Simon & Mike´s Current Location

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Monday, 22 February 2010


The excitement of our entry into Mali was tempered slightly by corruption on the Mauritanian side. Our first encounter. The Mauritanian customs bloke wanted to charge us ten euros each for stamping our carnets out of Mauritania. Ten euros! He was having a bubble! It should have been free but he was having none of it. Even Mike's veiled threat to call the embassy left him unmoved. Given he was armed and we wanted to get across before the border closed, we paid five euros and were on our way. A few minutes later we arrived at immigration on the Malian side. What a difference! The border guards were all smiles as they kicked back on their sun loungers in the immigration hut, in stark contrast to their dour Mauritanian counterparts. We all felt good Malian vibes ripple through us, a feeling which was to remain with us throughout our stay in this awesome country. After completing immigration formalities we bought insurance, changed some currency and hit the road. It is a great feeling riding accross a border into a new country and Hans out in front punched the air triumphantly as we whoop whooped our way into Mali.

As we had crossed over late in the day, we decided to set up camp at the first oppurtune spot. I think we probably all saw it at the same time, the massive boabob tree which dominated the sahel to our left. The first boabob any of us had seen and what a beauty! We got off the main road, rode accross country and set up camp under mama baobob's watchful eye. The excitement for me was tempered slightly when I found my front tyre had a puncture, courtesy of a large African thorn. One of the risks with riding offroad in the sahel. So I changed my tyre in the fading light whilst the other lads set up camp and got dinner cooking on the fire. Earlier I had seen a snake in the dry riverbed beside which we were camped so we all opted for tents rather than the usual tarp under the stars.

The following day we decamped and rode into Nioro, a small frontier town in order to get our carnets stamped at the customs office. Whilst there we stopped for fuel and at the local market to get some vegetables for our dinner. We attracted a bit of a crowd of friendly onlookers who seemed pretty intrigued by us and our bikes.

We had decided that day to take an unpaved back road from Nioro to Kita from where we would take the tarmac road on to Bamako. 200kms of dirt road seemed daunting but we gave ourselves a couple of days to do it in. The road itself was a mixture of red African dirt and gravel. Some of the potholes were huge, resembling small craters, some of which where three feet deep.

After we had gone about 10km down the road we had to pull up. Peter, or Mad Dog as he has come to be affectionally known, was finding the going tough on the heavy GS. He was still in quite a bit of pain after his crash in Mauritania. He made the call that he would turn back and take the tarmac road to Bamako where we would all meet in a couple of days. Fair enough.

So myself, Hans and Mike continued. The road had a bit of everything. From the massive potholes to sandy sections to our dreaded enemy the corrugation. The corrugations meant that we had to keep our speed up in order to smooth out the ride. This made avoiding some of the potholes a bit tricky at speed. I think we all managed to hit a couple pretty hard, thankfully without damaging the bikes. The road was dotted with scores of tiny villages and we stopped at quite a few either to draw water from the village well or just to say hello to the village folk. We were always greeted warmly by the friendliest of people, particularly the children who would all eagerly line up to shake hands with the toubab (white men).

At the end of the following day we finally arrived in Kita. It had been a long old slog in the heat, the mercury hovering in the forties and as soon as we hit town we set about finding a store with a fridge for a cold drink. Sugary cold sodas never tasted so good as our parched bodies soaked up some of the fluids and salts we had lost during the day.

The following day, back on the tarmac, we met up with Mad Dog on the outskirts of Bamako. We headed for the city center negotiating the traffic chaos created by swarms of mopeds and suicidal taxi drivers. We eventually navigated our way to our accomodation in Bamako, the Bamako Catholic Mission. Run by the lovely sister Albetina and a gaggle of other nuns along with Samuel the maintenence man, the mission was simple but well kept and clean. In perfect contrast to the surrounding city. We stayed here for two nights, catching up with our emails and blogs and getting reaquainted with our old long lost friend..... ice cold beer. The hoppy goodness was a real treat after three weeks of travelling through the Sahara and sub Saharan Africa.

Bidding farewell to the nuns we haded northeast, roughly following the course of the mighty Niger river towards our next major destination, Mopti, from where we hoped to catch a boat to the legendary desert town of Tombouctou. On the way we camped near the town of Sigou, right on the river bank. It was brilliant to strip off our stiffling riding gear at the end of the day and plunge into the cool waters of the Niger. In stark contrast to the dry interior, the banks of the Niger teemed with life and were lush and cultivated. The villagers grow anything from lettuce to oranges along the fertile riverbank. It's tough work though, we watched as a young girl watered a 40 metre square patch of lettuces with two gourds which she repeatedly filled from the river.

The following day we arrived in San and were keen as we had done the night before, on the banks of the Niger, finishing the day witha swim. So we cut off the road and rode accross country trying to locate the river. Eventually the terrain became a bit too tough so we set up camp beneath a huge acacia tree presided over by a large owl and occupied by a tiny skink.

That night we dined as usual from a communal pot on some spicy concoction whipped up by Hans over the fire. It's funny but even in the heat our favorite things are a dinner cooked with plenty of chillis and a piping hot cup of tea at the end of each days riding. The tea especially has become almost ritualistic in it's preparation and we all look forward to it at the end of each day.

That night, on his nightly nature walk with perhaps the worlds brightest headtorch which we have dubbed 'the laser', Mike found the biggest spider we had seen yet. It was huge. Of camel spider proportions. I hoped the owl would swoop down in the night and eat it before it found it's way into my sleeping bag. In reality however I doubted that the owl could have tackled such a monster.

The next day we reached Sevare, a small town just outside of Mopti. We found a hotel where we coul stay the night, choosing the cheapest option and camping on the roof under the stars. We locked and left our bikes at the hotel and headed into Mopti the next day to arrange our passage to Tombouctou. There were plenty of touts in and around the port keen to get us onto one of the tourist boats. We weren't so keen on this option though, preferring to get aboard one of the local boats. Hans took care of the negotiations . His haggling skills honed in boardrooms across the UK and Europe mixing it with corporate fatcats, he managed to get us a return fare for 30,000 CFA each, return including food. Result! About forty quid. Not too bad considering we had met people who had paid twice that amount for a one way ticket.

So we boarded our vessel, the 'Allah Son' which was to be our home for the next seven days and nights. Despite observing one of the crew bailing water out over the side as we were boarding she looked reasonably river worthy. The 'Allah Son' was taking a cargo of sacks of millet from Mopti to Tombouctou. Each of us got a section of five millet sacks to sit on which would be our quarters for the outward journey. The boat would be empty for the return. As the boat left port we quickly settled into life as Niger river folk, strange to be away from the bikes but in a good way. We started to get to know the crew and helped out where we could. The crew was made up of three older blokes, the skipper and his mates and five youger lads who took care of the more menial tasks. We also had a cook, a local girl who would prepare all of ours and the crew's meals. 99% of the meals were rice and fish which we ate from a communal plastic tub with our hands.

During the first day and a half we got plenty of oppurtunity to help the crew out. As it is the dry season here the water level in the Niger is quite low and our fully laden boat managed to run aground on a number of sand bars. Each time this happened we had to get into the water and with the aid of long thick logs, lever the hull off the bar before we could get the boat back in the channel. It was a welcome relief from the heat to get into the water and during the hottest part of the day we began to hope we would run into another sand bar!

After three days and two nights we finally reached Tombouctou. There isn't a great deal there, plenty of sand and it was blazingly hot. After a few hours and a few obligatory photos and postcards we were ready to get back to our boat and our new mates for the return trip to Mopti. Whilst making it to Tombouctou was amazing, it was the journey and the people we had met upon the way which has made it the the highlight of the trip so far.


  1. Wow, those photo's are amazing and I love the picture of the skink! You are looking healthy and happy too. Such a brilliant journey you are undertaking. Keep safe... xxx

  2. What can I say Simon , fabulous photos and your written account takes me into another world for a period of time where nothing else exists.I read as slowly as possible to make it last longer.Family all very well.Sam and Nina move to Waihi this weekend seeking new opportunities.
    Good luck and safe travels. Dad and the family.

  3. Was kept spellbound again reading you latest! Loved the Owl picture. In fact, I am loving 'ALL' the pictures - they are fantastic.
    Good luck with the next part and stay safe all of you!! Lynda & Keith. x

  4. Simon... Wow your pics are so amazing. Love the one of the young girl and the gourds but they are all so cool - really helps to see your journey as well as read it!. Even of the one of you and your giant 'unsmile' - ha ha ha! Wish there was a pic of THE spider! Freaky! Looking forward to the next post. Travel safe. Love you!

  5. Si, your package has arrived in Lome!!! Go pick it up asap!! Ring me when you get it... x