Saturday 7th February 09 continued

Well I ended up cooking a little bit and taking advantage of the music and dancing that had been laid on for the tours going through. It was fairly typical of these groups from my experiences of them on the cruise ships in that you had a few who were obviously the leaders and totally into it and then a few who had been dragged in tho make up the numbers. To be quite honest they looked like most ship dance bands on the last set of an evening. Still I think I picked up some photos for you. Off to bed with no Imman in hearing distance.

Sunday 8th February 09 Segou to Djenne.

Got topped up with fuel after packing up and set off for the famous Djenne to see the renowned mosque. It is a few days since that journey and I cannot recall anything particularly noteworthy to tell you about it. Oh yes I remember. I took a little side trip when I saw a sign off on a piste and had a track marked on my GPS covering the route. It was to a place called Teryabugu. The piste was not bad and clearly marked but was full of very soft dust which got everywhere and certainly made life uncomfortable later in the day. I got to the place on the Niger River and found it appeared to be an eco-hotel. I didn’t stop to explore it any more than that so headed on back to the road and on to the ferry for Djenne. They charged 3000CFA for the journey with proper tickets and that was the return.

It was quite a short ferry ride and then off into Djenne. I had a place marked for camping ‘Chez Baba’ and made my way there where I was instantly thrown into the marketing frenzy that would put current Arcadia sales staff to shame. The word no doesn’t seem to have any other meaning than ‘Try again I’ll cave eventually’. Of course I am not one to give in too easily and so they all tried with no success. Once set up for the evening and slightly de-dusted I headed off to see the mosque. Photos are deceptive things and all the ones I have seen make this building look massive. As a result it was momentarily disappointing until I reminded myself that this building is made of mud.

There were many people trying to get me to see the mosque from a rooftop or go inside it even though there are big signs saying non Muslims not allowed. I had to work hard to shake them all off. You may think I’m daft after travelling all this way not to take advantage of the chance to look inside but, in my opinion, if they have gone to all the trouble of putting up those signs then I think I will respect it being a religious building. The constant barrage means that I take several short excursions into the tow rather than one long one. I suppose my mood hasn’t been helped by the dusty piste earlier as I am a bit caked in dust. It is market day tomorrow and it will be a bit of a bun fight so I am taking in what I can today.

I return to the camping and decide to ‘treat’ myself to the dinner that is on offer. You have a choice of chicken with couscous and vegetable sauce, chicken with fried potatoes, fish with couscous and vegatable sauce and you can guess the rest. I opt for the fish and veg. The taste is unusual and I still can’t say I get couscous. Off to bed and, considering I’m by one of the famous mosques of the world, the wake up call isn’t horridly loud.

Monday 9th February 09 Djenne to Douenza

Anyone with a map will wonder why this doesn’t read Mopti instead on Douenza but read on. I woke to have a wander around Djenne and watch the ‘organised’ chaos of setting up for the market. The most noteworthy thing for me was the way the stalls were set up. Instead of freestanding gazebo type stalls that we have in the UK here they have sticks with a Y in the top and dig a hole in the marketplace to erect each leg of the frame of their stall. While this happens the women with goods sit feeding the offspring waiting for the stall to be made ready. All this takes quite some time and there is a massive quantity of goods ready for purchase. I meet up with a Swiss couple, Marco and Celicia, who have borrowed a Hilux from a friend who used to work in Gambia and are making a trip around the area, possibly selling the vehicle at some stage. They are impeccably dressed in his and hers safari gear and I think of how scruffy I am after my journey the day before. They are really nice and they took the tour inside the mosque saying that for them it wasn’t really worth it so I feel quite pleased by my personal decision. Before it gets too crowded I make my way back to the ferry with the intention of visiting Mopti. A very kind Frenchman takes picture of me getting off the ferry so thanks to him.

I make my way along the badly kept peage (toll road) and at one point have a bit of a scare. Those of you who know me well may be aware of my unpleasant experience of a crash involving a motorcyclist a couple of years ago. It almost revisited me today. A couple were riding ahead of me and as I went to pass the rider moved without notice or reason across the road. He obviously didn’t know I was there. I was heavy onto the brakes but had to sound my horn as I knew I couldn’t stop quickly enough. He heard me and swerved, almost losing control of the moped but just holding it together. Even so he ended up having to ride partly into a bush. They were okay but I can tell you I had flashbacks to the previous incident.

So on to Mopti. I have to say I just didn’t feel for the place and decided to carry on so that is what I did. I arrived in Douenza (gateway to Timbuktu) and hunted for somewhere to stay. It is a small hub but has around 4 places offering accommodation on the main road through. I, as usual, opt for the cheap one as the others are asking 6000 CFA and mine 3000. There are relatively few facilities at my ‘Hotel’ but it serves my needs.

Before I have set up a Belgian in a VW Kombi van pops in for a look and a chat. He has unlimited funds and so chooses the more expensive accommodation. I have a long chat with him and it turns out he is a very experienced overlander who has made many trips through Africa from the time when it was safe to just drive straight down through Algeria and Niger. He has strong doubts about DRC but says an absolute no to travel through Nigeria. This surprises me but strengthens my belief that shipping from Ghana is the correct move.

I send a message home to ask Mum to arrange for something from me for Stephanie’s birthday in a couple of days. Thanks Mum.

The place I am staying at is very short on anything resembling a hotel and is such a contrast to the Independence in Segou which had all the genuine hotel facilities for the same price. It is called Hotel La Falaise.

I know I will return here after Timbuktu but wish it had more.

I set up camp and witness a serious verbal fight between the girl who works here and the young men. I think they may have a tribal attitude to her and think of her as a possible plaything. Later in the evening the boss comes in obviously having heard of, if not in fact hearing as it was so loud, the argument and lays the law down. So much potential here but so little done right.

I eat and settle in early for the night as I plan to set off promptly for Timbuktu in the morning.

Tuesday 10th February 09 Douenza to Timbuktu.

Up early and packed away I set off on the track to Timbuktu. I have been told it is heavily corrugated but get up to speed to even them out and it all settles down nicely. I see the staggering mountain rock formation about 10km North of Douenza but the mist or dust or whatever it is combined with a poor sun position mean I make a note to photograph this on the way back.

Going along nicely for about 40 km and wondering what all the fuss was about and then I find out. It is horrid and I don’t really work this out properly until the return trip. I go through a couple of checkpoints, one at Bambara-Maoundé and actually fail to realise they are asking me for a toll. They don’t get it as they give up trying to make me understand. I later find out it is unofficial and a bribe so I’m glad they missed. After Bambara the road worsens further and I have to take things steady every now and then to check my teeth are all there.

Finally I get the the Timbuktu ferry and find 3 other 4 wd vehicles already there and 2 trucks. We wait for the ferry for quite some time. I think they had an early lunch. Eventually it arrives and we are loaded in quite an odd formation. The 4wd’s go first then the 2 trucks. Well you’ve guessed it, we are beached. The driver moves right and left but we are firmly aground at the rear. After about 10 minutes I remember something that happened on Oriana and now have to thank Commodore Ian Gibb for me getting to Timbuktu. We were in Southampton and on of the transporters (a sort of crane that comes out of the side of the ship for loading supplies) was stuck on the quay. The reason was that everyone was watching sailaway and we were very late and low on the tide. Gibb makes an announcement asking everyone to move to the other side of the ship as we are too heavy on the port side and we will miss the tide if they don’t. People think it’s a joke and don’t move but he makes the announcement more forcibly and everyone duly moves across. You could feel the change of attitude of the ship. The transporter was retrieved and we set sail. What has this got to do with Timbuktu. Well I had spoken to a large bossy looking lady because I needed to understand some instructions and so I approached her and suggested that if people moved to the front it might make the difference. She approached the driver who laughed but said try it if you like. Bossy lady kicks people into action, difficult to do here, and the result is that we set sail. Strangely, on my way back I saw the same ferry with the trucks in the middle.

We pile off the ferry and head along a tree-lined road almost like an avenue. It may not last that well as there are not quite enough trees and where there are gaps the base that the road is built on is already eroding. A few km on through small dunes we arrive at Timbuktu and I spot a place to camp which is definitely taking advantage of the lack of choice when they quote me the price. I camp up and walk into town posting my 1st postcard on the way. In the town I wander a bit aimlessly round trying to see what is important other than being the 1s place since entering Mali where there are still Landrovers. It is possibly this long walk (as I have been noticing a little soreness in my left knee for a few days) combined with the corrugations and many gearchanges whilst bouncing heavily that is the start of my problems which will show up soon. The path in is very sandy and quite heavy going. But in town that eases. After having a brief look in the Maison de Artisans I am latched onto by a 9-10 year old called Saloman. He says he wants to practice his English. I tell him I don’t want a guide but he tags along eventually joined by a slightly older boy who says the same. We end up by the mosque where the older boy gets a telling off from an older man who may well be telling him he is meant to have gone home to pray. Saloman hangs on and shows me General Gordon Laing’s house which is now occupied by a guy selling quite attractive calligraphy. While the guy is attending to some Americans Saloman picks off a small piece for sale and with a knowing look shows me the price on the back 25,000 CFA which is nearly €40. He registers my surprise with amusement and we leave He then shows me Caillié’s house. He wants to keep on with the tour but I tell him I need time alone and give him the first gift of the trip telling him to use it at school. It is just a BIC pen but he seems happy enough. I trudge wearily back to the camping and make myself dinner before listening to some World Service and settling in for the night. I have made quite a bit of use of the World service so far on this trip and find it quite informative for the region.

Wednesday 11th February 09 Stephanie’s 21st ? birthday. Timbuktu to Douenza.

Happy Birthday. So I get up and pack with my left knee feeling a bit tender. I go to the bank and take advantage of a local US presence to exchange a few dollars at 487 to the CFA In Douenza the local black market exchange man had offered me 400 and wouldn’t even shift to 425 which I may have taken so result. This eases the concerns on running out of Euros a little. I then head back to the Post Office and do some more postcards before setting off for the ferry. On arrival I am steered into a certain holding position and then hassled by a bloke for a lift. I tell him I don’t even give lifts in England which is pretty true. He then tries to get me to take a fearsome looking Tuareg bloke. I don’t think so. He gets someone else as he doesn’t understand or wish to understand my replies and this guy explains it to him. He is not happy. We have to wait around a good while again and I have a browse around the place. The ferry arrives and we board it. The vehicle behind me does not make this one and the guy who was hassling me seems very angry. I think he managed to secure a lift for his man in that vehicle. Guess what? We are grounded. The technique is different this time as we are not so heavy. I have to get off backwards whilst they get free and a little further off then re-board. This we do and away we go. I chat to a Frenchman (I think) whose English is great. They are with a friend who has been in the area 6 years and so they are well looked after. I am asked why I am alone by the boat crew and I tell them it is because no-one likes me. I then explain about Stephanie’s work and her birthday and particularly about what music therapy is. They nod approvingly.

We have to reverse off the ferry up a steep sandy bank which is fun. I turn around and head away up the road I christen the Dentist as I am not sure of my teeth at the end.

The corrugations seem relentless and I feel my knee stiffening up. I have a break every 40km or so in order to give the tyres a chance to cool down and each time I find it more difficult and painful to bend and straighten my knee. When I get out to photograph to bit I noted on the way in I am struggling to make gear changes and not very comfortable at all. It is not really the best road to have pulled off so I live with my choice to get to the end even though it means that on arrival at the palacial La Falaise I am really struggling. I hunt through the medical cabinet and find some Nurofen Gel which I apply and after finishing the washing that I allowed the corrugations to start in my washing container I make dinner and head for bed finding it very uncomfortable to even get into the tent.

Thursday 12th February 09 Douenza

Not going anywhere today. Can hardly bend knee at all. Hobble to street and find, with the help of a local stall holder, the lady who makes and sells ice. 50CFA a lump in a plastic bag. To heck with principals, I need the ice and I’ll reuse the plastic bags.

I spend the day catching up on this diary, icing my knee, listening to the radio and finding out that the solar panel is only putting out 2A. I clean it and the output goes up to 3.9A Must bear this in mind when no rain to clean it. I feel quite frustrated although at least the people here show concern even if some of the remedies offered are a bit extreme. I decide to stick with what I know but am disappointed that the pharmacy has no tube bandage or knee supports. I guess that is reserved for the hospital but I am certain they would just tell me to treat as I am.

I lent the girl at the place 100 CFA the other day and she asks me if I want it back. I say just ay me in tomatoes. An hour later 4 odd tomatoes arrive but I use one for my pasta dish in the evening and it tastes fine (I do peel it though).

The day comes to an end with no real events other than to note the apparent agreement of the power sharing by Robert Mugabe. We will have to wait and see if it is just rhetoric. Slightly easier to get into bed tonight but still very painful.

Friday 13th February 09 Douenza.

Much better movement this morning but no chance of driving today. I am staying put until all is properly fixed. So it is off to Ice lady and then bread man picking up some general oil for the locks on the way. The dust plays havoc with them.

I am now finishing this and will add any more as the day goes on.

Back again. I haven’t been lazy. Several jobs were okay for me to do and have been waiting. Firstly I had a hole to drill to complete the adaption of my ground anchor and that is now ready to use. I decided to put out my awning but the temporary repair of one of the arms had failed at the hinge. I had already purchased the replacement hinges from APB and they are now fitted and my awning is in use. Still moving things around to make everything easy when I stop at night but it is amazing just how much you want to have around for use. So far I think the things I could have left behind quite easily are the sides to the awning and the shower skirt for the tent as they haven’t come out yet but I think that may change in the southern part of the continent. I haven’t used my video yet but that will come into it’s own both when there is wildlife to video and when I have someone else with me. I have completed many other tidying up tasks including washing my coat as it would have turned to mud if it rained. Once on the road again I will be able to better observe my battery management but I am finding high ambient temperatures in the car affecting the amount the fridge is running. I also need to keep it better filled as that also reduces the workload.

All in all a constructive day and much better on the knee. I’ll look at the situation tomorrow but I think I would prefer to make it fully better before stressing it again. May be after the weekend before I go to Dogon country.

Time to file the photos taken on this leg.

Saturday 14th February 09 Douenza

Still here. You may wonder why yesterday doesn’t seem to have been completed. Well I set to charge the laptop and the inverter wasn’t playing ball. I appear to have an intermittent fault. This is one item I thought of backing up but decided against. Now the fact that I am writing this could mean that I am at an internet café. Not the case. I asked the lads at the hotel and they wanted to go to the garage because it was to do with cars. I asked if there was a man who did radios or televisions. The penny dropped and off we went. He had a good look and tested quite a few things to make sure after his initial diagnosis. Fixed the problem (believe it or not it required some glue which we had to go and buy as his was dried up) and including the glue it cost 6000CFA which is just under €10. For future travellers with electronics problems in Douenza his name is Sallé Maiga and his phone number is 66912676.

So to finish off yesterday there was a Harley Davidson rally came through stopping last night. I hope they don’t do the corrugations!!!! About 10 were berthed here but they went out for food and drink which doesn’t surprise me. I cooked and went to bed around 9pm.

Now today. I took a trip to the market for some provisions. This was also a chance to test my knee. I am walking reasonably well now but still don’t feel I can support myself on that leg alone. I also walked to the TV repairers so in all have done about 2 ½ miles so far. Back to photo sorting and I’ll top this up later. May even find internet to send this. (No promises).

So no internet. Anyway I am just about to start getting my dinner when in rolls a heck of a convoy. 9 4wds all Mali vehicles but with French drivers. It is a party of around 15 people who apparently go on some sort of adventure holiday for 2-3 weeks each year. I was actually icing my knee at the time and one of the party asked about it and said they had some drugs if I needed some. I politely declined. I then set about preparing dinner. They had a cook with them who set up camp and prepared their food. After I ate I gave the man’s proposal some further thought and decided to investigate further. He was a doctor and, in fact, there were 2 Doctors sitting side by side at the dining table. I showed him the ibuprofen I had and he said they had something much better. He gave the knee a quick examination and said their was a type of fluid in it. He then supplied me with 6 tablets which I think are called proxalyc piroxicam and this apparently will do me for 6 days. A little later I hope I thanked him as I gave him one of my CD’s. We all chatted for a while and myself and the other doctor stayed up a little later than the rest as he asked many questions about my trip and my thoughts about it. It was quite a good conversation and I must say that once again it proves that it is not where someone is from but their attitude to others and themselves that makes up the character.


Sunday 15th February 09 Douenza to Bandiagara.

I get up feeling as though I should try to move on. I take the first of my new medication with breakfast and set about slowly packing up. The French team are up and packed but have 2 wheels to change as they have gone down overnight. They are not totally satisfied with their hire cars. While they wait for their kitchen camp to be packed away they examine the Landrover and make approving nods and grunts. We say farewell and they are off to Dogon country. I will head there as well but by a gentler route to protect my knee.

All packed up and I set off. About 15km outside Douenza is a sign up a piste to Bandiagara and I decide to try it. It is good for most of the way with only perhaps the last 30 or so km being a bit corrugated. The views are stunning in places and I also shave off quite a bit of mileage that I didn’t want to do. I arrive at Bandiagara and find they do camping at the Cheval Blanc Hotel which also has another name. Prices vary as to whether you dine or not. They don’t have internet!!! Another continuing problem is the exchange. Once again it appears that the only foreign currency with any value is the Euro. No-one wants US$. I am down to my last €500 and starting to get a bit concerned. I am well stocked in my other 2 currencies and could go for several months on them if I could use them. I will try taking the exchange slip from Timbuktu into the BNDA branch here and see if that helps. I don’t really fancy a speculative 140km drive to Mopti to try there. I think I will try to go to the Dogon country tomorrow if I can shake off all the hustlers and then consider my next move which will probably be to move on to Burkina Faso. There should be exchange available in the capital and that will determine my remainder of this leg of the trip.

There is a tortoise here who just got very confused by my diff-guard as he couldn’t see what his shell was banging into!!!

It is nice to bump into Marco and Celicia the 2 Swiss from Djenne. They have spent a couple of days in Dogon country and we dine together this evening.

Monday 16th February 09 Bandiagara to ? via Mopti.

I get up after a fitful night with first a political rally going on till around 11 and then the Mosque kicking off at 4am.

I go to the street to buy bread and one cheeky chap wants about twice the going rate. He doesn’t get it or a sale. I take my 2nd tablet. I say goodbye to my Swiss friends and head off to the local bank but as I am no 22 in the queue and it takes ½ an hour to get from no5 to no8 I decide to head to Mopti where the possibility of dollar exchange will be higher. Arriving in Mopti I go to the bank and am able to change $300. Result so I am back to plan A which I will let you know when I work it out. I hope to find internet today so I will leave this here.