Whilst in st louis we had been invited to ...

Trip Start Oct 01, 2002
Trip End Aug 08, 2005

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Flag of Mali  ,
Monday, February 3, 2003

Whilst in St. Louis we had been invited to visit the local butcher in the next village, unfortunately he was not at home when we called by but the other villagers made us welcome, gave us tea (very, very strong with a white froth on top to keep out the sand) and went to fetch the local teacher who thankfully could speak very good English. We were shown a shrimp and then a fish that had been freshly caught and were then offered them for dinner, along with a drum jamming session. Unfortunately, it was getting late and we had to leave, but we had a very nice walk along the beach to the camp site at dusk. The camp site (Zebrabar) was on the edge of a gorgeous nature reserve where there were many species of strange and colourful birds and animals including a 3ft long Nile monitor lizard that only Sian saw!! Thankfully this kept us amused whilst waiting for the truck to be repaired (for which Paul had to visit Dakar, whilst Will and Alex went to visit The Gambia).

After leaving St Louis early on the 16th we had a wonderful drive to Dakar through many interesting villages. The camp site in Dakar was very small and quite far from the city, but again on the coast which provided nice walks along the beach, watching the fishing boats and showing where the sea had started to erode many of the grand but now crumbling beach houses. Dakar itself is a big, bustling city, very busy with chaotic traffic and few rules of the road. The buses are crazy, with people hanging out of them as they fly along. The roadsides are full of people selling anything and everything and we were constantly approached to visit someone's shop or buy something, but here the hustlers do actually take 'no thank you' for an answer. The West African slave trade was run from an island just off the coast of Dakar, it appeared quite touristy at first but we soon found a cool place to eat where we watched the women cook for us in the courtyard, grinding the ingredients in a large pestle and mortar as they also washed their clothes and played with the children. The island was colonial style and full of tempting clothes markets, we learnt a lot about the slave trade and it was all quite disturbing. Overall Senegal has been fantastic, a really colourful, vibrant, interesting and friendly place to visit, which was rounded off nicely with a night out in Dakar to see Youssou N'Dour and his band (apparently he sang with Neneh Cherry in the eighties??). It carried on into the early hours with the locals standing in a circle, taking turns to dance in the middle and yes, we did join in. The whole atmosphere was really cool.

After leaving Dakar and its chaotic traffic, which we had been stuck in for over an hour, we headed east and soon found more colourful and interesting villages, curious but friendly locals, and some wonderful changes in landscape. From a luscious mixture of farmland and jungle, the landscape gently turned to Sahel, dry and dusty with dead looking trees and bushes waiting for the next rainfall. Our "bush-camp" that night brought us our first taste of the local wildlife. The ground was alive with eyes!! (actually reflective spiders), but we also saw scorpions, preying mantis, other unidentifiable insects and bats and also heard jackals in the bushes, not far from our tents. The wildlife spotting continued on the way to Senegal's national park. There were wild boar, baboons, vultures and lots of colourful birds. We camped in a small village where the local baker made us bread, Kev helped the locals pump water from the well while Sian befriended five of the local kids, who all just want to touch you, hold your hand or smile and wave. In the national park the next day (23rd), the truck was really put through its paces, this was untouched forest, real Tarzan land (Kev's words!). The park road was really rough, littered with massive termite mounds and for those of us that were in the back, it was difficult to avoid the branches, leaves, bushes and insects that hammered in through the windows. We got covered in it all and for most of the journey we all lay down in the back laughing at how wild it all was. A forest fire and thick vegetation eventually meant we had to turn back and camp at a water hole, complete with antelopes, crocodiles, baboons and monkeys that stole Will's sweets from the truck and proceeded to eat them in the trees above us. The birdlife here was amazing, not being a particular bird fan before we left (seagulls in Aberdeen just don't do it for us), it is hard not to marvel at the colours, size and grace of the birds here. That night, at dusk, we actually witnessed a bat being taken out by an eagle just above our heads and the dawn chorus in the morning was the best alarm clock we have ever had. Sian watched kingfishers and mongoose from our tent as it was pitched right next to the water hole.

The next day we travelled to Saraya, the last big town in Senegal and we bush-camped again that night way out in the wilderness high on the side of a hill, giving a great sunrise the next morning. We officially left Senegal on the 25th January, the border was marked by a tree trunk straddled across the road with "Police, Halte" painted on it. After spending a few hours with the border guard in a tiny mud hut in the village, with a live chicken tied up and protesting in the corner, we waded across the river at the edge of the village as the road just ended and there was no bridge! We then waded further in, cooled down and washed with the locals, magic.

The roads from here on were pretty rough and really sandy, we drove through villages that hadn't seen many visitors for a while and all the local kids enthusiastically waved and smiled and ran along after the truck. We have christened them the "Cadeau Cavalry" as sometimes they shout in French for "un Cadeau" but they don't know always seem to know what it means and are still happy when they don't get anything. Our first night in Mali, Sophie managed to navigate us across the border without registering our entry, but as we drove into the first town, Kenieba, we were met by hundreds of locals, all out celebrating Mali-day. It was amazing, they swarmed around the truck and suddenly we felt like the main attraction. They were all really friendly and all night as we wandered round the village, the people just wanted to greet us. There was no electricity and it was our second night without running water and all the dust and dirt just clung to us in the heat. Two American Peace Corps workers, Andy and Deedee who were stationed nearby, were our guides for the night, and we were introduced to Mali customs including eating rice with peanut sauce with the locals, eating with our right hands only from a communal bowl. Later there was a show involving singing, dancing, drums and 'comedy'?

The landscape changed so much within a few miles, from dry Sahel, often charred and blackened by forest fire but with new yellow flowers, bare trees with bright orange/red flowers and bushes of bright pink flowers, to luscious jungle (where there is water). Another couple of days of this, rough tracks, small villages and bush camping brought us to Kita on the 27th and a little bit of civilisation, as we had been without running water to wash for 5 days and we were filthy! Sian hadn't been feeling too well, so a local doctor was called to the hotel/camp site, she felt okay, but had a cold and had been tired for a few days. A visit to the hospital the next morning, a blood test and diagnosis revealed that Sian had Malaria!! 150 parasites per cubic mm (mmm delightful thought). It was all a bit surprising, but medication was prescribed and then she started feeling really bad with fevers, then headaches and constant tiredness. We moved on to the capital of Mali, Bamako (which means river of Crocodiles) on the 29th to a small camp site in the middle of the city, populated by small lizards and mosquitoes. Again the city is interesting and the people are friendly with a mixture of big city life (in African terms), thriving street markets, pollution, dodgy old cars and the stark contrast of small farm plots beside the banks of the wide but shallow river Niger. There are small boats navigating the channels beside the locals washing their clothes, it is a really surprising city.

We have visited embassies, obtained most of our visas for the route ahead, including Nigeria, had a few heated group discussions and met up with some other travellers that we have met along the way. Truck life had degenerated into petty arguments and back-biting but a couple of heated discussions have cleared the air a bit but at times it is like being on a school trip, which is a bit disappointing as we expected more. Sian visited the hospital again and received another Malaria test, which proved to be clear and now seems to be on the mend. Alex has left the group to visit his Aunt in Burkina Faso and the truck has been repaired from the damage caused by the last week of rough riding.

The mosquitos are out with a vengeance, cold showers have been rare but very welcome and the heat has been cranked up a fair bit. This morning we had a display of hundreds of bats flying around the city, it was quite spooky! We are planning the route ahead to Timbuktu and should leave in the next few days.

Anyway that's about everything, we hope all is well with everyone.

Bye for now,

Kev and Sian.
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raggapuss on

great and informative article

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