- What next?
- Post mortem
- Leaving Africa
- One last day in Bamako
- A failed attempt to return to Dakar
- Killing Time in Bamako II
- Killing time in Bamako I
- Return to Bamako, Spat with Keita
- A day of nothing
- Ouagadougou to Bobo Dioulasso
- Big market, to Ouaga via Fada N’Gourma
- Flooding the truck, road to Gorom Gorom
- Crossing from Mali to Burkina
- Getting schooled on the Dogon
- Trekking into Dogon cliffs
- Return from Timbuktu
- The road to Timbuktu
- Segou, Djenne, and Mopti
- Finally on the road in a Hilux
- Chasing 4×4 leads
- Recovering in Bamako
- More pounding in the 7 seater
- Stymied by Muammar Qaddafi
- Heading for Bamako (w/ public transit tips!)
- Bailing on SL, clubbing in Conakry
- Freetown is fun again!
- Rebuffed at the Guinea-SL border
- Motorbiking in Labe, and on to Conakry
- Guinea Bissau to Guinea Conakry
- Bissau: Where is everyone?
- Pajero is broken; a weight lifted
- Pajero is fixed; escape from Gambia
- Pajero is broken again, sitting at the pool
- Pajero is fixed, a painful night in Barra
- Pajero is broken
- The long route into Gambia
- On the road with a 1995 Pajero
- Close to nailing down the 4×4
- Relaxing in Dakar
- Returning Peugot, going surfing
- Stuck in the sand, sleeping at the beach
- North to Saint-Louis in a Peugot banger
- The slaving island of Gorée
- Hit the road, Chuck MCA!
- Flight Tomorrow
- Base Camp Paris; final hours in Europe
Photos and videos are below:
- West Africa Summary
- Some videos on YouTube
- Senegal to Gambia
- Guinea, Sierra Leone, Mali, and Burkina Faso
- Mali and Burkina Faso
Total trip days: 42
Days with shower: 22 (52%)
Average daily spend per capita: $73
Kilometres traveled: 8,354
Hours in transit: 221 (9.2 days of 42 days = 22% of the trip)
Average transit speed: 38 km / hour
Spend by Category ($USD)
|Food & Drink||1,007||466||489||53||8%|
Spend by Country ($USD)
Transportation Breakdown ($USD)
Location: Yoff, Senegal
Weather: balmy but breezy = 28 degrees C
Accomodation: Alitalia flight
Price, room: 0K CFA
Total spend: 28K CFA
AW: After sleeping in and taking one last pass through the market in Bamako, we hopped a minibus to Colaba, and then a taxi from there to the airport. There were some very relaxed formalities, and then we had a smooth 1.5 hour flight, in a venerable DC9, with a bumpy landing in Dakar. Compare to 36 hrs (or never) by bus and 50 hrs by train, with the plane costing 4x and 2x respectively, and it doesn’t seem like such a raw deal.
For old times sake we decided to kick back at the Hotel Cap Ouest, a short walk from the airport. It seems to be under new management with a flurry of improvements and more guests. We also had a farewell beer with Momo (he insists that it’s no problem, despite his genuine Muslim beliefs). He brought carvings along to sell and was wondering if we had any spare currency on us (nope).
We did learn one interesting thing: evidently the renter had passed the Pajero (it was the Rob and Momo show at this point) on its way back to Dakar from Kaolack, seeing it running in ostensibly good health, which makes it more logical that he didn’t suspect much and asked only for 15K CFA. Momo told him we had done Saint Louis and Lac Rose before swinging through Saly down to Kaolack and back up.
According to Momo, the problem turned out to be a cracked bottom cylinder that was caused after the second head gasket was installed. The car evidently gets warmer with a new gasket, and we failed to completely change out the water for fresh cold stuff in the morning, and so caused the third major overheat. If true, that would be news to me, but who knows.
Tonight we again saw people running for fitness on the streets at night and realized that we hadn’t encountered recreational exercise (other than for children) since leaving Dakar.
Then we said goodbye to Africa and walked to the airport.
Location: Bamako, Mali
Weather: hot = 37 degrees C
Accomodation: Auberge Lafia
Price, room: 10K CFA
Price, water: 500 CFA
Total spend: 257K CFA
We bought our plane tickets for tomorrow, 3 PM to arrive in Dakar at 5 PM. Our flight will be at 1 AM the following morning from the same airport, so we will bum in the airport until it is time to board.
Today we had a schawarma, some ice cream, went on the internet, and then went out to the bars. Can you tell we’re done with Mali?
Location: ?, Mali
Weather: hot, partly cloudy
Accomodation: Sangue Bus, mat in village
Price, room: 0 CFA
Price, water: 500 CFA
Total spend: 3K CFA
Adam Wible: We arrived at the bus station as requested at 7am, expecting the bus to leave at 8:30. It did! 25K CFA each in a massive “aircon” bus – what could go wrong? We planned to arrive in Dakar a full day before our flight anyway.
The AC turned out to be more myth than reality; a way to describe the frame of the bus more than anything. We did get lucky with the seats though – it wasn’t totally full so we had 2 each. Despite a few hang ups and one 45 minute stop, we were moving and happy until the bus ground to a halt at 10:30 AM.
While the pump caused the bus to stop the passengers couldn’t help but notice the oil dripping out of the gearbox – it was spattered all over the left side of the bus. The driver says it isn’t a big deal, we will just refill it later. He tried to start it one last time, and the radiator exploded and then the battery died (both of them). The mechanic eventually arrived and swapped out the spark plugs and fuel pump. Gasoline was spurting everywhere while they worked out the kinks, yet he continued to chain smoke. We told them it was insane to be lighting matches and smoking while dripping in gasoline, but did not manage to influence behavior.
The complete inability to control or influence anything is now a familiar feeling, but it never gets easier.
The mechanic was pretty efficient in fixing his piece, but he did exhibit a classic single minded, blinkered approach. He didn’t look at the oil or the radiator. We had specifically discussed concerns about the border crossing and he told us he would be escorting the bus all the way just in case. As soon as we were moving he was gone.
15 minutes after that the bus was broken down once again with oil pouring out of somewhere new. The driver explained that he had sent his helper back to Bamako and he would return with a new bus because this one was shot. He would be back tonight and we would do the 350 km to the border at night to make up lost time.
By 11 PM we were pretty sure he wasn’t coming back that night, so expected him in the morning. By the morning the whole situation sounded rotten after the company hung up on a call after we inquired after the new bus and then the answering machines were on. We made the choice to bail.
With ground options rapidly evaporating, we decided to head towards Bamako in a minibus, and would flag the new bus if we encountered it on the way. We didn’t. When we got to Bamako they hadn’t sent a bus, nor had they sent a mechanic until mid-morning. They took so long to find 50K CFA for our refund as we fumed outside that the last viable bus option left without us. I guess we will be flying.
The following is a summary of the timetable for a fairly typical west African mechanical problem:
08:55 leave again
10:50 stop – engine problem
15:30 mechanic arrives in Mercedes
18:50 bus starts, mechanic drives off
19:07 bus breaks down with massive oil leak
06:30 wake up and harass driver
07:20 jump ship and head back to Bamako
08:30 2nd car with mechanic leaves Bamako to meet bus
09:25 we changed minibus for Sept place
09:45 we arrive Bamako
09:50 reach bus company office, ask for refund, boss is called
10:15 last chance bus with another company leaves while we wait for boss to get cash back
10:45 we extracted our refund
We will take an Air Burkina a flight for 102.5K CFA each out of necessity to reach Dakar in time for our flight to Paris.
We have no idea what happened to all the other people in our bus – good luck to them. Aside from physically threatening driver (satisfying, but not helpful), none of the passengers (ourselves included) could come up with any viable plan to put pressure on the bus company to deliver some form of customer service.
Location: Bamako, Mali
Health: Guillaume has a sore throat, so he wore his scarf
Accomodation: Auberge Lafia
Price, room: 10K CFA
Price, water: 500 CFA
Total spend: 45K CFAToday we did a few more things:
- Bought a couple souvenirs
- Used internet
- I smashed my toe on a rock laying in the middle of the floor at the main post office – superficial damage.
- Got fancy dessert: profiteroles, ice cream, creme caramel
Location: Bamako, Mali
Health: just fine
Accomodation: Auberge Lafia
Price, room: 10K CFA
Total spend: 50K CFA
Today we did a few things:
Lunch at a Senegalaise restaurant, bad yassa poulet
Went to the crappy pool at Azalai Hotel Salam for 3K CFA each
Fancy french dinner at La Campagnard
Drinks at casino, lost 10K CFA in one go at roulette
Location: Bamako, Mali
Weather: cloudy and cool in the morning, hot and clear by Bamako
Health: very tired, not clear why exactly
Accomodation: Auberge Lafia
Price, room: 10K CFA
Price, petrol: 550 CFA / lt
Price, water: 500 CFA
Total spend: 91K CFA
Adam Wible: The interesting part of the trip is now behind us – we will now simply work our way to Dakar for the flight out.
A brief review of mileage:
Mopti – Timbuktu – Mopti: 817 km @ 49K CFA = 11.9 lt (6K CFA) per 100km
Mopti – Dourou – Ouagadougou – Gorom Gorom: 870 km @ 63K CFA = 12.9 lt (7.2K CFA) per 100km
Gorom Gorom – Fada N’Gourma: 430 km @ 28.3K CFA = 11.0 lt (6.6K CFA) per 100km
Fada N’Gourma – Ouagadougou: 231 @ 15.3 = 11.5 lt (6.6K CFA) per 100 km
Ouagadougou – Bobo Dioullassi: 361 km @ 29K CFA = 14.4 lt (8.0K CFA) per 100km
Bobo – Bamako: 646 km @ 41.5K CFA = 12.6 lt (6.6K CFA) per 100 km
The 14.4 comes from our partial use of the AC, in conjunction with straight 120 kmph between Ouaga and Bobo. This indicates at least a 1.8 lt/100km impact, which is about a 14% degradation in performance, so it is about as expensive as we always thought. Diesel averaged 500 CFA/lt in Mali, and 600 CFA/lt in Burkina. This was a 6 cylinder 1.8 lt truck, so you can imagine that this would be even more painful with a V8 Landcruiser (maybe 15 lt/100 km).
We left Bobo at a leisurely pace in the morning, paid a 2K CFA fine at the border due to the expired papers, and continued on to reach Bamako at 4PM. After dropping off Modibo’s gear at his place in the northwest of the city, we washed the car to help the stink and hope to make a favorable impression on Keita, the owner.
We were preparing for conflict, given that we were returning the truck 2 days early (there just isn’t anything left to see!), and thus were hoping to save 90K CFA in addition to the 16K we should be reimbursed for bribes due to his bogus paperwork. At a rental agency, this is standard customer service, but we knew that we would be presenting Mahamadou Keita (the guy who rented to us) with significantly less revenue than expected. We didn’t anticipate the intensity of the fight ensued.
Keita wouldn’t hear anything of it, telling us to take the car and drive it around for 2 more days, despite our veiled threats (what if something happens to the car? No really, let’s say something happens to it, then you’ll feel stupid right?). Tempers started to flare with neither of us gaining any ground.
Against us: the hand written contract promising the 435K CFA remaining – we had negotiated on a per day basis, but totaled it at 13 days to make sure he understood and would accept far less than half up front.
Against him: the decent, logical, and precedented concept that renters pay the agreed amount by the day, regardless of the exact number of days.
We finally offered to pay the chauffeur for 2 extra days, while he asked for only one of the 2 days. Still not good enough, we offered 15K extra and paid it.
Then, in what would prove a terrible decision, Guillaume followed my lead and walked out, expecting Keita to suck it up and leave us be. Plus I had secretly nicked the contract with the copy of Guillaumes passport, which he tore up as we walked away. Instead, Keita emerged a minute later, screaming that he needed the paper, and that he was calling the police.
We talked to the commissioner to call his bluff, and the guy sounded reasonable, but suggested we come into the station to solve this. Keita was infuriated (the shredded contract didn’t help), yelling that we thought we were dealing with savages. We got in the car to go to the police. I apologized for the walk out, and he immediately called off the trip, eager to cancel his bluff and demonstrating the extent to which this was a matter of personal pride more than business.
He dropped us off at our hotel (no doubt to continue the battle, claiming that it was supposed to be 14 days so we had shorted him two. Guillaume eventually got it through that there are 24 hours in a day, and he finally gave up. We didn’t trust him and would remain a little paranoid that he would be back for some reason or another.
In the end, we had to pay our own bribes, and we gave Modibo a 12K CFA tip, but we did wiggle out of the 90K.
GB: Not fun. I mean we have enjoyed the tough bargains here and there, and learned a lot in general, but this was just bad. Keita is essentially a nice guy, but a completely irrational businessman. As a result, the conversation leading to the walkout was among the most frustrating that I have ever had. No arguments, but in the end though, once he caved on the police threat, he became a benign opponent.
I guess the one lesson learned is that if you bring in a 3rd party to rule on a conflict, you want to make sure that your version is the first that makes it through. As I started explaining the situation on the phone to the commissioner I could hear him warming up to the poor tourist being coaxed into overpaying for 2 days of rental he does not need (story was of course conveniently sprayed with positive comments about our behavior, the car’s status etc. Which in some cases may have been slightly optimistic). Keita heard him warm up too, which brought him to yank the phone from me to begin explaining his view of the situation.
So the trip comes down to this. It wasn’t graceful and we aren’t proud of it exactly, but we did free up 90K CFA to blow in Bamako. If that’s not a noble cause, I don’t know what is.
Location: Bobo Dioulassi, Burkina Faso
Weather: nice, no rain
Health: worse than yesterday, better than two days ago. Guillaume is slipping down the slope with a cough and sore throat.
Accomodation: Le Zion
Price, room: 4K CFA
Total spend: 64K CFA
Nothing happened today. Seriously.
Location: Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso
Health: feel strange, but not bad
Accomodation: Hotel Le Cocotier
Price, room: 5K room, 1K Modibo mat
Price, petrol: 558-578 CFA / lt
Total spend: 131K CFA
Adam Wible: We had real espresso and white yogurt at a street stand this morning which was pretty delicious. I had already taken my third Cipro, and my stomach and general health had already improved to the point that we could rule out Malaria. The symptoms of Malaria are pretty vague, I think: headache, achy joints, fatigue, upset stomach, fever, and vomiting. Basically, live in fear because you’re not going to be able to distinguish it from a respectable hangover.
We went to the market, which had burned down in early 2003, but was due to be rebuilt very soon. In fact, the only thing that had changed is that vagrants were now using the charred structure for a toilette. While it was unlocked, the locals claimed it was illegal to enter, and that it hadn’t been rebuilt because the government sucks. We treated Modibo to Senegalese food (his first time), greased the crank shaft, added oil and diesel, and drove to Bobo on more great roads.
Given that it was a Friday, we were obligated to party; Le Tharkay was rumored to be the best place in town. Sorry to say that these may have been the worst looking women in west Africa, and that’s not even considering the dental side of things. It was a pretty hectic party, but the street food after (brochettes with onions, garlic powder, butter, and pepper sauce in a roll) was the highlight, at least until the heartburn in the morning.
GB: We got to Bobo after a fair but of driving, and started looking for our hotel, which we expected to find on the “place de la Revolution”. Yet when asking around, we were met with looks of bewilderment, amused smiles, poor attempts at making up directions, or when we got lucky, confessions of ignorance. Only once we had been stopped by a cop for an orange headlight did he tell us that people here call the place the “place de la Mairie”.
He guided us to the hotel, but only after he extracted a 10K bribe from us by threatening to impound the car. Now, we would normally not say no to an offer to park the car under police surveillance for a minor fee, especially if that would give us a chance to not give in to a corrupt police officer, but since today is Friday, the car would have been stuck until Monday. We paid the bribe and added it to Keita’s tab.
Location: Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
Weather: overcast, but no rain
Health: Adam is all messed up, Guillaume has never been better
Accomodation: Hotel Zaaka
Price, room: 6.2K CFA
Price, petrol: 599 – 608 CFA / lt
Total spend: 94K CFA
Adam Wible: We woke up at 4 am this morning to drive out to the dunes at Oursi, 40 km north of Gorom to see the sunrise over the dunes. In fact, the drive was fun, the dunes were OK, and the colorless sunrise was bad. I felt fully ill this morning, so I took Malarone, multivitamin, and Advil, deciding to wait and see if it would get better or worse.
We went back to Gorom for a breakfast of more beignets (what was I thinking?) and coffee, before stationing ourselves adjacent to the market, cleaning up the car, and waiting for the full swing market at 11AM. The market was definitely colorful, but they didn’t have anything useful for us to buy. If you’re in the market for a gigantic sack of millet, a goat, or some plastic sandals, you would be pretty happy here.
The women were the most unique looking that we have seen, with tattooed faces (the blackening below the lower lip, so it looks like you slobbered some blackcurrant juice, was the most popular), piercings, some of the brightest clothing (fluorescent), and lots of facial scarring in intricate patterns. The elderly of the species get the title for most cantankerous – don’t bother asking first, just pretend that you haven’t yet snapped the shot and make a little gesture and you’re good.
We decided to fund the dreams of local footballer kids running around in the bazaar with a 1.5K CFA plastic ball. We told them to share of course, but one kid had already sprinted off with the prize and the others were in hot pursuit.
My health was now wretched so I laid in the back seat of the truck while Modibo and Guillaume jolted me to Fada N’Gourma. When we got there, Guillaume and Modibo got some brochettes (meat skewers) and of course a Fanta and Coca, respectively.
The locals were among the calmest and nicest we had met, even if they were a little peeved when Guillaume started feeding the meat to a stray dog with post traumatic stress syndrome. While he expected to have the living crap beat out of him at every sound and human movement, by the time he finished eating all the meat he was allowing himself to be petted. Guillaume used the Purell hand sanitizer afterwards.
GB: The Dunes of Oursi were definitely anti-climactic. But overall the morning was fun and we got some good pics. However the car still carried heavy scarring from the previous day’s quasi-drowning. Indeed, the inside would now fill with an almost unbearable stench every time we left the windows closed for even a small amount of time. So we decided to clean it up at least on the inside. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a bucket so the effort was limited, and our idea to test the A/C pushed back until further notice.
After strolling desperately around Gorom Gorom in search of the items that we wanted to bring back, but this initiative resulted in failure as well. We instead decided to fund the development of the local football club by buying the kids a ball. However no balls were available that conformed to FIFA specs, so we bought a smaller one. I hope this doesn’t limit their learning experience. More seriously though, while the delivery was anti-climactic, it felt great to find a way to give, while not supporting any begging scam, and through an acquisition that will by its very nature encourage sharing (anyone ever had more fun with a football alone?)
We then set off for Fada Ngourma, where my father had spent a few months working some 35 years ago. The drive was uneventful, except I thought Adam had Malaria, and thus almost canceled our pit stop in Fada in order to get Adam a doctor in Ouaga ASAP. But he violently opposed the idea, for which I am indeed thankful. Arriving in Fada, we entered a very bland town. But the idea of treading in my father’s footsteps after all these years was worth it.
We took a few pics, drove around, saw the hospital, and left again. We finally arrived in Ouaga around 10PM, and got burgers. We then found a cheaper hotel that provided a better situation for Modibo, and went to sleep.
Location: Gorom Gorom, Burkina Faso
Health: holding up, but Adam is feeling the start of something nasty
Accomodation: Campement Rissa
Price, room: 9K CFA including Modibo
Price, petrol: 604 CFA / lt
Total spend: 115K CFA
Adam Wible: For breakfast we grabbed an onion omelette with bread, beef kebabs, and cafe au lait. The coffee, in all of west Africa without exception, is made with way too much ultrasweet condensed milk and a little sprinkling of powdered Nescafe. Average price for coffee: 150 CFA.
We got magnum bars at the expat supermarket – 2K CFA each. That’s a higher Magnum index than Montmartre in Paris at 3.50 in 2002. In fact it is the highest ever.
Outside the supermarket some guy jumped out with a 2 week old Economist – he wanted 3K CFA for it.
He got lucky because he also had Time, Newsweek, and a bunch of other stuff we wouldn’t have considered, but he decided to put his best foot forward. We bargained hard saying that it was very old, when in fact we didn’t care – then bought it for 1.5K CFA. We discussed the delayed rains in an earlier post – they arrived this morning / last night.
The drive from Ouaga as far as Dori was easy, flying at 120km / hour on perfect tarmac. Then came the legendary road to Gorom Gorom, which was pitted dirt and was really insane given the swollen rivers flooding the roads.
Guillaume and I went through a few rivers each without incident, but when we came up to the big boy, we decided it would be better to let Modibo do it. A huge greyhound type bus led the way, with much trepidation – water was well above the massive wheels, but it crossed without incident. Burkina is the first west African country we have noted to have big bus transport options as opposed to small cars and minibuses, which may say something about access to capital, or the quality of the roads.
To cross a river it is important not to shift gears while submerged, as the car will take on water during the shift. This means 1st gear all the way through, maintaining a sufficient speed to avoid getting stuck. Jiggling the steering wheel left and right appears to help maintain traction as well. Modibo started into it, with water quickly coming above the hood, but no apparent problems. Just when we reached the middle of the river, where the current was the strongest, the front wheels (RWD) slipped and the right front wheel fell off the cemented portion and dropped several feet to the eroded river bed. The engine died. Within 10 seconds, there was water up to my knees in the passenger seat. Modibo’s reaction: “Ca c’est pas bon. Guillaume’s pack was soaked, but mine was on the seat. More importantly, had someone just demo’d a Hilux? I walked the packs out of the river in waist high water.
As usual there were 8-10 well built dudes loitering in the vicinity, but they didn’t spring to our aid. Eventually Modibo stated the obvious by asking them to push with us. They would be happy to, for 7.5K CFA. Done! At first, the group of muscle men wanted to lift the vehicle straight up and place it back on the piste. Guillaume convinced them to put the car in neutral and push it reverse, and then push it out, which went off without a hitch. When it came out of the river we opened the doors and muddy water poured out. They quickly dismantled the air filter and checked the engine, and then told Modibo to start the car. It didn’t work – but black water poured out of the tailpipe as he tried again and again, until it started up and ran really rough, still spewing the black water. The car smells like hell, but there is no serious damage. I wouldn’t count on it going this well if it ever happens to you – it seems our bad luck with the Pajero is now matched by our good luck with the Hilux. Moral of the story – if it isn’t clear where the road drops off into the river, stay away from the unknown edge and put people in the water to indicate the edge and the depth.
It’s Wednesday night, and we made it to Gorom Gorom ready for the massive Thursday market tomorrow. We are concerned that this market will be one of the weakest on record given the flooded roads, and the fact that many people will likely stay home to tend the farm after the critical first rain. We’ll see.
GB: Apres l’habituel petit dejeuner extra gras a base d’omelette et brochette, on a pris la route de Gorom Gorom, ou est cense se trouver le plus grand marche d’Afrique de l’Ouest. La premiere etape, jusqu’a la ville de Dori, est goudronnee. Au contraire de la seconde. 60km de piste, le tout constelle de trous, flaques et autres obstacles divers. Tous restent mineurs, si ce n’est pour les points ou la route croise des rivieres. Car il a plu des cordes le matin. Associe au retard de la saison des pluies, les cours d’eau sont passes de asseches a bien remplis, et pour ne rien arranger, les courants sont forts.
Adam puis moi meme passons les premiers. L’eau monte au niveau des genoux des passants, qui ne semblent pas particulierement rejouis de nous voir soulever des gerbes d’eau sur leur passage. Cela dit, jusque la tout va bien. Mais l’important, c’est pas la chute, c’est l’atterrissage.
L’atterrissage, justement. A 30KM de Gorom Gorom environ, on arrive sur un ruiss eau plus proche d’un fleuve qu’autre chose. Adam, dans un eclair de genie, me convainc de laisser Modibo gerer ce passage. C’est avec reticence que je laisse ma place, sous la pression du souvenir du 4×4 defoncé au Sénégal.
Je decide en guise de consolation de monter sur le bac arriere pour la traversee. Je prend l’appareil photo avec moi et me mets en position. Modibo demarre et lance le 4×4 dans l’eau. Jusque la tout va bien. Je prend une premiere photo, mais l’angle est mauvais. Je retouche le zoom et me prepare a reessayer. Le choc est me surprend alors à double titre. Je perds l’équilibre, alors qu’au meme moment le moteur rugit. Alors que je me cramponne au bord, Modibo reessaye d’accelerer. Seulemen t de la ou je suis il est evident que ca ne marchera pas. Je lui crie d’arreter, et le moteur s’arrete.
La roue avant gauche a quitte la route, et est desormais coincee dans un trou. La voiture penche de 30 degres vers la droite, et de ce cote la commence a etre dangereusement submergee. L’eau commence a rentrer par l’arriere et au niveau du siege passager. Les jambes d’Adam, mon sac, et celui de Modibo sont submerges. Je passe a Adam l’appareil, il regroupe les Ipods et autres, et emmene les deux sacs a terre.
Pendant ce temps Modibo a negocie avec un groupe de jeunes qui a accepte de nous aider pour 7.5K CFA. De l’eau jusqu’au torse, on pousse la voiture hors de l’eau. Une fois remise sur le chemin, on passe d’ailleurs pas loin d’en ressortir par l’autre cote sous le coup de l’enthousiasme de nos depanneurs…
Une fois la voiture a terre, la sourde apprehension est palpable chez nous trois. Un des jeunes essuie le filtre a air, puis nous annonce que “c’est bon, y’a pas de probleme”. Apres 6 semaines dans la region, on attend de voir. Modibo prend place, et met le contact.
Teut teut teut… Hum.
2eme essai. Teut treut treut. Bon.
Ou plutot pas bon du tout. Mon taux d’adrenaline atteint des sommets qui me rappel lent le Senegal… Un jeune nous fait alors constater qu’a chaque essai la voiture crache un liquide noir. Ben au moins on aura nettoye l’echappement.
3eme essai: Treut treut treut vraoum. Modibo ecrase le champignon au point mort et on a l’impression que notre 4×4 se retenait depuis des mois tant il crache du liquide pendant longtemps. Enfin, en tous cas il marche. Maintenant seul subsiste le risque que le chassis ou la direction soient touches.
En arrivant a Gorom Gorom, ce doute reste, mais desormais tres faible. On trouve un campement sympa, et apres un bref diner on s’ecroule tous. Demain reveil a 4h du mat pour aller voir le lever de soleil depuis les dunes d’Oursi.
Location: Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
Weather: clear and scorching hot
Health: dicey, but no red flags
Accomodation: Hotel Yennenga
Price, room: 7.7K CFA
Price, petrol: 604 CFA / lt
Price, water: 500 CFA
Total spend: 113K CFA
Adam Wible: We wrapped up our hiking the next morning by 10:30 AM, after climbing a steep ravine (aka Faille) from the sandy plain back up to the plateau. We took our last photos and had another megadose of Miaggi for lunch before Modibo arrived with the truck, and then drove us to Burkina through the sand.
Border guards and police in Burkina are renowned for being the least corrupt and most efficient in the region, although the cause is unclear. We found this to be true, although we still managed to bribe the border guard. The visas were fine, although he complained because the were no clean pages in my passport given the hash other west African officials made of what should have been sufficient. He agreed to put the visa in the back cover, where not even the Czechs had the audacity to go. 10K CFA each visa.
The problem was that the truck didn’t have the CDAO or carnet de passage, so we could sell the car in Burkina without paying taxes, and worse if we got in an accident the Malian insurance would be useless. Oh well, we gave him 2K CFA and told him we would take care of it in Ouaga. In fact, the price would be 27K CFA to do it in Ouaga given that it is only done by the month. Our expected value of bribes being well below that, we decided to let it slide.
It is hard to pull out meaningful differences between Mali and Burkina at this point, beyond the obvious police point. The roads are immaculate in a hub and spoke arrangement from Ouaga, and there are tolls from 400 to 600 CFA depending on where you are going. I don’t think we have seen a single bridge in Burkina as the fashion is to simply concrete a concave patch with the full expectation that the river would flow right over the road during the hivernage, and cars would drive right through the river.
Ouaga has changed drastically since the guides were printed. It seems healthy, but an inordinate number of highly recommended spots appear to have closed within the last year. Nevertheless we had the best lasagne in Africa for dinner, and then crashed while Modibo battled mosquitos in the car all night and failed to catch a wink.
GB: Modibo is increasingly becoming a homie on this trip. As we met him in Dourou with the car we set off on a 30 minute drive in pure sand all the time. Modibo would keep yanking the wheel left and right, downshift like a racecar driver from time to time. Swerves at high speeds also proved necessary in order to avoid various elements of the local landscape: trees, rocks, cows, etc. All that time Modibo looked like he was driving the kids home from soccer practice on a calm Sunday. Except for the ample swerve movements of course… While quite the calm dude in general, we are increasingly gratified with comments on driving, the cost of stuff, or general reflections on how to lead your life in Africa, all punctuated by either a “Est-ce que tu vois?” (do you see?) or by a long and satisfied “voilaaaa” when we rephrase something he just explained.
After about an hour, we got to the Burkina border, and proceeded with the Burkinabe formalities. What about the Malian ones? Well, to the best of our knowledge, there weren’t any. Given Adam’s passport space issues though, we can’t say we missed them. So we got to the border post of Burkina Faso. There we ask for the visa prices, and the first surprise comes: it’s cheaper than the guidebook indicated. Fine, but no more surprises, then.
Unfortunately there was one more: we did not have the CDAO certificate of insurance. I begin to have a deja vu moment with what happened in Gambia, when I got swindled out of 11K. This time I get a 2K and a 5K, each in a different pocket. I walk in expecting to have to discuss price. Instead we are given 2 options: the “certificate unavailable” receipt for 25K or the “failure to present the certificate” receipt for 12.5K (not quite sure why anyone would go for option 2). We then have to suggest (yes, we were not offered the usual “arrangement”) that maybe there is an alternative. The guy grows uncomfortable. I start sweating bullets. For sure this country is not corrupt and I’m going to be jailed on the spot. Then he says “I don’t know, I guess you need to see what you want to do.” Massive relief on my side, he’s asking for a price. I thank him for the advice and shake his hand with a 2K CFA bill in it, under the amused eye of Modibo, and off we go.
Location: Nombori, Dogon Country, Mali
Weather: Beautiful, too hot to walk mid day
Kilometers: 18 a pied
Health: tired despite rest
Accommodation: Campement Ireli
Price, room: 4K
Price, water: 1.2K CFA
Total spend: 75K CFA
Adam Wible: We woke up and learned some things. The stones for the houses are broken out of the cliffs using dynamite, and are then chiseled into rectangles by hand. A cut stone of average size would cost 50 CFA, but with transportation etc the real cost is more like 100 CFA per stone. If you showed up and wanted to build a house, you’d need to pick a spot and make your case to the chief. If you have enough money to build a big enough house on the area you’ve selected, and if the chief approves, you are good to go. Land ownership is purely collective, at the village level, so there is no concept of purchasing a plot. Our guide estimated a house would cost about 1.2M CFA, or $2.4K. It would be really fun to go, buy and cut all the stone, build the house, and then give it to someone to live in.
We also learned that our guide believes himself to be a reincarnation of his grand father. This was decreed at his birth, and he was given a pretty nasty scar on his chest as a parallel to his grandfather who was shot in the chest in some war. Our guide is an animist, combining ancestor worship, reincarnation, spirit of the earth, sacrifices to fetishes, and fortune telling with sticks and jackals, etc.
Arranged marriage happens at age 4 for men, at which point their mothers find a pregnant woman and strike a deal with an agreed amount of millet and potentially money to secure a relationship. If the newborn is male, he will be a close friend. If female, she will be a wife. The interesting part is that the man can get out of it once he is old enough to have an opinion.
Our guide was set up with a girl, dowry paid and all, but when he finally saw his fiancée she was not big enough so he rejected her and found another. He also had one child with a mistress who has since gone to Cote D’Ivoire. We asked if his wife was pissed about this and he responded, “elle n’a pas le choix, c’est mon choix.” That’s what happens when you have a lot more women than men as the Dogon do. Is it because the men are more likely to leave to seek work elsewhere? Is it something in the Maggi?
The food is good, or rather the dish is good – it is always the same dish. Rice, spaghetti, macaroni, or couscous with a delicious sauce: peanut oil, tomatoes, lots of onions, and Maggi Arome seasoning (read MSG). Those Maggi Landcruisers are among the select group of trucks delivering the things that go everywhere in the country: alcohol, cigarettes, gasoline, beef bullion, prepaid mobile airtime cards, plastic sandals, coca/fanta, and water. For breakfast we ate beignets, which are donuts made from fried millet, eaten with sugar. These are delicious but so bad for you; I think they may be responsible for the massive attack on my digestive tract that would hit in 2 days time.
The hiking was less interesting today, mostly in the sand on the plain below the cliff. The villages were also less interesting – still atmospheric but less visually striking. It took 4 hours to have lunch, most likely by design given the heat of the day. Even though I was already exhausted by noon, this chafed because sitting on a chair made of sticks for 4 hours just seems unamerican.
We ended the night pretty bummed out, for no apparent reason – the trip just started to feel too easy being led around by guides and never having any problems. Can’t we just have some problems already?
GB: The adrenaline slowdown really does not feel that good. Not to mention that given how talked up Dogon country is in the guides, this area is intensely touristy, even now. As a result, our constant feeling of being lone travelers in an area forgotten and abandoned by the western world suddenly turns into a tourism jewel visiting societies that apparently don’t need you. While they will burn all the cash they can from your hands, they seem prosperous from farming and herding.
That’s until I meet a French director filming a documentary on Dogon schooling, who explains 2 things. One, the Dogon are disturbingly poor, affecting health, education, and the lot. Two, tourism is leading to personal enrichment (campement owners) in a world where property rights are very much geared towards collective ownership. As a result he fears the only source of income that can solve one will create two, which could lead to a breakdown of the social structure. Guess appearances can be misleading…
We hike all day, well, 5.5 hours – the rest we sit waiting for someone somewhere to do something for us. Pictures should be pretty cool though.
Location: Ireli, Dogon Country, Mali
Weather: Beautiful, then torrential downpour
Kilometers: 80 + 7 a pied
Hours: 1 en voiture, 1.5 a pied
Health: tired despite rest
Accomodation: Campement Ireli
Price, room: 4K CFA
Price, water: 1.2K CFA
Total spend: 96K CFA
GB: Eventful day. It all began with the drive to Bandiagara. We let Modibo drive since we wanted him to check for any weird signs, after 2 consecutive days of aggressive driving on rocks, sand, dirt and water. The car seemed fine by the time we got to Bandiagara, so after we got lunch there I took the wheel.
It was supposed to be a dirt road, so could be fun. We were headed for Sanga, at the north of Dogon country, where we hoped to set up 2.5 days of hiking in the region. And fun it was, for sure. Potholes, mud, rocks, and weird half pipe-like structures (see also inverted bridge) which allow the water to flow through during the rainy season.
As we kept getting closer to Sanga, we started discerning what seemed like a huge rain storm just above our destination. It seemed like the place was facing a major downpour. We were later to learn that this was the biggest single rain pour in 7 years, and a landmark event. While we were driving through what felt like a deep fog made of rain, we thought this was “rainy as usual” and definitely agreed that the rainy season had not been overblown.
After an hour of driving under intense rain, we got to Sanga. Modibo introduced us to a guide manager. We came to an agreement quite fast and we prepared our bag while the guide arrived. Not the best deal ever, but 75K CFA for the 3 day 2 night trip.
We then set off for Dogon country. In order to get there, we had to climb down a ravine, which given the equipment we had, certainly activated the adrenaline pump. Yet we made it, after a few scares due to Adam’s shoes’ poor adherence… Onitsuka tigers are crap for hiking boots. After 2.5 hrs of walking and climbing down, we got to Irely, a beautiful Dogon village, at the bottom of a cliff, itself bordered by a narrow plain, and further along by sand dunes. At this point Dogon country felt so amazing it was overwhelming, we just did not know what to focus on, considering how many sights were offered to us….We went to bed at 10, tired but happy, and feeling good.
Adam Wible: Ireli was legitimately excellent. It’s not that it is untouched (the first cell phone tower went up last week at Sanga), or unvisited (Jacques Chirac has a house here), but it is different than anywhere I’ve been. The vast cultural differences seem genuine. There is a big plateau towering over a scrubby dune landscape that stretches all the way to Burkina Faso. The plateau falls off via sheer cliff faces and overhangs that are filled with ancient pygmy dwellings. These little houses are right out of Star Wars, and they are so high into the cliff that they are impossible to access today. While some Dogon believe that the pygmys could fly (I would like to see that on youtube!), according to science, there were once vines all over the cliff face that the pygmys could climb. Climate change forced them to follow the big game into Central Africa. Dogon houses are built primarily from cut stone (some mud brick also), and climb up the cliff face in a ramshackle way. There are a bunch of conical granaries with wooden hats, which store millet, onions, etc. There are taller ones for each male, and shorter female versions that the men are obliged to construct, one for each wife. The livestock runs everywhere through the maze of steps, squares, walls, and houses, while kids ask for bonbons and demonstrate their prowess with slingshots. We recommend looking at the photos when they are up because it is hard to describe, but this was amazing.
Location: Mopti, Mali
Weather: intermittent rain, cool at night
Health: fine, dehydrated
Accomodation: Ya pas de problem hotel
Price, room: 3.5K CFA x 2 = 7K CFA
Price, petrol: 503 CFA / lt
Total spend: 109K CFA
GB: I woke up at 4:45 AM, my mattress drenched in rain water. No surprise, then, that I had been dreaming that I was under a waterfall and then drowning.
I checked outside for the camel guides, secretly hoping they weren’t there, since my eagerness to go had greatly waned due to pouring rain. So instead I decided to join Adam, Sanna, and Modibo inside to sleep some more.
At 5:30 AM we woke up again. I went to see outside to check, and this time found a small Tuareg waiting right outside. Not sure how long he had been waiting, I pretended like we were on time and told him we would be right over.
The ride was fun but at the end of the day, we felt the impact of driving a hard bargain on quality of service. The camel went for 10 minutes into the dunes, then stopped, while our guide proudly announced to his incredulous audience that we were at the “Porte du Desert”. I stopped short of asking to see some form of proof. We hung out in the dunes a bit before turning back. On the way back I asked for the Tuareg coffee, only to be told they did not settle around where we were. Makes you wonder how real this “Door” actually is.
After we got back, we decided to go take a stroll around the city before leaving.
Adam Wible: We popped in to visit one of the worst museums I’ve ever seen, after haggling over the price of entry of course. They had like 2 broken pots from 1981, and a photo of ladies doing a tourist dance in 1986. While we looked at the museum, some guy stamped our passports, even though we weren’t crossing a border.
We also stopped by the houses of various notable western explorers who were commonly slashed by Tuareg if you believe the guide book. Renee Caille, a French citizen, learned such good Arabic that he passed himself off as an Egyptian scholar for a year without anyone finding out and slashing him. He also went 3,500 km in West Africa in 18 months with no government funding. We definitely have him beat there. But he did it in 1830 and was riding a camel or whatever.
The houses looked like the other stone houses in town, but in general stone houses are for the rich, mud houses for the poor, and tents for the touareg.
We thought we’d grab a quick breakfast and be on our way. As it turned out, they had a shortage of bread, eggs, milk, and food generally in Timbuktu. We settled for a coffee and french fries. When we finally got the food, about 1.5 hours later, we were pretty pissed, so we ate and left Timbuktu.
Before we left we talked to a Tuareg who had just returned from the salt mines at Taoudenni, bringing back salt slabs. This was the original salt gold trade that put Timbuktu on the map. I personally will trade anyone salt for gold, but I guess this reflects how the economics have changed over the years – indeed the margins have come out of the business. The trip takes 16 days and is done with a caravan of 40 camels. Each camel can carry 4 slabs (one on each side and 2 on top), and each slab will fetch 4K CFA in Timbuktu. So that’s 16K per camel x 40 = 640K CFA, or $1,280 for the 16 day trip. I could be wrong about the 40 camels anyway – he was speaking french after all. Hilariously, the Lonely Planet says you can go along with the caravan for 650K CFA, riding a camel for 18 hrs per day, eating shit food, for 36 days round trip. Worst idea ever.
Location: Timbuktu, Mali
Accomodation: Sahara Passion, terrace
Price, room: 2.5K CFA x 2 = 5K CFA
Price, petrol: 503 CFA
Price, water: 416 CFA each for 24 bottles
Total spend: 91K CFA
GB: The road to Timbuktu was described to us as “bad, but with a 4×4 you’re fine”. We were also told to expect the following breakdown:
– Mopti – Douentza 200K – tarmac
– Douentza – Timbuktu, part 1 – 100KM – dirt track, a few holes, part 2 – 100KM – bad
We were told to expect an average of 50Kph all included, for an 8 hour trip.
Going to Douentza was no problem. Once in Douentza, we stopped for lunch, checked the water level on the car and strengthened the screws on the forward bumper.
We then set off on the first “tough” part. The road was heavily corrugated (i.e. quite choppy) but as we discovered that you barely feel it at 80 kph or above, we started cruising. The occasional hole was of course surprising, but the car seemed to take it well.
At the end of part 1 we shifted drivers and Adam took the wheel. The real fun began. At that point everything on the road went south. The chops in the road seemed to be impossible to avoid by going faster (we tried, only to feel as if the car was going to disintegrate), and we regularly came upon deep sandy patches. We got stuck 3 times, and each time the 4×4 function on the car came in handy. Lock the front wheels into gear, engage the 4 wheel drive, punch the gas, and I could then watch Adam drive the car out of what seemed like a sea of sand. While we looked at each other in dismay the first time we got sanded, by the third time it had all become a routine. We are pretty happy with the car. The 1991 Landcruiser may have been quite a liability here – tough to say for sure.
We had to cross a ferry (7.5K CFA!), once again a great illustration of monopoly pricing. Since driving back was not really an option, nor was driving around the Timbuktu River, we caved. We finally entered
Timbuktu the Mysterious after 6.5 hours of driving, exhausted but relieved that the car was still running. By that time we had tightened the bumper twice, and used duct tape from our guidebooks to hold the headlights in place, since they had gotten disconnected and started to wobble dangerously. We also found an oil leak since the bottom screw of the oil tank had suffered a hit. No apparent structural damage however.
Our chauffeur/chaperone proceeded to pray as we arrived, although it remains unclear whether he was thanking God or asking for one more favor: a safe return.
We started strolling about Timbuktu. Mud houses, sandy roads, 4x4s all around, and the feeling of being at the edge of civilization made for a very unique feeling.
As it was the last day of campaigning for local legislative elections, we got T-shirts of one of the candidates: Sandy. I hope he wins, and I hope he never turns out to be a dictator… We then went to the opposite side, but they only had one T-shirt.
We met there a local kid who took us in now darkening streets into an empty building and onto its roof, where a restaurant was operating in the moonlight. We sat with Sanna and had a good dinner. The conversation trailed off into the evening as we arranged through our friend for a 4AM camel ride into the dunes the next morning, all under an impressive desert sky.
Adam Wible: My favorite part of the drive was when all trace of the road ended near this field full of cattle. Guillaume came around the corner and hit the dead end at around 60kph. In a stroke of genius he cranked the wheel and turned a full donut before coming to a halt, and then continuing through the cows.
Timbuktu hadn’t seen power in 3 days when we arrived. This made it difficult to complete the ritual chugging of ice cold Fanta after peeling off the synthetic leather bench seats. We eventually, in the midst of negotiation over the amazing Sandy shirts, found an Arabic version in a 2L bottle. Disregarding the diabetes risk, the three of us pounded the soda in about a minute, and then staggered around for another 30 minutes waiting for insulin levels to normalize.
Timbuktu was a little anticlimactic, but that was exactly as expected, so we didn’t know quite how to feel. It was great to walk around in the sandy blocks, and note that cell phone reception was a little better than in my apartment in New York.
There was, very surprisingly, almost no hustle, possibly because people were so occupied with some guy cranking on an electric guitar at the political rally. I guess he lugged a generator along with his amp.
This rally was more sophisticated than the other campaigns we witnessed, which primarily involved overloading a truck with people, and then rallying around honking and yelling at people.
Naturally, we had taken the cheapest option to sleep on the terrace (they swore there were no mosquitoes). The nights had been very comfortable in Mali, no deep freeze or anything. There was, however, a sandstorm followed by thunder, lightning, and rain. Eventually, we were drenched and had no idea where Modibo was with the car keys, so we busted into the one unlocked room to find shelter for the electronics in our pockets. The grand poobah proprietor was snoring loudly inside, but I found this bed made of sticks, and the others dragged in mattresses. Some Arab guy jumped in the stick bed about a half hour later, and was very surprised to find me in there too, but I didn’t get up so he got uncomfortable and left. 2 Hours later, when we had to wake up for the damn camel ride, we realized that the snoring guy was actually Modibo. A crap 4 hour night, but I guess Timbuktu isn’t legendary for being a cake walk.
Location: Mopti, Mali
Weather: dry heat
Accomodation: Ya pas de problem hotel
Price, room: 3.5K for roof x 2 = 7K CFA
Price, petrol: 504 CFA / lt
Price, water: 500 CFA
Total spend: 99K CFA
Adam Wible: After we woke up early and saw some very photogenic scenes of morning on the Niger, we backtracked 9KM to Segou Koro, an ancient village upstream. The village chief was quite the extortionist, spinning some yarn about the lack of a maternity in the village that led to 3 infant deaths this year alone. As if that crap would work on us… Actually it did and we gave him 6K CFA. His response: “OK, now you can take photos no problem.”
It was a picturesque village, but we continued on to see something bigger 300km away: the grand mosquee at Djenne. This mud structure had mythical status in my mind ever since we studied old photos of it in college art history. In person, it was impressive despite the tourist atmosphere that has grown up around it. It is the largest mud structure in the world after all.
We grabbed some rice and caught the ferry back to the road and continued to Mopti. We arrived at 7PM and the hotel had a pool! But we couldn’t swim because they were chlorinating. There was a nice bar on the terrace, right near the mats and mosquito nets where we would be sleeping.
We met a group of Brits working for Madventurer who had just come from Timbuktu. They claimed to have done it in 9 hours with no problem in an old Land Rover Defender. The flights were feeling expensive and we would have to wait until Saturday anyway, so we made the call to drive the notoriously bad route – to the surprise of the chauffeur the next morning, but whatever. We also met a 22 year old Swede named Sanna who agreed to come with us and split gas round trip to Timbuktu.
We have confirmed that the rains are officially late this year. Could have disastrous consequences for the locals (it sure is hot), but we haven’t dealt with many mosquitoes, nor had any road problems, so it is a mixed blessing for us.
GB: Timbuktu it is. After all, so far driving our beast on tarmac has felt like massive overkill. Plus, the dubious looks of the Brits as we explained that our chauffeur was more of a facilitator/mechanic since we did all the driving eliminated any qualms I had before, thinking of Mahamadou potentially having to pick up his car at the scrapyard….
The hotel is really nice. Paradoxically enough, for once we don’t even have a room, and yet it feels as if this is the most luxurious place we have slept in. Must be the pool we were refused the right to use…
Other than that, not much to say as we spent most of the day relaying each other behind the wheel, as we raced to Mopti. The driver seems to be finding his new status as a paid passenger to be quite enjoyable, and given the 4 hour nap he took today, he is probably the most rested among us. A good guy though. We had a bit of a moment when, as we got stopped by the police in an obvious bribe extraction attempt, he went to discuss the matter with the policeman, only to come back explaining that we had missed a turn and were headed in the wrong direction completely. Something he had missed due to intensive sleeping. While seemingly unfazed by this discovery, he had a puzzled look which I took to express his lack of familiarity with being driven, and the sudden realization that despite appearances, he was indeed the professional driver in the car. We had a good laugh, and then Adam, me and my “grand-pere” were back on our way – the right one this time.
Location: Segou, Mali
Weather: Scorcher during the day, but monsoon clouds and breeze made it cool and comfortable by early evening.
Accomodation: Toyota Hilux
Price, room: 0K CFA
Price, petrol: 504 CFA / lt
Price, water: 400 CFA
Total spend: 43K CFA
Adam Wible: So Mahamadou was the winner. He put new tires on the back wheels, replaced the halogen lamps, oil change, and removed a funky canopy from the back, and we were ready to go by 7PM.
I just want to make sure everyone is aware that we chose to spend a LOT more money over the course of the next 13 days in order to reduce the chance of further mishaps. Prudent? That’s flattering, thank you. Now we all wait for something to break.
We spent the morning making final calls and last offers, searching frantically for cash, and buying ice cream and mango juice for Guillaume to keep him slaked. OK, I had a little ice cream too. Due to some details around an interbank transfer, I had run flat out of cash in my etrade account, and no additional funds would be available for 3 days. My etrade card is our only visa debit, and we struggled to find any MasterCard options in Bamako, so we thought we would have to resort to Western Union, Swift transfer, or cash advance (probably insufficient).
Quite a cash crunch because we needed to pay up front for the car ($600 is half!), and have enough cash to make it all the way to Ouagadougou, including potential flights to and from Timbuktu ($400), and all petrol, accommodation, food, and admissions, not to mention a cushion. We had been seeing MasterCard signs in several banks around the city, but they all said they got excited and put up the signs even though they didn’t actual take MasterCard yet. Then, we heard there was one HQ branch outside of the city, and they had started there. We took and taxi and were in luck – the first MasterCard ATM in Mali had opened last week.
We were so sleepy for some reason that we let the chauffeur drive to Segou. It was supposed to be about 2.5 hours away but he drove slowly so it took us 6. When we arrived, at 2AM, we parked by the Niger River and slept in the car until 6AM. During the night, someone rifled through the personal effects of our chauffeur, Modibo. He looked very sheepish, but they only took his cell charger. We would store his bag inside the cab going forward.
GB: We had it: the much desired and simultaneously much dreaded second 4×4 of this trip. I have no doubt we will spend the next 13 days with our ears attentive to the faintest uncommon sound, or our eyes riveted to the heat gauge, as we hope to diagnose any potential problem before it escalates. This one is the stuff though. As mentioned above, we once again had a shady option in the form of a baker/used 4×4 importer, who after initially agreeing to a price almost half of this one (25K CFA), raised his demands to 35. We hope to have learned from our mistakes and took a financial hit to ensure safety and success. Not that this should prevent us from pushing this car to its limits.
Brief yet typical misunderstanding as we met our chauffeur, Modibo. Dude shows up, and suddenly as I confirm that he is all included, we discover that his living expenses were not. He is paid 5K by Mahamadou, and we are to cover his living expenses to the amount of 3.5K per day. In a pure consultant reflex, we quickly calculated and proceeded to argue that this would imply a 135% operating margin in the chauffeur business. Highly improbable given observed supply… After bitter negotiations, we came out unscathed financially (3.5 went down to 1, which Mahamadou very grudgingly agreed to pay after we stonewalled), and in pure African fashion we were all suddenly related (Adam Wible became Mahamadou’s “petit fils”, and I became the chauffeur’s). We set off at 9PM for Segou, many hopes and fears tangled into a tight knot of expectations.
Location: Bamako, Mali
Accomodation: Auberge Lafia
Price, room: 10K CFA
Price, water: 500 CFA
Total spend: 41K CFA
Adam Wible: Today we tracked 5 leads for a 4×4:
Brehima – upscale legit rental place, first price was 75K, very quickly followed by 55K and finishing at 47.5K with us not satisfied. 1998 Toyota Landcruiser.
Moussa – guy met in the internet cafe, came back with 40K for a Pajero (no way, burn me twice, my fault), and later a Toyota Tacoma, which was a little wimpy, and a single cab.
Shek – met him in the street, and he brought us a Landcruiser pickup, but for 50K CFA. Expensive for any year!
Balde – this guy was a baker, literally. We were asking around, and were shown into the office of his bread bakery. He was a little flighty, never done this before, and agreed to 25K CFA before reneging the next day, saying he didn’t know where prices were supposed to be. 1991 Toyota Landscruiser, just imported from France. This is old, but it had enjoyed and easier life in France than a comparable African version. We wanted 30K, he refused to go below 35K
Mahamadou – I was ogling his truck, a 2001 Toyota Hilux 1.8L diesel double cab pickup, when some guy on the street introduced us to the owner. No he had never done this before, but in typical African fashion he happened to be cash strapped right now. We couldn’t get under 45K no caution 150K upfront, chauffeur (chaperone) compris.
Winners announced tomorrow.
Fine, it turned out to be Mahamadou. The bulk of our spend today ended up being on nightlife. The main strip was far from the center, so we took a cab to check it out.
GB: We initially wanted to go to Bla Bla Bar, if only for the indispensable pleasure of getting in a cab and asking for “bla bla” and actually meaning it. But once we got there, we found a geriatric leisure facility.
No offense, but not quite the “nightlife must-do” the guide mentioned. So we went to “La Terrace” bar and got a couple of beers there. As we are now accustomed, a girl came up to us a couple minutes after we sat. From Ghana originally, she was in Bamako to study computer science.
After a small misunderstanding around tip (you mean NY standards have not been adopted internationally?), we talked a bit with the waitress in order to get a sense of the good places. Conveniently enough, the place she indicated was just downstairs from the bar.
Once we got there, we first got the impression that little was different from NY: large dance floor, hip hop music, gorgeous waitresses. We were largely mistaken, as we would soon discover. Once again flanked by girls who seemed to appear from nowhere, and not quite sure how to handle that part, we danced for a bit, before we were stopped in our tracks Guinean army style (see previous post on encounter with Qaddafi). The dance floor was emptied by security, and at this point it seemed something bad had happened, but unclear what.
In fact, this was a joyful day as there are only too few: it was the birthday of an ORTM journalist, and the inauguration of a new concept of a show from Ivory Coast. In the end, after a 1hr succession of shows of mediocre to low quality, we put an end to the night. But not before our new friends insisted on giving is their numbers, request to which we obliged of course, despite the pointlessness of doing so. Between 4×4 sourcing and random contact exchanges my phone now has more African contacts in it than not.
Location: Bamako, Mali
Weather: hot, but a dry heat, so not so bad
Health: exhausted but convalescent
Accomodation: Auberge Lafia
Price, room: 10K CFA
Price, water: 500 CFA
Shower: best of the trip
Total spend: 31K CFA
Adam Wible: Here’s a boring one: The couple we stayed with were much too nice. No really, they gave us a nice big bed, and the mattress was fine if not great. I don’t remember entering the bedroom let alone getting in the bed. When I got up in the morning to find him and his wife in their skivvies sleeping on the tile floor of the living room with no padding, it felt a little embarrassing.
After we were all up, the wife made us two of the oiliest fried egg sandwiches ever, served with mayonnaise of course, and it became clearer from whence her girth had come. Today we realized that the slow killers, say cholesterol for example, are surely secondary and, statistically speaking, possibly irrelevant given the difficulty of life here. The rational choice is probably to take down all the calories you can afford, even if they come from a can of rancid Bama Mayo sitting in the sun.
Ibrahim asked us to set up his new TV for him, but we could only get through the basics because he had bought one with a British style plug without noticing, and thus had no adapter. We also hooked up an old school VCR, which was weird.
We then checked into the Auberge – one of the best hotels of the trip with a large private room upstairs with two beds already hung with mosquito nets, and a big private bathroom with great water pressure to boot. The water pressure was key given the thick layer of filth we would successfully scrub off.
One the greatest pieces of news: regardless of what the Lonely Planet says, there are functioning ATMs in Bamako! As long as you have visa – it’s like this region has been set up specifically for a Visa ad, as it is the only card that is consistently everywhere we want to be. No seriously, the only place Guillaume was able to use his MasterCard debit was Senegal.
We showered, saw a bit of Bamako, arranged for someone to do our laundry, showered again, used the internet (too slow to make real progress uploading photos), ate at a Chinese restaurant, showered again, and were fast asleep by 7PM. The 4×4 negotiations would begin in earnest when we woke up, 14 hours later.
GB: Not much to add there. Boring, and yet such a restful day was much needed after the past few days. We initially decided to go out at night, but as soon as we laid down for what we thought would be a quick nap, we never managed to get back up until morning. Tomorrow we get back into motion with setting up the new 4×4. Hopefully this time we will have better luck and more discernment in our negotiations. In other news, we heard Paris Hilton is getting out of jail after 23 days of detention. Knowing the poor girl’s suffering is at an end pushed morale past 7. TV5 Monde Afrique also confirmed that Nicholas Sarkozy likes chocolate.
Location: Bamako, Mali
Weather: nice, but who cares anyway
Health: Adam hurt his foot while taking a leak. Also, we felt like we were going to die if we didn’t get out of that car. So fine basically.
Accomodation: Chez Ibrahim Keita
Price, room: 8K CFA courtesy
Price, water: 3.5K FG
Total spend: 104K FG
Adam Wible: Another dreary day of all day driving to reach Bamako. Once the gearshift was fixed, we were on our way until we had a blow out and it took the driver 2 hours to find a spare and change the tire and wheel.
As I’m typing this, we just slammed a goat. As per usual there was a group laying in the road, and the driver avoided one, avoided a second, and obliterated the third.
When we were getting the bags in Bamako, Guillaume leaned against the hood in the dark. We took a picture with flash to see that the car was covered in dried blood. The driver’s reaction upon impact: “Qu’est-ce que c’est une chevre?” And then, “Does anyone have a light for my cigarette?”
GB: At this point we just wanted to get to Bamako. If not because we desperately watched the hours pass and the timing of our trip slip, then at least because the fat mama to the left of our 4 seat group was increasingly resisting invasion into her padding. Where was space to be found? The fourth co-seater on our little alignment was initially willing to bend forward for the greater good, so that at any point only 3 sets of shoulders would be aligned and needing space. But as time passed, he increasingly threatened this fragile balance by leaning back into the seat, thus setting off a cold war between Adam and I on one side and him on the other. The fat mama was her own Non-Aligned Movement. While diplomatic relations with the dude were never broken, some dire battles were fought, and among the casualties were my left hip, Adam’s mojo, and his jaw (friendly fire from my forehead while I was sleeping and leaning across the guy’s back to prevent any unexpected invasion of our territory).
Adam Wible: We arrived in Bamako at 5AM, exactly 60 hours after leaving Conakry, which is only 44 hours later than anticipated. I guess we should be happy? Either way, I’m putting morale at 3.
The driver was trying to spin some bullshit about how we had to sleep in the car outside of Bamako, but within range of the lights because of potential problems with the police. There was a general mutiny and we all called him a fool for about the 10th time on the trip, so he gave in and took us to the city without incident.
We went with a guy from the back seat to his apartment. In the back seat he was with two fat mamas – we’re still not sure how he survived it. The biggest was his wife, and she was about 400% as big as the average local woman. He split a cab with us and left her to manage the luggage and the massive big screen TV he bought in Conakry. It will be stunning if that thing ends up working after being on top of the car during that trip.
While we were a bit wary of the taxi drivers and whatnot, we were pretty much staggering around looking for somewhere to take a diarrhea, clean my wounded foot, drink some water, and take a shower. But most importantly, before all that, sleep. As we left, the driver was explaining to a fascinated group of taxi drivers that his car was crap and he was going to swap out the diesel engine for a petrol one in the morning. I guess he broke even on the trip. He certainly broke us.
Location: Dabola, Guinea
Accomodation: Peugeot 505
Price, room: 0K FG
Price, water: 3.5K FG
Total spend: 18K FG
Adam Wible: Today we got totally screwed by none other than Muammar Qaddafi. In a freak coincidence, the Libyan dictator decided to drive to Conakry for a visit in his bus, with about 500 troops in a 150 vehicle motorcade. As a welcome, the Guinean military shut down traffic on the main north south artery through Guinea for 26 hours. The car was forced to stay in a field along with all other non military traffic. All business along an 800 KM stretch of road was suspended and held until the motorcade passed. Unfortunately, the military had AKs but did not appear to be supplied with radios or cell phones, so they had no clue where Qaddafi was or where he would be staying the night, or when he might be passing. Thus, they shut the length of the road down in one go rather than in segments, and they started the blockade at midnight, only to have the motorcade pass at 2:30AM, 26 hours later.
Ouch. The only thing keeping morale above a 1 on this useless day is that we had good rice and coffee in the nearest village, and we got to see Qaddafi’s party bus etc. Despite an early incident when we were caught photographing a “sensitive military installation” (read a truck, painted green, parked under a tree, with a couple dudes holding machine guns), we did take a secret video of the procession. It wasn’t all that interesting in the end, except to see so many identical Toyota Landcruisers. Probably not the type of publicity Toyota is looking for, but it would look cool on TV. We missed our malaria pill today.
Also, once we started moving at 2:30 the gearshift broke after an hour and we had to spend the night waiting for a mechanic. To be frank, this part of this trip was not very fun.
GB: Au debuttout s’est bien passe au depart de Conakry. Cela dit au bout de la troisieme panne de notre bush taxi on a commence a se de mander si on avait pas choisu un mauvais cheval…Finalement a 2h30 du matin notre chauffeue a arrete d’essayer de reparer le levier de vitesses lui me me et a cherche un mecano. Malheureusement aucun n’etait disponible a cette heure. Meme en Afrique l’absence d’heures de bureau a ses limites.Le lendemain matin on a trouve le mecano. Il a repare et on a repris la route.
Malheureusement au meme moment Kadhafi passait par la Guinee. Resultat 1 journee d’arret, de 10h a Minuit pour finalement voir oasser un convoi de 80 voi tures dans la nuit. On a failli se faire arreter pour avoir filme mais finalement pas de probleme. On l’a meme utilise pour amadouer des douaniers meduses devant la video. Heureusement ouisque mon visa a usage unique avait deja ete utilise. Mais aucun probleme et finalement apres 60h de voyage nous sommes arrives a Bamako. Une moyenne inferieure a 20km/h
Location: ?, Guinea
Health: itchy (Adam), fine (Guillaume)
Accomodation: Peugeot 505
Price, room: 0K FG
price, water: 3.5K FG
Total spend: 419K FGAdam Wible: The next morning at 8AM, Aminata was hanging laundry to dry. When we returned from a session of failed ATM withdrawals and brutal change rates, she had already washed the sheets, made the bed with new ones, and stacked all the furniture in the living room to better clean the floor. Seko said she goes to school as well.
We said goodbye and headed for the bus station to go direct to Bamako. Contrary to claims, we didn’t leave until almost 4PM, while the chauffeur waited for additional freight cargo to strap on top of the 505. He eventually succeeded in getting so much that the car could barely move, stop, or traverse a bump of any depth. The other passengers contributed: 4 fat mamas, 3 average to large dudes, Guillaume (should probably count as the 5th fat mama), and me. I think I had a strong case for deserving a discount given that my hip width is half of the nearest competitor, but I failed to galvanize the other passengers around this cause.
We heard some bizarre rumors about roads being closed for a visiting functionary and disregarded – it should be a minor delay at most. The chauffeur stopped at 2AM even though he promised to drive all night. The car broke 3 times. Guillaume and I slept in it.
With nothing further of interest, here is some filler:
Tips for using mid range public transit in West Africa:
Here are the seats
Senegalese Sept place (1988 peugeot 505)
2 3 4
5 6 7
= 8 / 8 = 1
Guinea, guinea bissau Sept place (1988 peugot 505)
Driver 1 2
3 4 5 6
7 8 9
= 10 / 8 = 1.25
Sierra Leone 4 seater (1984 Toyota carena 2)
Driver 1 2 3
4 5 6 7 (maybe 8 if a child)
= 8.5 / 5 = 1.7
In Senegal you are fine. In Guinea, avoid seats 1 and 5 above all. In Sierra Leone, you are screwed in general.
The following comments will focus on Guinea:
- Remove everything from your pockets and encourage your fellow passengers to do the same. Put only the things that you need in your lap, and pack everything else in a completely inaccessible spot on the roof. For the record, these items are iPod, blackberry, money belt with passport and funds, and potentially a camera. Try desperately, against the odds, to avoid losing these things.
- Wear the money belt a round a shoulder on your chest. If you wear it under the waistline, it will only exacerbate the swamp ass, and wearing it on your chest looks cooler than wearing it as a Fannie pack.
- Favor big mamas over bony large dudes. They may be bigger and heavier in an absolute sense, but you can sink into their padding to an astounding extent, and it is very comforting on an emotional and psychological level. However, use judgment as going for too many (two in the same row) can easily result in asphyxiation / dehydration. In general, try to avoid sitting adjacent to people exhibiting symptoms of tuberculosis.
- Take shifts laying back and bending forward to increase shoulder space. Don’t elbow people.
- Wear sandals, as long as your tetanus is up to date. You may get a rusty scrape, but that’s a small price to pay for comfort.
- Make immediate friends with the other passengers. The gall to place a hand on a shoulder, around a waist, or maybe even a head on a shoulder could mean the difference between agony and eventual amputation.
- Bring a sheet or something long sleeved. During the day, you can use it to pad your hip from the metal bar jutting out of the upholstery. You may have to sleep outside, or in the car, and you won’t have access to mosquito protection. Corollary: put a couple Malarone tablets in the money belt just in case your delay is measured in days as opposed to hours.
- Show up filthy. You’ll fit right in, and you avoid the unpleasant sense of getting dirtier over time as that would be impossible. At a minimum, you can count on getting blackened by the tailpipe during a push start, and stepping in something terrible.
- Come to grips with the fact that you will be in control of a shockingly minimal part of your life for the next x hours. Instead, rest assured that the chauffeur is so cash strapped that he is operating on the edge at all times. Also, note that he pays no attention to delays, nor ETA nonsense, and will happily risk flipping the car to avoid a pothole. Whatever ETA you do receive, you should double it and then layer in time for the car breaking down repeatedly (not a rule of thumb, empirical fact). If the chauffeur does not swear by the perfect condition of his vehicle with absolute confidence, it probably won’t make it out of the station so start looking for other options. Beyond this, check the front tires and then it is a crap shoot.
- You will remain in control of just three things: how much water you drink, how dodgy you go with the street food during stops, and whether or not you cry. Don’t cry. With the first two, strike a delicate balance.
Location: Conakry, Guinea
Health: Adam got bit about 60 times while sleeping on the minibus, but Guillaume escaped unscathed. A test of the efficacy of malarone in West Africa I guess. It still itches.
Accomodation: Chez Seko
Price, room: 35K FG courtesy
Price, water: 3K FG
Morale: 2 before the border, 9 after
Total spend: 311K FG
Adam Wible: We planned to wake up early and head for the more touristed Aberdeen and Lumley Beach areas west of the city. It was 11:30 by the time we finished wrestling with Rokel bank to make an expensive manual withdrawal from Guillaume’s checking account over a phone link through Kenya. We finally had enough money, but the weather was crap and didn’t look to be improving. It is the start of the rainy season and everyone we talked to said it could last for days, or not.
We had checked the flight situation, and there were no direct flights to Bamako, and the flights through Dakar were booked for 4 days into the future. We made an executive decision to cut and run, trying to make it to Bamako ASAP overland.
We were at the minibus by 12 and rolling by 1PM. There were problems with the police about 5 times, and the minibus broke down about 4 times, such that we made it to the border at 8, an hour after it officially closed. In fact, there were a contingent of officers working (and collecting) overtime, and we were through the Sierra Leone side quickly.. As an American, I was forced to purchase the deluxe multiple entry visa for Guinea (65K CFA) when we arranged in Dakar, but Guillaume slid through with a single entry for 20K CFA. It seems everyone can find a way to tastefully take pity on the French and cut them some slack. We didn’t plan on coming back into Guinea, and were now entering with a used single entry visa. Of course we could have gone to the embassy in Freetown and taken care of it, but who has the patience anyway? Mitigating factors: they may not notice, a used visa is better than no visa, and they seemed super corrupt on the Guinea side before. I’m not convinced that the official did notice anything, even though he scrutinized every page of Guillaume’s passport.
We paid him a little regardless, with the help of Seko, a charismatic 19 old from Conakry. We slept in his (kind of) apartment this evening. New technique: make it clear that you have money in your hand, but don’t reveal how much. When the official finishes the paperwork, slap it into his hand and say “ton petit fils”. Probably works best when you know the right amount.
Shortly after the border, the chauffeur, who had never before driven the route, badly botched a bribe to military blocking the road (protection from bandits…). Guillaume and Seko fetched a guy we had bribed in customs; he collected a bit more money from everyone and got us through.
At this point I passed out in the minibus, and we woke up in a particularly bandit infested area of Conakry around 1AM. The driver claimed it was too dangerous to continue, but we also happened to be parked in front of his guesthouse…..Seko was great, traveling with his 13 year old little sister, Aminata, back from a visit with his girlfriend in Freetown. Evidently a group of tough guys had gathered as we unloaded the minibus. While we were too groggy to notice the situation, Seko prevented them from mugging us by telling the minibus chauffeur we were with him, and we whisked into a cab towards the more secure center.
Our cabbie played it cool with one last military checkpoint (stopped 100 yards early, put on a shirt and his seatbelt, and turned off the blaring hip hop music), but revealed his anxiety by squealing his tires with the e-brake engaged as he was departing after passing the checkpoint.
We grabbed a deliciously huge portion of Guinean special fish curry for take away, went back to Seko’s with Aminata, ate, showered (so necessary), and went out to see a Conakry boite de nuit around 2:30. We got a lot of attention at Timis club (Heineken 12K FG) which became clear after a chat with Seko on the walk home. The line between normal girls and prostitutes is indistinguishable in Conakry. Evidently, some payment is almost always expected, local guys no exception. As with most bargaining in Africa, the sound assumption is that foreigners will be less effective at breaking the price down (evidently 50K FG is standard for locals). One effect of this situation: the club was 70% women (% SIDA?).
As for Seko and Aminata, the plot thickens a little bit. Seko’s girlfriend is married to a sleazy looking Italian dude. Seko dated her before the wedding and continues to see her. She lives in Freetown with the Italian, but that guy also has an apartment in central Conakry near the presidential palace. Nice for guinea, but not as fancy as it sounds. Anyway, Seko and Aminata squat in that apartment when the couple is in Sierra Leone. The wife gives Seko money and fair warning. Aminata is in fact an orphan adopted by the now deceased mother of the Italian’s wife, but he didn’t want her in the house, so Seko takes care of her. Or rather…
Seko claimed that she loved to work, and indeed she turned up for a couple bites of rice, after preparing the take out and some sliced mangos, before scampering off to the laundry. By the time we arrived back at the apartment at 5:30AM she had done all the laundry, scrubbed the floors, cleaned the kichen, made the bed, and cleaned the bathroom. We may be able to sell all of this to network television. It may be a little derivative (cinderella), but there should be enough sordid stuff to make it feel fresh.
Our hosts insisted that we take the bed (there was no couch), so I guess they slept on the floor in the living room. We were on high alert for signs of a scam all night, but it never happened.
GB: After Seko told us we had barely escaped a mugging, we were on high alert. The fact was this info could not be confirmed. In fact, Seko could be the one setting up an elaborate scam. But none of this turned out true. Seko and Aminata in the end were 2 youths watching out for each other. Hard to define what Aminata’s situation was, but she always smiled a lot, even in the minibus before we got to know Seko.
The Timis was fun. Weird, but fun. I never thought I would refuse so many outright offers to “make love to”, “have sex with”, “come home with” the most beautiful girls I have ever seen. But too many questions remained unanswered: is she a hooker? Did she mean to speak to the guy behind me?
At some point Seko introduced me to the DJ. I clicked a bit on the crossfader, and as a result he spent the whole night praising the “giant” from New York. Ironical, considering my actual height…
FRENCH: Au vu du temps a Freetown, on a abandonne l’idee de la plage, et au contraire on a decide de tenter de faire Freetown – Conakry en un temps record. Objectif manque. On a pris le minibus pour Conakry le meme jour, arrivee a 2h30 du mat in a Conakry le lendemain matin. En boite de nuit jusqu’a 5h du matin, et on repart a 8h pour Bamako.
Location: Freetown, Sierra Leone
Weather: overcast and comfortable, but no rain
Accomodation: Place Guesthouse
Price, room: 30K LE x 2 = 60K LE
Price, water: 3K LE
Price, beer: 2K LE
Total spend: 142K LE
Adam Wible: It is amazing how much the landscape has changed in the short distance we have covered south. In Senegal near Dakar, it was desert scrub, with controlled brushfires being the primary way to make the land fertile enough for farming. As we made it toward the Casamance, there was progressively more greenery, more and taller trees. Bissau had a little bit more of a jungle feel, and the Futa Djalon region of Guinea (near Labe) was mountainous with lots of vines, dense forest, and red earth. Conakry had a tropical feel, but was totally crushed by the city so it is hard to be sure.
But crossing the border into Sierra Leone the landscape was full blown palm jungle, with large pools of standing wattter filling the massive potholes in the dirt road. Freetown is reminiscent of pictures I’ve seen on Rio, with a combination of shacks and jungle following rippling mountains ascending out of Destruction Bay.
We had an ongoing struggle to get to Freetown from the border after we just missed a slightly cheaper minibus, and chose instead to take a car – faster at 3 hours for the trip (they claimed). Loaded, the car was really low, with no suspension to speak of, so we averaged 10 km/hr for the first half of the trip.
Also, in a car made for 5, they had fit 8 adults and a child (someone was sharing a seat with the driver).
The car had problems and we switched to a different one after 4 hours, and then that car had problems and they dumped us in a slow minibus that almost took us to central Freetown, and we walked the rest, arriving at 4PM after a 9AM start at the border 150 KM away.
Freetown reeks of sewage, but there is an efficient waste collection service so the streets are spotless. The problem is that many of the concrete slabs covering open sewers are broken or missing, so a painful and disgusting accident is never far off if you don’t watch your feet. The density is similar to Conakry (where a large number of Sierra Leoneans we met had fled during the war), but it felt a bit more threatening (i.e. more than one person yelled “fuck you let’s fight!”).
Grid power seems unpredictable given the reliance on generators, yet there are streetlights at night. Based on the UN human development index, Sierra Leone is the second poorest country on earth, after Niger and followed by Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea Bissau.
Evidently there is an anti homosexual law on the books here that prohibits two adults of the same sex from sharing a hotel room, thereby doubling our accommodation expense and making this the single most expensive night.
We changed the last 30K CFA once we determined there was no real ATM, but we still don’t have enough cash, so we will try a credit card cash advance tomorrow when the bank opens, before defaulting to those sharks at Western Union.
We saw the cotton tree, which may be 500 years old and dominates a central intersection in its enormity. We also saw the law courts, statehouse, and port where freed slaves arrived. We also saw a few buildings still riddled with bullet holes from the major assault on Freetown during the war. It is all picturesque, especially from a distance.
Like Nigeria (according to two Nigerian girls staying in our hotel), Sierra Leone loves its megaphones and miracle healing evangelical churches. We wandered into a service be cause we heard the music from far away and determined that it was a nightclub. It was three stories packed, with speakers blasting everywhere. We made quite a scene, but it was easily subsumed by the ruckus.
We had dinner at a local fast food chain that was out of almost everything on the menu (“Rice? That’s finished. Meat pie? That’s finished.”). The power went out as we walked in, but it was just a generator change over. Generalizing from 2 data points, the food is bootleg here.
We caused a more scenes in pursuit of s few Star beers at some streetside bars, and then at a more formal bar, but no problems.
GB: The highlight of the day was definitely the bars, although the cotton tree was pretty cool. We ended up speaking to 2 guys about the war. Pretty horrible stories, even though they seem to be among the lucky ones. We then saw street kids beating each other up over what was described to us as a very small amount of money. The fighters were separated, but this country still bears too many scars to be able to hide them.
We then went with our friends to the big bar in the vicinity, Star Bar. And not down the dark alley where one of the 2 wanted to take us. Trust index took a big hit right there. Once inside though, it was lots of fun, although we were definitely the attraction of the night.
The latent defiance in peoples’ eyes proved us right in our assumption that we were in somewhat uncharted territory. We therefore decided to not depart these guys from their perception that we were ex-military.
Location: Kambia, Sierra Leone
Weather: really hot and humid in Conakry
Health: grubby but refreshed
Accomodation: Border guesthouse
Price, room: 10K LE
Total spend: 131K
Adam Wible: At this point, we were dirty. We didn’t want to find a hotel because it sounded like Conakry would be easily done in a half day, and then we would be on to Sierra Leone. We found a great internet cafe with a deluxe bathroom (used intensively), power outlets, and good coffee. We quickly confirmed that there was no boat to Freetown, unfortunately, it would have to be more crowded cars.
Conakry was a surprisingly nice city, especially given all the bad things we read and heard. We were stopped in the street by bribe seeking soldiers who claimed that we were in a forbidden area. They gave us a choice between paying now and getting a citation and fine at the police station. We chose the latter and the bluff fell apart, but on parting they asked us not to write anything bad about them. As you can see, I have omitted their ID numbers from this post.
We saw the fancy palace and church, as well as the docks and a ruined palais des nations which was never finished for the African union under the previous dictator, Toure. We were forbidden to take pictures everywhere, and people didn’t want to submit to photos without payment. Nevertheless we came away with some good shots.
We had riz gras (rice with sauce and beef) for lunch, and then got a cab to the bus station for Sierra Leone. Before we left we painstakingly withdrew huge stacks of small denomination bills out of the ATM. It took 5 withdrawals to get $250 US, most of which we would then have to change at crappy rates.
One thing we didn’t have time to do before leaving was get a proper visa for Sierra Leone. The book said it could be (very) difficult at the border, but not impossible. We assumed (I know, makes an ass out of you and me) it would take at least 24 hours to process anyway, so we didn’t have the time to spare. We met a solo guy from Sweden (Harvard ’99) named Manse in our shared taxi who also started in Dakar. To our chagrin, he had arranged the Sierra Leone visa that day in 3 hours flat.
At the border we slid through 2 Guineaan posts and 1 Sierra Leonean post (small bribe 2K LE each) before smashing into the first incontrovertible, incorruptible system we’ve experienced in West Africa. The chauffeur believed we could slip through with several small payments, and a nice guy from Mali in our car said he would do the talking for us no problem; we agreed.
As it turned out, not only were the high visa fees fixed ($150 American, $100 French), they had to be paid in Leones. We arrived to the border post with 15 minutes to spare. In the end, we could not distinguish between the routine dance around the appropriate size of the bribe and the genuine rule of law in time to change enough FG to pay for the visas in full before the border closed. The car continued to Freetown without us, so we stood around for a little while. They kept our passports and we stayed at the border for the night.
It was actually a pleasant hostel for a good price, and we had a nice (if starchy) dinner of potatoes, fried dough, and chicken sauce. We talked to the hotel proprietor about her experience during the war. She said that her family was not hurt, but that the entire border town where we were sleeping had been bombed down and rebuilt after the war.
For those who are unaware, being repulsed at an international border is a textbook morale drag, but I would expect a bump once we put it behind us tomorrow.
GB: The decision to go to Freetown was an impulse buy, to say the least. As is the rule in that case, we overpaid. One night and a small financial hit due to highly unsatisfactory exchange rates. But as we went to sleep, after a nice dinner and a Fanta, and after talking and meddling with the small community of the border village, things weren’t so bad.
Anxiety is at its highest though, as we shiver at the thought that we might have to turn back, or worse, be indicted and taken to Sierra Leonese courts (AW: the imagination on this one!). I just don’t even want to spend a night in one of those prisons.
FRENCH: Le moins qu’on puisse dire c que ce voyage est difficile. Apres le 4×4, c’est notre decision d’aller a Freetown qui nous a plombes. Pas de visa, mais une croyance absolue en la flexibilite administrative de l’Afrique, et c’est ainsi arme s que nous embarquons pour Freetown. Au final, une fois refoules a la frontiere et forces a attendre le matin pour acheter notre visa, notre confiance en la corruptibilite de l’Afrique Anglophone a chute.Cela dit, apres deux nuits passees sur les banquettes arrieres de divers vehicules, dormir dans un l it sera un plaisir en soi.Enfin, demain a oriori on pourra enfin voir l’icone du mouvement de “resettlment” eb Afrique, egalement selon un docteur de B issau la 2e ville la plus dangereuse de la region apres Lagos, Nigeria.
Location: Conakry, Guinea
Weather: Cool up north with a downpour
Health: tired but good
Accomodation: Renault 19
Price, room: 0 FG
Price, petrol: 4.3K FG / lt
Price, water: 3.5K FG
Total spend: 222K FG
Adam Wible: As opposed to yesterday, when the entire day was gobbled up by transport, we had a great time visiting a big waterfall and chilling in Labe.
We rented two motorcycles but failed to convince the guys (who had themselves rented as taxi drivers for 16K FG each per day) that we could ride them (indeed, we couldn’t, at least not at first). So we decided to bring them along. Guillaume picked it up quickly, but I struggled with the idle too low, so the bike would die between shifts.
We only realized how smart it was to bring them when we didn’t know the way and the road became more of a river bed trail filled with small boulders. In addition, they realized we would need additional petrol, and had a talent for climbing trees and producing delicious mangoes. We climbed down to the waterfall and went swimming under the pounding water. It was very refreshing, but the waterfall was a little anticlimactic, until we realized that we weren’t swimming in the right waterfall. A little but downstream there was a magnificent cascade, but we had to ride the motorcycles down a different fork to get the full view.
The rain opened up temporarily, and we started back. We stopped along the way for mangoes. One of our guys climbed the tree and started dropping the mangoes down, but then came swinging wildly out. There was a big deadly green snake in the tree, so the village children crowded around trying to nail him with a slingshot.
We rode back, much more comfortable on the bikes, and the grabbed some shwarma and steak before grabbing a six place minibus (again, a proper 4 place). And started on the 7 hour trip to Conakry. In fact, it took 12 hours and we had to sleep in the car again, this time with all 6 people inside. Can’t do too many nights in a row like that, but we made it fine.
At a checkpoint, a visibly drunk, armed guard demanded 2K FG and the locals paid quickly, so we did too. From 4:30 to 6:30 AM, we were held 15KM north of Conakry at another army check point because of bandits. Our driver said that if we drove out of the checkpoint we could be shot down, and that at times the bandits come all the way to the checkpoint to shoot people down, but a woman in the car thought that was rubbish.
When we left the checkpoint we drove to a walled depot and waited there until light.
GB: The waterfall was pretty cool. I was already amazed by the first one, so when we saw the real thing from the top and looked down a straight 100m fall, I was impressed. Riding the bikes was pretty cool, but after I almost crashed myself and the guy into a tree I decided to hand it over and drive only the easy part.
The trip to Conakry was fine, except our driver had a tendency to stop all the time and occasionally have what seemed like violent exchanges with some woman in the car. We got there around 3AM, only a little later than expected, but then ended up having to wait till 5:30 to drive straight into a safe place: the bambuto gare routiere.
The 1.5hr wait surrounded by women selling iced tea in plastic bags in a place that felt like a scrapyard was in my top 5 of bleakest hours. I was prepared for bandits to attack the station anytime. Instead the place started bristling into activity as the sun took over from the moon, and soon we were surrounded by offers to drive us into Conakry for cheap. But that is already tomorrow.
Location: ?, Guinea
Accomodation: Peugot 505
Price, room: 0 FG
Price, water: 4K FG
Total spend: 251K FG
Adam Wible: We heard that it was forbidden to take pictures of the bombed out ruins of the presidential palace, so that was first on the agenda. After that, we walked through old town to the port and then caught a cab to catch the minibus to Gabu.
In what would quickly become a theme, we ended up with the two crappiest seats in the back of a minibus. Well, maybe not the crappiest because we wanted to keep our bags between our legs, but they put two humans there instead. It got worse on the ride from Gabu to the border with Guinea. I sat on top of the e-brake next to big boy (Guillaume) in the front seat and that sucked. Instead of 7 people in 7 tight seats (acceptable), the standard in Senegal, it had become 9 people in 7 tight seats (misery). I won’t get stuck in the front again if I can help it.
Then we reached the border. We were told it would be about 3 hours to reach Labe, but would cost a whopping $14 US each. We guessed it had to be a perfect road with an aggressive driver given that it looked like at least 300 km on the map. About 5 minutes into the ride I realized I had accepted the seat on the metal rimmed crack between the 2 person seat and the third foldable seat in a Sept place. Still not as bad as the front, but I sure hoped the 3 hours would go quickly.
The car broke about 4 times, and to our surprise we ended up sleeping in the car, only reaching Labe the next day at 9AM, 18 hours after we started. Guillaume and I juggled the hot seat so that we were both pretty busted up but not destroyed. We also had red dirt caked all over our faces from the road. At least we weren’t the two kids who rode on top (yep, that’s 12 including the driver) because they were completely red. Maybe tomorrow would be more comfortable.
GB: Long day. Started in Bissau, went to Gabu. From Gabu crossed the border and went to Seraboido. From there went to Labe. The Rough Guide described it as one of the toughest international overland journeys in the region, and while it felt tough, we had not quite seen how that was justified until the final stretch to Labe. The poor car had clearly been through that road too many times, but the driver kept reviving it to make it run a few extra kilometers.
Although, to give to Caesars what is Caesar’s, the driver was not doing that himself. Among the 2 kids on the roof, one of them was a one-man garage. When the car stopped, he would jump down, and run to take a rock to block the car. To start it, he would push (the starter was dead). At every stop, he would check the oil, the tire pressure, and add some water. He would also regularly get under the car and do what seemed like body work, except it would take him 20 minutes approximately every time.
In the end, we ended in some unknown town, for yet another stop. At this point it was just a question of whether the seat we were sleeping in was moving or static. As a result we only realized we were going to spend the night there when the last remaining occupant asked to leave in order to go sleep on a real bed. Next thing we knew, it was tomorrow.
Location: Bissau, Guinea Bissau
Accomodation: Pensao Creola
Price, room: 15K CFA
Price, water: 500 CFA
Total spend: 44K CFA
Adam Wible: We woke up leisurely, did some laundry and headed to Zigiunchor’s only formal site: the market. There we saw women selling all kinds of stuff we’d never heard of. We also saw a two man chicken production line (from clucking birds to sliced meat), and it is quite a video – watch out for that one.
Caught sept place (7 passenger minibus) to Bissau at noon and met some well to do students with iPods. They assured us there were ATMs in Bissau. The ride was comfortable. The fact that Guinea Bissau is a Portuguese speaking country was never a big problem because we found people able to speak French most places. Probably not surprising with much larger Francophone economies on either side.
Upon reaching the bus station outside Bissau we confirmed that the cars for Gabu left around 9, and stopped by Noon. We also confirmed that the trip out to the Bijagos islands would indeed take 6 hours in a pirogue, making it a 3 day affair – this is one of the luxuries that suffered given our compressed timeline. They say the trip takes so long because of powerful currents.
Portugal never gained complete control and there is still some autonomy. It’s probably also why the islands are now a major staging ground for narcotics traffic to Europe.
As we took the minibus into town none of descriptions we had gotten of Bissau seemed to fit. It didn’t look like a dysfunctional narc state with no formal economy. The roads were well paved, the taxis were old, but not ancient Mercedes. The minibuses looked healthy for the first time in the history of minibuses. And of course the locals were friendly yada yada.
As we got closer to the center, the roads became cratered and there were dirty diesel generators on lots of corners. In fact, there had been no grid power for the better part of a year, and no running water in the city for more than a week.
So no shower and definitely no ATM.
The hostel was great, run by a Swiss guy and his local wife. All of the fittings were European and they had a dedicated generator for the DVD player. The husband was out on the islands while we were in town, but we heard from James, a long term tenant, that her frequent and expensive trips to the witch doctor were causing some domestic strife. We went to dinner with James, a 23 year old from the UK studying tropical medicine and working in the hospital. The only formal hospital in the country, it had priority on the electrical grid, but rarely got power even then, forcing the doctors to go out and beg for fuel for the generator. Even so, they went without power much of the time. He told some pretty rugged stories about surgery by cell phone backlight, and lifetime neglect for many diseases that are easily curable. We also found it interesting that all the doctors were either trained by the Soviets or by the Cubans, and that Cuban doctors (renowned) on loan from Cuba had their passports confiscated to prevent defection while abroad.
The city was toe-stubbingly black after dark, with the exception of a handful of shops, run exclusively by Lebanese and Mauritanians. After a delicious fish dinner of sea bris in an onion and lime sauce, we got ice cream and crashed. Tomorrow we would have to see as much as we could before 7:45.
GB: You could definitely tell that this city had seen something go wrong, but it was hard to say what. The impression it left was that of a city, but as you looked closer, the streets were empty, there was no electricity, no running water, most buildings are closed, some craters in the streets feel a bit different. Apparently the ruined palace in the centre of town epitomizes all this. We will check it out tomorrow.
James was very cool, and was the reason we got the room – we all then went to grab some dinner. Over dinner we were informed that if we had not yet contracted any diseases from the water then we probably wouldn’t. He also said his hospital treats Malaria very well, and maybe better than some UK hospitals. I think he’s biased.
Location: Zigiunchor, Senegal
Weather: cooler, but more humid
Accomodation: le Bombolong
Price, room: 12K CFA
Price, water: 500 CFA
Price, beer: 2K CFA
Total spend: 211K CFA
Adam Wible: Today we split from Rob and Momo, taking a sept place south to Zigiunchor in the Casamance while they went north to Dakar with the car. We had to push start the car once again in the morning, but then Rob drove us to the bank and the gas station before dropping us at the bus stop.
The car had the same problem at the pump as when we siphoned at Barra; it kept spitting out the fuel, forcing the attendant to spend a laborious 30 min coaxing it to half full. Good luck with all that.
Guillaume and I crossed the Gambia River for the fourth time on this trip via the Trans-Gambian Highway. Border officials tried to tell us that our multi-entry (thank god) visas were not valid for transit and that we would have to pay. We told them we would spend the night at Farafenni so it wouldn’t be transit. They thought that was unconventional, but let us through.
At the other border, we insisted that the visa covered us and that worked as well. The ferry was much more organized than at Barra, although we had to whip off our shoes and wade through knee deep water to get off.
Zigiunchor was quiet with lots of trees. Boring right? But it was nice, and we had air conditioned until the power went out. That afternoon, after no call from Momo, it became clear that something had gone wrong with the car on its way back. In fact, they had burned a third head gasket in Rufisque. Luckily, that was close enough for Rob to take a taxi to Yoff, while Momo tried to get the car fixed once more.
At dinner Guillaume and I tried to size up the situation. We were getting calls from the owner, and Momo was not contactable so we didn’t know where the car was or what exactly had happened. We may have rented a lemon, but we were definitely returning one. Assuming the car was really messed up (the safest assumption), how much could they possibly get us for? 30 million CFA? Ouch.
Just then Momo called to tell us he worked it out with the owner, and we would need to pay 15K CFA extra and then would be square. Yours. Done.
That night we went to the “famous” Bombolong club, but it must have had an off Saturday. We spent about an hour with the few creepy people inside and then went to bed. Without the car!
GB: Arriving in Zigiuinchor we were certainly somewhere around a 9. We were finally there, the car was on its way to being returned, and we arrived in a nice hotel with a very comfortable courtyard. That, added to the likelihood of seeing the first rains as we arrived, led us to forget about playing hardball, and we paid the asking price. After unloading the bags, we caught some of the first drops of rain of the year in Casamance.
Morale then slowly dropped as we did not receive any news from Rob or Momo. When later that day Momo called and said everything was settled, we took 15 minutes to actually realize…
We subsequently decided to celebrate with a night out and hit the hottest club in town, or so we thought. Instead we ended up in an empty bar with middle-aged folk and a teenage DJ playing salsa music. Not the best.
Location: Kaolack, Senegal
Weather: beautiful, hotter
Health: tired but perfect
Accomodation: auberge du Carrefour
Price, room: 15K CFA
Total spend: 139K CFA
Adam Wible: We had bummed at the pool again (and did some much needed laundry), until we were ejected for not paying. After that we went to eat lunch. So we did it, right? After repairing all the crap we talked about, we started rolling.
It was tough, but we made the safe decision to get the car back into Senegal to the north if the mechanic finished after 3pm. He finished at 4:30.
We drove almost all the way back to Banjul, but on the way, the accelerator got stuck and the car was revving in neutral. This exacerbated our second problem: we were completely out of diesel, and so wanted to conserve engine cycles. Given that we had money in the correct currency, and the car was starting without pushing, why didn’t we just get gas? There was a national shortage of gasoil; not a single station around the capital had diesel to sell.
We went back to the mechanic and got the accelerator problem fixed quick snap. Then, we decided to go for the ferry anyway and hope that we didn’t run out before we could make it to Barra, where, according to rumor and speculation, there would be fuel.
A little smarter this time, we immediately sought to bribe an official. The long ferry line was sure to require an overnight stay, especially given the increased traffic to find diesel in Barra. We discreetly paid a policeman 12K CFA to drive our car, in an officious manner, right through to a position where we could make the second ferry.
It was at this point that Momo kicked into high gear. Evidently one ferry had run out of fuel, and then there was some delay with an arriving ferry, so Rob went to check it out. He found Momo, ostensibly a foreign bystander, acting as the sole authority figure. There was a log designed to ease cars down the ramp, but it had gotten twisted and was caught under several cars. Everyone was standing around until Momo decided to straighten the log, lifting one side, then going round the other in order to get it straight. He later came up with the idea to remove the unnecessary object, which received the support of the crowd. But that wasn’t the only problem.
5 minutes later we see Momo dragging a massive cow by a rope tied to its horns. Evidently, several cows had nearly died on the ferry, and several others were opposed to the idea of getting off. Momo was later seen whipping cows from behind to move them along, and directing traffic onto the ferry.
This last move finally offended the actual officials, who had been lounging nearby. One guy yelled at Momo while another was trying to figure out who we had bribed so he could “arrest” him (read: extract a cut). In the end, we got on the ferry, found some guy in Barra siphoning diesel for, shockingly, the correct price, and drove across the border to Senegal. The car was running nicely when we reached Kaolack around 2AM.
GB: The Momo scene was indeed out of this world. I was sitting in the car as I saw our friend enter my view, obviously pulling something opposing resistance. Is it a car, is it a truck? No, it’s a cow. I then walked up onto the ferry, this time to see the rest of the rag tag crowd of bystanders (read hustlers, money changers, pimps, and townies) all helping out to load the intractable cow onto a carriage so it could be transported out of the boat.
The ferry dock was probably the shadiest place we have visited so far… In order to get ahead of the line, we had to speak to a first middleman, who then provided a contact who could contact a policeman. I also went on a 20mn trek through the neighborhood surrounding the dock trying to find diesel fuel. Unsuccessfully of course.
Once we landed from the ferry in Barra, the road to Kaolack was uneventful, since the car never heated up and we started feeling better and better with time. But as we started off on that road someone could have cut the tension with a knife. Not to mention the road was once again peppered with holes, and each one sparked images in my head of the steering failing and the car heading straight as the road turned.
Location: Kololi, the Gambia
Health: recovering (mentally), diarrheas for Rob and Guillaume
Accomodation: Edis travellers hostel
Price, room: 16K CFA
Price, water: 25 dalasi
Shower: at the pool!
Morale: 1 in the am, 6 in the afternoon
Total spend: 7,460 dalasi
Adam Wible: We’ve made it to a nasty little tourist resort town overflowing with brits, and how sweet it is. Momo is trying to get the car fixed. Here’s how we got here:
The ferry crossing at Barra was chaotic and irritating.. We woke up at 7AM to get the first boat, but weren’t anywhere near the front after we bought our tickets and deflected the hustlers. We parked in the queue for the “next” ferry behind a fat cat Marabout (local Muslim faith healer) in his fancy Mercedes. I especially enjoyed the dudes going through the line asking each car for a bribe to retain their spot in line.
After we turned it off, the car could no longer be restarted; as usual. Several expert mechanics were loitering in the vicinity, and they quickly gathered round. The diagnosis was quick:- Dead battery- Fan job mixed wires and drained the battery- Top cylinder is not properly sealed- Head gasket is most likely burned again- Overflow reservoir hole spews water- Alternator may not be recharging the battery. Morale hit a new low as we failed to push start in second. Momo convinced someone to lend us their battery, so we got the car started and kept it running on the ferry, periodically pouring water into the steaming radiator.
We drove through Banjul in about 5 minutes. It’s the capital, but with a population of 35,000, it really isn’t much to look at. However, before we made it across Denton bridge, we were stopped by the police, detained for 20 minutes, and were forced to pay an enormous 11K CFA bribe when we discovered that the insurance card was not only invalid in Gambia, but had expired in April. Fantastic. What else could possibly go wrong? *
We drove out to the beach resort town of Kololi, and Momo went to get the African price for another major round of repairs: 25K CFA plus 15K for parts.
Then we paid 200 dalasi each to stay at an amazing beach front pool. We showered and cleaned up, swam and got sunburned, met British girls and refused to order cocktails (to the chagrin of the hovering staff). It was an amazing day. We agreed to meet the girls at the local club, called Wow (yes in wolof).
Rob had pizza, Guillaume and I ate spicy curry, and we had fun at the bar later. This one guy had a screen printed t-shirt with a picture of himself on it, for which he paid several weeks salary. A number of people claimed to have relatives living in Rhode island; not sure what that’s all about.
Despite the fact that the mechanic said the car would be ready today, the new estimate is tomorrow 2PM. We will believe that when we see it.
GB: The day was nice indeed, although it left us with an acute sense of the divide between the western world and Africa. The hotel and the street of restaurants around it felt like a cage (or a shield depending on a how you look at it).
We were in dire need of a shower and some restful time, but mainly a shower; the pool and surroundings provided just that. Dinner was in a similarly touristy place, but the food was good. We also bought some water and rehydrated after two days of scavenging. We had met a group of girls who came for a friend’s wedding. A British girl marrying a Gambian dude (who already has British residency, they were a little too quick to add). We met them at the bar and had a good time; they were the only girls we could be sure weren’t on the payroll. After a few beers we went back to the hotel and got there right before the first drops of the rainy season.
* keep reading to find out!
Location: Barra, the Gambia
Health: dehydrated, greasier
Accomodation: hotel Barra
Price, room: 10K CFA
Price, water: 25 dalasi
Shower: false advertising
Total spend: 154K CFA
Adam Wible: we left at 7:30am for Farafenni to get the gasket and some cash. We ended up with neither. The bank couldn’t handle credit cards and had no ATM. We walked the burned gasket from shop to shop, while each owner remained sure that we could find the part at the next shop. In the end, it just reinforced the fact that Toyota and Mercedes are the only marks that can be repaired anywhere in Africa – Mitsubishi, not so much.
We had to go to Kaolack, Senegal across the border 90 km in order to find what we needed, so it took closer 8 hours rather than the 2 we expected. Howe ver we got the parts for 40K CFA, including the new gasket, blue glue, bearings, bolts (the wrong size), bread, water, and money.
RH: Adam and Guillaume left me in the village all day with 40 Gambian dollars. But that is only $1.50 US. Also I bought a mango from a lady and when she went for her fanny pack she gave me a peek at years and years of no support.
Adam Wible: The mechanic fixed the car by 8pm, leaving us 3 hours to get to the ferry at Barra. The car was overheating and losing lots of water by the time we made it to Farafenni. There, fools that we are, we paid 3K CFA for someone to fix the fan (it later became clear that this was the AC fan, which serves only to drain the battery).
We had excellent steak and onion sandwiches, and then continued to Barra, stopping every 20km to add water. Something was still very wrong with the car. We missed the 11PM ferry by an hour, so we were forced to spend one dire night at the hotel Barra. I can’t remember ever sleeping in a worse place, and I certainly won’t forget using the blackberry backlight to confirm that there were indeed bugs crawling on the bed and pillow, and then giving up and going back to sleep.
GB: The hotel Barra was indeed as close to a deathtrap as a hotel will ever be. Bugs everywhere, no running water, and the usual crowd of thieves, hustlers, and villains you expect to find at a ferry crossing in Africa. All this considered, being just above the generator feeding the nearby casino was the least of our worries. The next morning woke up feeling like I had Malaria. Turned out it was the beginning of a diarrhea. We are not sleeping in that place again. Even Momo was wrapped up like a mummy when we found him the next morning, bitching about trop des moustiques.
The second mechanic had fixed the head gasket problem on the car, with an efficiency that amazed us. We felt all the more let down when we found out that he forgot to connect a fan to the battery. Little did we know, that wasn’t the problem, but we would soon get a better idea.
Location: Kaur, the Gambia
Health: dehydrated and greasy
Accomodation: the village
Price, room: 75 dalasi
Price, petrol: 28 dalasi
Price, water: 20 dalasi
Shower: no chance
Total spend: 85K CFA
Adam Wible: This ill fated day witnessed a series of catastrophes. It’s kind of embarrassing. The problems started when we crossed the border into the Gambia. While formalities were fine, we realized that the insurance was for a Nissan Patrol, not for a Mitsubishi. Momo didn’t seem to understand the problem. Anyway, we then found the insurance for the correct car buried in the armrest.
We were then stopped by every policeman in the Gambia as we tried to head west to Banjul. We sandbagged our way out of each situation, and apologized after we blew through a checkpoint where we couldn’t see any police. The guy caught up to us on a motorbike, and he wasn’t pleased with the lack of respect we had showed for his authority as a regional commander. They have police, immigration, and customs check points here, often just down the street from one another, but far enough apart that you have to stop three times to weasel out of three bribes. And this happens in each town. So that’s one west African stereotype validated.
On the road out of Basse I drove onto the dirt shoulder of the ruined tarmac. As I did this, the steering gave out, and we almost went into the woods. I’m sure it was the kind of thing that builds character, but I would not want to do that again. Guillaume fetched a bush mechanic from the nearest village and he fixed the steering well enough to drive it to the village, and then he did it properly for 300 dalasi.
However, he did forget one thing…
We took the ferry across the Gambia river at Georgetown because the northern road to Barra / Banjul was new tarmac, while the southern route was “one of the worst roads in west Africa”. At 120kph the front left wheel fell off of the car, but remained in the well. We stopped safely but it messed up the car pretty good, all because the mechanic forgot to tighten down the bolts on the wheels.
Fix one thing and break another: Blown head gasket – Water in the engine – Hole in the overflow tube – Dirty radiator – Broken bearings – 4 missing wheel bolts.
We had no water in the car, and almost no money given the ATM situation described previously. Rob and I went into the village. It was tiny and they didn’t have anything bottled or bagged, but we were so thirsty that we drank two big cups of untreated water – we’ll see how that turns out.
We had a rope and got a tow to Kaur, the nearest village with a mechanic for 12K CFA. The mechanic agreed to fix the car for 15K CFA, and worked from 10PM to 2AM before quitting because we needed to go to Farafenni to get the gasket in the morning. Rob and I slept in the village, but Guillaume slept in the car and Momo, as usual, figured something out. Not a great day, but this should soon be hilarious in retrospect. We hope.
GB: The tow was quite nerve-wracking, as Rob put it. I was following a truck 6 feet ahead of me riding at an average 50kph in the middle of the night. And since our flashlight battery was getting drained pretty fast, I had to rely on the running lights to see the truck ahead. After 40km I was ready to collapse. We got some food, cleaned some water with Micro Pur tablets, and called the Kaur mechanic over. We then pushed the car under a street light so the guy could start working immediately. I stayed with the car while the guy got to work and started to tear the engine apart. And by ‘tear’ I am not exaggerating. At some point he actually pulled out a massive metal bar about my size and started to use it to try to pull out the top cylinder. I was half dosing at that point in the car (I had started on a blanket on the ground but decided against it after Momo told me there were snakes around). At 2:30AM the mechanic gave up on his attempt to get the head cylinder out at night and waited till he could get help in the morning. We joined the village and went to sleep.
Location: Velingara, Senegal
Accomodation: Centre Touristique
Price, room: 11K CFA
Price, petrol: 560 CFA / lt
Price, water: 500 CFA
Shower: oh hell yes!
Total spend: 129K
Adam Wible: A few things happened today. We left this morning from Dakar in the 4×4. I ran a red light in the city so I had to pay a hefty 6K CFA bribe – it’s just so hard to tell when they are serious about “laws” here. Then we picked up Momo at his pad in Yoff, which was really a picture of poverty. He pays 25K CFA per month in rent. He brought his boom box to compensate for the stolen car radio, and we were on our way.
We got the truck stuck in the sand at Saly-Nianiakhale, on the coast. I also allowed my phone (the one sending this post), my shoes, my shirt, and Guillaume’s shirt to get hit by a rogue wave. Miraculously, the Blackberry phone survived the dunking in salt water. I’m not going to beat myself up about it given that global warming was most likely at fault.
The drive through Kaolack went smoothly, but the tarmack was cratered in a very nasty way thereafter. We were as ginger with it as we felt was appropriate, but the car took some pretty big jolts.
All the ATMs in Tambacounda were closed when we rolled through around 9 PM. Momo didn’t mention it until the next day, but that would be our last chance to withdraw cash for some time.
We made it to Velingara by 11 PM but it was too late to meet Momodou’s family. Little hut with a great shower. The scenery was interesting but the crap road was a drag, so morale is a but lower today. Tomorrow we will cross into The Gambia.
Location: Dakar, Senegal
Weather: Overcast, but hot
Health: Perfect, but Rob is tired
Accomodation: Hotel du Marche
Price, room: 13K CFA
Price, petrol: 561 CFA / lt
Total spend: 64K CFA
GB: Despite a calmer airport than when we arrived, we got there a but late to find Rob flanked by 3 tall Senegalese guys who were noisily attempting to provide diverse and numerous services… With Rob’s arrival our main journey is about to begin. We picked up the 4×4 as well. Better price than expected, and no kilometrage. Rob has Momo on his way back to facilitate the language and baksheesh issues. We will depart tomorrow morning early but tonight is dedicated to partying.
Adam Wible: The big fact of the day: we are now cruising in a 1995 Mitsubishi Pajero.- 350,710 Km on the odometer, which has stopped recording, so no way to know. Also no way for the rental guy to charge a per kilometer, or verify that we didn’t just go to Saint Louis “as planned” during the negotiations. In addition to the odometer, a few other things are busted: the tacometer, speedometer, clock, radio (stolen), 4WD (we suspect), rear left window, taillights, front left headlight, and a bunch of gizmos that appear to be designed for interplanetary travel.
GB: But the car drives well, and can hold its ow n in the sand. And Momo, who is coming along on this trip, brought his personal boombox along. Got some batteries and off we go. In case we didn’t mention it before, Adam got us a small FM transmitter which connects to the IPod. It then takes whateve the IPod is playing, and broadcasts it on the frequency chosen. If you connect a radio within a 2 meter radius to the same frequency, you can now listen to your IPod on a car radio. Needless to say when we first set this up and connected the Peugeot radio the jaws of the guys renting us the car dropped. Hence our determination to get a working radio for this car as well. We first went to a hip hop concert we heard about from a girl we met at the embassy of Guinea: Afrika Keur. However it was a bit disappointing since most artists were lip synching, and while they had set up turntables, they wouldn’t let me up there since the DJ of Lafouine (major French rapper) had set things as he wanted them for his set. A friend of mine, Zoe, have is the contact info of a friend from her time in Senegal. We called him and met up with him after the hip hop concert. He took us to a cool laid back bar with a live band. We then went to a boite (club) which had a live band as well, and Mamodou showed us how to dance. We fit in like only 3 white guys in an all black club can. Dakar will be behind is tomorrow and the road to Bissau (our next big stop) begins…
Morale gets a 9 today, for all those reasons combined.
Tomorrow we are off to Tambacounda and maybe Velingara to meet the family of Mamodou, a friend of a friend in NY. Awesome guy, amazing when it comes to chatting up women, advocating work as an ethic, and with whom we are considering opening a club in Velingara. Need to do some market sizing first though…
Location: still in Dakar, Senegal
Accomodation: hotel du Marche
Price, room: 13K CFA
Total spend: 40K CFA
Adam Wible: Yes, it seems like nothing changes on this trip, but we are indeed tied to Dakar until Rob lands tomorrow afternoon. We settled on terms for the 4×4, but it was a fairly brutal negotiation, complete with fake phone calls, tales of other offers, several walk outs, and Senegalese appeals to uninvolved relatives for their impartial opinions.
One of the best opportunities for these guys is the contrast between how heavily we value our time, and how little they seem to mind. The further down the path they can take us before we discover a potential deal breaker, the more likely we will be to find a way to deal with it. The tactic works.
Anyway, it’s a 2001 Mitsubishi, and it drives nice. 60K CFA per day with 1600 km included, and a chauffeur included. While we don’t want the chauffeur, the other alternative involved Rob driving solo back to Dakar with no French, no phone, and no assistance. That just didn’t seem too smart, so we agreed to have him along. Let’s hope he isn’t on a champagne and caviar diet (just kidding, included means they pay him, and he takes care of himself). It should be about 1100 km round trip, but we argued hard for the extra. It’s 200 CFA per km over, so we could bleed a lot if we get really lost (unlikely) or too ambitious. So that’s 420K CFA before fuel, or 140K per person is $280. The real joke is going to be on us as we have to fuel the beast.
We treated ourselves to schawarma and the dodgiest hot dog ever as a celebration. Not a controlled experiment, but if something happens to our health tomorrow, I’m blaming that bright red “meat” frank. It is interesting that every successful branded chain restaurant here seems to be run by the Lebanese.
Guillaume is really sawing some logs here in the hotel du Marche!
We had a good dinner, Thiou Crevettes and Yassa Crevettes; then we went to this bar called The Viking, which bore a shocking resemblence to the bar with alien minstrels from Star Wars. There was every type of person there, from a dirty old french man to the african jam band to a group of young divas, to a guy in full arab gear getting smashed at the bar! And us.
GB: On a finalement reactive une autre piste pour la voiture, etant donne que meme apres 2h de negociations notre loueur a finalement essaye de changer une fois de plus les termes du deal. Momo, notre intermediaire pour la Peugeot 305, est donc revenu dans la course pour un photo-finish demain matin entre les 2 contestants principaux. De toute facon si ca marche pas, on prendra un Minibus.
Sinon tout va toujours bien a l’Hotel du Marche, ou on a l’impression que l’offre se diversifie et que la demande croit avec elle… Les dames de la maison ont maintenant change de maniere de nous approcher, tentant de devenir nos amies pour nous aguicher vu que la technique habituelle ne passe pas.
Enfin, apparemment notre chambre doit avoir une fuite quelque part, puisqu’a chaque fois qu’on s’eloigne pour quelques heures ou plus a notre retour elle sent legerement l’urine. Resultat: le manutentionnaire de charge se retrouve a faire des heures sup. Enfin jusqu’a hier soir puisque cette fois ci il a tout simplement refuse, et on a du se faire a l’odeur…
Adam Wible: So basically, the car guy tried to pull some shady stuff with the insurance so we called momo, the ladies of the hotel du marche are getting restless, and our room smells like piss.
Location: Dakar, Senegal
Health: perfect, but tired
Accomodation: hotel du Marche
Price, room: 13K
Price, bananas: 650 CFA / kg
Total spend: 30
Adam Wible: Today we did nothing but eat bananas, drink milk, and finish the Guinea visas. Well, we also ate schawarma at Ali Baba’s. And we also went out to get gourmet Mexican food at La Fourchette – a little bit of a nonsequitur, but delicious.
Location: Dakar, Senegal
Accomodation: Hotel du Marche
Total spend: 42K CFAAdam Wible: The traffic back to Dakar was brutal, but we made it back to the consulate only 2 hours behind schedule. Visas for Guinea Bissau were all in order for 20K CFA each. We then dropped them at the embassy of Guineau and drove back to Yoff.
We rented surfboards for a couple hours and went to la Plage de Yoff. Nice and sandy, but the waves were chop – combined with our lack of skill, very little real surfing was done despite a lot of paddling. The beach was closer to a public gym than to a relaxation spot. We saw people doing pushups, squats, some intense interval training, and longer runs, a few wild soccer games, and of course hassling for sport.
We returned the car – the owner complained about a dent (must have been the kids from yesterday) and the lack of petrol (our own idea of symmetry), but didn’t seem to think anything of the leaking radiator hose that we had a local mechanic seal for 1K CFA.
We did a controlled experiment for dinner. Guillaume drank the table water (expected to be filtered) while I ate the rubbery mutton stuff. Neither of us got sick, but we both overpaid.
To bed early, need to regroup tomorrow, do some laundry, finish the visas, and rest.
GB: 5eme jour maintenant et tout va tjrs bien. Hier on a rendu la Peugeot 305 qu’on avait louee , et ce avec seulement une legere bosse a l’arriere qui n’a pas eu l’air de deranger le loueur (soit dit en passant un loueur assez jungle quand meme…). La bosse etait d’ailleurs le resultat d’un ensablement malvenu pendant le trajet Lac Rose-Dakar. Un des gamins qui nous a permis d’en sortir a du faire un exces de zele.
Au final apres 2 jours de conduite il semble clair qu’une Peugeot 305 annee modele 1987, avec 20 ans d’age dont au moins 11 en Afrique, ne suffira pas pour descendre en Casamance. Les negociations pour trouver un 4×4 a nos conditions se poursuivent, j’ai maintenant plus de Senegalais dans le repertoire de mon telephone que du reste du monde…
Location: Kayar, Senegal
Accomodation: Auberge de Ocean Bleu
Price, room: 7K CFA
Price, water: 500 CFA
Total Spend: 54K CFA
Shower: noAdam Wible: We toured Saint-Louis this morning for about two hours, taking pictures of everything as discreetly as possible, while still managing to offend a bunch of people who weren’t keen on being photographed. No real harm done, and some of the shots were worth it.
The colonial town was interesting, but the fishing village on Ile de la Langue de Barbarie was fascinating. It looked like a war zone from across the water, but it was just a bunch of surly women smoking tons of fish. We really got scolded after emerging from an intense muslim beach cemetary where they put fishing nets on the graves of fishermen. We are very credible when claiming to be lost and generally befuddled, so we got directions and continued.
Then we drove back, stopping at a tiny roadside town to eat the one dish they were serving that day (Thiebou Dieune). It was delicious fish and rice for 1.5K CFA.
GB: As I am typing this post, Adam is driving the car to overheat. Although it feels like 100 mph, this is actually our speed in kph.
Buzzards – saw them for the first time today, immediately decided we would not let the car breakdown on this road.
Adam Wible: We called the owner of the call to ask if the heat gauge is always off the charts hot, but he told us not to worry about it. However, it eventually became clear that the water was either leaking or boiling off, as we put almost 10 liters in today.
At a police checkpoint they examined the registration, insurance, trunk and hood before explaining that the VIN on the frame didn’t at all match the registration, and that this was a very serious offense. The numbers were in fact identical, and they gave up and let us go when Guillaume brought this to their attention.
Visited Keur Moussa monastery and le Lac Rose, which looked just like any other lake in low angle sun. It was supposed to have a pink color due to high salinity.
We got the car stuck in deep sand after we failed to pay sufficient attention to local advice: “Il faut foncer droit devant.” Incidentally this happened right in front of a children’s soccer match. The bloodsuckers surrounded us and the car (literally 25 kids) and it was chaos until we made them nominate one spokesman for negotiations. “12, 3 ok 5, no 6 – done.” The little army pushed the car out, we paid their self promoted leader 6K CFA and were on our way to Bayakh and then Kayar.
We got stuck on the beach in Kayar again, but it was easily dug out this time. On local advice, we parked next to the mayor’s Peugot for security, and walked 800m to the solar powered auberge on the beach for a nice fish dinner.
We met a French lady who said you can swing a 4×4 in Bamako the way we want it for 25K CFA / day. But she has a Senegalese boyfriend, so we think our chances of actually getting that rate are very small.
Location: Saint-Louis, Senegal
Health: Adam a une diarrhee
Accomodation: Auberge de Jeuness L’Atlantide
Price, room: 11K CFA
Price, petrol: 732 CFA / lt
Total spend: 63K CFA
GB: We are driving a 1987 Peugeot 305. The car is missing its left rear view mirror, as well as a triangle (used to signal accidents on the road). Both of which we are fine without but which seem to spark the desire of African soldiers and police to extract bribes from us.
It took us three hours to make it from the Hotel du Marche to Yoff. We had been to the embassy of Guinea in the morning, need to pick up our passports on Thursday. Then walked for a full hour in Dakar heat and took a minibus to Yoff.
After twenty minutes waiting, the bus departs, but after two stops the guy working the door must have been worried about his cut because he stopped the bus for a full 45 minutes to fill it further. At that time, Adam felt like he was dying but of course it turned out to be a routine maladie.
When we finally reached the surf shop, it was closed – our moral reached a new low. But a call from Momo (recent contact made in Yoff) gave us a chance to recover with our new car. And here we are, in St Louis, after a 4hr drive in heat and sand, darkness and villages, and across Gustave Eiffel’s Pont Faidherbe, which shares a look and structure with the tower.
Adam Wible: We got the car for 15K CFA per day sans kilometrage. They told is the car was 11 years old, but we could see that it was 20 from the registration. In the end, our middleman, Momo, had it in his head that he was to be the chauffer, or at least the chaperone in order to protect the car, but we booted him out and zoomed away into an unbelievable traffic jam 1K down the road.
Our first bribe was skillfully done. Given the egregious lack of a triangle (nevermind the driver’s seatbelt wrapped around the e brake, the smashed windshield, or the missing taillights), we would have to pay a stiff 6K CFA fine at some bush league police station who knows where. Or, we could settle immediately in cash for 2K CFA. It didn’t take a genius to choose the second option.
We also experienced a few other novelties like sheep in the road, goats in the road, cows in the road, children in the road, and unmarked speedbumps on major highways. That notwithstanding, the road to Saint-Louis was smoother than the Pennsylvania turnpike.
Location: Ile de Goree, Dakar, Senegal
Accomodation: hotel du Marche – Room price: 13K CFA
Total spend: 37K CFA
Adam Wible: Leisurely Sunday was obligatory given that the city grinds to a halt, but we took advantage and went to the slave island 30 min off the coast of Dakar, called Ile de Goree. It will almost certainly be the most touristy thing we do on the trip, but it was excellent. A big fort, nice little beach, slave house, and generally crumbling town were good for photos. To bed early tonight as tomorrow will be busy.
GB: Took a great nap on the beach, plugged into iPods. Watching the tourists walk off the boat onto the island from the beach made me realize for a second how strange it must seem for someone to see a bunch of people from places they can barely imagine come and take pictures and put on sunscreen etc. And we were some of those for an afternoon. I guess no matter how hard you try you remain a stranger outside of your own country.
Location: Dakar, Senegal
Accomodation: Hotel du Marche
Price, room: 13K CFA
Price, water: 270 CFA
Adam Wible: Evidently, renting a 4×4 to 2 youngsters with no chauffeur, minimal security deposit, without surrendering passport originals, and no kilometrage would be insane at any price. We are still working on it but are considering defaulting to a normal car.
The Hotel du Marche is in fact a bordel but also a pretty decent place with a lock and a cockroach problem. We are staying 2 nights, as it is fine and half the cost of the nearest alternative.
Starting in Yoff, we inquired after the major international car agencies, discussed some local alternatives, determined the appropriate local price for cabs and minibuses, and tackled the massive problem of breaking ATM bills into assez petite monnaie. The surf shop does rent for $12 / half day, and we have recommendations for a nice sand beach east of Yoff.
We took the minibus (150 CFA) to Dakar, and met some local footballers onboard. Then, a Shawarma lunch, a reasonable quote on a 4×4, and we checked into the hotel.
It’s looking like 50K CFA per day with 100 Km per day included, and 250 CFA per km over. The 1000 Km loop to Casamance and back would come to something like $750, or $250 a person while Rob is here. We didn’t discuss the deposit or passports, which could be a dealbreaker.
At night we called this rasta named Max, and went out for local beer in the North of the city. The club filled around 2am. 1000 CFA for a 750ml Gazelle. Business was booming when we got back to the Hotel du Marche. And went to sleep with the cockroaches.
GB: Established that the Senegalese do seem to have a very loose view of relationships: “tu vois une femme qui te plait, tu lui dis que tu veux lui faire l’amour, et vous y allez”.They do however seem to be conscious, of associated risks: “la protection, c tres important”. Happy to see knowledge is spreading.
The bar where we went was also a chance to witness some of the best dancing moves ever. Felt like Krumping for those who know that style, except at a level of skill I had never witnessed before.
The amazing thing is that people dance when they want to, undisturbed by who or how many people are on the dance floor… As a result the ratio of men/women can reach levels that would trigger a pacemaker failure for any given NYC or Paris club owner… Dress code is also not an issue apparently, given the most adept dancer we saw was a dude the size of Dustin Hoffman wearing a suit obviously stolen BAM! (sorry just smashed a mosquito, the rest of the Cybercafe is now looking anxiously at us) from Arnold Schwarzenegger… (he definitely gave all he had). New York is far….
Location: Yoff, Senegal
Health: Guillaume ate too much in the airport (but it was pizza and fries so all healthy)
Accomodation: Hotel Cap Ouest
Price; room: $42
Price, petrol: $0.95 / lt
Daily spend: €106
AW: Stopped to price a GPS prior to taking the Air France bus, but at €160 it was a bit pricey. Should be in every phone within a couple years, but for now we will do without.
During our 4 hour layover in Milan, we took an ill advised trip into what looked like an industrial suburb. We saw a traffic accident, followed by a lengthy polizia investigation, drank a nice cappucino, and went back to the airport in the rain. We are both convinced there is nothing to see in Milananyway, so no worries there.
Now typing on the plane: We met a Colorado native who spent time in Senegal and Mali and we may get back in touch with some of her local friends for advice. Depending on the expense and cross border headaches, we may need to be more creative with when and how we use a car. There is also the Bamako Dakar train and boats to Tombouctu to think about.
We will stay in Yoff tonight, near the airport. The hotel is very expensive, but nice enough and the best we can do arriving at 1am. The crush at the airport was really incredible, and several loitering entrepreneurs made big plays, but we used the ATM and left without (major) incident.
We were typing these from my blackberry, but the data doesn’t appear to flow in dakar, so they may be less frequent.
GB: Our morale now hangs on the idea that we are moving up the learning curve on how to not set records for tourist scamming. We have so far been ripped off to the amount of $8. Manageable.
Re: car – I definitely want us to “ride or die” (see song of the day) but we would be more flexible on foot, and a quick car ride of 4-5 days through Mali actually looks molto fun…
The fact that we have now set foot on the continent that saw the birth of man (and associated parasite species) raises our spirits to almost unbearable levels of happiness. I am being barely excessive here.
Location: Paris, France
Weather: rainy, cold
Accomodation: Guillaume’s apartment, neuilly sur seine
Price, room: 0
Price, petrol: ?
Price, water: €2
Adam Wible: A dullish day of planning, centered around treating clothing with permethrin, scoring drugs from the french welfare state, getting emergency repatriation insurance, downloading podcasts, and struggling with an audiobook by Paul Theroux, Dark Star Safari. Audible delivered a frustrating customer experience. Strong bullet on morale.
We fly tomorrow, 1:20 pm local time. I studied the michelin map for a bit today, look to be some crap roads into Toumbuctou, no surprise there.
What is in the bag?
3 t shirt
6 kg medication & life-saving metallic blanket courtesy of Mme Benhamou
1 mosquito net
1 sarong / towel
Pen and paper
King leopolds ghost
Zip lock bags
Passport & Yellow fever card
Mauritanian visa application
En fin, le plus important, Toilet paper
I would guess that Guillaume is carrying similar. Here’s hoping mr. mcallister didn’t pack his turntables.
GB: Adam Wible arrived yesterday, and is amazed – you forget how tiny everything is. The cars, the elevators, the people…Today was spent making the last preparations and purchases, mostly for Guillaume:
- small towel
- hiking shoes
- canon ixus camera
- cheap watch
Soon (tomorrow) we will share with you the list of things we are going to bring.
We discussed planning beyond our first night in Dakar today, but decided against due to laziness. Provisionally it is looking like north to Saint Louis before looping south through Dakar and on through Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, Burkina Faso and then North into Mali (hopefully up to Tombouctou) through Mauritania back to Dakar. It is most likely impossible to actually do all that, but it’s provisional.
The first challenge will be to get to the hotel, since we land at midnight and have no reservation anywhere, although we know where we want to go: the great Hotel Du Marche. It’s supposed to be a very nice budget place, albeit a brothel as well as a hotel. We remain unsure of how the business works (Do the pleasure providers live and service on site or do they only service? Does the same management oversee both activities?).
Tomorrow, finalization of bags, goodbyes for Guillaume and Adam, and we are off.