“Early” in the morning of the 12th (we got told 8… in reality the chap arrived around 10), we got the customs formalities done (another 5000 CFA) and tried to drive to Bamako. I say tried, as at the first checkpoint we had to turn around and go back to the police station and get the customs paperwork stamped. No huge hassle… except for the brava, which needed another push… » Continue Reading
Well what can I say… wow!
The 11th, I drove from Kiffa to the Border between Mauritania and Mali. The road was a true nightmare! Forget a road with potholes – that would have been luxury! This was a pothole where someone once had dreamt a road could be built… but never did! On some stretches, it was obvious that they were/are building a new road – so they send you into the “m’bruss” (bush/offroad) while they pack some laterite down.
That said, the merc coped absolutely brilliantly and flew over everything without any issues. Sadly, the now clutchless Fiat wasn’t so lucky. We had just under 2000km to do before Bamako, but after some moral boosting, the Fiat guys decided they would try to bring it down to Bamako even without a clutch. In an attempt to save the fiat’s suspensions some hassle on the potholes, they tried driving over some sand… and instead of getting stuck, promptly flew up into the air. What goes up… must come down… and the radiator of the fiat promptly came undone and fell out of the engine bay. In doing so, the reservoir broke, and the screw top (which also contains a pressure release valve) broke. To fix this, Dave and Olly had a bag of cable ties from “Bosnian ‘Arry”. After a bit of fussing, the radiator was now secured… using a handful of cable ties (of which we didn’t know their ability to cope with heat…) and a broke tow-rope. Sadly, the car couldn’t move with a 10-cm hole in the radiator reservoir. Our first fix was epoxy adhesive, but this failed miserably. Next, we tried melting a tennis ball, the idea being to glue it into the hole. Unfortunately, the elf’n’safety people at Dunlop decided to make the balls flame retardant… So next, we grabbed a branch from a tree, and wrapped an inner tube around it a few times. A few globs of universal gasket, and we wedged it into the hole. This actually held all the way to Bamako!
Anyhow, back to the route… En route, we went through a village (Ayoune something). As I was in the rear, when I turned right at a junction the others were already stuck in a market (Serekunda style for those that have been to Gambia). While I waited, I decided to pop into the bakery and buy some warm bread… until Peter started shouting from the car…. Apparently, an angry mob was building around the other cars in the market, and several people were pretending to shoot guns at them. Somehow, they managed to get the clutchless Brava started, turned around and out of town before anything happened. Oh, and I managed to buy my bread in case you are wondering! (Although Pete wasn’t impressed).
Onwards, and through Mauritannia the gendarme checkpoints became more and more frequent. So much so that, in the last 2km to Gogui, we counted 6 checkpoints! At one of the checkpoints (around 100km from the border with Mali) we picked up an old gendarme, who was fascinated by zippers. In essence, after going through the formalities at the checkpoint, we got asked to give a ride to this oap in uniform. Ever helpful, we agreed, shuffled the bags in the back seat around and got him on board. While driving, he spent most of the time looking at Pete’s bags zippers, opening them and then closing them. He wasn’t looking in the bags… just the zippers! By the time we dropped him off, he had explained in a mix of French, Arabic and Touareg that he was a Touareg, he liked my watch, camera, car, shirt, trousers and just about anything else he could see and if he could have them. I did offer him a biscuit – only to lose the entire pack as he tore through them faster than anything. I offered him a second pack, which he decided to save until he got home “for his family” (though don’t tell Pete – I did this at a checkpoint while Pete was dealing with the fiches… and the biscuits were his… but at the end of the day, I’m sure the old gendarme needed them more than we did. Hopefully we made his day.)
Eventually at the border, we got asked to pay 3000 yogiohs (Oogiahs? Oogs? It’s an impossible to pronounce currency!) to leave the country. After some arguing, everyone paid up… and then I went to plead poverty and managed to get 2000 of them back from the guy. You gotta love Africa!
On the other side, we got asked to pay 15,000 francs for our entry visas… Problem was, I only had euros… and some people needed ATMs for money… So after 4-5 hours of chatting (they were VERY kind, and even started to cook chebougen for us) we got told we were waiting for the chief… and that he had gone jogging into the m’bruss as he was getting a belly. By the time the chief arrived, we had made friends with a young Touareg gendarme called Nok, who came with us (and brought his Kalashnikov) to Nioro (the next town south) where we could withdraw money, change money, and pay for our visas at the main police station. It turns out that this actually helped us leave the country, as the guy at Gogui doesn’t have the authority to issue visas longer than 5-days… but does so anyhow! You then need to go to the police station and get the 30 day “validated” (for a fee obviously). En route, Nok rested his chin on the muzzle of his AK… and then promptly eased my worried by showing me that the safety latch was on “safe” by putting it on “live” and then back again… “inshallah” we would make it out without anyone’s brains splattered on the car’s roof! (I wasn’t too keen on a sunroof either).
Anyhow, safely in Nioro, the police offered their back garden as a camping site for the night, which we gratefully accepted. That said, we headed to the customs office first, with Nok en tow, to get the last formalities sorted… or so we thought. The customs officer wasn’t as helpful as the police and promptly confiscated the cars saying they now couldn’t leave the customs compound… so we set up camp for the night in the customs compound. Nok at this point got a ride home, and got a multi-tool to thank him for all his help. Nok, if you are reading this, thank you VERY much! You were the most helpful official we met in Mali, to the point that if anyone does go to Mali through Gogui, look out for Nok! Thank him again for me, and bring him some Italian music (which I couldn’t find on my phone after he made us listen to a few Touareg dances he recorded with his family).
Another interesting day! I’m lying in “bed” (a foam mattress on a concrete slab) in Kiffa… a town in the far south-east of Mauritania along what’s known as the death road… a road considered reasonably dangerous, where 4 French tourists got shot not long ago…
The road, and indeed the town falls within a blob that according to the FCO has the same security rating as Helmand province… and just to make me feel safer, the town we just passed had a huge sign saying “Welcome to Baghdad 2”; and stores included “Epicerie Bin Laden”… needless to say, the large flag flapping behind my car has been long retired into the boot and the flags on the windows are also gone…
According to our road book, we shouldn’t take this road, and instead go through Senegal… oops… (Senegalese border guards seem to want a 200-euro bribe to allow our old cars to enter…) oh well, so far so good. Additionally, I plan on sleeping with a knife or two… not too mention I’ve boarded up the door to the room with the furniture from the room… My newfound team-mate “Peter” is long asleep, so he hasn’t yet seen the extent of my feng-shui…
Anyhow, we left Nouakchott a little late, but not too much so this morning. From there, we made a beeline for Kiffa on the scary boogie-man road. The road is actually in pretty good nick, with a few massive potholes; but otherwise almost all tarmac. Along the route, we suffered a few minor issues, these were:
- Front offside wheel on the merc was grinding… I feared the wheel bearing, but it turned out to be nothing important. All that happened was that one of the two bolts holding the brake calliper on had gotten lost (probably loosened when I changed the bearing and then fell off on the potholes). We found that the bolts from the wheels have the same thread, but are much longer… so a good few (6 iirc) washers and we were off.
- The Volvo hit a few potholes a little too fast… and promptly dented their rims. This was followed by their tyre bulging to the point beyond a blowout… but hanging on! All changed we moved on…
- Until the Fiat Brava dented their wheels… and then their clutch died… We (or shall I say they) ended up driving 300-400km without a clutch. The trick is, put the car in second gear while it’s off… get everyone else to push and start the car, then just change gears at the right RPM… the hundreds of gendarme checkpoints were very amused to see 6 toubabs pushing a banger to get it going each time… (only 800 more km tomorrow to do the same way!)
On that note, one of the three fiat guys has defected, and is now the honorary member of the merc team! Peter is the new team member, and he’s “well liked” – he keeps me fed while I drive :p
We stopped for the night at the Auberge Fare to Desert… a cross between a luxury hotel and a campsite… the room walls are clay/mud, covered in cement and painted pea green. But then the roof is that of a Bedouin tent. (and the shower is cold). But hey-ho, we’ve had worse!
A bit of cous-cous for dinner, and now off to bed for tomorrows early start!
Just one last note (but not least); a MASSIVE THANK YOU to Gianni M. who gave me a leatherman for my birthday a few years ago… it’s become my most used tool on this trip! (and amongst with the other knives has earned me the nickname “Rambo on Tour”). And one for “Flooky” who gave me a compass necklace… which is what told me we were going the wrong way through the minefield the other day! Couldn’t have done it without your help!
I miss you all, and am starting to look forward to coming back home (or more accurately, or seeing those close to me again).
So… my my what a couple of days! I’m sitting typing this on wordpress direct, while connected to the internet… that said, I’ve scheduled it to be delayed by a bit for safety reasons…
We took a rest stop between Tan Tan and Dahkla in the Western Sahara (though the Moroccan’s don’t want me to call it that and get very ticked off if you don’t refer to it as Morocco…). » Continue Reading
So it’s been a while since I was able to type a proper update! (annoying mac has no battery life) Let’s see what has happened since the first…
New Year’s Eve we spent in Marrakesh, at place Jamaa El Fna. After one of the other teams paid 100 Dirhams (about £10) for a snake charmer (about 20x more than normal tourist rate), we ended up in an old hotel that looked stuck in colonial Africa since the 20’s. (oh, and we tried some great goats head!)
At around 11:30, all the stalls closed and kicked us out… only to return as partygoers a few minutes after… by 12:15 everyone bar a few tourists, drunks and police were gone…
On the first, we hung around Marrakesh. Around 2am in the morning the hot water boiler in the apartment exploded. That turned the apartment into a sauna, which promptly turned into a swimming pool. After a few frantic moments, we flicked the fusebox and then closed the water mains – which meant we got to sleep… albeit a little humid. In the morning, the taxi-driver-slash-apartment-dude came by and tried fixing the water… managing to close the hot water partially so that as long as we only used cold water it would not leak. A few hours later the plumber arrived, who promptly explained that the hot water pipe coming out of the boiler was plastic… and this melted so there wasn’t much he could do bar shut off the boiler and replace the pipe (with another plastic one). Charming!
We ended up camping that night, and the camping site just outside Marrakesh was really not bad! They even had warm(ish) showers. The downside was that the Mercedes bonnet emblem, along with the poppy I had wrapped onto it, got stolen! Doh!
On the second we headed towards the south, and ended up camping Tiznit – north of Layounne (sorry, really can’t remember how to spell that!). The surfer dudes found the place, and it was crawling with surfers… the van parked next to us had an Italian plate from Torino… so I headed towards the aroma of espresso and had a chat… typically, when in the absolute middle of nowhere, you end up meeting 3 people from a hundred meters down the road from where you come from! These lived in piazza Massaua… pretty much where my grandma lives!
The day after (the third) we drove a whole hour or so… and ended up in Wasai beach, just south of Layounne. Again, a slow day, but a welcome one! On the way there, we snapped 2 tow-ropes… by trying to salvage some firewood from a dead tree on the roadside… I had a video of this; and I’m hoping it’s on a tape I’ve saved… as the day after, while driving south my camcorder got “pickpocketed” from my car… while stopped at a police/military checkpoint! Grumble… I had it on the dash recording, and my passenger window was open about 3-4 inches… barely enough to fit the camcorder through apparently… but somehow someone managed… So now I have 7-8 tapes I recorded and nothing else. Dave and Olly have lent me their camcorder, so hopefully tomorrow I’ll manage to catch the landmine field crossing… fingers crossed it’ll work!
Anyhow, the evening of the fourth we ended up in a campsite called “Le Camp du Bedouine”… on the way there the Volvo team hit sometime and buckled their alloy rim… leaving them with an inoperable wheel. A quick swap and we were en-route again. About 5 minutes from the campsite, their exhaust detached almost totally, thus dragging on the floor and wrapping itself around the rear suspension. This meant they couldn’t really move… luckily, someone had a hacksaw handy and the surfers removed the offending exhaust. So the already loud Volvo (who’s exhaust was never really attached) now was truly groundshaking!
The fifth saw us drive almost all day to Dahkla, which is as weird city as any. A true melting pot of cultures, you find clothes in Western style right next to Berber Jalabas, Senegambian boubous and Saharoui Kaftans and head-scarves. The road to Dahkla was fantastic though, a thin winding single-lane carriageway that follows the skeleton coast (called so because of the hundreds of shipwrecks along the coast). While we didn’t have any real breakdowns, we did some pretty impressive drifting in the sand with the W202 and the Isuzu… totally covering the merc in sand… Sadly, the windows were open, so also the inside got coated in sand! I’ve got a few pictures of this I’ll upload asap!
The sixth (today) was a real rest day… waiting for all the teams to catch up, lick their wounds and share war-stories. The Volvo team got their wheel bashed out and their exhaust welded on (for around £50), the Brava got a new set of tyres and I bought some water and a headscarf (in the traditional indigo colour). For dinner, we popped into town, where we had camel-meat skewers (2 minced and 2 diced). These were quite good, and the camel meat was less tough than usual.
We also met “Freya”, a European who has lived outside Europe all her life and was extremely helpful. She gave us a few pointers, offered tea and pickles to some of the guys who were homesick and helped us out with general information for the region. Not too sure about some of the information, as she seemed to omit all the kidnappings in the region over the last couple of years, sticking to the ones where people were killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time… oh well, fingers crossed we’ll get through without too much trouble… Also, she told us to head for the border later in the day, while we need to be there first thing in the morning as we need to get the military escort asap!
The plan for tomorrow is to get to the border with Mauritania (a 6km strip of land which just happens to be a minefield…). The border needs to be done first thing in the morning, so that we don’t have to drive at night and we can stop somewhere near an army outpost. The plan is to sleep at the border for the night, do the border early in the morning, and get the military escort over to Nouakchott around lunchtime getting there before sundown. The day after we’ll drive to Nouadibou… and then onto Mali with some luck! We probably won’t do Senegal/Gambia as Senegal is being annoying with the border and asking for 150-200 euros for the entry… Corrupt as everywhere else so far… but with a few zero’s too many for my budget!
Anyhow, better catch a few z’s and stop thinking about how everything can go wrong…
A quick update this time as I’m sitting in a cafe leeching the internet from some random house across the street… » Continue Reading
And yet more! My phone was dead, so I couldn’t upload any updates… now sitting around a campfire wearing a jedi robe (ok, fine, a Berber robe that the star wars guys used as Jedi robes)… kinda a weird place to upload from, but hey…
The team shrank today – so I’m going to be driving alone from now on. With some luck, I shouldn’t have any issues… cash may be an issue as I had budgeted for everything to be divided by three… oh well, I guess I’ll have to cancel my booking at the Ritz!
So… a bit of camping from now on! My hugest hugs to everyone back home – I miss you all!
But wait… there’s more! (1-01-2011 Afternoon)
As it was quite late when I typed that, I didn’t have a chance to upload it… then the day after way New Year’s Eve, so I didn’t have time to do anything… so here’s the next update as well! » Continue Reading