Trip Start Sep 13, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Niger  ,
Tuesday, March 13, 2007

As the temperature in this region of the planet was rising towards the very hot mark, I was starting to wonder if coming to Niger was such a good idea. But in Niger I was, and specifically Niamey the capital. Here I decided, a day to rest, a day to see the sights and a day to leave.

On my day of rest I purposely absented myself from a wild giraffe spotting tour and on it's return found out I'd missed a rock throwing, teargas and a burning tyre student demonstration which preluded the five giraffes spotted in a bush. I felt very satisfied having spent an excellent day with me, a coffee and a newspaper.

Sight seeing in Niamey included the markets and large baskets of fried crickets before checking out the national musem/zoo, which contained some interesting exhibitions but a very sad bunch of animals. However I was very happy to see the Ténère tree.

The Ténère is a large desert in northeast Niger and in the middle grew a lone Acarcia tree 400 km from it's closest relative. The only tree to feature on a Michelin map and to which poets composed oeuvres. Considered the last tree of the Sahara until through some incredible misfortune in 1975 a Libyan truck driver wrote off his truck by colliding with it. Still in the museum it just looks like any other tree.

Finally saw some bats like in Freetown and checked out the Niger River for a bit of excitement. That night Thomas and I drank beer and fine-tuned a Swedish polar circle camping trip and the next morning left Niamey in different directions.

Around the parameter of the Sahara desert exists a zone called the Sahel in which tuffs of grass, shrubs and little tortured trees sort of grow. It was east through the Sahel to a small village called Dogondoutchi that my bus brought me. Here in a town of nothing particular to see or do I perfected the art of aimless wondering and took photos of rocks.

The evening found me having a pointless drink when the pretty Togolese waitress sat down opposite me. "We should talk" was her strategic opening line "Let's talk" I replied and talk we did, through all the standard preliminaries. Then the inevitable happened. She began to lean closer with a naughty glitter sparkling in her eyes. Playing my part I matched her advances, when her right hand took me completely by surprise!

Releasing her drink it moved in a slow motion arc, forefinger extending towards its target, she then rammed it with precise elegant dexterity up to the first knuckle into her right nostril.
Proceeding to drill then excavate then drill some more, her finger hit a snag and froze while her facial composure remained oblivious to all the action occurring between us.
Pouted lips parted, finger half buried she whispered only for me to hear. "I want to make love to you tonight".

Up till now I'd been staring wide eyed for a bit too long and needed to blink. One blink, two blinks and the drilling rig erupted back into life. Gaining a hold on its target it withdrew bringing forth the foreign matter, which was expertly projected in a perfect parabolic arc into the neighbouring table's ashtray.

I was quite speechless for a moment before switching on my oratorical autopilot pre-programmed with standard evasive responses I've accumulated for these very kinds of situations. She didn't seem all that put out and instead proceeded to spend all my drink change on a range of expensive exotic european exported beers, which she promptly drank one after the other. Still the next morning I ate breakfast by the side of the road alone before being joined by a Foolah family consisting of husband, four wives each sporting facial tattoos, a peculiar tuff of felted hair protruding over their foreheads and a baby.

My bus ventured further east flirting with the Nigerian border before arriving at Zinder. Here I had decided to spend a day discovering the town. After a good sleep I headed to the museum for cultural enlightenment. Finally found the small building standing next to a nightclub, out of which stumbled a dude who told me the museum cost 3 euros. Offered 1.5euros, he seemed excessively happy with and walked into a room measuring 3 by 3 meters. On the floor were 5 rocks, a pair of sandals and a rifle. The dude pointed to the rocks and I said "Rocks" and he nodded, and then proceeded to show me the sandals. At this stage I started explaining that this didn't constitute a museum. He started looking worried that he wouldn't get paid and dragged me to another similar dusty room in which one corner lay a pile of hay and the other a rifle wrapped in a grass map. As there were no more rooms I paid the guy about 15 cents and walked away somewhat disappointed.
From the museum I instead wondered around the ancient quarters of the town and had a most exquisite time getting lost in the maze of alleyways and traditional mud houses, aimlessly conversing with people about nothing in particular. Completed a tour of the final monuments before retiring for the evening.

At 3am the next morning I was wondering the pitch-black streets of Zinder towards the bus station having not slept a wink. Because of the immense distances here in Niger most buses leave around 4am. The bus for the northern town of Agadez left well before the sun rose and I found myself squished on the back seat between a Nigerian and an Ivorian before nodding off.

It must have been a jolt that woke me wondering where I was and why my right cheek was so cold. The sound of snoring and the rumbling of the bus brought me back to reality. Having slobbered the Nigerian's corduroy jacket shoulder I pulled it around him to get a dry patch. The Ivorian was sleeping leaning forwards and his right elbow was digging into my thigh, but it had been awhile and lack of blood circulation had numbed my leg completely so it didn't hurt. What kept me from falling back to sleep was the Ivorian's neighbour who was leaning sideways across the Ivorian's back with his head hovering just over my left shoulder. Every time the bus went over a bump his head pattered my shoulder and my t-shirt clung to his recently shaven head like velcro. At first I'd tear my t-shirt back down but then realised the ventilating action kept my shoulder cool and was wondering how I could exploit the idea when we arrived at a checkpoint, we all jolted to attention and the Nigerians had to get down.

Every northbound trip I've made generally includes small groups of Nigerians, part of an exodus stream to Europe. Once having left Nigeria and crossed Niger, they'll sit on top of large trucks and cross the Algerian Sahara desert to attain the Mediterranean city of Alger. Then they take huge risks in unsuitable boats to get to Italy the current destination of choice. Although very macho and boisterous they are pretty friendly when they realise I speak English and am not going to thwart them from realising their galvanised dream. It's strange feeling shaking hands with them wishing them good luck.

All day we headed north stopping at little villages where the malnutricious kids would only stare at you then fight over any food you gave them. Tureg hunters with bows and arrows strung to their backs sold wild partridge and platters of grilled goats internal organs floated above the crowd of would be sellers that hustled the bus.
Later we drove through an excellent sand storm that resembled a decent snow blizzard with sand raining down the windows. Then small trees fell by the wayside as we continued north. The saturating sun washed detail from the remaining scattured shrubs. With only form and no substance these became scupltures of people and animals in different poses before morphing into reality at the last moment.

Suddenly an entire town appeared in the distance with blocks of houses, fortified walls and minaret towers above. I thought this very strange as we had another four hours before arriving at Agadez. Turning to ask the Nigerian where we were I realised he was already talking to someone else so went back to looking at the city. Confused I noticed a heat shimmer infront of the closest houses, which seemed to grow and envelope the entire town before all the building fell to the ground and only sand remained.

Twice again I had vivard hallucinations seeing entire towns that just didn't exist. I was begining to enjoy them but had to doubt everything I saw out the window. As a result when Agadez did finaly appear out the window I was pretty positive it too was not real, but then figured it's pretty hard to drive down the main streets of a hallucination so realised the trip was over.

I spent three nights camping in the grounds of a nice hotel. All the time thinking that I should organise a trip to see the local region. There was the Aïr Mountains and the Ténère desert to the east but there were hardly any other tourists around so it meant hiring an entire 4wd and I couldn't afford it. More to the point at the time I wasn't all that motivated. So in the end gave up on the idea and just prospected for the next trip I'd make to Africa. After catching up with an enourmous lack of sleep I returned to Niamey by bus and headed for Benin the next day.
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starlagurl on

Niger is in the news today, so I'm featuring your blog on the TravelPod News blog:

Louise Brown
TravelPod Community Manager

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