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Online westie

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« 2010-Dec-10, 08:12 PM Reply #25 »
First page was the pizzas.  I looked up and down, and was a little stunned.  I read it again.  Amongst the Hawaiian, Mexican, Vegetarian, and other regular sounding names, was the 'Canberran'.  I read it again.  Yep, Canberra.  No London, Washington, Berlin, etc, just Canberra.  Its toppings were tomato, onion and sausage.  I don't know why I ordered it, maybe I thought a taste of home might be nice, as it were.  Nope.  Even with the egg appearing out of nowhere, it was still pretty ordinary.  Indians make some of the nicest food in the world.  When it's Indian.  I just don't trust them to make a pizza.  How globalised this world is, when I can get a 'Canberran' pizza (in theory, an Italian food) cooked by an Indian, in the Ashanti capital in Ghana. 
Nick
Great updates  8-) Remind me not to order the Canberran if I ever get to the Vic Baboo's Cafe, mind you not sure I'll get back to AfricaI have only been to Nigeria.  Did you connsider that for your trip.   

Offline Nick Rivers

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« 2010-Dec-10, 09:25 PM Reply #26 »
G'day mate.  No, didn't ever really consider Nigeria for this trip.  There is a general understanding that first-timers to the continent - especially this region - should give it a miss.  Having said that, the only things I've heard from Obronis about the place are about Lagos, Abuja and Kano.   Most of the people don't live in these three, so I'd love to check out the rest one day.  I wonder sometimes if these negative reports come from people who are flying in from the West, so it's their first impression of the country that disturbs them so.  Perhaps if they were coming overland from the north, it might be different.  At any rate, I have the Francophone Sahel to contend with, so I might leave the idea of Nigeria for another day.  At least up north things should become a little more relaxed.  From what I understand (and I'm guessing if you were with PM&C than Lagos and Abuja - depending on what day of the week it was - might have been the focal point of your trips) Lagos makes Kumasi's Ketejia Market look like Cooleman Court.  You'd have some interesting tales, no doubt.  Thanks for the feedback, very much appreciated.


Offline Nick Rivers

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« 2010-Dec-11, 04:21 AM Reply #27 »
Pretty low-key day today.  Got up reasonably early, and headed up to the museum at the old colonial fort.  I was treated to a one-on-one tour of the place, such is the relatively low volume of tourists.  Before the tour began, my guide asked me where I was from.  I replied 'Australia, so you can say all the horrible things you want to about the British, and I'll agree with you entirely.'  She roared laughing.  

It's hard to describe the place, so I'll just mention a few points.  Firstly, the Gold Coast Colonial Regiment, as they were (or something very close) were not issued with shoes until 1937.   Also, something I found interesting, the locals don't all hate or love the British.  Basically, they hate the colonial officials who screwed them over, but love the ones who returned something to the place, particularly a bloke called Guddigsberg, after whom one of the main drags here in Kumasi is named.  The most notable feature, as far as I was concerned, was the cells in which men condemned to their death were kept.  Apart from being their equivalent of our AWM, the place used to be the fort from where the Brits fought a series of conflicts with the Ashanti in the latter part of the last century (the region is rich in gold, and the poms wanted in on the action).  Rebels were treated horrifically.  The smallest cell that I have ever seen held twenty men; there wasn't room enough for one.  Even the dungeons at Cape Coast, with their high ceilings, had better ventilation.  And once one of the twenty men died, the poms would not remove the body.  Or the next.  Or the next.  This is Kumasi, Ghana, and with a six foot ceiling, bugger all ventilation, and a tiny surface area, twenty men would have endured all sorts of hell before dying.  The British were here to bring civilisation.  Good show old boy.  Anyway, there was plenty of stuff about the history of the Ghanaian forces, and from a regional perspective, they were pretty active in Ethiopia in WW2, and more recently, have been very much a part of regional peace keeping efforts.

Then it was on to collect my suit.  2:00, my a*se.  I waited until close to 5:00, but at least in this time, I was able to take in life among the tailors. 

Time running out, will continue later.

Back again.  Updates are going to become fewer and further in between as I approach the Sahel.  If we eliminate the exceptions of Afghanistan and Somalia, the countries of this region are the very poorest in the world, worse off than Sierra Leone, Liberia, Haiti, etc.  I'm talking about Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, altough I won't be going to Niger.  Anyway, I'm rambling now.

Well, seeing the tailors at work kind of made me happy.  Working undercover in the relative cool, with no sweatshop-like conditions, and plenty of banter to get through the day, work doesn't look too bad, although I'm not sure how much they get paid.   If I was charged the standard rate (not that I mind paying overs), then they're doing okay.   The suit looks amazing, and I had shirts made for my brothers and some friends, and they all look fantastic.  The shirts that is, not the brothers.

I'm currently in Tamale, capital of the northern region, and staging post for trips to Mole NP, where, generally speaking, anyone who goes walks around freely, getting up close and personal with elephants, normally from around ten metres.  Staying at the hotel in the grounds, for less than a tenner a night.

Tamale is a beautiful town.  Actually, I can hardly see it sometimes for the dust, but the people are the friendliest I've encountered anywhere in the world.  They just can't do enough for you. The landscape's definitely starting to change.  Essentially, you have the guinean region of the area bordering the coast, with thick forest / jungle; this constitutes much of southern Ghana.  Then you have the sudan - arable land, but with less vegetation than the south, which the north of the country belongs to, and then you have the Sahel, where nothing grows, and the ground is that red/brown.  'Sahel' is arabic for border, as it borders the desert.  Needless to say, these terms arose before the modern countries were ascribed the names of 'Guinea' and 'Sudan'.  The Harmattan winds are blowing in from the desert - the pay off for coming in the cooler season, and my throat really doesn't like it.  Visibility can sometimes be an issue.  Just what this country needs - another risk factor on the roads.

Apologies for the lack of detail in this post, which is supposed to encompass about four days.  Very rushed at the moment - not generally speaking, just whenever I get access to the net, which is not as often as I would like, or would make for most accurate account of things.   I emailed some family and friends something recently on the last couple of days.  I'll try to edit it appropriately and post it here.  Some of it gets a bit political though, with reference to the history of Ghana, and I've tried to keep that to a minimum on this thread.  Having said that, to omit entirely would  be akin to telling the story of WW2 without the Holocaust, so in the interest of being faithful to the country, I've included some.

Have to run.  Whenever I travel, I appreciate the fact that others are talking to me in my language, so please don't interpret this as a disrespect for the author of this sign, who, when writing in English, was probably speaking in his third or fourth language.   This was posted in the men's washroom at the STC bus station in Kumasi:

"Stop shaving your bears above the sink"

Pretty sure he meant beards, but I read it as though the bears were somehow complicate in the whole thing, and have had the image stuck in my mind since. 

All the best from Tamale.
« Last Edit: 2010-Dec-13, 09:42 PM by Nick Rivers »

Offline Nick Rivers

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« 2010-Dec-16, 06:05 AM Reply #28 »
Back from three days total in Mole NP, although really only one full day.  The first day, what was it, Monday perhaps?  Days are all blurring together.  The night before, I eventually found my way to the state-owned Metro Mass Transport bus station to enquire about getting to Mole NP.  I really have to ask locals in the first instance, these maps in the guide are terrible.  And it's not just me, they really are bad.   MMT folk told me to come early in the morning, at 06:00 as tickets could not be pre-purchased, and if I wanted a seat (and I did, they assured me) then I should be there early.  Just a day or two earlier, my phone / alarm clock gave it away, so there wasn't much sleep that night, as I was anxious to arrive early.

I checked out from the hotel (places the key near the sleeping receptionist), and made my way to the station - a massive dust bowl at the best of times, but at this time of year, well, I kind of wished that I still smoked, so I could have given my throat a break.  I purchased my ticket.  I asked them where it would come from, and what time.  Just here, the bloke said, pointing in front of him, at 13:30.  Another seven hours time.  So I went back to the hotel, and delicately picked up the room key so as not to disturb our resident sleeping beauty.  Had a few hours kip, and in the hotel grounds, ran into the first foreign tourist that I've met in my travels.  When in Kumasi, I had met a German girl who was studying in Accra, but every other westerner had been a volunteer on a short break.  This bloke, Phillip, was a Belgian guy, on his way to catch the same bus as myself to Mole, and had had a similar experience getting his ticket.  I thought he was in his late thirties, turns out he was 47.  He's in this part of the world to cycle around Burkina Faso, having already cycled small parts of Ghana (has a fold-up bike which he can chuck on buses).   He was inspired by the 'Tour de Faso', an event staged by the Tour de France folk.  Very interesting and unassuming guy.  The locals have been amazing, but it was good to chat to someone with even a remotely similar background.  And the volunteers that I've met have been wonderful, and don't get me wrong, hanging out with girls in their early/mid twenties can be a lot of fun, but this guy had a bit more to say. 

The bus ride.  Well, we left the guesthouse at 13:00 thinking that there would be plenty of time to get there.  We overestimated MMT (Maybe Moving Today, as Philip quipped).  The bus left some time between 16:00-16:30.  The guest house, run by the Catholic Church, has engaged an intellectually disabled bloke to do the laundry.  He's a lovely guy, and very earnest.  Especially about the laundry.  As Phillip and I left the hotel, Frances yelled out 'the bus won't leave until 16:00.  Maybe 16:30.  Yes.  I know this.  Yes.  This always happens.  Yes.  Goodbye!'.  Getting on the bus, we thought that the tough part was behind us.  Well, that was stupid.  Every seat was occupied (we were early enough to be among the seated) and they had to limit the standing passengers to about fifteen - plenty more wanted on board.  Oh, I forgot to mention, MMT has narrowed the seats and the aisle, so as to fit five people across.  Sardines.   This doesn't include the sacks of rice and maize, watering cans, buckets, pots, etc that were stalled under foot and over head.  The journey to Mole NP is 135km.  Needless to say, this is not some kind of tourist bus, running directly to Mole (pronounced Mo-lay).  It's just a regular domestic service, which happens to terminate at Mole NP.   The bus departed Tamale, and continued on its way for 50km, at which point it turned west off the highway, and on to an unpaved road in Mole's direction.  This fist part of the trip probably took us 45 mins.  The next 85km took us five and a half hours.  The state of the road allowed us to proceed only very slowly, and eventually arrived at the first village - the first of five before the service terminates at Mole.   We thought 'great, a few people off, and maybe some breathing space.'  Nope.  I swear to God/Allah/Steve Waugh, that for every one that alighted, two joined us.  The longest part of the journey is between the first and second villages.  Well, if that wasn't normally the case, it was now, as a few kilometres after leaving for Damongo, the headlights on the bus called it a day.  The commotion on the bus was immense.  The young bloke next to me translated most of what was going on.  What seemed pretty heated was simply animated, with varying opinions being offered to the driver.  The poor bloke did an amazing job.  A car from MMT HQ eventually came out and acted as an escort, but with the lack of appropriate light and the ordinary state of what seemed to be the dustiest, bumpiest, and at times, narrowest road in Ghana, we could only move at the slow pace we did.

Having arrived at Damongo - our first stop since the lights had gone out - I thought something might change.  New bus, perhaps?  An attempt to fix the lights?  No, apart from the escort car leaving (what?), the only thing that changed was the personnel on board.  By this time we had been on board for over four and a half hours, and given the early start, the late departure, the sustained sardine-like situation, the state of the road, the lights, etc, there was only one thing missing.  A chicken!  And at Damongo, we had a few new passengers.  I feel sorry for the chooks if they had to wait as the other passengers did.  In a queue.  In the baking sun.  The bus left Tamale late, and lost a few more hours on the way, so by the time it arrived to collect folk wishing to replace those alighting, they had been standing around for hours.  And there were more that wanted to board than could be squeezed.  No fights though, just more animated discussion.   And again, all very orderly and dignified, even if it did initially seem more heated than anything else.

The bus pretty much emptied at Larabanga, the last stop before Mole.  Only a few remained.  I must have met half of the northern region on that bus - old and young, male and female, professional and unskilled, Christian and Muslim, and not one of them could have tried harder to make me feel welcome and offer to help me in any way possible. 

Arrived at Mole, and took up residence in the dorm.  Five cedis entry to the park, twelve a night for a comfortable stay, and guide fees of three per hour.  Eight hours of 'safari' fees, accommodation and entry?  Total of fifty-three cedis, or $37.  I've heard of people spending thousands in the south/east of the continent (for a greater product, granted).   Unfortunately, this is where it doesn't sound such good value - no elephants!  After all that.  Plenty of antelope varieties, baboons and monkeys, warthogs, huge variety of birds, and thankfully, a couple of enormous crocs from a relatively close position.   I was almost eaten alive by the park's most ferocious predators though, soldier ants.  Our guide, Yeboah (spitting image of Eddie Murphy), noticed them crawling on my trousers.  He picked most of them away, but to be sure, he told me to roll my strides up.  The material kind of prevented this, so I just pulled them down.  There were only a few of them, but there they were, making their way up to HQ, and I flicked them away in a panic.  I was right to be anxious.  He explained that they only inflict their (incredibly painful) bite once they get to your 'privates', hence the name 'soldier' ants.   I'll take a croc attack, any day thanks.  So as I pulled my trousers up over my boxers again, the only damage done was a slight blow to the ego. 

The park itself was beautiful, and the small restaurant/bar/swimming pool is situated overlooking a watering hole, the valley being to the west, making for what I'm sure would have been a beautiful sunset, had it not been for the dust.  Okay, it was still pretty good.

So I made the trip back to Tamale today.  The ride was on a mini-bus, driving WAY too fast, with the a*se of the car sliding out from underneath the driver regularly.  Driving on the right isn't really compulsory unless there's another car coming in the other direction, otherwise it's all about finding the best piece of road underneath.  Most of the drivers here are amazing.  This guy was just a d*ckhead, trying to intimidate the pedestrians and drivers of smaller vehicles (he made two cyclists and one motorcyclist fall off their bikes with his pathetic behaviour).  Just to add to the most undulating of dusty, narrow, all-round treacherous roads, there was some controlled burning being done.  So having just filled up, he thought it would be wise to drive like a crazy fool so close to the flames that I could feel the heat through the vehicle.  I've taken everything in my stride up until now, allowing for local processes, habits and patterns of behaviour.  I made an exception for this, and carefully, yet forcefully explained that if he wanted to kill himself, fine, but I wasn't going to be a part of it, and that he could drop me off, but this would involve me calling his boss.  His other option was to slow the phuck down, if only when we were in proximity to fire.   We got here in one piece.

When I arrived back at the guest house, Frances asked me what time the bus left.  I just smiled and he roared laughing.  Smart a*se.  Popped down to the National Centre of Culture (read: market for whities to buy souvenirs), of which there a few around the country.  True to regional character, the Tamale version is the most welcoming and hassle-free of the lot.  Would love to pick up quite a few things here, but a bit undecided.  Half of the stuff is drums/wood carvings/masks, which is a no-no, customs-wise.  The vendors don't really understand that, though.  Some nice paintings floating around, not that I know what I'm talking about. 

Absolutely stuffed, so heading back to the guest house now.

All the best from Tamale.

Offline triple7

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« 2010-Dec-16, 06:56 AM Reply #29 »
Best Wishes for your Christmas next week mate.   emthup   Will be great to hear how it unfolds.

Offline poxdoctor

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« 2010-Dec-16, 08:37 AM Reply #30 »
Nice work Nick. On the liquids issue, I found that I also drank plenty of Coke etc in Africa. Didn't seem to have any adverse affects....

Offline Nick Rivers

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« 2010-Dec-19, 05:30 AM Reply #31 »
Thanks guys.  Trips, I'll be in Burkina Faso, where the population is 87% Muslim, and only 4% Christian.  I'll go to Mass in Bobo-Dioulasso to keep Mum happy (although she'd probably be happier if I went in Canberra), but it will be interesting to see how much of a presence festivities assume.

I have struck a winning combination for my last correspondence from Ghana.  I'm absolutely wrecked from a day in the sun, the internet cafe is horribly uncomfortable to the point where I'd rather be on my way to Mole NP, gospel music is blaring in the background, and easily the worst factor is the keyboard - completely stiff and useless.  If it wasn't my last night in Ghana, I'd let it wait, but it's been a few days since I've written, and a couple of things have happened since I returned from Mole.

The day after my return from Mole saw Philip and I eating dinner at a restaurant 300-400m up the road from the guest house.   We were sitting and chatting after dinner when, being an Indian feed, I all of a sudden realised that I had some urgent business to attend to back at the guest house.  I left the grounds of the restaurant, and started making my way back.  After walking for a hundred metres or so, I looked up, and was able to put a face to a distant noise which we'd heard during dinner.  Or perhaps more accurately, thousands of faces.  As I walked toward the guest house and relief, quite literally thousands of locals were making their way up this very wide street, holding aloft machetes, guns, and bundles of sticks that would later be used as torches.  This, everyone, was the Festival of Fire, the biggest annual celebration in the Tamale calendar.  I should point out, the guns and machetes served no purpose, and apart from shots being fired into the air, were not used.  The sight of this incredible throng of partying locals approaching me, accompanied as they were was an impressive image; thankfully, I was aware of the evening's significance, and wasn't too put off by the 'accessories'.  The combination of it all, though, was incredible.  They were on their way to the local chief's house, where they'd light their torches, and continue to some allotted point where a huge bonfire would take place amid much dancing.  They would then return to the chief's house before heading home for the evening.  

As I the first wave approached, I was taken aside by a couple of amateur filmmakers, who were putting together a documentary.  I have great affection for Ghana, and I have particularly enjoyed Tamale.  I would gladly tell this to the world, but did they have to ask me mid-clench?  I don't know if it was this love of the country, the spirit of the festival, or being surrounded by hundreds of machetes and guns, but I couldn't find it in me to say no.  A small crowd gathered around to witness the exchange, which was probably a little disappointing for them - all I could do was try to be as loud and enthusiastic about the place in the hope that it wouldn't go for too long, and they would relieve me, so I could go and further relieve myself.  This duly transpired, but not before they took my contact details.  If I feature in their doco, they will let me know, so I can view the results (which I'll happily post here - could be quite funny, if a little lame on my part).  After reaching my very own El Dorado, I returned to the entrance of the guest house to witness countless more individuals streaming past towards the chief's house.  As mentioned, the street is very wide, about 20-25 metres, and it was completely full from side to side for perhaps three-quarters of an hour as the crowd marched ahead.  As I looked up the street, there were people as far as the eye could see.  At this point, I decided to join them.  I marched along, every time a gun being shot in the air I shat myself, and every time this happened, the locals wet themselves at the dumb whitey.  They were great though, taking the time to explain the history of the event.  I made it a little further than the chief's house, where the thousands of people turned into a procession of flame-lit torches.  A pretty impressive sight.  One thing about Ghanaians - they have no perception of distance.  So when they said it wasn't further until the bonfire, I decided that I'd seen enough and that I'd call it a day, promptly walking back the couple of kilometres to the guest house.

The following day, well, I won't say any more other than I spent the first two and a half hours at the post office, to send one parcel to Aus, and one to the UK.  Five min job back home, but with everything being done manually over here, and moreover, with the guy 'assisting' me being as slow as he was nice, I almost missed checkout time back at the guest house.  It's funny, there is almost is no time in Ghana, but try checking out at 12:05, and you've got some explaining to do.  I found my way to the lorry station, where I caught a tro-tro (a personnel carrier, to be precise) to Bolgatanga.  Time for one more completely random, unexpected, yet incredibly appreciated act of generosity from the people of Tamale.  They let me ride shotgun.  Lots more leg room, and the legal limit of three across the front was observed, unlike the densely packed nature of things behind me.  The bloke next to me was carrying a baby, though.

Spent the night at Bolga, at a family's house which has been converted somewhat to accommodate a few lodgers.  Very nice people, wish I could have stayed there longer, but I had to get to Navrongo, where I'm staying tonight.  From here, I made the day trip to Paga, for a couple of sights.  Crocodiles are revered in this particular part of the world, a deal having been done between the locals and a croc many moons ago, apparently.  A bit gimmicky, but fun nonetheless, is visiting the local croc pond, where 500 are said to reside.  You pay four cedi for a local fowl, which is used to lure the croc from the pond.  At this point, the handler (just a local) grabs the croc and spins him so he faces the desired direction.  He then beckoned me over, and passed me the croc's tail.  Another employee of the pond then took a couple of pictures.  They then called for me to squat above the croc, almost as if I was riding it.  A few more pics taken, and they asked if I wanted to look to see if they were okay.  They put my pictures to shame - this guy has clearly used a lot of cameras, as he was able to take a couple of close ups of the croc, as well as the ones with me on board.  I hopped on again, just for fun, and a couple more pics.  As I walked away, I noticed that a number of the croc's mates had left the pond and started watching what was going on, in the hope of scoring a chook, no doubt.  I then walked away, somewhat surprised that I had found the guts to sit on a crocodile and pose for pictures.

The next part of the day saw me walk a few km to Pikworo Slave Camp, a rest place and market for slaves en route to the coast.  I'm too wrecked to do it justice now.  Needless to say, it was a pretty sobering experience.  

Well, that's some of what Ghana has offered.  I'm still to provide any info on my trip to Nzulezo, the lagoon-defying village built entirely on stilts, and I would love to elaborate further on things like women carrying containers on their heads, insane overcrowding of transport and the general fun of getting around, 'the world is my garbage bin', 'the world is my urinal', blackouts, zero water pressure, bucket showers, post office procedures, the disgusting gelatinous texture of banku, the prevalence of Guinness, evangelical graffiti, slow internet connection, surprisingly fast internet connections, respect for the elderly, a disappointing trend towards favouring lighter-skinned actors and popstars (to the point where you can buy a product which lightens your complexion), the nation's obsession with football, Islam and Christianity happily operating side by side, the importance of greetings in your dealing with people, just to name a few.  One day, perhaps.

Until next time from Burkina Faso, all the best from Navrongo.
« Last Edit: 2010-Dec-19, 06:45 AM by Nick Rivers »

Offline Nick Rivers

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« 2010-Dec-24, 04:30 AM Reply #32 »
This is my fifth and final night in Burkina Faso.  I may very well need some time up my sleeve later on, and as I can pinch a few days here, I thought I might just do that. 

It's incredible how poor Burkina Faso is in comparison with Ghana.  And Ghana is poor.  Leaving aside the three political basket-cases of Somalia, Afghanistan and Haiti, the three poorest countries in the world are those of the Sahel: Niger, BF, and Mali.  But this place is so efficient - buses run on time, in and out of the post office, meals served promptly, there were more bins on my last bus than I saw in the entirety of Ghana, etc.  The most noticeable charachteristic about this place though, is that the people are not only friendly, but so incredibly dignified.  Back in 1984, the then president, Thomas Sankara (an absolute legend) renamed this country, from Upper Volta, to its current name, meaning 'Land of the upright people', in Mossi.  Upright as in dignified, although they also have great posture from carrying all sorts of stuff on their heads.  A more appropriately named country there isn't. 

I'm going to have to leave it there for the moment.  I'm trying to explain how this place has something the world would do well to learn from, but it's just not coming to me.  The people and what I'm trying to say about them go hand in hand with the overall impression of the country, and my experiences here.  Everything's so laid back - never any pressure in any market, one bloke noticed I was a little lost yesterday, and spent the next hour taking me around town, trying to get the best bus ticket for my onward journey - and his English was nearly as bad as my French.  And of course, he wanted nothing in return.  I've been here in Bobo-Dioulasso only two nights, yet in the 2km from my guest house to town, I've got about a dozen friends with whom I always exchange greetings, despite the fact that none of them speak English. 

Off to have a feed - hopefully some riz sauce (rice with sauce - local staple) will do the job.

If not, it won't be until Mali until I write again, in which case, merry Christmas, and all the best from Bobo-Dioulasso.

Offline Nick Rivers

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« 2011-Jan-06, 12:47 AM Reply #33 »
I've got some catching up to do.  There will be slight duplication in the beginning of this post, my apologies.  

I will be attempting to cover my time in Burkina Faso (briefly), followed by the bus ride of a lifetime to Sevare, Mali, trekking through Dogon Country, a trip up the Niger to Timbuktu, the fabled city itself, camping with Tuareg in the Sahara, followed by my return to this home away from home that I've found in Sevare, Mali.  I'm thinking out aloud right now, but if it occurs to me that one or more of these stories isn't going to be enjoyable to type, than they can't possibly be enjoyable to read, and I'll pay them only cursory attention.

'Due in part to strong historical ties, but also because of the harsh environment and difficult living conditions, relationships between different sets of neighbours are based on mutual respect and interdependence.  There is a strong sense of both family and community, which transcends ethnic and clan affiliations and, despite depressing economic statistics, makes Mali one of the world's richest countries in human terms' - excerpt from Bradt Mali guide book.  This is how I've been trying articulate my feelings about Burkina Faso, although with regard to Burkina Faso, this description is a gross understatement.  As for Mali, I'll get to it shortly.

My five days in Burkina Faso seems so long ago now, although I only departed on Christmas Eve.  Recounting my time there would be a little boring, I think, as it isn't sufficiently fresh in my memory to do it justice.  The thing that really stands out is the dignity of the people.  There was never any hassle from sales folk, a friendly 'ça va' wherever I went, a surprising efficiency about the place - the one internal bus I took left a whole three minutes late - and even when it was apparent that I couldn't speak French and the locals couldn't speak English, they would bend over backwards in an attempt to help me.  Which brings me to the story of my departure from Bobo-Dioulasso, and my journey across the border into Mali.

It all started with me wandering around town, looking around for the headquarters of either of the two bus companies who might just operate a service from Bobo to Sevare, Mali.   Looking every inch the foreigner, with a map of the city in one hand and my phrasebook at the ready in the other, and proudly wearing my Shane Warne terry-towelling hat (no poms in this part of the world - thank god!), a local bloke approached me, and although his English really was only marginally better than my French, I was able to communicate the purpose of my mission.  As we walked along, he told me of his travels in the region as a semi-professional footballer and artist, and we swapped stories about Ghana and he intimated his jealousy that I was heading, eventually, to Senegal, as this was his favourite country.  He had travelled extensively through the region, and although I take more than a small amount of pride in being sensitive to the various forms of cosmopolitanism that exist in the world, it occurred to me that I was being further educated in this field.

We arrived at the first - the biggest and most obvious - bus station, and my friend made some enquiries on my behalf.  No dice.  So he suggested a smaller company, better known to the locals.  Sure, why not.  When we arrived, he had soon arranged (as I had articulated was my preference), a ticket to Sevare, leaving the next day at midday, to arrive at 22:00, costing 7000CFA (West African Francs - the single currency used by various Francophone countries in the region, including Burkina Faso, Mali, and Senegal - the three Francophone countries through which I'll be travelling).  The CFA is pegged to the Euro, and 1000 = almost exactly $2, a 15% improvement on when I started planning this trip - go you Aussie dollar!   Back to Bobo.  I was to 'check in' at 10:00 the following morning.  All in all, a fantastic result, I thought.   My friend asked me to have a look at his shop, to see if there was anything I liked.  Fortunately, there was, and I was happy to offer more than the going rate for what was a rather small piece.  He made a tidy profit, I didn't get pushed into paying significant overs or buying anything big, he was well looked after for helping me out, and I obtained the bus ticket that I sought.  A successful morning's work, leaving me free to enjoy the rest of my last full day in Burkina Faso.

I arrived at the 'bus station' the following morning shortly after 10:00am.  It was comprised of a driveway barely big enough for a mini-bus, and a couple of make-shift benches for those waiting.  As these were under shade, and there were only a couple of others around, I caught up on some sleep, before I was woken shortly before midday.  I was told to hop on the back of some random bloke's motorbike.  Guess where he took me?  Yep, the station where we had originally enquired about getting a ticket.  No dramas, I tell myself, just go with the flow.  Upon our arrival, all I could think was that this was surely a Malian bus company, because nothing Burkinabe could be so dysfunctional; ten or twenty people standing around, discussing how various cargo was going to be loaded.  Chairs, buckets, watering cans, goats, motorcycles, etc, you get the picture.  So I waited around while this was sorted, and was informed that this bus was for Bla, where I was to change for a different bus that would take me to Sevare.  This is where my mind started to get a bit ahead of things - I was comfortable with being in Bobo, and I had done my research about Sevare, but Bla?  What if I got stuck there......???  A quick look in the guide book was called for, a book that has 300 pages dedicated to Mali alone.  Surely, any town where an international service changes would get a run, right?  Nope.  Not a mention.  At this point, materially speaking, I was taking a bus to nowhere.

My name was called out, and I boarded the bus.  '11' was on my ticket, and I figured this was my seat allocation, except I couldn't find anything denoting which seat was which.  I asked, as best I could, a woman where my seat was.  She was able to communicate that the number was meaningless, and offered me the space between her and the window, which was extremely kind, as a seat out of the sun's way (as this was) is a coveted spot in this part of the world, even on a late departing bus.  I couldn't refuse, and she really was an extremely lovely lady and I mean no offence when I say this, but she might just happen to be the reason behind half of Africa's food security issues - she was utterly enormous, easily the biggest person I've seen here, and a giant by western standards.  And you can put this down to malnutrition in this part of the world, but I have bigger shoulders than the average African bloke, which sets the scene for the next few hours.

We left some time after 14:00, more than two hours late, but not nearly as bad as other occasions.  I was still confident that we would arrive at Bla, change - even if meant something of a wait - and head for Sevare.  Well, true to form nothing too exciting, that is to say, wrong, occurred on the Burkina side of the border.  And to be fair to Malian Immigration (about whom I'd heard stories), not only were there no problems at the border, but the officials asked me to join them for a cup of tea.  I also had my first experience with a public toilet in Mali.  When I ask 'where is the toilet', though, what I really mean is 'which tree needs watering?'.  They don't see it like that.  They construct stone walls about 5m x 2m, and about 1.4m high, divided with another couple of stone walls into three 'cubicles' - two sit-downs (holes in the concrete-covered ground) and one 'stand-up', which simply has a hole in the corner of the cubicle, something like a goal at which the blokes are supposed to aim.   That's right, 1.4 metres high.  Plenty high enough if you're sitting down, but just low enough - and the cubicles close enough to the main street - for everyone to see you if you're standing up.  And of course, the 'goal' requires that you face everyone.  Well, it was good for business, as I got stagefright, and had to wait for a lull in the traffic - both human and vehicular - before returning for a successful mission.  A great result for the bloke who attends to the toilet though.  The going rate is 50 francs, but I gave him 300 on both occasions, the first time out of guilt (as though I'd insulted his toilet), the second time out of relief.  His image will never leave me though.  Here was a man who runs a public toilet at a border crossing in the Sahel for a living, yet was just so happy - I couldnt help but feel a little pathetic with some of the precious behaviours I exhibit at times.  He also happened to wet himself laughing at the sight of my relief the second time around.  And although I can't speak a word of Bambara, there was no confusing what he said - stagefright and its comic value for others knows no borders.      

Well, there were no problems at the border, I thought, but no, that was just Immigration, of course.  Customs was another issue.  They decided to check everything on board, Malian style, which means taking everything off the bus, not really checking anything at all, and then leaving us where we were back at the bus station in Bobo, with a thousand cooks standing around, trying to determine the least efficient way of reloading the cargo.  I swear to god, the goats could do a better job.  Or at least this is how it appears, there could well be some value in the way that things are done, but it's hard for an outsider to understand what that might be.  

So, after a couple more hours wasted at Customs, we hit the road again.  For about five minutes.  Stop.  Allah Time.  I started singing this to the tune of MC Hammer while the men of the bus alighted, rolled out the mat, turned to Mecca and prayed.  I kept it quiet though - don't think they would have appreciated my input.  Eventually, we hit the road again, but it was well and truly getting dark by now, and we were barely into Mali.  Discussion among the passengers soon revealed that this bus would stop in Bla, and continue on to Bamako, which is more or less the same direction, but is situated at a 120 degree angle from the direction of Sevare, not to mention a solid day's drive.  It was important that I alighted at Bla, but where would this leave me?  I had paid for a ticket to Sevare, and although I wasn't too concerned about the money, I was concerned about reaching my destination.  We continued into the night.  It gets dark very early in this part of the world, and with no electricity in most places, no street/place name signs, and my complete inability to speak French, my journey now came to resemble something of a lottery, as there was no way of knowing at any time where I was, or how far we were from Bla, the town that, according to Bradt, need not exist.  

I think that for anyone who has endured (and to be honest, quite possibly enjoyed) that  bus/train ride, there is an overriding feeling of helplessness that characterises the journey to some degree, some kind of uncertainty that paints the whole experience in such a light that the passenger is desperate for the journey to end.  This could be because they are unwell, it is oppressively hot, the vehicle is cramped beyond belief, the poor quality of the road, perhaps the passenger feels that their safety or security is threatened by the soundness of the vehicle/road/driving or an intimidating co-passeneger, but in my case, it was, as mentioned, that I needed to be taken from Bobo to Sevare, and anywhere else would simply be another realm - no language, no knowledge of the local area, and as it was now pitch-black, no idea where I would stay once dumped in Bla, if I was lucky enough for this to heppen.  Having been in this part of the world for a while now, I've acclimatised pretty well, but stepping back for a minute, I can't think of too many places in the world more isolated than the outer edges of Mali.

We passed one town after another, and my friend seemed to be asking me if I was going to Bamako.  No, I replied, 'Bla'.  Village after village we passed, with no more than a few people gathered around kerosene lanterns, illuminating the fact that this 'highway' was taking us through villages of no more than a few huts or makeshift houses.  People would disembark at various times, and there would be the odd police checkpoint, although their function remains one of West Africa's great mysteries.  The bus continued on its way and so late was it getting, that I was hoping that it would never reach Bla.  Although I was entirely correct to believe that my security was never endangered, for me, when travelling, it's simply a fact of life that any challenge is less intimidating in the light of day.  Alas, we arrived in Bla.  One other person stepped off with me.  I turned to the bus driver and simply said 'Sevare?'.  He pointed to the other passenger.  I tagged along with this other bloke, who took me to the second of Bla's two streets, to what was more or less a bus stop.  A brief conversation between my new best friend and a local ensued, and he put his luggage down, said something to me and walked off.  I dropped my backpack to the ground and used it for a seat, wondering what the hell was going on.  He returned with two loaves of the most delicious, crusty French sticks I have ever had, and handed one to me.  We sat for a few minutes, and one of the few phrases I know in French is 'where can I buy...?' and he pointed me to the source of the world's greatest bread.  Noting that the public toilet was close by, I took the chance to use it - the attendant there refused my money, perhaps out of pity, but more likely out of hospitality, a 'my urinal is your urinal' kind of thing.  Either way, it's things like this that stick in your mind.

I returned to my friend with two loaves in tow, in an effort to reciprocate his generosity.  Then the most amazing thing heppened - a bus turned up, heading for Sevare.  I had to pay another 6000 francs, and I was sitting on an empty fuel container in the stairwell (why they wouldn't just let me sit on the stairs, I have no idea), but I was on my way.  For about ten minutes.  The bus broke down, and everyone eventually hopped off, realising that this wouldn't be fixed quickly.  An hour and half later, we were going again - for less than five mins, broken down again, this time in company with another bus in the same situation.  Everyone jumped off immediately this time, knowing that a long wait would once again ensue.  I don't know how long it took to fix, or if it's still there.  The locals had obviously seen all this before, and every time a vehicle bigger than a VW beetle went past, they would try to flag it down.  We'd been waiting for about an hour and a half, when the strangest looking bus I've ever seen turned up.  I honestly don't know how to describe it.  If the broken down bus was 30 years old, then this must have been at least 50.  It had the strangest headlights - loacted above the driver, they spun around and around, which left me wondering if it could have once been an ambulance - it certainly wouldn't have looked out of place on the set of MASH.  A few girls had flagged down this bus, yelling 'Sevare? Sevare?'.  With a positive response from the driver, they went rushing to grab their bags, and I followed.  We jumped on board, paid our money (another 4000, but I was way beyond caring), and found our seats.  There was plenty of room, which was a bonus, but as our refugee from the 4077 left an automotive triage behind, I looked around at the other people on the bus.  It wasn't just the transport that was from another realm.  These people were the ugliest, weirdest-looking freaks I had ever seen.  I know that sounds horrible, but I'm sugar-coating things as best as I can.  Just watch The Dark Crystal, and you'll get a better idea.  I have read quite a bit about the ethno-cultural diversity of this region, and can recognise the physical differences of a number of different peoples, but I'm at a loss when trying to explain who these guys were.  Thankfully, they were quite rude, so I don't feel quite so bad about being this horrible.  Besides which, I just don't trust pale Africans, except for albinos, of which I've seen four; two in BF (in only five days!), and one each in Ghana and Mali, but albinos and the albino-citing league ladder is another story.   At any rate, I figured it must have been about 03:00, but we were on our way to Sevare.

At this point, I realised it was Christmas, which just made me laugh (sorry Mum - didn't quite make it to Midnight Mass).  It was also at this time that things started to get extremely cold, I mean, really very cold - something to do with the holes in the floor of the bus, perhaps?   I was in and out of sleep when there was a commotion.  The girls with whom I'd boarded the bus were making a fuss and getting off.  Should I get off too?  What were they going to do?  Why were they getting off?  I basically decided to stick my head in the sand.  I had paid for the bus to take me to Sevare, and therefore, this would happen - it's not like I'd ever been let down by someone making such a promise before, right?  It soon became apparent why the girls left.  Even for someone who knows nothing of Malian geography, I could tell that we were so far off the beaten track it wasn't funny.  I was confident the bus would, in fact, terminate in Sevare, providing it didn't terminate beforehand.  This land was like a scene from a movie - barren but not desert, the only houses were constructed by whatever these people could get their hands on.  The villages on the road to Bla had no electricty, but for this part of the world, kerosene lamps remain some distant hope.  This may always be the poorest region I ever experience, and even then, from the relative comfort of the bus.  And I'll never really know where it was.

It struck me as being odd that the girls were so afraid of a little detour to...wherever this was.  Then, two things happened.  Was this a mirage?  There had been a degree of daylight for some time now, and on the side of the road, there was a very small sign which read 'Sevare - 90'.  Thank God.  Whatever happened from here, I was less than 100km away from the familiarity of Sevare - a place that I'd only read about but arriving there would surely feel like coming home.   Then it occured to me why the girls had disembarked.  Something had just gone amiss with the bus, and despite attempts to fix it, we more or less limped the last 90 km to Sevare, taking nearly three hours to do so.  This is what they'd been afraid of; any brakedown in the land of the gelflings would have meant a wait of, potentially, days, for another vehicle to come along.  Just exactly would I have done then?  I honestly can't say.  Who knows, I might have even ended up marrying a gelfling and having freak-show babies of my own.   Incidentally, with about 50km to go, the other half of Africa's food security issues boarded the bus and decided to sit next to me, despite the fact that there were, by this stage, spare seats everywhere.  Why do people do this?  Another one of West Africa's mystreries.

So here I am in Sevare.  I've had several adventures since, but I'm too typed out to discuss them now.  I might need to stay in town for another day.  This place has become a base for my travels into Dogon Country, up to Timbuktu and into the Sahara, and the place where I'm staying, Mac's Refuge, has proven to be something of a home away from home.  In relative terms, Christmas Day saw the most amazing lunch and dinner I have ever known.  After a couple of weeks of rice, sauce and bread (not to mention the bus ride), to have so much meat, salad and vegies was unbelievable.  If you're ever in this part of the world, I recommend you stay here - just don't ask me for directions.

Until next time, all the best from Sevare.  

      
« Last Edit: 2011-Jan-06, 06:46 AM by Nick Rivers »

Offline Nick Rivers

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« 2011-Jan-06, 01:05 AM Reply #34 »
Incidentally, here I am in Sevare, part of the inland Niger River Delta in Mali, and guess what kind of mousepads they have in the internet cafe?  Deep Impact, complete with profile, breeding details, and race record.

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« 2011-Jan-06, 04:49 PM Reply #35 »
Nick
Are we going to see images of these broken down buses and or the girls. Your certainly having a journey.

Offline Nick Rivers

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« 2011-Jan-06, 05:55 PM Reply #36 »
G'day Westie

No photos of either, I'm afraid, but having seen just how bad the internet facilities are elsewhere here, I'm keen to take the opportunity to upload some images this evening.  Will hopefully have something for you by this time tomorrow.

Offline MagiC~*

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« 2011-Jan-06, 06:09 PM Reply #37 »
Will hopefully have something for you by this time tomorrow.

 :thumbsup:

Looking forward to seeing them mate.

Might pay to sign up to one of those image hosting sites, and upload them to there as this site may have some limitations  :shy:


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« 2011-Jan-06, 06:14 PM Reply #38 »
Nick
If you don't already have a hosting site photobucket http://photobucket.com/ is good as is flickr http://www.flickr.com/ A list of sites --->: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_photo_sharing_websites I use Photobucket.
« Last Edit: 2011-Jan-06, 07:30 PM by westie »

Offline MagiC~*

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« 2011-Jan-06, 07:23 PM Reply #39 »
Thanks Westie, there are somethings I am not that informed on, and that is one of them    :biggrin:

Offline Nick Rivers

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« 2011-Jan-08, 04:57 AM Reply #40 »
Well, I tried to upload them last night and the computer was struggling, then the whole town had a blackout.  I'm now in Bamako, which is much, much bigger than Sevare, so there might be something here - currently using the hostel's computer.  Will give things another crack tomorrow.

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« 2011-Jan-10, 04:56 AM Reply #41 »
Just back from the Bamako races.  I just don't know what to say.  One of the horses was older than its jockey, in the heat of the Sahelian sun, two guys in the crowd were dressed head to toe in cowboy gear, the race-day stables consisted of a few bricks around the trees to which the horses were tied, the track was nothing but dust and dirt, with soccer fields in the track's inner, and as for the grandstand, I don't think Flemington has too much to worry about.  I only stayed there for race one of the three race card, as there were some extremely dodgy charachters about (and no women) and it was getting dark.  For the record, my tip came second, with the all-conquering Traoré stable claiming yet another win.  Entrance was one dollar, and it came with a print out of the fields - no form though. 

Bamako is really quite enjoyable - a lot better than I expected, based on stories from others I'd met.

All the best from Bamako.

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« 2011-Jan-12, 04:37 AM Reply #42 »
What the  :censored:  just happened?  There I was in downtown Kayes, trying to make sense of a map, but couldn't, so, seeking some assistance, I consulted a street sign.  Well, this was just too muck for a local copper.  He came out of nowhere, yelled the bejesus out of me, cajolled me over to his car, opened the door and insisted I get in.  I don't think so buddy.  I yelled back at him, telling him I didn't
understand, that I hadn't done anything wrong, and quite simpy, go  :censored:  himself.  At this point, a group of about eight locals leapt to
my defence, led by the most irate Malian of all time.  He absolutely went beserk at this copper, but to no avail.  I had obviously
threatened Mali's and Kayes' security, and he was going to find out the depths, details and intracies of my plan.  He made a couple of
phone calls while I cooly stood my ground, externally anyway, absolutely shitting myself the whole time.  He eventually got off the
phone; to whom he was speaking, I have no idea, but he marched over to me and insisted to see my passport.  It still didn't occur to him that I couldn't understand him.  I explained that it was back at my hotel.  'Where are you staying?' he conveyed through the locals.  When I answered 'Mission Catholique', he turned and muttered something to the locals who hurriedly informed me that I was free to go, but I should leave quickly. The whole thing took about ten or fifteen minutes, but seemed more like an hour.  I've been happily getting by on rice and bread - this is the last time I go looking for a patisserie.  I had been weighing up whether to stay a second night here, or head to straight to Senegal.  How does that song go? Show me the way to St Louis, show me the way...

My bus leaves tomorrow at 14:00.

So I've written about my introduction to Mali (the bus ride), and events from today, the eve of my departure.  Once I get to St Louis, I'll write about my time exploring the country, which on the whole, was quite a lot of fun - it just won't be that much fun to read, I suspect.

All the best from Kayes.

Offline MagiC~*

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« 2011-Jan-12, 11:31 AM Reply #43 »
lol



Sorry mate, I understand you where shitting yourself, but will make a funny story one day   emthup

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« 2011-Jan-20, 05:08 AM Reply #44 »
Cheers mate, I think I've just about regained my composure   :lol:

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« 2011-Jan-20, 05:08 AM Reply #45 »
Firstly, let me just apologise for the typos - not only is the layout of French keyboard something of an issue, but the keys are incredibly stiff, so bear with me, thanks.

Having eventually arrived safely in Mali, I set about looking to find my way to Dogon Country as soon as possible.  It's hard for me to explain what Dogon Country, so here's a little help from Wikipedia:

The principal Dogon area is bisected by the Bandiagara Escarpment, a sandstone cliff of up to 500m (1,640 ft) high, stretching about 150 km (almost 100 miles). To the southeast of the cliff, the sandy Séno-Gondo Plains are found, and northwest of the cliff are the Bandiagara Highlands. Historically, Dogon villages were established in the Bandiagara area in consequence of the Dogon people's collective refusal to convert to Islam a thousand years ago.[2] Dogon insecurity in the face of these historical pressures caused them to locate their villages in defensible positions along the walls of the escarpment. The other factor influencing their choice of settlement location is water. The Niger River is nearby and in the sandstone rock, a rivulet runs at the foot of the cliff at the lowest point of the area during the wet season.

Among the Dogon several oral traditions have been recorded as to their origin. One relates to their coming from Mande, located to the southwest of the Bandiagara escarpment near Bamako. According to this oral tradition, the first Dogon settlement was established in the extreme southwest of the escarpment at Kani-Na.[3][4] Over time the Dogon moved north along the escarpment, arriving in the Sanga region in the 15th century.[5] Other oral histories place the origin of the Dogon to the west beyond the river Niger, or tell of the Dogon coming from the east. It is likely that the Dogon of today combine several groups of diverse origin who migrated to escape Islamization.[6]


The tour consisted of three days trekking between several villages.  The only other person in my group was an Australian woman, in her fifties.  At first, it was nice to hear the accent again, but this novelty wore off extremely quickly - what a whinger!  And it proved later that she's in this part of the world - in part, at least - to trawl for young African men.  I've seen a number of French women in their fifties, hand in hand with guys who could not possibly be older than about 22 years old.  The Dogon trekking itself was great - very beautiful scenery, and sleeping under the stars in the villages was very relaxing.  On a completely irrelevant note, on the second day, I defeated a horse in a foot race.  Our guide, Seydou, arranged for a horse-drawn wagon to take us between villages - around 5km.  This poor thing was not much bigger than a pony, and was being asked to pull four people (including its driver) under the Sahel's midday sun.  I thought this was a bit stupid, especially as it wasn't take us any faster than we could walk.  So I got off an started running.  The driver asked the horse to give chase, but I left it for dead.  I'd run about 2km before we reached some extremely soft sand,  which co-incidentally, was when I realised my opponent had been embarrassed enough, and decided to walk alongside him.  He was hit pretty hard at the weights, but I'd like to think that I would have won anyway. 


The following day, having arrived back in Sevare, I ventured the twelve kilometres to the twin town of Mopti, in search of passage up to Timbuktu.  It's said that Timbuktu is all about the journey there, and the 'bachee' trip across to Mopti was a pretty inauspicious start to proceedings - 29 people in the back of something like a thirty year-old transit van, with all the seats ripped out.  Having made it to Mopti, I went about seeking a vessel to take me to the mythical city - or at least I would have, if I had the chance.  As is written in one of the travel guides, 'in Mopti, tourism is a contact sport'.  Let me put it in my own words; there is currently a travel warning from our government, declaring that all travel to the Mopti region is unsafe, and must be avoided.  This would be entirely appropriate, if it was based on the very real possibility of any tourist to Mopti finding themselves in gaol for having murdered a local would-be guide.  There's not a lot of money in this part of the world, and tourists bringing in foreign currency represent the best chance locals have of earning more than local wages - if they're lucky enough to get a job digging ditches for $2 a day, that is.  But there really is little respect from a fair proportion of those fighting for your money - worse than the Middle East, India, and worse than where I am currently, in Senegal, where I was told that dealing with the locals would be torturous, which, thankfully, is a load of crap.  And in the extreme heat of Mopti, negotiating (if you can call it that) can get testing at times.  This is going to sound stupid, but I figure I - like all tourists - have a responsibility to other tourists, so I maintained my record of always blowing off anyone who started negotiations too high.  Some might say that I'm being disrespctful to the local ways of bargaining, but if someone's going to offer me a realistic price first time - even if it's higher than what I know the going rate to be - I am more inclined to simply accept that price.  There are two main reasons for this: firstly, fixed prices ensure that the relationship between locals and tourists isn't characterised by trying to screw each other out of every last franc - it would be okay if humour was a considered a neccessary element in the process, as I found it be South East Asia, but this isn't the case here.  Secondly... I forgot what my second point was.  Basically, if haggling's going to be part of the process, it should be fun.  Elsewhere here in West Africa, it's been fun, but I suspect that it's the Tuareg (who, by and large, are wonderfully hospitable) who have introduced a more cut-throat form of negotiation to Mali's tourism sector.  Compounding the problem on one way, but ultimately making things cheaper, is that the French government has issued a warning, declaring all travel to Mali as unsafe.  The net result of this, being a reduction in numbers this tourist season by about two-thirds.


Back to Mopti.  As I disembarked from the bachee, I was descended upon by a couple of eager touts, trying to get me to Dogon Country, or Timbuktu, or somewhere else.  I was after passage up the Niger River to Timbuktu on a cargo/public pinasse; the journey should take around 60 hours, on a vessel with no toilet, that doesn't stop, and I would be sharing my voyage with sacks of millet, goats, motorbikes, and whatever else those in Timbuktu might be in need.  The first bloke wanted 40000CFA - $80.  I don't think so mate, and I don't care if you can all of a sudden drop your price by 10000CFA, see rule one.  Next guy wanted 30000CFA, but I was a little unsure at this stage, wanted to have more of a look around.  I eventually found Moussa, acting on behalf of a grizzled old Tuareg sea captain, and we agreed on 20000CFA.  He somehow got a further 10000CFA out of me for a giant bag of fruit, a dozen 1.5L bottles of water, and sundry other things 'that tourists need', including a mat, to mark out my space.  This all happened in a bit of hurry, but no problem, I did the sums, and I was paying market rate - they were just finding another way to find something of a margin.  The next day I arrived back in Mopti, and found my way to where they'd placed my mat on the boat.  Within an hour, my mat had half disappeared, and things were a little less roomy than they had originally been, certainly less roomy than I'd been promised.  What could I do though, but go with the flow.  Asking any of my three immediate neighbours to give me a little more room would have been futile, as my French is dreadful, my Tamsheq (Tuareg) even worse, and my goat bleet is cursed with this heavy Australian accent.  So I was left on the right (starboard?) flank of this pinasse, which measured around 20 metres or so in length, pretty bloody cramped, but just happy to set sail.  Within an hour or so, I had adjusted somewhat to the sacks of millet that would be my mattress, although I can't understand why hundreds of women would want to sleep with this Keith Millet - it's so uncomfortable.  Up the Niger we sailed, and the gentle course of the first day was a welcome relief from Mopti.  This river journey was one of the things that I had been looking forward to in Mali, and it didn't disappoint.  Winding our way gently up the river, the breeze keeping things cool, with MP3 player or book engaged - even a stress-junky like me couldn't help but relax.  The first night was pretty funny, though.  It's at a particualr stretch of the river where the wind really kicks up, and every few minutes, water would splash up over the side of the boat, leaving me soaked, until a couple of crew came along and pulled down the canvas siding, tieing it to the frame of the boat, keeping things pretty dry. Until, that is, an enterprising woman from one of the local villages sidled up to the boat, and chose my panel to 'knock' on, and, at about 5:00am, just as I'd dried off and drifted back to sleep, started selling breakfast to the pasengers.  Every person on the boat, it semed, came to grab something to eat, which ensured that, while I lay there still half asleep and trying to figure what the hell was going on, around forty or fifty locals came clamouring to purchase their corn flakes, Niger Inland Delta style - driedfish, but beautifully presented, with its body curled around so its head and tail met in a circle - something like a fish-doughnut.  Still others on the boat had it worse - two young guys are engaged to work around the clock, scooping up over the side using three litre cans, the water taken on by Mopti's Queen Mary.         

The second day was even more relaxing than the first, and, making good time, we were treated to a stop at one of the local villages.  It might have had more to do with prayer tie, and if so, that's some great PR work by Allah, as it also afforded me the opportunity to use the toilet - a treat I genuinely didn't expect.  We resumed our voyage, when I remembered my fruit.  I took the single banana and orange that I wanted, and then passed around the bag, making it known through my 'interpreter' that it they were there for everyone to share.  Instant friends.  It's something I've done on all bus journeys, too - made sure that at the beginning I've had something to share, and offered it to those around me.  People rarely accept, but this simple act of generosity lets everyone know that I'm not French, which is, in part, why they've offered me honourary citizenship (the former colonial bosses aren't exactly loved around here).

We arrived at our destination in the early hours of the third day, about fifteen hours ahead of schedule.  We spent the night on the boat at the 'port', and headed up to Timbuktu the following day.  I won't go into too much detail about TImbuktu.  I stayed on the edge of the desert, and spent one night in the Sahara, camping with some Tuareg.  This is absolutely the craziest thing in the world - according to Smartraveller.  In reality, nothing could be safer.  I have to mention at this point, just how dangerous these hysterical and paraniod travel warnings are.  What I did is apparently no less dangerous than Contiki Mogadishu, leaving me to think that heading over to Somalia - or Iraq and Afghanistan, for that matter, might actually be safe.  Okay, these places aren't too safe, but it's incredibly irresponible of our government to say that somewhere like northern Mali is apocolyptically dangerous, if it wants its travel warnings to be taken seriously.   

So, now having a Timbuktu stamp proudly displayed in my passport, I made my way back to Sevare via 4x4, and then headed to Senegal via Bamako and Kayes.  I've touched on my time in Kayes and meeting a charming member of its constabulary, and before this, I made mention of going to the Bamako races.  I actually quite enjoyed Bamako, which was a welcome relief after a day in Djenne, about which, the less said, the better.  I will say this though - they have the world's biggest mud structure, a mosque, measuring 18 metres high, built in the western-Sudan 'mud and stick' style.  It's very pretty, but the 'guides' there are more than a match for those from Mopti.
From Kayes (prounounced Kai), I embarked on another epic bus ride, this time to St Louis, Senegal.  But more about his later.

For the moment, all the best from Cap Skirring, Senegal.

Offline Nick Rivers

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« 2011-Jan-23, 05:57 AM Reply #46 »
Still in the Francophone world, so expect some typos.  Actually, I just can't spell, but I'll blame it on the French.

Having left things at Kayes, I guess I'm up to the trip to St Louis, Senegal, the first French settlement in the region, and the original colonial capital for the entirety of French West Africa.  There isn't much to say about the bus ride, other than it was extremely uncomfortable, without any pf the hilarity of the previous ones.  The bus was actually to Dakar, where I would catch a 'sept place' taxi - an old peugot with seven passenger places, hence, sept place.   The bus was one of those that had had the seats ripped out, and replaced with five seats across, rather than the standard four.  And I was sandwiched between a very friendly giant local, and someone who wanted the world to think that he was either Nicholas Anelka or Thierry Henry.  Well, mission accomplised mate, but the world thinks that they're both d*ckheads.  The journey is somewhere around a thousand kilometres (I think - not too sure), yet it took 23 hours, so maybe an average speed of 40km/h?  I've had a lot of crazy bus journeys here, and loved them all, but the fact that I hated this one suggests to me that I was over the adventure part of my trip, and looking forward to the relaxing to begin.  This, and the lack of time, is why I blew off eastern Senegal, and headed straight for the better developed parts of the coast.  One thing happened on this bus trip that will stay with me, though.  We were nearing the end of the four and a half hour immigration/customs marathon, standing around, waiting for our passports to be checked before they could be returned (a pretty lengthy process, for some reason).  A local approaced us, dressed in nothing but a filthy pair of pants, torn at the knees, he was covered in dirt, and either unwilling to, or I suspect incapable of, talking.  I have no doubt that this poor bastard, completely isolated in every possible way, had a mental illness.  He outstretched his hand, and I handed him the baguette that I'd just bought.  Then he turned to the Frenchy next to me.  This scumbag looked this man squarely in the eye as he reached into his pocket, pulled out his cigarettes, removed one from the pack, placed it his mouth, lit it, inhaled, removed the cigarette, smiled, then laughed in this poor bastard's face.  Couldn't he have just said 'no'?  What a phuckwit.  Quite literally, life couldn't be much tougher for this bloke, but this French jerk took it upon himself to try and make him feel worse.  Another local and myself took our hungry friend to a local food stall, bought him a couple of meat and onion sandwiches, and while I gave him a few dollars, the local sat with him and tried to have a chat, although it was a pretty one-sided conversation, as our mate stared vacantly into the distance.  Any effort to interact might have been superficially futile, but simply by sitting with him, this champion was providing our friend with something resembling dignity.  Phucking French scum.

Once in Dakar, I hopped off the bus, with two things in mind - I wanted to purchase my ferry ticket to Ziguinchor for Tuesday the following week, and I needed to find my way to the gare-routiere, the sept-place taxi station.  As I got off the bus, I couldn't believe my luck - a Senegalese-Seppo couple approaced me, asking me if I needed help.  To cut a long story short, they let me share their cab, then hang out with them at her place firstly, then his place, and in between, took me to the pier to buy my ticket.  Then they walked me to the station.  Going to each of their places provided me with something most tourists don't get to see - domestic life of both an ex-pat, and then a local.  And this was real local living, too.  I saw more of Dakar in a few hours than most tourists get to see at all.   Dakar, incidentally, was like nothing I had seen in my travels so far - extremely dynamic, to say the least, but more on the capital later.  I caught my sept-place, arrived in St Louis, and found my way to my auberge.


I spent only two full days in St Louis, and there isn't a lot to do other than walk around and appreciate the colonial buildings, which is fine, because they're pretty bloody beautiful.  The only problem is that no one will let you photograph anything.  Luckily, the second morning saw me wake an hour or so before the entire town.  This was a great result, giving me the chance to photograph without offending anyone, although I probably only took about twenty pics of the buildings, and a couple of the sunrise of the Senegal River, which turned out really well.  Looking at the photos the other night, I reckon they're just about the best I have from this trip.  The time of day wes a big bonus - soft light, and all that crap.  And once the town switched into gear with people and traffic starting to fill the streets, I wandered over to the 24 hour boulangerie (every town should have one), bought myself a loaf of piping hot bread (for thirty cents), and sat down by the Senegal River and watched the sun come up.  Pretty freaking good start to the day, and a realisation that relaxing time had arrived.  

I'm writing all this from memory, so apologies for the sketchiness of the details.  I'm currently in the Casamance region, but I'll try to catch people up as soon as I can about my time in Dakar (not very exciting) and down here in Diola country, which could not have been better.  

Off to The Gambia tomorrow (English-speaking - you bloody beauty!).

Until then, all the best from Oussouye.
« Last Edit: 2011-Jan-23, 06:03 AM by Nick Rivers »

Offline omnitrader

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« 2011-Jan-23, 07:34 AM Reply #47 »
Thanks nick, I have just read this from go to whoa and enjoyed every post. Sounds like an amazing trip so far and no doubt life changing in some way. Keep up the updates as they are very enjoyable and like others looking forward to the photo's when you can get them on here.  :thumbsup:

Offline Nick Rivers

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« 2011-Jan-25, 07:30 AM Reply #48 »
Cheers Omni.   It's hard to believe it's nearly over, but like you've alluded to, it's not like the experience will be leaving me any time soon.   Will post pics in a few days, I hope - arriving in London on Friday.

I'm back in the English-speaking world now, and having trouble readjusting to proper keyboards, so forgive the typos   :lol:

Dakar.  I caught the first sept-place out of St Louis last Sunday week, and arrived in Dakar around 10:00am - probably a world record, and a ready made replacement for the Paris-Dakar rally; very glad to be sufficiently tired to sleep my way through some pretty keen driving.  Having said that, there was one incident that I was only too awake for.  We entered a roundabout way too quickly, and we didn't have right of way.  I was sitting behind the driver, and could see him look at the car which was already on the roundabout - the one to which we should have given way.  Not quite sure what he was thinking, but he continued into its path, and I was about looking square at the driver of the other car, no more than two feet away, when the two drivers both conceded in their game of chicken.  Lucky they did, because they couldn't have left it any later. 

Having arrived safely in Dakar, I made my way to the hotel.  Dakar and accommodation have a bit of a reputation.  If you pay less than $50 a night, 90% goes towards the bed, and the other 10% to its complimentary accompanying woman.  So, I forked out the extra, paying a little under $60 a night for a nice, clean, comfortable room in a nice, central location (my bed in Kayes was $5, so this was a bit of splurge).  Although a step up, it still wasn't quite what I'd expected, although its quaint little quirks were only ever endearing.  Such as the bloke working there, who, whenever thanked, would reply 'and thank-you for you'.  As mentioned previously though, he's on his fourth or fifth language and I struggle with one, so I'm grateful.  Another little quirk, was its 'business centre'.  This consisted of a computer in a room the size of a shoe box.  And the internet was down the first day and half.  I asked if it would be fixed, and our friend at reception replied very dramatically 'I called the technician, and there was...... (crossing arms a la no deal from 'Deal or No Deal') .... no answer.'  This was a shame, because I was keen to use these evenings to catch up on this writing, but didn't get the chance, which is why I'm having to rely on memory for much of this, which is a bit of shame. 

By the time my room was ready and I'd had a shower ($60 a night still doesn't buy you hot water in Dakar), I sat down on the bed, and turned on the TV.  This place was Lebanese-owned (pound for pound, they have to out-do even the Chinese when it comes to the most prolific and dispersed diaspora), and caters to a large extent, to Lebanese business travellers.  So when they advertise 'satellite television' what they really mean is 'The Storm Rages Twice' on 28 stations, and CNN on the other.  Or so I thought, initially.  I couldn't believe my luck when, flicking through the stations, I happened upon the sight of two teams walking on to the hallowed turf of White Hart Lane.  Although disappointed to be held to a draw by the minnows, Manchester United, it was great to see my beloved Spurs, and my first sport for nearly two months (although I couldn't have done better with the timing of this trip, dodging the Ashes as I have). 

Dakar has a reputation for being a city where tourists cop a lot of unwanted attention.  Looking back, to take this on face value rather than scrutinising its source was a big mistake.  Although I don't know the precise source, all I can assume is that it's folk who have never been to Mali.  Consequently, I kind of wasted some of my time here, preferring to stay in my hotel more than I normally would.  Having said that, it was great hear the fluent English (or thereabouts) of CNN.  Dakar is a truly amazing city though.  As I've mentioned elsewhere, it's not too dissimilar to a (less crowded) miniature Francophone West African Mumbai, but, thanks to our Lebanese friends, it comes with some quality kebabs.  The two share some historical similarities, too.  Both were the commercial capital for the flagship colonies of their respective empires, receiving greater infrastructure and stronger cultural influences than most other similar colonies.   At this point, you have to laugh at the Frenchies, but just read that again -  Senegal (which I absolutely love) versus India (which I don't hate, but it's not West Africa) as flagship colonies.  I have no time for colonialism, but to think that the Frenchies can compete with the poms is hilarious.  Don't tell the French that; they - quite seriously - still harbour aspirations of their language becoming the global 'lingua franca', as it were.  Anyway, Dakar is incredibly dynamic.  I don't particularly like the president, Wade, but he can't be accused of sitting on his hands while his people starve, unlike some in the region.  Not that people aren't starving, and not that he's not corrupt, but the progress here has earnt the city the nickname 'the Dubai of West Africa'.  A little over the top, but relatively speaking, it really can't be bestowed upon anyone else.  It has come at a cost though, environmentally (it's built at the edge of a peninsular and the ground can't cope) and socially (the poor and scrubby folk of Dakar are being pushed aside and left behind while the burgeoning middle class live ever-increasingly comfortable lives).  But as on outsider looking in, I can't believe the polarised nature of life in this country; Dakar has all the money being invested in it, while the countryside continues to struggle, despite the very fact that it feeds Dakar.  Another similarity that characterises these two cities - migration.  From regional Senegal and other countries in West Africa, migrants flock, just as Mumbai has been a magnet for regional and rural migrants in previous years.  All makes for a very vibrant, cosmopolitan city.   

Back to my time there, and I spent the last day very productively.  I headed off to Ile de Goree, a 20 minute ferry ride from Dakar, and a former slave-trading centre.  Relatively speaking, the region known as Senegambia did not see a significant number of slaves depart its shores.  It's estimated that only 300 or so left from Ile de Goree per year, but numbers couldn't be less relevant; that an accessible and well maintained site such as this exists in the Francophone world, ensures that those who might not visit sites elsewhere, can appreciate the finer (and more graphic) details of 'the greatest drama of the last millenium' (W.E.B. Du Bois).  The island itself is quite beautifully set, I'm informed, although it was appropriately overcast and cool while I was there.  Combined with this idyllic setting, the hauntingly beautiful colonial buildings really belie the cruelty hidden within.   

I was looking at the monument to the end of slavery in Guadeloupe, when an elderly resident of the island called over to me.  I sat down and we started chatting (again, very grateful for his English).  We spoke at length for an hour or so about the slave trade and slavery, and, at the risk of sounding full of myself, I could tell that he was appreciative that he'd met someone grateful for his wisdom - someone who was able to teach him something about the episode, too.  We then spoke about the colonial legacy, and as he described Nigerians as 'wild', but Ghanaians 'educated' and 'civilised', I asked if it had occurred to him that these comments were perhaps those of someone who had exchanged part of their African identity for that of a Frenchman.  His initial reply came after something of a pause - 'you haven't been to Lagos, have you', followed by a long, gruff laugh (cigarettes - thanks France).  He then argued that Ghana had benefitted from colonialism to a degree, whereas the Nigerian experience has been less positive.  He went on, explaining that he'd absorbed elements of French culture, and why shouldn't he? - the very problem with colonialism was that it operated under the pretext that one culture was entirely superior in every way, which was just stupid.  Check mate - well played old man.  If he wasn't already my favourite Senegalese, then he certainly was after he showed me to his son-in-law's restaurant.  Just what I was hoping to find, it was a simple place, serving the best 'yassa poulet' I had in my time in the country, and set me back only $7 - outstanding value for a tourist place in this country.  Yassa is an onion and lemon marinade, in which the chicken is cooked, apparently.  The chook was the best size and quality I've had so far over here - more often than not, it's just bones and gristle.  And served with a mountain of rice, I could live off this stuff forever.  Silver medal so far - red-red still has everything's measure.

I then took the ferry back to Dakar, where I took a different ferry to Ziguinchor, capital of the Casamance region.  This ferry must be the safest in the world.  Every week, the trip is made twice each way, and serves as the single most important internal passenger transport in the country.  It was this demand that led to the tragedy of 2002 (seems like yesterday) where the ferry plying this route, (The Joola), heavily overloaded, capsized, with only 68 of the 2000+ passengers and crew surviving - the second worst non-military maritime disaster in history (according to wikipedia, anyway).  It was only licensed to carry 580, and this ridiculous disregard for safety has become a thing of the past, with a similar limit on the replacement vessel strictly adhered to.  It's pretty bloody comfortable, and the fourteen hours passed reasonably quickly, as it pulled in to the Ziguinchor port around 10:00 the following morning.

My time's just about up, but at 15 dalasi (60 cents) an hour and an unusually good connection, I'll be back soon.  It's great to be catching up with this - it's disappointing that internet access has ensured that I haven't been able to write more regularly.     

Next time, my entirely enjoyable five days (or the two more interesting ones, anyway) in Casamance, which, if you believe the travel warnings, is Chernobyl's and Kivu's lovechild.

All the best from Fajara.

Offline chuggers

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« 2011-Jan-25, 07:51 PM Reply #49 »
Nick,

This is amazing postings--I am glued to my seat reading what you are doing---I'm too old to do what you are doing but my eyes are glued to what you post.

Ripper    :clap2:

 :beer:


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