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Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Mali into Burkina Faso

Returning from our trip up the Niger to Tombouctou, we were roughly jolted back to earth when Mike discovered that his travel wallet had been stolen. Disaster. He lost quite a bit of cash and his passport aswell. So we stayed in Mopti for a few days in order to obtain police reports and the like. Mike had also discovered that his rack needed a bit of work, it having broken in one place and sheared a couple of bolts under the additional strain. He found some new bolts and a few young blokes with a welder and got the rack welded up. Mike seemed satisfied but Mad Dog, an old school boiler maker by trade, was less than impressed. So he jumped on the back of the KTM and they rode back to the welding place where Mad Dog appropriated the welder and 'showed those young fellas how we do things back in Tassie'.

Repairs completed it was time to go. This time we would be without Mike for a few days. He had to head back to Bamako in order to get his new passport and bank cards sent over from the UK. We estimated the application and DHLing would take around ten days and given we only had six days left on our Malian visas decided we would meet again in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

After bidding Mike farwell and wishing him luck, me, Mad Dog and Hans headed back down towards the Niger. We wanted to cross to the opposite bank and take a few days to cover a stretch of a couple of hundred kilometers on the piste which followed the riverbank. So we left the main road and headed towards Djenne, home to the worlds largest mud mosque. Before the ferry crossing we noticed a heap of people in a small muddy lake to our left.

Turns out that the Niger delta area is full of these little lakes, remanents of the rainy season when the Niger bursts its banks. The retreating river leaves the lakes behind and they become progressivley smaller throughout the dry season until they are literally muddy pools, squirming with thousands of little catfish. The locals then get out in force and catch them bare handed, fishing around in the dirty water, locating the fish by feel. The kids especially seemed to be loving the muddy chaos until a few were distracted by three toabab on motorbikes.

Moving on, we crossed the Niger and stopped in Djenne to see the mosque. Impressive. It was hot though, somewhere in the mid forties so we decided to head out of town, find the piste and set up camp before going for a dip in the river. We stuck to this formula for the three days it took us to do the piste. Up at sunrise, ride until midday, camp and swim. Fantastic. The piste itself, rather than a discernable route was a series of small tracks through a mixture of hard floodplain and medium sized vegetation. We always managed to find a decent sized tree to camp under however as shade was essential for both us and the overheated bikes.

The trail was dotted with small villages along the way. In a way the villages provided us with a lifeline for our water. We only had the means to carry twenty litres which amounted to our total daily water consumption so at the first village we passed each day we would stop and fill our water bags and bottles at the village well or pump. The people were extremely friendly and were only too happy for us to take our water from the village supply. Often they would baulk when we tried to pay a few CFA for their trouble. Some of the nicest people we had met to date.

Things had been going along nicely. We were enjoying the people and scenery of the Niger delta and myself, Hans and Mad Dog agreed this was some of the best travelling we had done. Nicely. Until our second night camping on the riverbank. We had just finished our spicy pasta dinner when I saw scuttling movement out of the corner of my eye. Switching on my headtorch, a huge predatory spider was illuminated. Whats more it seemed to be attracted to my torch. Quick as a flash I was up, standing on my pannier as it crawled frantically and aimlessly through our camp. Mad Dog, no doubt used to redbacks and Sydney funnelwebs, was unphased and managed to get a picture of it. I reckon it's a camel spider or scorpion spider. Whatever it was I hope we don't see too many more.

After three days with the Niger we reached San. It was time to bid farewell to the river which we had been travelling on or along for the last two weeks. The Niger. Our new favourite river. We headed for the Burkina Faso border and crossed over late in the day without any hassle apart from a grumpy customs girl who pretended she didnt know what a carnet de passage was. Pretty sure she was looking for a bribe but all three of us just sat there looking blankly at her and eventually she stamped the carnets and impatiently waved us through into Burkina Faso.

We stopped and camped about 50kms into Burkina Faso. As always we stopped and rode a few hundred metres off the side of the main road into the surrounding scrubby woodland. The idea being that we shouldn't get disturbed or disturb any of the locals. As usual though we soon had a few curious onlookers turn up (from where I have no idea) to watch us set up camp, set the fire going and get the billy on. In this case it was four young boys, we couldnt really understand each other but we soon became aware one of them had a problem with his hand. On closer inspection it looked like he had a broken finger. Hans sorted him out with some painkillers and some anti inflamatories and instructions to strap it once the swelling had gone down. Word must have got around and not long after an older bloke turned up with a nasty infected hand, we think courtesy of a large thorn, so we gave him a bunch of pennicillan and some sterile scalpel baldes with which to dig the thorn out with.

Having finished playing doctor we settled down for the evening under the stars under our mozzie nets. Sometime later I awoke the hear a rustling in the dry leaves below and small bush next to my mosquito net. Instantly I knew it was a snake. The sound being totally different to the sound any legged creature would make. Sure enough a few seconds later he emerged. Under a full moon I could see him clear as day as he passed a couple of feet from from where I lay. "Snake"!! I wanted to yell but couldnt. I just watched as he slid past, heart in my mouth but transfixed nonetheless. I found my voice. "Snake"!!. Waking up Hans and Mad Dog. "How beeg was he", Mad Dog asked. "Three to four foot", I replied. "Aw yeah, a tiddler then", said Mad Dog and rolled over and went back to sleep. Bloody Australians.

The following day we headed to Bobo where we took a couple of days to chill at a place called Casa Africa. Bobo was a nice change from camping on the road and we enjoyed a few beers in the evenings and some great street food. Chicken in a bag was a definite hit. Leaving Bobo we heading for a river we had heard about, sourced from a spring which made the waters clear and clean, unique for and African river. We found it and it was awesome, clear water you could drink straight from the current. An awesome spot. We camped there for a couple of nights and made an important discovery. Our Thermarests could be used as Lilos. Awesome.

We headed to Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina. En route Hans started to have trouble with his clutch. It would engage at the slightest pressure on the clutch lever. Shit. As we got closer to Ouaga the problem got worse, eventually he could only reach 20kph and even the smallest hills became mountains. Hans eventually limped in to Ouaga and we headed for the Catholic Mission there where we planned to stay and wait for Mike to turn up in a few days. We ended up waiting a few hours. Mike arrived a few days ahead of schedule having ridden some 800km in a day and a half. He was jaded but in good spirits. The quartet was back together again. Time for a beer and a catch up.

Soon we were back to three again. This time we had to leave Hans in Ouagadougou. His bike wasnt going anywhere and he decided to get it freighted to Lome in Togo where we knew of a good French mechanic who would hopefully get it sorted. We would meet him there. So me Mike and Mad Dog took off heading south to Nazinga game reserve. It was the right time of year for elephants there apparently so we were hopeful of spotting some. South to a town called Po near the Ghanian border we took a dirt road towards the park. Our offroad riding had been gradually improving and the rutted sandy road was great fun to ride on. Even Mad Dog looked pretty comfortable on the gargantuan GS.

As we rode into the park it didnt take us long to spot our first wildlife. A troop of baboons sitting in a tree. We parked up and stalked in for a closer look. Mike managed to creep up and get some good pics until a few warning barks and some posturing by some of the big males had him scuttling back to his bike. We continued and unbelievably a herd of eight or so elephants crossed the road in front of us, heading to a small lake. Amazing. We watched, gobsmacked as they waded through the lake drinking and spraying water over themselves before disappearing into the scrub. Unreal. We were stoked and pushed on to the park camp.

After a few more kilometers of deteriorating road we arrived. The camp was laid out around a large watering hole and consisted of simple bungalows, a restaurant and bar and amazingly there were more elephants. Another group were bathing in the watering hole no doubt cooling down in the now scorching midday sun. They were magnificent animals and we sat a watched them until they left later in the afternoon.

That evening we sat inside the hide overlooking the watering hole and observed warthogs, waterbuck, antelopes and quite a few crocodiles aswell. The place was teeming with life. We had initially intended to stay only one night in the park but decided to spend a second night there after seeing what it had to offer.

The following day we were relaxing in our bungalow when a herd of elephants came walking through the camp, grazing on the trees surrounding the bungalows. It was unbelievable how close we were to them as they wandered through. At one point a large cow was metres from my bedroom window.

Although we were close to them, we were reminded that they are still wild animals and potentially dangerous when first Mike, then Mad Dog got a wee bit to close and were confronted with an alarmed elephant displaying displeasure at being disturbed. Ears fanned wide, trunk flicking forward, they looked pretty scary and the lads beat a hasty retreat.

The next day we left the park. It had been a truly amazing experience, beyond any expectation any of us had. Back on the road, Mad Dog decided he wanted to see Ghana and as we were so close to the border decided to head there and meet us in Lome, Togo. Mike and I decided against Ghana and headed for the Togo border. We were looking forward to getting to Togo and catching up with Hans.


  1. Woooooow What more can I say.Another great read and pictures Simon.Keep up the good work.May your adventures get better by the day. Dad and the Family

  2. Im glad to see that beautiful smile in your face,spiders, snakes, baboons, elephants, etc! seems like an amusement park for a zoologist like you. Hugs& Kisses Monito.

  3. Oh my god, the photo's are amazing.... again! I can't believe how close you got to the elephants. I can't wait to come out there and see it all for myself! x

  4. Another tale of a 'Spider'- I seem to read about them just before it's time for bed, then end up looking around the room in case any are here! Now Snakes for you - it's a wonder you haven't had a breakdown! Amazing pictures once again and another very interesting read. Shame about Mike's stuff - dirty rat that took it. Looking forward to the next part but give the Crocs a VERY wide berth! Love Lynda & Keith.xx

  5. Simon, you look so happy. Africa's people, animals and creepy crawlies have probably changed you forever! I hear the place calls you back once you have been! I am in awe of your adventure and loved every second of this read! And the photos are just so cool. Keep safe and I hope the quartet are back together soon. Much love xx

  6. Hi Simon, Awesome adventure mate. I dont think I would have the balls to do what you are doing. I am very envious. Keep up the great work with the blog, it is riveting stuff. All the best mate and hope to catch up when you get back. gazza. Keep safe brother

  7. Simon
    Enthralling, action-packed journal, I am as green eyed as the snake, (that means I am envious as hell) Sorry to tell you Effie died 18th March aged 13 uncanny as this was the same day we lost Angela
    Good luck Pete, Eileen, Laura and Emily

  8. I always wanted to go to Tegucigalpha and Ouagadougou - they craziest names for capital cities in the world. I made it to Teguz a few years ago but I'm jealous of you for getting to Ouaga before me! (-: