A massive sand storm engulfs us in Timbuktu (Tombouctou), Mali
Menu - About Us
Menu - Maps
Menu - Our Vehicles
Menu - Preparation
Menu - Home
Menu - FAQ
Menu - Contact Us
Menu - Video
Menu - Photogallery


Mali Trip Journal from May 25 to June 08, 2008

Follow this link to return to the Mali Photos Pg. 1 and Mali Photos Pg. 2.

Country: Mali
Duration: May 25 to June 08, 2008.
Distance Traveled in the Country: Approx. 3400km on the motorcycles, of which 1100km were dirt/sand.
Most Memorable Impressions:
With Mali we were thrown back into the adventurous part of our journey.  The culture and scenery are very different from what we had experienced over the last few months.  The landscape is barren, wind swept, sandy and brown.  The people are the most colorful we had seen in to this point in Africa.  It was such a stark contrast.  We slowly were entering back into the Muslim countries and with that the people became more helpful and friendly.  Mali has to be one of our favorites of the African countries.  There are no words to explain the atmosphere and vibrancy of the Monday market in Djenne with the spectacular Grand Mosque in the background.  One had to be in the midst to experience it all.  Talking about experiencing it all, we encountered three (3) huge dust/sand storms.  A massive huge wall of sand and dust racing at you and engulfing everything in sight.  A natural phenomena both scary and exciting.  Hiking through the Dogon Country was another highlight.  A civilization that, though modern times are trying to scoop it up, stays true to its original culture and heritage.  Cliff dwellings, strange rituals and sacred fetish places make up this incredible region. A visit to Mali is not complete until you have ridden on the sandy and washboardy trail to the legendary city of Timbuktu (Tombouctou).  To top it all off we had to cope with another motorcycle failure 800km from a major center and help, getting lost in the desert/bush and a Malaria scare.  How did it all play out?  I guess you have to read the journal or check out the pictures.
Our Favourite:
- Monday Market in Djenne
- Dogon Country
- Timbuktu (Tombouctou)
Fuel Cost:
650CFA/litre ($1.65CDN/litre) for Unleaded Fuel.
(5) nights sleeping on the roof of a hotel for 7,000CFA/night ($18.00CDN/night).
(1) night wild camped.
(8) nights in air conditioned hotel for 15,000 to 22,000CFA/night ($38.00 to $56.00CDN/night).
Exchange Rate:
395 Central African Francs (CFA) = $1.00CDN
Border Formality Costs:
Mali Visa = 20,000CFA/person ($50.00CDN/person) issued in 30minutes in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, valid for (30) Days.
Motorcycle Customs = Free with Carnet de Passage.

May 25, 2008.  Time flies, Mali kept us super busy and I did not even start our journal until we reached Dakar, Senegal.  Looking back it was an adventure, which in a way we did not expect.  We entered Mali from Burkina Faso at the Faramara Border Post.  Immigration was quick and it took us a while to find the customs office as it was located a few kilometers down the road.  The road deteriorated quickly after the border to major pot holes.  In San we pulled into a gas station to find two (2) other motorcyclists.  Jan on a Dakar BMW 650 and Lindsey on a BMW 1150 Adventure.  Jan had actually been in contact with us via e-mail since before leaving his home in South Africa.  We were not sure if we would hook up, but here we were at the same time at the same place.  There objective was mainly to make it up the west coast of Africa on the shortest route and as quickly as possible.  We were more interested in seeing the culture and sights of each country, especially Mali had too much to offer for us to miss it.  We talked for a while and then headed into opposite directions.  They went west toward Senegal and we went east toward Djenne, Timbuktu and the Dogon Valley.  In Ghana and Burkina Faso we complained about the heat, we had no idea what real heat was all about until Mali.  We believe we will probably (hopefully) never again experience heat like that.  Temperatures did not drop below 40Deg Celsius the entire time we spent in Mali.  During the nights we would bath in our own sweat.  It was exhausting to deal with the continuous high temperatures and some pretty tough riding conditions. From San the tarred road is in decent condition to Djenne.  Even the 25km stretch from the main highway into Djenne is paved.  At the turn-off we pay a 1000CFA ($2.50CDN) tourist tax.  We had to take one (1) ferry for 3000CFA ($7.50CDN) to cross a river before reaching Djenne.  Here we met the "Historian", so called by the locals.  He teaches English and History in Djenne and also acts as a local tour guide.  To get a handle on all the "wanna-be" guides in Mali, the tourism board has come out with a 1-year certification program.  Guides who have completed the certification have yellow or blue cards.  The teacher was certified.  We negotiated the price for a guided tour of Djenne, which always starts off at a ridiculous outrageous amount and we end up paying 4000CFA ($10.00CDN). He jumps on his scooter and leads us to Djenne.  The settlement of 22,000 people reminded us of Shibam, Yemen.  We enter over a bridge into a maze of tiny alley ways, two story mud brick houses lining each side.  We are taken to Chez Baba, one block off the market square and the famous mosque.  The tourist season in Mali is from December to mid-February.  We are definitely off-season, as we had the dormitory completely to ourselves.  Not that we actually slept in there, as it was an oven, instead we had mattresses on the roof of the building.  A couple of mattresses were 7000CFA/night ($17.50CDN/night).  The roof top had a great view of the mosque.  Mali was like stepping back in time.  We arranged with the teacher to meet the next morning at 7am for a guided tour.  Meanwhile we had just stored away our gear as suddenly a huge dust/sand storm engulfed us.  The sun disappeared and the sky looked like dooms day.  Everything got covered with sand.  The pictures that Mike took from the roof top are amazing.  This is for real, no photoshop.  The storm lasts for a couple of hours and then total calm.  Mike takes some more pictures just before sunset, to show before and after comparison.  The Chez Baba makes us some Spaghetti with Tomato sauce and we met three (3) Frenchmen, who arrived via car from France.  We are the only tourists in town. 

May 26, 2008.  It is all about timing.  The must see event in Djenne is the Monday market.  Though we had not planned to be here on a Monday it worked out that way.  One of the highlights of our Africa trip as it turns out.  The teacher picked us up at 7am and we started wandering through the tiny alley ways of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Djenne.  The sewer runs down the centre of the streets.  Coats, cows and donkeys live among the people.  Children are playing in the dust, with their feet, hands and faces covered in mud, all along smiling and reaching for our hands.  We stop at the first Moroccan house built in Djenne with its traditional wood windows.  The roofs have mud cones, indicating the father and mother of the house and every cone between is a child.  We walk past several medersas, which are schools where young children learn the Qur'an.  These are not schools as we know them in North America or Europe, but about ten (10) or more children sitting on a mud floor in a room with wooden boards in front of them.  A verse from the Qur'an in Arabic is written on the board.  After a visit to the house of the traditional chief we stop to visit Pama Sinatoa.  She is a famous female artisan, specializing in bogolan (mud-cloth).  Proceeds from any items bought from her goes to help the local community.  We purchase a nice blanket for 10,000CFA ($25.00CDN).  By now it is almost 9am and we enter the market area.  There are hundreds of people setting up their stalls.  The market officially starts at 11am.  We get our first view of the largest mud-built structure in the world.  The Djenne Mosque.  At the food stalls we purchase some breakfast, locally made millet pancakes.  One version was a bit tasteless and the other very hot but eatable.  For a 1,000CFA ($2.50CDN) we are allowed entrance to someone's home and the roof top to get a better appreciation of the market and mosque. After our tour we rest at the Chez Baba for a couple of hours before returning to the market, which now is in full swing.  The energy, vibrancy and smells are difficult to be explained unless experienced yourself.  We get on the roof top of another house directly opposite the mosque and in full view of the market.  Here we are able to watch people go about there day to day business.  It is incredibly fascinating to watch all the action.  Burnt fish being sold, women in their colorful clothes bartering, some with tattooed lips, sheep auctioned off, fresh fruits and vegetables laid out beside ratchets and heavy duty tools.  We spent hours in awe, the camera clicking away.  Only one day a week this spectrum occurs.  Other days Djenne is almost like a ghost town.  We had been lucky.  We sleep under the starts reflecting on the days past.

May 27, 2008.  As the sun rises, so do we.  The coolest time of the day.  Leaving the town over the bridge we detour to another World Heritage Site.  The Tomb of Saints Almany Nabo and Almany Kontao.  We pull up to the ferry at 6:30am and have to wait until 7am (no ferries prior to that).  From Djenne we backtrack to the main highway and then head further north to Sevare.  Our highlight of Sevare is that the gas station sells Diet Coke and Pringle Chips.  A healthy breakfast.  From Sevare a tarred road leads to Bandiagara.  Signage for directions disappear at the first traffic circle, asking for directions we are told to register with the police.  Which actually was not necessary, by some coincidence we find our way on a sandy track out of town toward Sangha.  The 44km trail is a lot of fun, as it winds its way through rocky terrain.  Fun in a way that we did not want to ride more then 44km.  We were thankful that it was not raining as it would make this road impassable.  Sangha lies on the top of the escarpment and is one of the largest Dogon villages in the area.  Navigating your way once in the settlement is a different story as the trails lead into all type of directions.  We are looking for the Hotel Femme Dogon. After asking numerous locals in our butchered French we finally come upon an English speaking person, who takes us to the Hotel.  Our accommodations consist of two (2) mattresses on the roof for 7,000CFA/night ($17.50CDN/night).  As it turns out our English speaking help is a local guide.  We sit down with him to discuss what we want to see in our limited time schedule.  The Lonely Planet had given us a good idea of what we could explore.  We decided on a full day hike instead of staying over night in the valley below.  We came up with the plan to spend a couple of hours exploring Sangha in the afternoon and start our hike at 6am the following morning into the heart of the Dogon Valley.  His original guiding (all-inclusive) price for two (2) people was 70,000CFA ($175.00CDN).  In the end we settled for 30,000CFA ($75.00CDN), due to Mike's skillful bargaining.  The all-inclusive means that the guide pays the applicable tourist taxes in each village we visit and give out Kola nuts to all the right elders.  Kola is a nut that tastes quite horrible, but the elders are addicted to it (it suppresses hunger).  After a couple of hours of rest, we start our tour of Sangha. Our guide knows everyone and we realize that we had chosen wisely.  Dogon peoples greeting ritual is very unique and quite fascinating to follow.  It goes something like this only in the local language.  How is your health? Sewa. Are you strong? Sewa. How is your mother? Sewa. How is your father? Sewa. How is your sister? Sewa. How is your brother? Sewa. Sewa can be translated as something like very good. During the time with our guide we must have heard this greeting dozens of times. From the roof top of a house we get a better appreciation of the town (Sangha Ogol do section).  Beautiful carved wooden doors are at every house entrance.  Our first stop is the Gina (Hospital).  The healing process is based on fetishes.  Not sure if there would be much help in case of a serious illness!  We continued to the House of Women.  Here women spend five (5) days isolated from their family while having their period.  Women are seen incomplete during their menstrual cycle. One building is for women who have a small child which is a boy and another for women who have a small child which is a girl.  At first we thought this was a ritual no longer followed, but could see that this is still the way the Dogon people live today. In fact there were women in both compounds.  The hunters house was another place worth a visit.  It is now a tomb and guarded by a local.  We gave Kola nuts to the Hogon.  The Hogon is the wiseman of the village.  He lives in the Hogan House.  He never leaves his compound and no one is allowed to touch him.  Food and other offerings are left at the entrance.  At this point we had picked up numerous local children all fighting for our hands.  As we take a wander to the Lebe (large fetish), I walk on the wrong side of the walkway.  The Dogon culture has a lot of rules that are unknown to visitors.  This is one of the reasons why it is important to have a guide to avoid offending the locals. A Lebe (large fetish) can only be approached with an offering like porridge or chicken etc.  The Togina (meeting place) is another unique building.  The structure is only about 1m high and the roof is covered by at least 2m of straw.  It seems it should buckle from all that weight. The explanation we got for why the restricted height is when the there is a disagreement and the chief of the village meets at the Togina, the other person most of the time is very upset and does not want to listen to the chief.  When this person hastily gets up he hits his head on the low roof, hence knocking some sense into him.  Last, but not least we encounter a large Baobab Tree.  The Dogon people have many uses for this tree.  First the leaves are used for sauces.  The fruit is for the monkeys and beer is brewed from it.  The bark is used to make rope to pull the dead to the cave dwellings.  We now had a much better in sight to what would lie ahead for our visit into the Dogon valley below.

May 28, 2008.  At 6am we set out from Sangha, both equipped with full camel bags, we wander south-east along the escarpment and then descend. The drop in elevation is about 300 to 500m.  Small cliff dwellings (Tellem houses) can be seen along the way.  The gorge opens up and we have our first view of the sandy flat lowland.  Further on as we descend the rocky path our first glimpse of Ireli.  We had seen postcards, but the real thing was definitely much better.  Dogon houses were doted along the bottom of the cliff.  As we make our way along the cliff we get a closer look at the Tellem houses (cliff dwellings).  The Tellem people used to occupy this area prior to the Dogon people.  The cliff dwellings no longer are occupied, but are used by the Dogon people as tombs to bury the dead.  Some of these cliff dwellings/tombs have separated from the cliff and human bones can be found at the bottom of the cliffs.  Wooden calabashes are used to store the dead women's hair and pottery for the man's hair.  All these items can be found outside the caves.  Ropes made out of the bark of the Baobab tree can be seen hanging down from the cliff dwellings/tombs.  We expected a few cliff dwellings, but there are hundreds.  Some are so far up the cliff, that it is hard to imagine how anyone could get there, let alone hosting up building supplies.  The Dogon villages at the base of those cliff dwellings consist of the usual fetish area and Togina (meeting area).  The circular (sometimes square) small mud huts with straw roofs (witches hats I call them) are elevated from the ground to keep the termites away. Ireli is supposed to be one of the more spectacular Dogon villages.  Though we thought each one was unique.  The distance between the Ireli and Banani village is approx. 5km along sandy tracks in the lowland.  The escapement to our left is littered with cliff dwellings.  Halfway to Banani we pass the Tellem cliff dwelling of Peque.  In Banani we stop for a drink.  Instead of taking a rest until late afternoon, we decide to continue in the mid day heat.  We wander between the stone alleys of the Banani Dogon village and stop at the base of the Banani Tellem cliff dwellings.  There is so much to see.  From the lowland we scramble up the escapement to Gogoli, which gives us almost a 360 Deg view of the area.  Making our way back to Sangha, we pass through the Bongo, a 90m long natural tunnel and then we are shown a division table.  As the person in charge wanted too much money for a picture, we opted not too take one.  How it works is that when a person has a problem they visit the person in charge of the division table.  He draws in the sand a square, outlined by wooden sticks and stones in the middle.  Peanuts are placed within.  During the night the fox comes to eat the peanuts and the foot imprints from the fox are then interpreted into an answer to the problem.  Would I ever like to use some of these methods in one of my project meetings in Canada.  After five (5) hours and 15km of up and down we were two (2) very happy campers.  We had experienced exactly what we had hoped we would.  For the remainder of the day we put up our feet and researched what lay ahead.  In the evening we met an American Professor (in Japanese History) with his daughter and had some good political discussions. 

May 29, 2008.  From Sangha we back tracked to Bandiagara and then Sevare, to stop for some Diet Coke and Pringle Chips (little pleasures). We continue north-east to Douentza, where we took a room with air conditioning at the Hotel La Falaise for 15,000CFA/night ($37.50CDN/night).  We sat right in front of the air conditioning unit as it was barely able to keep up with the ever rising temperature in the room.  A huge dust/sand storm moved in.  One moment there is clear sky and then total darkness.  The windows rattle.  Dust enters through the cracks of the windows and doors.  The air is thick with dust.  Then we loose electricity, just as we finish cooking our supper.  In a few minutes the room temperature becomes unbearable and we move outside, sitting on the steps of our hotel entrance.  As usual we are the only guests.  It is the calm after the storm.  The lobby of the hotel has a few millimeters of dust on everything.  It feels like stepping into a hotel that had been abandoned 100 years ago.  It is hard to have an appetite in the heat and we barely eat half the food we normally eat.  Any type of activity even eating overheats your body.  Luckily the electricity returns and we move the bed close to the air conditioning unit.  A good night sleep is required for a tough ride ahead.   

May 30, 2008.  We rise at 4:30am and gear-up. At 5:30am the first light appears on the horizon and we turn from the main highway onto the Timbuktu road.  Stopping for a picture at the sign that indicates 195km to Timbuktu ferry.  We were both excited with anticipation.  We had talked about riding to Timbuktu as one of the must do parts of the trip.  With all the recent motorcycle trouble and rough roads in Cameroon, Gabon, Congo and Angola we were worn out.  We went into this with a mind set that if it was too tough and hard on the motorcycle we would turn around and hire alternative transportation.  We for sure would make it to Timbuktu.  In the first hour we made good distance and covered 50km.  The washboardy road was not as bad, but then the road started to deteriorate.  The washboard was continuous for kilometer after kilometer and shook and rattled every bolt and part on the motorcycle.  The front and rear shock had a major work out.  90km into it and now three (3) hours later Mike stops and is prepared to turn around.  I know getting to Timbuktu was one of his goals before setting out on the Africa Trip.  We are torn; what if we damage the motorcycles, how bad is the 110km ahead.  We decide to push on, the road conditions change from washboard to deep sand pits.  After 7 1/2 hours we reach the ferry.  It is just before 1am and the ferry is docked on the other side of the Niger River.  One of the locals communicates to us that if we have a cell phone we can call the other side.  No such luck. We wait for 2 1/2 hours in the mid day sun.  There are Bedouin tents and we take cover.  The people here are more of Arabic descent (Tuareg).  Sand and dust continuously blows and locals are covered with only their eyes peeking out.  We are so close.  By 4pm we reach Timbuktu and head straight for the Tourist office for that all important Timbuktu stamp in our passport.  Officially we made it.  As we are in walking distance of the Dyingerey Ber Mosque, we take a stroll and some pictures.  It is the oldest mosque in West Africa dating as early as the 14th century.  We headed out of town for a picture of the Timbuktu sign.  Taking the picture we are approached by the police and asked to show our vehicle identifications (Carnets).  We are already on alert and smell something fishy.  Mike shows him the Carnets, which both have the entry stamp and we know all our paperwork is in order.  The officer decides to keep the carnets and wants us to go to the police station.  Here we go.  We ask what is wrong with our paperwork, but he does not give an explanation.  I make a dive for the carnets and the officer and I battle it out.  We are back in the possession of the carnets.  We ask to see the Chief of the police.  The officer snatches Mike's motorcycle key and tries to get mine and pushes my motorcycle over on the ground with me on it.  There is a lot of screaming and yelling.  After 20 minutes the Chief of police arrives in a vehicle.  He takes one look at our Tourist Visa and tells us to go, shaking our hand and smiling.  All the officer was out for was a bribe.  This ordeal had taken over an hour and left a bad taste behind.  Tired we get an air conditioned room at the Hotel Camping Tombouctou for 15,000CFA/night ($37.50CDN/night).  Too beat to cook ourselves we order some soup and Spaghetti for 8000CFA ($20.00CDN).  A nice table is set for us in the courtyard.  Suddenly the owner of the hotel calls us over and tells us to get on the roof to see a massive dust/sand storm approaching.  It is tough to describe how intimidating the approach of the storm is.  A few kilometer long wall of billowing dust clouds moving towards us, engulfing everything in its path.  Mike was taking pictures and I was filming.  The owner of the hotel urged us to return inside the building.  We were glad that we were able to experience this natural phenomenon in our lifetime and also glad we were not riding or tenting in it. With the storm the electricity went out and we had our supper with candle light.  We were drenched in sweat eating.  A few hours later the power returned and we were able to cool off in our air conditioned room.

May 31, 2008.  To get on the first ferry we had to be at the dock at 5:30am.  We arrive and there is already a line up of three (3) vehicles.  These ferries only hold four (4) vehicles.  By 6am we are loaded.  The previous day we paid 5000CFA ($12.50CDN) for both motorcycles to cross and I asked for a receipt as it seemed a bit steep and no prices were posted.  Today it was suddenly 10,000CFA ($25.00CDN) for both motorcycles.  There is no way that the locals pay anything close to that and I show him my receipt from the previous day of 5000CFA.  One always has to be on their guard; not speaking the local language (ie French) does not help.  Who knows how many times we have been taken in?  We do not mind, as long as we feel we paid a fair price.  The Niger River is at its lowest point this time of the year just before the rainy season which starts in June.  This also means we have to get through some steep and deep sand embankments upon docking on the other side.  Locals are only too happy to help push us through.  The children gather around to shake our hands.  There is no begging for money or food.  Just excited children happy to see us.  We are back on the road, knowing what to expect we actually move a lot faster and cover the 195km in six (6) hours.  Two guys on KTM 650's had done it in four (4) hours.  The previous night storm had dumped a lot of rain in the area and we had to pass through countless water crossings.  In another few days the road from Douentza to Timbuktu will be impassable due to the rain.  We had had our window of opportunity. We felt for our motorcycles, which had been through a lot and had to get us still back to Germany.  In Douentza we fuel up and suddenly Mike's motorcycle will not start.  There is no error message.  Everything seems to be fine.  We push it off to the side and play with the starter button cable.  Maybe something had gotten loose.  Out of the blue the motorcycle starts again.  We grab a bite to eat and the motorcycle seems to be okay.  With a few hours of daylight left we decide to head toward Hombori, further east in Mali to see the Hand of Fatima.  An 80km stretch between Douentza and Hombori is called Mali's monument valley.  Sandstone buttresses, or mesas, dot the desert landscape.  Pointy large reddish rocks, something from a Wild West movie and one expects Lucky Luke or John Wayne to appear on his horse riding through the rock formations.  One would think we are in Arizona.  We stop at the La Main de Fatima (The Hand of Fatima) for some pictures.  Little traffic exists this far out east with the exception of the occasional slow moving transport truck. Mike's motorcycle decides to quit at this point.  130km east of Douentza.  We get the tools out and take apart the starter switch, but can not see anything wrong with it.  Looking again at the cables etc we try different things and again it suddenly starts.  Instead of continuing to Homberi we decide to return to Douentza.  After refueling at the gas station in Douentza we are unable to start Mike's motorcycle and push it to the hotel we had stayed previously.  It was getting late and we decided to look at the problem in the morning after a good night sleep.

June 01, 2008.  At 6am we have spread out the tools and start removing the starter switch.  We are almost a 100% sure that it is the source of the problem.  The starter button is on the same connector as the heated grips, signal light on and off. We make jumper cables and figure out which cable is power, signal lights, heated grips and starter.  We might be able to by-pass the connector and make a make shift start button.  We even had a diagram drawn up to keep track of the ten (10) different wires, but we were unable to determine the starter switch, our sequencing was out.  I come up with the bright idea to exchange starter switches between motorcycles.  The starter switch from my motorcycle did not start Mike's motorcycle and we were taken aback.  Then we installed Mike's motorcycle starter switch on my motorcycle and it started the bike.  We had proven one thing, it was not the starter switch giving us the trouble.  Our next guess was the actual starter, maybe the solenoid had gone.  While Mike started to disassemble the starter, I was lead to the nearest Internet facility two (2) km from the hotel.  Hidden away in a courtyard a small (air-conditioned) building housed two (2) computers.  It was amazing that Internet existed at all.  If someone would have not walked with me to show me there was no way I would have found it.  I Google searched motorcycle shop mechanic in Bamako (Capital of Mali).  A BMW Dealership of course was out of the question.  Horizons Unlimited (our old friend) pops up with a few links.  One posting only three (3) days earlier.  Another motorcycle guy had a battery failure 200km from Bamako and was looking for a shop.  The first reply was for a Jean-Bakir who rides a TransAlp including GPS coordinates of N12 36.134 W07 56.133.  Another reply indicated to go to the Bamako Grand Marche and ask for "Le Marrocaine" who specializes in bigger motorcycles.  There are no other hits and I search for Jean-Bakir, which brings up a couple of pages of information.  He runs the Camp Chez Jean-Bakir Bertet in Bamako and he and his wife are very helpful.  One person even went as far as giving GPS coordinates, phone number and driving directions, which I will list later for other travelers.  There was hope for help if we could get to Bamako.  Unfortunately the Capital of Mali, Bamako, is 800km from Douentza.  Back at the Hotel La Falaise Mike is no further in determining the problem.  We discuss our options, which leads us to try hiring a truck to load the motorcycle and transport it to Bamako.  Phoning a BMW mechanic in Germany or South Africa was not an option as it was Sunday.  With the help of some locals we scout out the truck situation in little Douentza.  There is nothing available.  They suggest transporting the motorcycle on the roof of the bus as they do with the 125cc scooters.  Unless we have a crane available to host the 300kg motorcycle 5m up to the roof there is no way that any amount of manpower will get it there.  Though we do see all type of equipment like fridges etc on bus roofs.  This option was not feasible. We make ourselves comfortable at the outgoing gas station and hope for an empty pick-up truck.  But there is nothing.  We return into town and see a semi-large truck parked on the side of the road.  The driver opens up the back and it is empty.  Mike approaches him and we ask (by sign language) if he is going to Bamako.  He is not, but then changes his mind.  We show him the motorcycle and start negotiating the price for the 800km and three (3) day journey to Bamako. Starting at 50,000CFA ($125.00CDN) we settle on 30,000CFA ($75.00CDN).  Fuel for the motorcycle would have been more.  The motorcycle was loaded in 10 minutes and Mike got in the cab with the driver and helper, while I rode my motorcycle following them.  We would only cover a 170km stretch from Douentza to Sevare as there was not much left of the day.  The truck moved at 50 to 70km/hr. Early on they hit a couple of huge potholes at 70km/hr losing total control of the truck it almost over turned into the ditch.  It all happened in seconds as I was watching.  Mike later told me that he thought for sure they were done.  Some how they saved it.  It would have been a bad scene.  After that the maximum speed was 50km/hr.  The alignment of the truck had also taken a beating.  Arriving in one piece in Sevare we communicate to continue again at 8am in the morning.  While they stayed at the local beer brewery distribution place, we took a nice room at the Mankan Tee Bed & Breakfast.  After tourist tax it came to 19,000CFA/night ($47.50CDN/night), it was spotless place with nice bathroom and bedrooms.  Mike got some bread, meat and mayo and we made ourselves yummy sandwiches.  In the evening we met another American traveling on his own and had a chat.

June 02, 2008.  At 8am we are unable to get a hold of the driver of the truck via cell phone.  A bit worried we head over to their accommodations.  They are ready to go and we are told that the battery was dead on his phone.  In addition they had picked up another person.  In Mali only three (3) people are allowed in the cab of the truck, otherwise one pays more at each customs and police checkpoint.  We decide to ride two (2) up on my motorcycle, a safer bet anyway.  Our destination of the day is Segou, approx. 400km.  We are averaging about 40km/hr on a perfectly good road.  The truck is literally falling into pieces in front of us. Every 20 to 50km we have a stop at a customs or police checkpoint and the truck is charged money.  We are waved through.  Not sure if we could trust the driver and for that reason Mike had taken pictures of the license plate, truck and driver.  Which also meant we had to stay with them the entire time.  Somewhere around 180km from Sevare a large bolt fell from the bottom of the truck. We picked it up, but they never noticed.  At this point the alignment of the truck was totally shot.  The back end was sideways and taking up almost the entire road.  In San we pulled into a side street.  Out came the welder and other tools.  We made ourselves comfortable in a couple of chairs.  This could take awhile.  The leaf springs had separated (hence the bolt we had picked up) and the rear shock at broken off.  What is it with us and broken down vehicles.  In amazement we watch the set up of the make-shift hoist.  It was scary and people actually worked underneath while at any moment the truck could crush them.  We had to take a picture of it.  The welder went through five (5) welding rods in a few minutes.  We could not see this lasting very long.  But after a couple of hours we were back on the road continuing our snail pace.  Within 20km the rear shock was broken again.  We arrive in Segou after7pm.  While the driver stayed again at the local beer brewery distribution place we check into the Hotel Independence.  Another very nice place, which we had little time to appreciate.  The air conditioned room came with TV (CNN news in English) for 22,000CFA/night ($55.00/night).  Supper was some cookies as we were too tired to bother with cooking.  Only 235km to Bamako.

June 03, 2008.  We leave Segou at 6am, the back of the truck had cases of beer loaded.  We were not looking forward to riding at 40 to 50km/hr behind the truck.  With every kilometer closer to Bamako we got happier.  We hoped the truck would not have another breakdown.  About 150km and four (4) hours later we pull off the road and they start removing tree branches complete with leaves from the tree and loading them into the back of the truck.  Mike's motorcycle was buried in beer and tree leaves.  The Camp Chez Jean-Bakir Bertet is on the outskirts of Bamako just off the road leading to Segou.  We take the lead close to the GPS waypoint and the truck follows us.  Here is all the promised information.  The camp is run by Jean-Bakir and Marim Bertet located at N12 36. 145 W 07 56.121, Cell 674-3230 or home 220-4187.  Coming from Segou turn right at a tiny gas station (close to GPS Coordinates above) follow the dirt/sand road for 200m.  To the left is a large area of broken down trucks and cars, mostly being repaired.  The red gate on the right indicates "Camp and GPS coordinates".  We made it.  With the help of the people working at the wreakers across the camp we unloaded the motorcycle and pushed it inside the compound.  The driver was happy with his 30,000CFA ($75.00CDN) and we were happy we actually arrived in Bamako.  Miriam approached us right away holding her new born son.  Though their place is set up for camping it is way to warm to sleep inside a tent without a fan.  Miriam confirms that this time of the year is the hottest with daytime temperatures in the upper 40Deg Celsius.  For 15,000CFA/night ($37.50CDN/night) we take one of their nicely decorated bungalows with a fan, but during the night upgrade ourselves to air conditioning for 20,000CFA/night ($50.00CDN/night).  We had just missed Jean-Bakir, her husband as he had left for a 10 day work rotation.  But luckily Mariam was a wealth of information.  By 2pm she arranged for her driver to take us to the motorcycle mechanic her husband uses.  We hoped that we could get the mechanic to come to the camp to have a look at the motorcycle, otherwise we would have to arrange for transportation.  The so called "motorcycle garage" is located approx. 25km from the camp on the other side of the Niger river close to the Hippodrome.  The driver takes us to the garage, and as we pull up our hearts and hope sink.  The "motorcycle garage" is on a street corner, no shop, no garage, only a wooden make-shift awning and a big tree.  All type of motorcycle parts and pieces scattered around.  The ground is littered with O-rings, piston rings, actual pistons, you name it.  There is no way we would get help here, but we try to be nice and for only a 1,000CFA ($2.50CDN), the mechanic uses his scooter to follow us back to the camp.  Meanwhile we scope out all the street stores to see if we can see an alternative actual motorcycle shop.  Back at the camp, Mike shows the mechanic how my motorcycle starts and then proceeds to his motorcycle which will not.  The mechanic tells Mike to take off the seat and points to the yellow relay.  The advantage of having two (2) of the same motorcycles comes in handy now, we remove the relay from my motorcycle and Mike's motorcycles starts. Unbelievable.  Within five (5) minutes he had figured out the problem.  A new relay of course is not available in Mali, but they are confident that the motorcycle wreakers have some.  Visiting the wreakers close by comes up with three (3) relays and all of them do not work.  At this point the sun is setting and we continue our search in the morning.  Worst case scenario we would have to order the relay from South Africa or Germany and DHL it (which means a 7 day wait).  We figured that the relay had shorted out when we did all the water crossings on the Timbuktu road.  We were truly relieved.

June 04, 2008.  As we are here for a couple of days anyway, we might as well apply for our Mauritania Visa at the Embassy.  Therefore our first item on the agenda is finding the Mauritania Embassy, which is close to the Hippodrome and Canadian Embassy.  We actually find it without any hassle using the Lonely Planet City map.  For the Mauritanian Visa we require two (2) passport pictures each (our last ones), completion of the application form and 40,000CFA/each ($100.00CDN/each).  To our amazement the Visa is issued the same day and we are told to return by 2am.  En-route we had seen a Lebanese Pastry store.  Perfect for breakfast.  Now we just had to find a bank that had an ATM machine that worked on Visa.  Though the Ecobank and other banks indicated the use of Visa and the plus system, I have been unable to make them work for me.   The third bank we stopped at, the BDM bank, worked.  I have become accustomed to having a security guard standing in close proximity.  At this bank I actually had to sit down in a chair in front of a computer and slip in the card while the security guard stood guard.  What did we do before ATM machines?  Returning to the camp by noon, no relay had been found.  Mike is not feeling well and we worry that it might be Malaria.  We take the temperature, but it is in the normal range.  After a couple of hours rest we return to the Mauritanian Embassy and receive our one (1) month Tourist Visa by 3pm.  No interview, no hassle, hand over the cash and here is your Visa.  Mariam had explained to me the location of a good western grocery store and the DHL office. Stopping first at the DHL office, they advised me in perfect English that there is only one DHL office in Bamako.  Therefore if we had to courier the relay it would be no problem.  The grocery store was nice, as we could get Shampoo, even hair dye, razor blades, cheese and some olives.  It is all quite expensive, mostly as it is imported from Europe and a welcome treat for us.  Restocked it is back to the camp, where the mechanic had found two (2) relays that worked.  We decide to see him in the morning to square up with the money.

June 05, 2006.  With Mike still not feeling well we stay on another day, playing with the idea to get tested for Malaria.  First we visit the so called "motorcycle garage".  Their first price is 65,000CFA ($162.50CDN).  As with everything in Africa, even service is negotiable.  With Mike's amazing bargaining skills we settle on 45,000CFA ($87.50CDN), which included two (2) relays (one spare) and their time looking for them.  Good money for them and we did not mind paying it, as it would have been a lot more money to courier a new relay into Mali, plus accommodation while waiting, not to mention loosing the time.  Back at the Bungalow, Miriam has her driver take us to the Clinic for Mike to get checked out.  His blood is taken, as well as all the regular vital signs.  We are asked to return by 9pm at night for the results.  If it is not Malaria we figure probably heat exhaustion.  Mike rests for the afternoon, while I hang out with Miriam and quiz her on her life and how the camp came about.   Miriam and Jean-Bakir have three (3) children, the camp/bungalows have been in existence for approx. six (6) years.  Each year they expand.  The camping area is ideal for overlanders.  Two (2) full bathrooms are available for the campers.  Only in the last two (2) years has there been a water shortage.  During the day the city cuts off water supply.  It was nice to talk to someone English speaking.  By 9pm we return to the clinic which is now full of waiting patients.  The lab results are not yet completed and we wait another 45 minutes before getting the results of "negative".  Relieved no malaria.  The doctor visit is 4,000CFA ($10.00CDN).  Instead of resting another day, Mike decides to continue.

June 06, 2008.  At the start of the day we had no idea what it had in store for us.  Our destination was Kayes, approx. 500km from Bamako, close to the Senegal border.  Our maps indicated the main highway from Bamako to Kita, then Bafoulabe to Kayes.  We had talked to some Frenchmen who had come through in a car without a problem.  We get a late start, as a thunderstorm moves through the area just as we want to leave. Finally at 9am, after finding our way out of the city we are on 160km of newly paved road.  In Kita we refuel, only approx. 320km left to Kayes.  Asking for direction to the next town Toukoto the paved road ends suddenly in Kita and we are on a not bad gravel road which follows the train tracks.  A bit surprised as we assumed full pavement all the way to Kayes.  It takes us one (1) hour to Toukoto.  The time is 1pm.  The gravel road disappears into a trail in the midst of the straw and mud hut village of Toukoto.  Again we ask locals for directions to now Befoulabe approx. 130km away.  There is a large river to cross and too deep for the motorcycle or any vehicle.  The locals lead us to a train bridge and we drive across on the tracks.  On the other side of the river all we find is a trail.  After 30km and 1 1/2 hours later we question if we had missed a turn somewhere.  There had been no vehicle tracks for a few days and during the entire time we battled our way through river crossings and washed out sections we had not met another person.  We decided to turn around and head back to Toukoto.  Switching on our brains, we reason that there was no way that a car would have made it through here; hence the Frenchmen did not take this road.  There had to be another way.  By 4pm we were back in the village of Toukoto, talking again to the locals, who insisted that across the train track bridge was the road to Kayes.  Somehow there was a communication breakdown.  Finally a person on a scooter with broken English tells us of another road that goes straight north from Toukoto to Sefeto.  It was a good gravel road.  Now we seemed to be on the right track. At this point we had both emptied our two (2) litre camel bags and had only three (3) litres of water on us.  As promised the road heading north out of Toukoto was well maintained for exactly 40km and then after passing through another unknown village it became a trail.  My GPS had Sefeto on it and indicated 35km in a straight line.  We rode 53km in slalom.  Mike called it the perfect mountain bike trail.  It was up and down through dried up river beds and zig zagging between trees.  An obstacle course in off-road.  The trail was a single track.  Every so often we would pass through a small village of a few straw huts, where the locals would greet us by shaking hands and we would confirm that we were on the right path.  We arrived in Sefeto at 7:30pm.  Our fuel consumption was a lot more due to the slow maneuvering.  We bought some black market fuel from a hut.  There is no bottled water or other drinks available.  Leaving the village behind total darkness engulfs us.  We can not make out the trail any longer and decide to pitch a tent under a large tree.  Too tired for food we go to bed on an empty stomach. The story of our life. 

June 07, 2008.  We pack up the tent just before sun rise.  We had little sleep all night as it was too hot.  We had not prepared for this and were running low on water and supplies.  We were also not sure where the road was leading and how many more hours or even days it would take us.   All we knew was that the Frenchman in his Peugeot car did not take this trail.  We decided to return to Kita, and talk to the locals to determine another route.  It took us four (4) hours to retrace our path, thanks to GPS technology a much faster process.  There were so many forkes in the road without any signage that getting lost would have been easy.  In the end we had spent 400km in the bush in a way lost on the wrong track, and ten (10) hours riding in a circle.  Another night under the stars, this all reminded us too much of Angola.  In Kita we refuel and ask the locals, who tell us to take the same way we had just spent hours exploring.  There had to be another way.  We stop to talk to some construction workers in a pick-up truck. They spoke some English and led us to the right road.  From Kita there is a road west to Toukoto and it splits north to Diangounte-Kamara.  This is where it all had gone wrong originally.  The 200km gravel/dirt road north is in good condition and we reach Diangounte-Kamara in three (3) hours.  Here we hit pavement and our first street sign indicating 230km to Kayes. We could not have been more overjoyed.  After Sandara we refuel and arrive in Kayes before sunset.  The GPS coordinates we had been given for a place to stay turned out to be a run down Auberge.  We pitch our tent on the roof of the building for 4000CFA ($10.00CDN)/night.  The bathroom had seen better days.  Later at night we realized that it was frequented by males and females by the hour.  We went another day without eating.  The heat was suppressing any type of hunger. 

June 08, 2008.  We wake up to find a Scorpion outside our tent.  A reminder to always keep the tent zipped up.  We still could not believe we had actually made it to Kayes.  It was time to say Good-Bye to Mali.  It had been a true adventure.  The 80km paved stretch to the border town of Naye passed quickly.  The border formalities only took a few minutes and we entered Senegal by passing over a bridge.

© www.2canadiansonbikes.com & www.unusvita.com