Tag Archives: Mali

Week 30: Bamako to Burkina

Week 30: Bamako to Burkina

This week has been truly awesome, after spending some time at a waterfall last week, a group of us decided to visit another waterfall for a few days, down by the border with Burkina Faso. We stopped in the nearby town of Sikasso to collect some supplies and headed to a village called Woroni. Woroni waterfall is the best waterfall I have ever visited, we camped next to the water and spent four days swimming, sunbathing and having an awesome time.

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Most of the group headed back to Bamako, Tom was soon to be heading back to Belgium by aeroplane, so we said goodbye and split up. Me, Lucy and Charlie headed into Burkina Faso. I was surprised at how easily the border crossing went, no bribes, a minimum of paperwork and only 7 euro for a laissez-passer. From the border we headed to Bobo and stayed for a night in a hotel, the next day we bumped into a friend who had been in Bamako with us, we all headed south together for a few days.

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Firstly we stayed a night next to a lake before taking an early boat ride to see the hippos, in the afternoon we headed to another village called Sindou which is home to some strange rock formations. We took a hike through the area before heading into the village for beer and food. Lastnight we camped next to another waterfall, not quite as nice as Woroni falls but has a great camping area beneath a group of Mango trees. Tomorrow we are heading north to Ouagadougou to check out a festival before heading into Benin.

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Week 29: More Mali

Week 29: More Mali

Charlie and I arrived back in Bamako last weekend in time for a music festival which was taking place close to the hotel we stay in. The festival was really good, live music, beer, food and a good group of people. We then spent a few days relaxing around Bamako, moving between our hotel and another one close by. It is amazing how you meet people when travelling, it seems that most people are headed along the same route but at varying speeds. Here in Bamako it seemed that most of the people we have met on our way down from Morocco, arrived here around the same kind of time. It has been a nice chance to socialise and mix with different people for a while. We then decided that we wanted to go to visit a waterfall in a nearby town, originally it was just me, Charlie and Tom, but then there were seven of us. Matt, a guy who has just completed a rally in his Ford Fiesta, Lucy, a girl who is working as a tour guide, Pierre, a cool old hippy guy who we have met several times during his holiday and Jaimee, an Australian girl who was been travelling for six months by bicycle. Then when we arrived we found two people we already knew were staying at the waterfall too, so there was a group of ten people, including our guide.

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The waterfall turned out to be amazing, nice clear water to swim in, lots of rocks to sunbathe and we managed to get permission to camp close by. We stayed for two nights, swimming by day and sitting around the camp fire at night. The second night we bought two live chickens which we slaughtered and butchered ourselves, then I made a stew with them. I could have stayed there for a week or so but we had to get back. Bamako seems loud, hot, polluted and generally not as nice as it did a few days ago. Now we are planning to head into Burkina Faso over the next week, hopefully camping by a few waterfalls on the way.

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Weeks 27 & 28: Mali

Weeks 27 & 28: Mali

I didn’t manage to post last weekend due to the lack of a reliable internet connection while travelling. Week 27 was a strange mix of complications and solutions, some things proving more difficult, and others much easier, than first thought. We arrived in Bamako and checked in to the Sleeping Camel hotel and camp site, we were hoping to stay for a few days to get visas and fix a few problems with the motorbikes. We had not been here long when we met a group of people who had been waiting ten days for their Nigerian visa, then we heard that Nigeria had closed its borders. This is quite a big problem as there is no good route around Nigeria, but a solution is in sight. We met a German couple in Mauritania who were planning to ship their bikes from Ghana to Nigeria. At first I didn’t want to do this as it would involve skipping five countries on the way. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense, three of the five countries are ‘problem countries’. Firstly Nigeria, with its recent killings and general dangers. Secondly DRC, with its new visa application system which would mean sending my passport to the UK while I stayed in Congo, then thirdly, and possibly most troublesome, Angola. Angola has been refusing people visas, this would force me to either ship the bike around the country, fly the bike over the country, or travel around the edge of it through jungle roads in the DRC. So I am planning to ship the bike, this isn’t simple either, it looks like I will now need to apply for a carnet de passage, a document I had previously decided not to get as it was expensive and not really necessary.

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On a more positive note, we went to the Ghana embassy to apply for our visa, knowing that technically we weren’t allowed to apply outside our home country. We made an appointment with the ambassador and eventually we were welcomed into his office, we talked for a while and then he explained that he isn’t supposed to give foreigners a visa, but in some cases he can use his discretion, he asked us to leave our passports over night while he made some calls on our behalf. The next day we picked up our passports with the visas inside, we took them straight to the Burkina Faso embassy and got our visas with their same day service. We spent our evenings meeting with lots of other travellers, including Richard Meek, an English guy I have been in contact with for a while now, and a French guy who is quite well known, among overland travellers and adventure motorcyclists, because he travelled the jungle roads in DRC, which I mentioned earlier, alone. We went for drinks and meals and generally had a good time.

From Bamako we headed north to spend just over a week exploring central Mali, we started out by taking a piste from Bamako to Segou. The track followed a canal for a while then slowly faded into donkey tracks through the bushes. It was slow going but really fun and we got to see lots of small villages which tourists rarely visit. Eventually we emerged from the bush, back on a tarmac road and followed it to Segou where we stayed for the night.

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The next two days were spent travelling on more piste from Segou to a town called Djenne, the track followed the Niger river and cut through the flood plane. The road was flooded in places and we had to do some water crossings on the bike, first time for me, luckily I didn’t topple over and everything went smoothly. We spent a night camping out in the bush before heading the rest of the way to Djenne.

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Djenne is mostly visited for its large mud mosque, we stayed in the town for a few hours while Charlie got a bash plate made and fitted to the underside of his bike. Then we took the tarmac road north to Mopti. We only stayed here a night to see what the town was like but decided to take a boat ride on the Niger the next day.

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From Mopti we headed to Bandiagara, a small town on the edge of Dogon country. This is the starting point for anyone wanting to explore the area. Dogon country is an area of rocky cliffs inhabited by a tribe known as the Dogon, we planned to trek through the area for a few days. The road up to Bandiagara was pretty awesome so we stopped for a while to take some pics before carrying on to the hotel. Luckily we managed to take up some spare seats on a minibus to take us out to the start of our trek the next morning. We spent three days and two nights trekking through Dogon country, sleeping on the roofs of mud houses looking up at the stars. The first night we stayed in a village up on the top of the cliffs, before heading down to the foot of the cliffs to sleep in a village down there, visiting a few other villages on the way. The villages at the foot of the cliffs are overlooked by old mud huts in the cliffs, the lower ones were lived in by the Ogon, elders chosen by the village to live on the cliff and communicate with the people living higher up. These people were the Telem, a tribe of pygmies who lived in tiny huts high on the cliff. The Telem are now gone but the huts are still there to be seen.

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Our guide was a great guy and he had asked if he could have my black leather bush hat, so before we left I traded it with him for a bracelet and some other souvenirs. Then we headed back to Bamako, sleeping in Bandiagara and Segou for a night each on our way down. There is a music festival going on at the moment here in Bamako so we are heading out tonight for some drinks and hopefully a great night.

Week 26: Through Mauritania into Mali

Week 26: Through Mauritania into Mali

It has been over a week since I last added a post, it feels like it has been a long time, a lot has happened. On New Years Eve we were camping on a beach just outside Dakhla in Western Sahara, we bought some fish and chicken from the market and we cooked them on the camp fire. Afterwards we headed to the other side of the camp site to a large camp fire and another group of campers, an old hippy couple gave us some cider and hash brownies. We had spent a couple of hours, earlier in the day, trying to find alcohol but didn’t find any. Luckily the other campers shared their alcohol with us and we got quite drunk, one guy had made some grain alcohol mixed with herbs and sugar cubes. It was around 90% alcohol and tasted foul but we had a few. On New Years Day I woke up with a hang over and we decided to stay on the beach for an extra day before heading to Mauritania.

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The border crossing into Mauritania was crazy, first we had to leave Western Sahara, this involved one guy giving us a form to fill in, we then gave the form and our passport to another guy who kept the form and checked our passports. We then had a guy check our vehicles against the laissez-passer, We then took the laissez-passer into an office where a guy made sure we had been to have it checked, then another guy stamped it. Then we drove through two check points where our passports and the laissez-passer were double checked, then finally we got to the last checkpoint where all the details of our passports and laissez-passer were written down. Between the Western Sahara border and the Mauritanian border is around a 5km stretch of wild, sandy track which is not maintained by either side. This track is dotted with burnt out cars and scrap metal. Entering Mauritania was fairly simple, first our visa was checked, then we got a laissez-passer for around 10 euro covering 7 days in the country, then we had our passports scanned by immigration, then we got temporary insurance for 14 euro lasting 10 days. We stayed in Nouadhibou for a night before heading to the capital of Mauritania, Nouakchott. We applied for our Mali visas (costing 17 euro) then headed east.

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Mauritania is a hot, dry, dusty country consisting of mostly empty desert, the roadsides are littered with the rotting corpses of camels, goats, donkeys and cows. We drove through it for five days, stopping for rest in towns along the way. This was mostly fine, but there is very little petrol available in Mauritania and we almost ran out, we had slept in Aleg and had planned to refuel in the morning, but there wasn’t any petrol, so we headed off towards Kiffa. Half way there we stopped in a small town which also had no petrol, luckily we met a guy who managed to get us 20 litres of petrol for around 3 euro a litre (about triple the normal price). This was just enough to get us to Kiffa, where luckily they had petrol.

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The road from Kiffa to Ayoun El Atrous was under repair, this meant that we had to take a detour which was a dusty, sandy track through the countryside. The first half of the journey was fun, but then I went through a particularly big hole which jolted the bike so hard that my top box snapped off its fixings. I stopped and reattached it using bungees and carried on. Then the road was tarmacked again, but there were places where the road was covered with sand. In a particularly large sand pit the bike got stuck and the engine cut out, I tried to start it again and the electrics cut out, I was stuck. I waited a few minutes and a car came along, four guys got out and helped me push the bike out of the sand. I stripped the bike and checked the battery, it seemed ok, I tried to start the bike and it started. I thought that was the end of it and drove the rest of the way to Ayoun El Atrous.

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After a night in Ayoun El Atrous we headed to the border with Mali, one of the police at a road block warned us that the area had a lot of Al-Qaeda, so we should be careful. Everything seemed ok and we were soon at the border, on the way out there was a checkpoint where out passports were stamped, the guys there asked for 14 euros each for stamping our passports, we said we wanted a receipt, they said they had used them all but would have more at 4pm, we said we would wait and made ourselves comfortable, they said we could go, scam avoided. But as I tried to leave the bike wouldn’t start, the electrics were failing, after a few minutes I managed to start the bike while banging on the side which holds the battery. We then went to the next check point and had our laissez-passer checked and out passports scanned. Then we entered Mali, the first checkpoint checked our visa and stamped our passports, then asked for 15 euro for the stamp. We refused and they let us go, another scam avoided. We then had to go to get our laissez-passer and paid 22 euro for it, they gave us a receipt so we paid. Then we got insurance for Mali, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria for two months for 40 euro. We then tried to head south but were stopped at a police check point and sent to the police station. We were then told we had to pay 7.50 euro each for another stamp or we couldn’t leave town. We tried to argue for a while but then eventually we caved and paid up, we were hot and tired and couldn’t argue. The bike was acting strangely, the rev counter was jumping around wildly and a few times the bike lost power and back-fired loudly, I banged on the side and it sorted itself out.

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We spent lastnight in a small town called Diema with an English woman called Pam, she runs a NGO there which helps the community. It was great to pass into what feels like a real African country after the dry, dusty countries in the north. This morning I checked out the electrical problem, luckily it was just a loose battery connection. We then drove to the capital of Mali, Bamako, where we will try to get visas for Burkina Faso, Ghana and Nigeria. I’ll also try to securely reattach my top box.

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