Saturday 31st January 09 Nouakchott to Aleg

The French arrived last night and 2 of us are boxed in. It seems like too much trouble for them to just move for 5 minutes to let us out. Very awkward people but it is not the fact that they are French (the other vehicle wishing to move is also French) but the fact that they are just a group who don’t give a hoot about anyone else.

Armed with the 2 maps that Dave from Twickenham left with me I am ready for my trip to Mali. I set off to get the greasing done and change some money at the bank. Schoolboy error. Banks are shut Friday and Saturday. Decide to change money at the Auberge and get the ‘traffic’ (unofficial) rate but only for Euros. Note to all. Euros are king around here. US Dollars are difficult to shift. So finally equipped with a few Oogiya I put most of it in the fuel tank. Before I have left Nouakchott I am able to experience driving the wrong way up a dual carriageway as the traffic detours to avoid an accident. A little further along and I see a bit of deja ‘vu but with sand instead of snow. A policeman in a smart Mercedes has made a mess of turning around and is beached. I pull him out and he puts in a brief word at the next checkpoint. It doesn’t work beyond that as I get increasingly persistent attempts to get a cadeau from me.

A little further along and it is obviously good turn day as I see a family with a flat and no wheelbrace. I help and they say thanks and we are all on our way. The police are very keen to try and get a cadeau and more are being a bit awkward about having to come to my side of the vehicle rather than me let them in the left side but I’m sticking to my guns to this point. The other main theme of the day is roadkill (children look away now). There is an increasing amount of large roadkill at the side of the road probably hit by the large trucks that travel at night. We aren’t talking badgers here but cattle, donkeys and even camels! Quite a shock but like all shocking things once you see enough of it you stop noticing. The sand gives way to a sort of Savannah and there is obviously rich land here to grow both fruits and raise animals. I get to Aleg and check out the only Auberge which doesn’t have anywhere to camp and wants 7000 for a room but the large cockroaches in the shower are free. I give that a miss. There is gasoil in town but no power so I do my projections and decide it is fine to carry on. I pull off the road and settle on a place only for a young lad to walk past and let me know this is where the cattle end up grazing and sleeping for the night. I move on a little way and have my first real on my own bush camp in the middle of nowhere.

Sunday 1st February 09 Beyond Aleg to Kiffa

I get an early start and once again see the aftermath of the night’s truck activity. Lots of kids wave as they are on their way to school but some of the waves are a little hostile. I am lucky throughout the day as I end up sandwiched between some French convoy which seems to be dealing with it’s paperwork by one set being handed in at the front. I just allow myself to be waved through. I guess this is levelling up the delay caused to me at the campsite yesterday. Little to report today other than more spectacular scenery and one place where it really is an oasis with dunes to one side of the road and a marshy lake on the other.

I arrive in Kiffa feeling a bit the worse for wear as I haven’t eaten or drunk enough today. As my Visa for Mali doesn’t start till the 4th I decide to have 2 nights here to get rested and back to strength. (Note to self that this is not like 4 hours driving at home, take more breaks with a hot drink.) I go into town and try to change money. One Western Union tries to give me 13000 for 50 Euros. Even a bad rate would get me 15000. I decline and find another bank which helps me at 310 to the Euro. The rate in the city is 334. I now have enough for fuel to the border and head back to the campsite.

Monday 2nd February 09 Rest Day Kiffa

First task today is to get rehydrated. I have hot drinks and a Beroca. I then take a walk towards town to get eggs and bread. Eggs are difficult but I finally get some and am pleased to get back to the site 50 minutes later and make a hearty brunch. I will change clothes and take advantage of the drying weather to complete the washing I started yesterday then I’ll repack the front of the car which is too hot to get into until the sun’s gone down for about 2 hours. Tomorrow it is one more step to the border and Wednesday will see me leave the Maghreb. Okay I’m back after charging the battery on this laptop. Quick update, a French couple have just arrived in a new Landrover. They have been as far as Togo. They met a Belgian couple who, last year, travelled up the East coast from South Africa all the way to Europe and who are now heading back to South Africa via the West Coast. They are now in Mali and are already decided upon shipping from Lome in Togo and avoiding Nigeria Cameroon, Gabon and the Congos plus Angola. I am beginning to see a pattern here and you will more than likely see me ship from either Lome or Tema (nr Accra). Sorry to disappoint anyone following this but I am always going to think safety first. Also can anyone following this please drop a note in the guestbook. I am not sure how to reply to any of the messages but they are nice to see when I get the chance to spend internet time.

This is where I do a quick plug or in fact 2 plugs. Firstly let’s plug my stuff, Due to this added cost for shipping I could do with selling a few more of my CD’s. I am putting £2 from every CD sale to the Shrewsbury Music Therapy Unit Trust Fund and they will send out a Gift Aid form with each order that allows them to claim back the tax you have paid. This helps pay for therapy sessions for those who are not funded or only partly funded. I would also like to draw your attention to Adam Linslay who has produced a CD and is selling it in aid of a hospice that took good care of his mother through a long illness. (I think that is correct, if not totally accurate please get in touch asap anyone who knows Adam). He is selling his CD on Ebay.

Just as I was writing this a German couple arrived who just dropped in for a chat with overlanders. They also recommend the shipping option based on people they know and the fact that I am a single vehicle on my own.

So just a few more domestic chores and then I will probably have dinner and an early night. (They are all early in comparison to being at home.) I’m sometimes in bed before Stephanie finishes work.

Tuesday 3rd February 09 Kiffa planned to Ayioune but watch this space

I get packed up and go through the police check and associated cadeau requests stopping almost immediately after to call in the little shack to purchase 2 cokes from cadeau boy (as I have christened him for his unashamed efforts to get a tip for selling me food). I then set off towards the last big town before the border. The road is generally good but there are a few very dodgy bits and it is worth keeping your eyes open. The traffic gradually gets more sparce and only the police checks make any determined effort with the gendarmerie being most keen to just wave you on. I arrive in Ayioune at a junction with a police check and I ask about whether I have to do my customs (douane) here or further down the road. They point me to the right and I miss the town completely as the customs is at the next junction. They can’t be bothered and point me to Kobenni for all formalities. I carry on thinking that I might just pull off and bush camp as my visa doesn’t start till tomorrow. I get part way and have a little rest. It is now 47C in the car. The landscape has been getting more typical of what you may have seen on television and is impossible to capture adequately in pictures. Another underlying impression of Mauritania before I leave is that you could clean up as a scrap merchant because the only things that disappear off crashed or broken cars are the interiors (for houses) and the mechanics. The body shell just seems to remain in the bush.

My information shows it to be customs at one place then police to leave Mauri a little further on and police and customs for Mali about 70km down the road. I decide to camp in the middle. Wrong again. The Mauri customs charges 10 Euro for the laissez passer to be stamped (with a receipt) and then the police try to get a gift for their stamp, their big trick which must annoy them with me, is to ask for the insurance documents. I have these and all my paperwork is in order so no ‘fines’ here. I tell them cadeaux have all gone. I am then surprised to find the Mali police just around the corner. They are relatively easy and let me in even though my visa isn’t yet valid but still ask for a gift which I decline to give. They point me to customs who is happy that I have a carnet as it is less for him to write but then proceeds to tell me I am after hours so there is a surcharge for the stamp. I say I would be happy to wait until they open again in the morning but he decides to let me off. Opening hours are apparently 7am-4pm. So I am in Mali.

Stand by for a shock, after allthe effort of avoiding peage in France I turn out of Diema onto the Bamako road to be confronted by peage barriers. Only 500CFA (about 80 pence). I am quite taken aback by this. I get to Nioro and can’t find the camping so head on ending up again in the dark at Diema. I ask for camping and finally get offered Le Campement. I try to find it and end up back and forth along this dirt road. I finally spot the sign and it doesn’t look hopeful. He asks where my tent is and when I show the roof tent he points me to the parking at the front and says it will be fine there as he is the security. I can’t go on as the temperature in the car has been 49C for a while now and I am beginning to flag. He then suggests mange (food) and I follow him with dread as I have just seen the toilet facilities. They are a small hole with a big drop to where the bugs do their cleaning up operation. It turns out that I am eating at his roadside café. I have kebab and chips, yes I do, skewered meat over charcoal with fried potatoes and some sweet potato. It tastes fine and is much needed. This is a good intro to the street life of Mali. I retire for the night feeling good.

Wednesday 4th February 09 Diema to Bamako.

I wake up after a very noisy night (particularly when a visitor on a motorbike wanted to impress his girlfriend with it’s power) and catch a daylight look at my kingdom for last night. What a tip. The toilets look particularly dodgy. I pack up and head off towards the capital. It is a beautiful journey with many wonderful looking villages. The smaller ones look incredibly tidy with everyone seeming to have their daily tasks and the areas of the village set out in quite an ordered manner. The larger ones, particularly those that appear to be part of EU projects, suffer from their size and the introduction of plastic. Traditional buckets don’t leave a mess when they break and are finished with.

I hope some of the photos of this fertile, well managed land come across. As we get closer to Bamako it becomes a little more chaotic although the mountains around the North of Bamako are lovely. I again think of bush camping and once more make a poor choice. My plan for Bamako is to get money changed and my insurance for the car. I head to the only place I’ve heard of but am disappointed to find they can’t get my car in as it is too tall and long for the space they have. They seem shocked I don’t have a small tent. (Knew I forgot something). I head to another place that advertised on the approach to Bamako. No joy here either but the guy trying to sell me a room says he knows of another place. I’ve heard this before but am very hot and bothered by now and he shows me the Auberge Caiman in the area Baco Djicoroni. It is run by a French lady and her daughter and they have a courtyard I can get in even though the tent opens a bit awkwardly under the palm trees. Straight up opening tents and over the back of the vehicle are okay but there isn’t room for a side opening tent (sorry). They also do rooms for the going rate and the camping is 3000CFA (probably per person but I don’t know) Here is the GPS in case anyone following is stuck (the other place is closer to town and has internet but this is quite cool). N12,36.015 W008,01.822.

I enjoyed my first beer since the Hungarians and my first bought one since Rabat. Funny to think I have now been on the road 1 month. I think I have seen quite a lot and I don’t think I have been depriving myself of much except by the restrictions of my budget.

Thursday 5th February 09 Bamako

Today I have a few tasks to do. I get a shower and am still brushing my hair afterwards when 2 guys offer me their card for tourism and want to do money exchanging. This annoys me as they don’t seem to respond to my suggestions they go away and let me get human before business starts. They are friends of Salla (the guy who showed me the place) but are a bit too keen especially as their pound and dollar rates are off the bottom of the scale. I finally get them to go away. I then take a little walk to see if I can get change done but no joy and then I bump into these two again. They get pushy again and get me to their tourism office. It appears they are not the changers themselves and I am to wait for another man. I have chores so tell them I am off ‘but he is on the way, I will call him’ I have a mobile phone thrust towards my ear and hear a man who has forgotten that he has a phone and appears to feel he needs to shout the message so I can hear him. He trys to tell me about his guide credentials and that I can speak to English people who recommend him. It is full circle so I tell him he doesn’t need to come and pass the phone back to the young lads telling them the transaction is over.

Can it get more difficult today? Maybe. I head to a place for assurance (insurance). The language barrier is a real handicap here. I am trying to talk insurance terms in French with no French. We go around in circles as I want the Carte Brun which will cover all my remaining insurance needs. I get quoted 111,000 CFA for 3 months and after a discount 29,000 for one month. This doesn’t quite tie up. It is also made more difficult by the fact that they calculate insurance on horsepower not cc or BHP. It turns out a Landrover Tdi sort of qualifies at around 9CV. Amend your Carte Grise (ICMV) accordingly for simplicity. After much difficult banter and apparently the girls taking to my helpless act and the fact that it was all smiles and we ended up with a 3 month policy calculated at 30,030CFA which is around 47 Euro. I can live with that. With patience we got there and the smiles always help so thank you to Halimatau Cissé. I had already done change at the bank and so I now filled up with fuel. This always helps to establish a feeling of equilibrium, having cash and a full tank you are ready to take on the world. I then decided to address the issue of missing rubber hub caps. I go to a Landrover ‘Dealer’ I had spotted. They only stocked a few items and these were for Discovery and Freelander. No joy here. I had also spotted another place offering testbook facilities. It took a bit of finding but I can now heartily say don’t go there. They had someone pop round with these 2 rubber caps. I was ready for an inflated price which I expected to be around 5,000 to possibly 7,000CFA. This would be about £10-£12. Please sit down. He quoted me 35,000 CFA This equates to around £50 or 55 Euro. I couldn’t catch my breath so Phenix Landrover in Bamako is off my Christmas card list. Needless to say I didn’t purchase these items as I couldn’t find the diamond encrustation in the rubber. Surprising as I had spotted a Britpart package they had in.

I headed back to the Auberge and took a walk to take pictures of activity on the Niger River. I then had a look round the local market and am now updating this for you. I may take one more day here to check out the big Market (up the Toon) or head off to Segou.

Just a quick update to say that on a trip such as mine fine dining is a bit of luxury to say the least. I ate at the Auberge and it was very good. Worth a little treat.