Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Back towards the desert

We slowly crawled through Tambacounda's hustle and bustle in search of several things before heading to Parc Niokolo-Koba; fuel, cash, food and an internet cafe. After a bit of searching and a phenomenal number of children asking for 'cadeaux' we had eventually found all four. We ended up spending about an hour in the Total petrol station - friendly staff, and for some reason most of them spoke English which was useful. Once word had spread that we'd just taken on 200 litres of fuel there was much interest shown in the car. We eventually left fuelled, watered, washed and greased - ready for the open road again! There was one especially helpful guy that we tried to give a tip to, and he refused saying it was his job, not something that happens in this part of the world often! He'd said he liked to read, and conveniently Hannah had just finished her book, so we persuaded him to take that instead.

While tracking down food we suddenly heard an English accent saying, "That's a very interesting number plate to turn up in Tambacounda!". A fellow 'Toubab' (white man), Colvin (spelling??) chatted to us for a while, telling us how he'd been working in the area for 5 years on a mission to restore Parc Niokolo-Koba and sort out various other problems. We concluded the conversation on the fact that the park was very run down and not worth us spending the money there when we could save it for better places. It's a shame as this is billed as West Africa's best national park and we were really looking forward to it, unfortunately they forgot to maintain it.

A sudden change of plan and we were now on the road to Mali; one more night of bush camping and we'd cross early the next day. The crossing was extremely straightforward (two easy borders in a row – we could get used to this!), the biggest problem was making sure we’d been to see all the right people and got the right bits of paper stamped as everything was so spread out. We were sent from the Senegalese border to the other side of town to the police station to get our passports stamped. Similar issues on the Malian side. One half-hearted request for a pen, and that was it!

We headed on towards the reported 92km of potholed road to Kayes, so were most surprised to stumble across a Peage for a toll road. I think the guy manning the Peage was a little surprised too as we had to wake him up from his afternoon nap. A bit different to the French autoroutes! Mostly smooth road all the way, the odd section that seemed to have erupted into a craters and mounds. Quite dangerous at high speed, but I'm guessing there is no word for maintenance in the local dialects.

There has been a train line from Dakar to Bamako passing through Kayes for decades, this was seen as the transport infrastructure for the region so good roads weren't required. The new road to Bamako has only seen the light of day in the last few years, road travel to Bamako until that point was considered an expedition and only suitable for 4x4 vehicles - there are however waterfalls and hippos on that route so rather than a one day drive we opted for the 3 day expedition.

First stop was just beyond Medine, the guide book warned of hyena that have been reported to attack humans in this area. Anyone who knows about Hannah's dislike of harmless animals will realise that something like this didn't go down too well. We were safely locked away in the tent just after 7pm, the second the sun went down.

We survived the night without getting eaten and set off on what was certainly an expedition, heading off the 'main' road to the waterfalls, Chutes de Gouina. Over an hour of the toughest driving we've done yet, but well worth it. These are Mali's biggest waterfalls and we had them all to ourselves. We set up camp overlooking the falls and spent the afternoon washing clothes in the river and fishing without success. Fortunately as the sun was sinking over the horizon a fisherman appeared out of nowhere and offered to sell us some fish. We had no change, so with payment of green tea and cigarettes (bought for exactly this purpose!) we had ourselves some food.

Leaving the falls this morning we couldn't find the continuation of the road to rejoin our main route, so we had to backtrack. Unfortunately our 'wardrobe' (i.e. the shelves constructed behind our back seats) didn't agree with one of today’s potholes decided to break loose of its fittings, so that's tomorrow mornings job. We arrived at Bafoulabe having had to pay for the ferry twice due to some confusion and the fact that it operates in a triangle. The other problem with ferries in this part of the world is they know we're not going to spend a day driving back to take a different route, so they're not cheap!

We caused much confusion at the campement by turning up, they seemed quite annoyed to actually have guests, meaning that they might have to do some work. It seemed the trickiest request was asking to see the room. It must have been about 40 minutes before someone was able to show us a room with no light, it had a fan but no electricity and an out of order bathroom. As we have more facilities in our tent we opted for that instead. Unfortunately by the time everything was sorted out the sun had set and we'd missed out hippo viewing window.


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