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Friday, 7 May 2010

Mali Part 1 - Nioro, Kayes, Felou, River Senegal and onward to Bamako.

Mali….wow!….looking back at my photos I can see that we arrived in Mali on the 8th April…which is over three weeks ago. So much has happened since then, in fact too much even to write in just one blog entry so we’ll break it up into manageable chunks to make it easier to digest.

We’d said a goodbye to the Saffers and Yoichi aka Yamato aka “The Seven Bellied Samurai” (the guy weighs 52kg and nobody on the trip knows where he manages to put his 3rd and 4th helpings when everybody else is stuffed) in Nouakchott. They were off to Senegal (Louisville and Dakar) whilst the rest of us drove on to the Malian border (via a wee misadventure with the police, but you’d have already read about that in one of our previous posts).

It’s sad to say, but after 5 or 6 days in a ‘dry country’ like Mauritania, we were all gasping for a bevvy or three. When we arrived in the first proper town in Mali (called ‘Nioro’) we made a bee-line for the nearest pub via an ATM (with air-conditioning in the booth)!

The pub we’d been told about was unfortunately closed but Lara, Sonya and I made friends with two local kids who knew exactly what we were after. They took us on a wee tour of their town before dropping us off at a local military pub (complete with lone soldier at a table, nursing his beer in one hand, his AK in the other and with a watchful eye over his two young kids who were chowing down on mangos in the corner of the pub). Those beers (‘Castel’) tasted awesome. Full stop. So awesome that we didn’t notice the second and third round slipping down. After the three bevs we headed back to the truck, told the rest of the guys of our find and returned there for more afternoon beers. Result.

The afternoon went on and the aforementioned kids grew more confident and eventually joined us as we sipped our beers. They didn’t partake (they were only about 3 I think) but they did enjoy wearing our shades and looking at photos of themselves on our digital cams. It turns out the kids (boy and girl) were twins and that the wee boy was Isaac Hayes reincarnate. FACT. (You should have heard has gravelly giggle when he saw his image on the camera display.)

The place we were supposed to be camping at was ‘under construction’ so we were going to just push on through to a bush-camp when one of the punters/owners of the bar was kind enough to offer us his garden. (Welcome to Africa!) I did a quick reconnaissance mission on the back of his scooter and the place (complete with roaming goats, chickens and cattle) seemed good enough and big enough for the truck and our tents .

The one thing I hadn’t picked up on was that the place was right next to a school and when we rolled up to the campsite, all shizzle hit the fizzle (as Snoop Dogg would say!)…but in a good way. Kids were everywhere. Hundreds of them: asking for photos, playing football with us, wearing our shades, asking for ‘bics’, ‘cadeaux’ and ‘bon-bons’, laughing, smiling and some dancing. This sort of interaction was a long time coming and everybody loved every minute of it.

The littl’uns all scarpered as we prepared for dinner and it wasn’t until we were winding down from the excitement that we really noticed the heat. Mali was hot. F**king hot! The temperature at night rarely dropped below 30 and it felt even hotter now that we were in the dusty, concrete town rather than out in the open bush. The heat got to everybody and earlier on that day, one of the girls (Mindy from US) had heatstroke. Tension, tempers and temperatures were all rising and it wasn’t long til some of this was vented amongst the group. No need to dwell on it – just “keepin’ it real.” (Needless to say Lara and I kept our British reserve.)

Amidst all of this and in the unbearable heat (seriously imagine the hottest you’ve ever been) our host asked if there was anything we needed. Lara and I requested some ice and some water but nobody else seemed to hear our hosts or my calls for further requests. (Now. remember how hot it is.) 20 mins later, our man’s back and Lara and I can only do our best not to snatch the water from him and gulp the whole lot down. At this point, the cook group (who are sweating hard in the heat, and includes Mindy – the girl who had had heatstroke earlier) realise what is on offer and put in their own H2O request in amongst parched gasps (I should point out that we did offer to share…I think). The poor guys suffered another half an hour as they waited for our host to return  with three bottles of water but when he showed up they weren’t sure whether to laugh or cry. “Trois eaux” had been mistaken for “trois oeufs”. A small sandwich bag with three hard-boiled eggs in just wasn’t what they’d been hoping for.

This mishap (sort of) helped to make light of the situation and things soon simmered down before we headed to bed – but as said, the hot concrete made the tent temperature impossibly stifling: Come 2am, when we’d given up hope of any sleep, I thought of a trick my mate taught me a few years ago in Madrid in the middle of summer: soak your sheet in water and it will keep you cool long enough for you to fall asleep but be bone dry in the morning. This we did (I had to lower our sheet down a 10 metre well in a bucket) and Lara and I finally got some kip.

The next day we moved on to a place called ‘Kayes’ and after being screwed around by the campsites we’d hoped to use, we busted out to the outskirts of town to an old fort (Felou I think the area was called) which we pitched up next to for two days.

River Senegal as it runs through Kayes

I don’t know enough about this place and its history (even though we were told by a local guide) but I do know the backdrop was stunning – the sun set over the hills as the locals washed and bathed in the River Senegal that ran through them.

View from our tent at the fort

The river meant that we finally had somewhere to wash and bathe despite the scaremongering about crocs and potential ‘Bilharzia’ (I have to admit, I played a part in that just to get a reaction!)

Lara doesn't fall for the scaremongering down by the river at sunset

The first night at the fort was our second confrontation with a camel spider. The girls (Lara and Sonya) were on cook group when I thought I saw a rat at the base of a tree near where they were cooking. The leaves were rustling big time! I got the torch out and had a poke only to see that the fastest camel spider in the world had got himself a rogue chunk of meat from our scraps and was heading back up the tree to his home. I wasn’t going to argue with him…although had Yoichi been here, I’m sure he wouldn’t have been happy about leftover food going to somebody or something other than him.

The second day at the fort was one that split the group: we had two choices – to head straight to Bamako (capital) via an easy route, or try something new and possibly adventurous. Although the adventurous (bumpy and potentially uncomfortable) route was favoured, it wasn’t fair to make people do what they didn’t want to so we went for the option behind Secret Door Number 3 and took the easy route, but preceded by a day of chilling at a waterfall…and man, what a day it was!

From recollection, we got to the fall at about mid-day and just had a blast jumping into the river off the rocks; letting the current take us downstream then getting out and letting it do it again; going under the fall and chilling in the rockpools where the fish would nibble at our legs and feet. The latter soon turned into full-scale, make-shift fishing: we caught a few of the little fellas using a stick with a mozzy net attached to one end and Berber (the passenger formerly known as Dave aka Mark from Dewsbury) was brave enough to try and grill one up (I might add, without gutting it, to his later disgust).

Pulling up next to the spot at the waterfall

Malian rocks: hot under foot, but good for jumping off into rivers.

This moron (me) had burnt his bald heed pretty badly at the waterfall (that's a sieve drying up in my lap by the way)

Kayelene and Squirt having a dip

Jus' chillin'

We finally got turfed out form the falls at about 6pm and headed back for our last night at the fort and set off for Bamako via the easy route the next day – Mindy was still feeling a little jaded from the heat over the last few days so she checked in at a local hotel to unwind with the aim of catching up with us in Bamako. Before leaving the fort, we filled up the jerricans (spelling? that's how Ewan and Charley spelt it in their book) from the village pump.

Nobody took my advice: "If you use your left hand it feels like somebody else is doing all the work for you."

We pushed on to Bamako with a couple of nights’ camping in the bush, complete with one or two angry camel spiders…one of which was under the “family’s” (i.e. Neal, Karen and Victoria aka Squirt) tent when they went to pack up one morning. Neal (The Nutty Professor) threw stones at it to send it on its way and it duly obliged, but with its pincers raised and looking for the nearest shelter. Another tent.

Our f**king tent.

Luckily, I was half-way through packing up our stuff and all I can say is that there’s now a camel spider waiting for me under the Great Tent in the Sky and that Lara’s roll mat has never seen so much action! (Ahem!)

Ready to attack!

RIP Little (big) guy

I’ve waffled on too much so I’ll write about Bamako and The Dogon in our next entry…


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