chap from South Africa loved it!”
The next morning I was up at 4:30am listening to the call of the Imam at the Mosque calling everybody to join the morning prayer. It was so surreal, lying on a roof of a building made from 100% mud and listing to the mosque and the awakening goats and the tremendous echo that came from the cliff face of Mount Hombori.
I packed and had some coffee and headed towards the Venice of west africa, Mopti.
The road was a great concrete piste over the mountain towards Bandiagara. Passing some other Dogon villages and eventually reaching the tarmac that leads me to Mopti.
I rolled up just after 9am, Dave was expecting me and had some coffee going. We chilled and caught up on where and what we saw over the last couple of days we were split up. We went for a walk and hired a small Pinasse for a sunset cruise on the Niger River.
Dave met some french guys in TB2 and they invited him for drinks at the base. I didnt go as I wanted to download all the pics and keep my records up to date.
We left early the next morning for the old town and world heritage site Djenne. Before we could enter the town a ferry had to be taken across the very low Bani river. The trip was only 150km and and when we arrived we were transported back in time. The only signs of 2013 was the donkey carts wheels were car tires and one guys in the market had some chinese electronics. Everything else was stuff of the earth.
We found a small hotel and no surprise they were so happy to receive us. Again no tourists for months or very little I guess. We got a young guy as a guide and he showed us the crazy monday market and also the big highlite of my trip the biggest mud building/mosque in the world.
We were then told that we could enter the mosque if we like, now from what I know is that non muslims are not allowed in a mosque. Anyways we agreed and went through the back door entrance. It was an amazing sight to see and a great experience overall. I also met the Imam of the mosque which was very cool. Got a pic too.
After a long and very hot walk we retreated to the small auberge and chilled in the shade for the afternoon.
As per normal we were up and ready to go just after sunrise so that we could miss the heat of midday by as much time as possible. We had a long stretch to cover, 534km to be exact.
The road was great up to 100km before Bamako and the potholes and road works started. It was a 12 hour trip on the bikes but we made it and indulged ourselves to cold beers at the Sleeping Camel.
All and all it was an amazing 2 weeks. The people of Mali are really friendly and the whole vibe here sets it apart from the rest of west africa. It is a must see for anyone and I will be sure to return one day with Deidre and show her the sights. If you want a different holiday or want to see something other that the norm Mali is the place to be.
Will keep you posted from here on out! Promise!