March 4th: For the past few nights I have slept in Johans car without problem. Last night was different. There was a mozzie
in the car, it buzzes around and the sound is comparable to a cop siren. You panic, freeze up, break out in cold sweats,
and start envisaging instant death at the end of a malaria loaded barrel. One bloody mosquitoe! I spent all night turning on
the light, beating pointlessly at the air, turning off the light, and lying awake waiting for it to return. Anyway, if the mozzie
didn't wake me up, the fact that the hunters come stampeding out before the crack of dawn, switching on lights and
talking encouragingly to their trigger fingers did. So we were all up before light break and ready to go.
The trip to the border was uneventful, and, strangely enough, so was the crossing. There was such an absence of hassle that if I had blinked it would be impossible to convince me that we had left Senegal and were now driving through Mali! The whole experience took approximately 15 minutes. Once across we began the quick trip to Kayes where we intended to fuel up before proceeding onwards via a piste road to Mahina, and then Kati. Kayes was a relatively immemorable experience and we were quick to vacate. Unfortunately, maybe just a little bit too quick as we later found when we realised we were heading in the wrong bloody direction (Mali now and we still haven't curbed this little problem!). We turned around, returned to Kayes, found the piste road, got lost on the piste road a couple times while still getting our bearings, came across a really secluded village with only one thoroughfare where we asked for directions and they kindly pointed us in the right direction.
The rest of the day was spent travelling roughly eastwards on extremely dusty red dirt roads. At around 4pm Johan decided to improve his Kharmic balance by picking up two unfortunate pedestrians and drive them to the next village 10 kms on while Pat and Sarah went crashing through the bush in the Patrol to look for a campsite by the Senegal river. The guys must have been really relieved to have got the lift, they did have to hang on for dear life though as we went careening along on the bumpy piste.
March 5th: Last night was brilliant! Sleeping in the bush, the stars overhead, and not a mosquitoe all night. Woke up
refreshed and watched the sun rise up and cast shining rays onto the calm surface of the Senegal river. This is the life!
Once we had all gotten over breathing in my definition of life, and Johan had made some impotent casts of his hook and
line into the water, we were off again.
Todays trip was hell, very scenic, but hellish driving none the less. I guess that this is really why we are here. The day went spiralling by in a collage of villages and kids screaming "COUDOU!!" The piste was exceptionally rugged and at one point we began to doubt our choice of trail when we encountered a Spanish motorcyclist named Dannie. He hailed us and in his best english (which was basically a combination of key words and over the top girations) informed us that the road ahead was absolutely impassible by car, and that at one point we would have to drive on the railway line. Well, despite his warnings we carried on. We aren't sure where the poor guy went wrong, or if dehydration was beginning to set in and make him imagine things, but we didn't have a single hiccup during the drive.
Ok, sorry, I lie. We did have to cross the Senegal river via a ferry. On arrival at the pickup we negotiated the passage price
of 5000Cfas per car. Cool, on their next trip they picked us up and we began to head across the river. Conveniently, as
soon as we had cast off, one of the controllers approached us and said that we had to pay him 20 000 Cfas per car! We
were PISSED! We were half way across, not sure if there was any other way to traverse the river, and they were threatening to take us back! We argued, tried to negotiate and complain, but they weren't hearing it. Eventually we just had to fold and pay them. Bloody pirates! We got to the other side, they made us disembark without even properly stopping the ferry and we continued on, feeling totally screwed over.
We drove the rest of the way to Mahina, reached it at around 6pm, drove around the town and a further 20 kms down the dirt highway before pulling over at a really nice campsite on the edge of the Senegal river. We set up camp, and started a fire to cook our poetjie with warthog meat on. At this point it was dark and we all had torches out. I was busy overseeing the fire when suddenly I heard rustling to my right. I quickly turned on my torch and flashed it in the direction of the noise, nothing. I turned off my light. Suddenly I heard rustling behind me, again I flashed my torch, nothing. This time I wasn't going to be caught unawares. One more minute of utter darkness and I heard a rustle to my left. Immediately I flashed my torch and saw a flicker of movement from something that looked vaguely like a pale mouse.Torch still pointed into the darkness I shouted out, "come out you spineless bastard!", nothing. Thinking everything was fine I turned off my torch and sat back down next to the fire and began contemplating about how it might actually be quite cool to return home with my own pet african mouse. Suddenly I heard the sound again! I jumped up and flashed my torch expecting to finally see the cute little mouse. Well, all I saw was a rabid, killer spider charging at me from the darkness! This thing was big, as big as a rat! It had its front legs sticking up and was moving as if the gods had endowed it with the gift of man murdering swiftness! It sped at me, had a go at my leg, I screamed like a woman "OOOHHH SHIT!!" And then it sped back under a rock on my other side. It wasn't done though! It immediately made a second rush and made a move on my other leg! This time I ran like a total pansy, screaming like a girl all the way back to the cars! When Pat saw me he asked what the hell my problem was and I told him. Typically he thought I was over-exagerating! Well, I put on longs and avoided the poitjie fire. Ok, I am a bit of an arachnaphobe, so him thinking I was over-reacting is reasonable. So, when he asked me to hold the light so he could check the poetjie I thought I had better prove that my balls weren't as inverted as my scream probably indicated. I unwillingly followed him to the fire, when we got there I started spazzing out and twitching. I swear I could hear that spider stalking me and was continually slapping my legs and flashing the torch into the shadows. Well, let me just say, vindication came bearing down on Pat in the form of eight super fast legs of arachnid justification. Fortunately the bugger had chosen him as his unwitting target for leg mutilation! I still ran away screaming like a girl. After I was finished hyperventilating and screaming that Africa was sending a spider to assasinate us, I did get an ounce of recognition when the rest of the party put on protective footwear and moved further away from the fire. It was a good thing too (you may even begin to think I'm exaggerating now), because while we were sitting in the darkness chatting, okay, everybody else was chatting, I was sitting with my legs in the air scanning the perimeter with my torch, I said that I could swear the bastard was stalking us. Suddenly he came hurtling out of the darkness again and headed straight for patricks leg! This time Pat was prepared and grabbed our toilet spade! Launching a lethal counter attack he started clubbing the ground like a prehistoric caveman. The spider dodged every blow and darted under a rock, and, just like a prehistoric caveman whose been bewitched by the discovery of fire, Pat sat there and poked and prodded the rock until even I was certain the thing was dead. I slept in Johans car.
March 6th: Managed to pack quickly even though I was constantly staring at my feet. Today we decided was going to
be the day that we made it all the way to Kati where a Dutch couple had offered to host any overlanders crossing through
Mali. After the past few days, todays drive was a walk in the park. The dirt road eventually turned to a gravel road, and then
once we hit Kita the road was perfectly tarred the last 120 kms to Kati. We eventually arrived in Kati at 3pm and met
Bernadette and Arnold. A really great couple who have been incredibly hospitable to people who, when we arrived, must
have looked, and smelt, like a band of hobos' ( I don't think Johan admitting to his African hobo stove project helped us
much in that regard).
March 7th: Last night was great. Arnold and Bernadette fed us like kings. I honestly believe that they didn't think anybody
could finish the giant platters of chicken, salad and chips. Unfortunately they quickly learnt what terrible food
guzzling machines Johan and I are when they were cleaned up. We slept on the roof of their lovely home and it is honestly
the place to be in the Malian heat. The breeze was refreshing, and the morning chill was the ultimate start to a new day. We
even got breakfast! Something we rarely have anymore, and eggs none the less! I think the last time I ate an egg may well
have been back in South Africa. So we cleaned up again, and it felt great!
The plan for today was to head 20kms out of Kati to Bamako to sort out our Burkina Faso visas.
Once there we got lost trying to find it but fortunately came across a travel agency that pointed us in the right direction.
When we did eventually arrive at the Embassy and read the visa prices we had an instant change of heart. The only Visa we could get was a 90 day one at 28 200 Cfas per person! The best bet now is to just get a transit Visa at the border. From there we thought it might just be a good idea to restock on fundamentals,like beer, and began crossing town to the local supermarket. It was midday (on a friday), and what we hadn't taken into account was that our route took us directly across the main paths to the towns three Mosques!
It was like a cattle market stampede for water,the going was really slow and tough and was made even worse by hawkers constantly coming up to the windows. After almost running over a good portion of the Bamako Islamic faithful we were free and easily found the supermarket. It was a great place, and really well stocked, they even sold quad bikes for petes sake!
March 8th: Had another amazing meal last night which included Bernadette and Arnolds home bred pigeons and banana fritters. It was absolutely delicious and once again we cleaned up. Afterwards, and totally stuffed, I had no choice left but to go nurse my stuffed to bursting stomach in bed on the roof.
Today, after Bernadette and Arnold left for work, we were at a loss for things to do. Eventually we decided to go to the market to purchase some material to send to the local tailor. After walking from one end of the claustraphobia inducing, frenzied marketplace to the other, we settled on a salesman who apparently had the largest selection of wares. After a few minutes of deliberation, and much joke making about the various designs (there was one that was just decked out with little bubbling aspirins) we finally settled on two designs. One was yellow with giant pineapples on it (very tropical), and the other was orange with a type of tiger stripe pattern (very feral). We payed the tourists price of 6000Cfas without negotiating and were out of there at speed. Can't wait to see the final product! Either Johan is going to come out looking like a giant luminous pineapple advertisement, or he will look like a totally wild, Dutch jungle man with a twist.
March 9th (Sunday): Last night Bernadette and Arnold had to go to a work party. I am completely taken aback with the trust these people show to strangers staying in their home. It is absolutely amazing and a breath of fresh air when all your life, all you have become accustomed to is living behind burglar bars, locked doors, and distrusting your neighbours. Here they have opened their doors, shown us nothing but hospitality and kindness, fed us as if we were starving Ethiopians, and Arnold was constantly restocking his fridge with beautiful, refreshing Castel beers for our dry, thirsty throats.
Before they left for the party they invited us to go out to supper with them at a restaurant called "The Philadelphia". I must say, what an experience! Firstly, as you walk in, you are, I would like to say completely blinded by light, but that wouldn't be an apt description for the absolute luminescence of the place. The flourescent bulbs gave off an intense neon glow that bathed the entire place in hues of purple and blue and induced much eye rubbing, the proprietor obviously believes thats what the westerners do. Once we were seated he also put on what must be his only cd with western music, and I mean western music not in the Britney Spears sense, but rather the proper, gun toting, horse riding, cow rearing, cowboy western music sense. After nearly thirty minutes of trying to decipher the french menu, I went with the popular choice at the table which was a cheeseburger and chips. When the waiter came to take our order, he also came with the unfortunate news that there was no bread left and that only one person could have a cheeseburger. So Sarah and I ordered the chicken steak, and Pat and Johan ordered the half chicken. All I can say is that when the food arrived, it looked nothing like what we had expected. The chicken steaks were in rolls and I think were the chopped up remnants from Pat and Johans half chickens, they were tasty nonetheless. Sarah also ordered a pineapple and mint milkshake, that we all sampled, and were very surprised by the super dodgy aftertaste. All in all the meal was good and we left there feeling as if we had learnt a lot about the Malian definition of Western culture - bright, confused and not quite what you were expecting. Today was another lazy day so we cleaned out the cars that had become covered in a thick layer of dust both inside and out.
March 10th: We decided, as it was Monday, today would be a good day to return to Bamako and get our Ghanian Visas organised. We got the directions for the embassy off the internet and had no trouble finding it. Once there the application process, which was otherwise very simple, caused some irritation when we were required to fill out four identical application forms, but they had to be completed off the premises. So we had to leave the cool, air-conditioned office, stand in the 46 degree heat and finish the forms on the cars bonnet. With that completed we took an alternative, less direct route, to the super market to do some more grocery shopping, as well as purchase some beers to restock Arnolds fridge since, every day, we manage to make quite a sizeable dent in his stores. We ate brilliantly again! This time Arnold and Bernadette cooked their specialities for us. The one platter was a type of pork roast and just rocked my world! The other was an interesting lamb, date and vegetable cous cous dish that absolutely rocked my gut! I have never really eaten dates before, so I went crazy on them, shovelling them down as if they were the means to my salvation. Two hours later my lesson came in the worst case of gas I have ever had in my entire life! I didn't know what to do with myself, for the rest of the evening I was afraid to relax because doing so would probably mean waking up the entire household.
March 11th: I was relieved to learn that every member of our party had been equally affected by the dates. I vow never to eat that musical fruit again. Beans honestly have nothing on them. Today we did absolutely nothing besides camp out in our hosts lounge and attempt to copy music cds to show our thanks, and drink beer.We had another huge supper of oxtail soup. I think their brilliant cook is getting quite perturbed by the fact that every evening we manage to devour everything, and is trying to determine our limits by cooking even more for each new meal! Maybe she'll get it tomorrow!
March 12th: Today, with much sadness in our hearts, we parted ways with our exceptionally gracious hosts. But not after we were fed one last amazing meal. This time, the cook got the best of us, we ate and ate and ate, and, just when we thought we were finished, another huge platter of rice was dumped on the table. We were beaten, not just beaten, but abysmally crushed by food. We couldn't eat another bite. So with full stomachs and saddened hearts we said goodbye. Bernadette and Arnold, from you two, I learnt one of my first true lessons on this trip. I learnt that it's the people that make the trip. You can see as much of the world, and you could keep on looking for something that cannot be found in inanimate things. But real enlightenment is discovered when you meet people like yourselves, people who are more open to trust and giving than the selfishness we witness about us every day. You are unique and I hope that throughout my travels I make more friends like you, friends who can open my heart and help me experience more of this beautiful, wide world, I call home.
March 13th: We reached Segou last night. On the way here we realised that Johan has malaria! Honestly, warning sirens should have begun sounding when he lost his appetite. All the symptoms were there, starting with a cough, then while he was sleeping he had a fever and felt extremely cold, and finally, developed a cold and became very tired and weary. We immediately purchased the treatment (Coartem) and he began taking it. By this morning he was already feeling better.
Once we had determined that he was well enough to continue on we headed out with the intention of reaching Djenni before midday. The drive was easy going and we were there well within the designated time. We organised a guide to show us around the town the next day (approximately 3000Cfas per person) and then spent the rest of the day relaxing and drinking beer (except Johan who couldn't due to his meds - poor guy, it was like torture).
March 14th: we all got a early start to the day so that we would be bright and spritely for our walk around the town. The guide arrived at 7.30am and we were off through the renowned mud village. He took us weaving and winding through the side streets and, one thing I was thinking the whole time, was that when travellers, and books describe a place, they always go on about how a person really needs to take in the "sights, sounds and smells of a place". Well, I can honestly tell you now, that nine times out of ten, the prat is either talking out his arse, or he never even went to said destination. I say this because, yes, the sights and sounds were fascinating, but there is no way in hell you want to experience the smells! When you read their descriptions you think, oh great, wood fire smoke, cinnamon, maybe a bit of human sweat, fine. What you don't expect is the pools of human excrement, the dead animals, the stagnant water thats apparently being used to evolve a whole new ecosystem, and the piles of burning rubbish. It was a brilliant walk, but I just feel that people need to stop painting these idyllic pictures of how things are and instead, portray the whole dirty, stinky truth.
The Djenne mosque was amazing. To think the whole place is just one giant mud castle, it must have been quite a feat building it. Once again though, my perceptions were somewhat diminished by the fact that it was not nearly as grand as it appears in pictures. Granted, it's big, but pictures make it seem a lot bigger somehow.
After our walk we decided it would be preferable to move on because there is only so much to do and see in Djenne and we had seen and done it in the last two hours. So we began packing up. While we were packing I was taken aside by the guy managing the curios shop. Yesterday he had seen me take an interest in a carved wooden chair and had since been trying to get me to make a purchase. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no money to purchase a chair with. I never would have guessed it, but this seems to be the ideal negotiation pitch. You just stand there and say, "I like it, but I have no money to buy it," they will then say to you, "but best price, what you pay," and you repeat something along the lines of, "well...If I had money, which I don't, I would probably only be able to afford 7000Cfas." And then the negotiation starts again at a slightly lowered price and you repeat yourself. Then say you need time to think, and come back later or the next day. It took two days of negotiating, and when he saw me leaving he was desperate to sell. Suffice to say, I dropped the asking price from 35000Cfas down to 15000Cfas. I was quite happy with the buy.