Day 41 - Friday 30/11/07 - Kasama to campement in Kita

The track continued to be rocky and slow-going but the scenery is beautiful and we passed through lots of little mud-hut villages. The great thing about West Africa is that even in the tiniest, most remote village, someone always speaks French so you can communicate, which is really rewarding. Lots of waving again today - people seemed very happy and surprised to see us. Once we passed the scenic lake at Manantali (the site of a huge hydroelectric plant) the road got much faster, and was even brand new tarmac at one point. When it's finished, this will be the main road from Senegal. We'd just found ourselves a great spot to bushcamp when unfortunately Robin realised that our 'secret wallet' which tucks into his trousers, must have come loose and dropped out somewhere. This is the first time he's ever lost a wallet (whereas I do it on a regular basis) and it had a few important things in like our UK driving licences, credit cards, a memory stick and our spare keys! We went back 50 miles to a checkpoint where we'd last got out the car, but surprise surprise no-one had seen it. Feeling a bit dejected we stayed the night in Kita at the campement run by a lovely Moroccan man, who was certain he'd seen us in Morocco in 2003... which is actually quite possible.

friendly local village at last... some mountains

Day 42 - Saturday 01/12/07 - Kita to Hotel Independance, Segou

Wow, can't believe it's December - it really doesn't feel like it, although it is actually a bit overcast today and much cooler (about 27 degrees). Phoned the banks to cancel the lost credit cards and made a quick visit to the police, who were very friendly and took down all our details about the wallet and gave us a police report number and a 'declaration de perte'. All things considered, it could have been a lot worse - we just have to make sure we don't lose our only set of car keys now. Made good progress along excellent tar roads to Bamako (the capital), where we went in search of a supermarket and tried to replace things like our memory stick. Bamako was pretty hectic and we ended up right in the middle of the market not getting anywhere fast. The supermarket was rather disappointing and horrendously expensive (£5 for a box of fruit and fibre!), so we just bought a few things that we couldn't buy locally and headed on out. Bamako's not a bad place, and could be fun for a couple of days but we didn't really have the energy for a big city. The good road continued up to Segou where we camped in the carpark of the excellent Hotel Independance (yes, it is with an 'a'), just outside town. Rather plush here, but for 6000 CFA (£6) a night we're allowed camp and use all the facilities, including a fab swimming pool and wi-fi.

Day 43 - Sunday 02/12/07 - Hotel Independance, Segou

taking it easy

Couldn't resist another day here to relax and sit by the pool as we haven't stopped since Gambia. Even paid to get our laundry done rather than scrubbing it ourselves - all our clothes have come back a completely different colour. We too are a different colour, under all that dust.

Day 44 - Monday 03/12/07 - Segou to bushcamp near Dioura

As we were heading out of town a portly policemen on a roundabout blew his whistle vigorously at us and insisted Robin hadn't been wearing his seatbelt (he had). He was probably just looking for a bribe, but when he found out we were on our way to Timbuktu he became far more interested in that because his brother is a guide up there. The next thing we knew he was on the phone to his mother and we noted down her phone number 'just in case' we should decide we needed a guide... had a feeling this might come back to haunt us. We followed the backroads towards Timbuktu, passing through little mud-brick villages and fields. We'd both started to feel a bit ill by this point and soon had to make regular stops. After getting the landie grounded for about half an hour on some deeply rutted tracks we were feeling pretty exhausted and dehydrated so camped up for the night. Somehow managed to pull a muscle in my neck whilst being sick - ouch!

Day 45 - Tuesday 04/12/07 - Dioura to bushcamp near Niafounke

no rain for months our friendly shepherd visitors

Both feeling a lot better this morning, although my neck is still really sore! Continued on the little tracks heading north - the fields become noticeably drier and vegetation more sparse as we crossed the Sahel towards the desert. The people are very different up here - not nearly as open and friendly - rather than waving, most of them just stare at us like we're from outer space and one small child actually started crying when she saw us. Practically everyone seems to be a cattle or goat herder - we even saw one guy herding his cattle on the back of a camel - Wild West, African style. Camped miles away from the road, but soon had a visitor, in the form of a local shepherd. He very politely stood at a distance and just watched us. Eventually we showed him our car - he was so excited by the rooftent and being allowed to sit in the driver's seat that he went off to get his friend, who looked rather scared. Neither of them could speak a word of French so we never even found out their names. It's got really chilly now, especially at night - thick sleeping bags out again.

Day 46 - Wednesday 05/12/07 - Niafounke to bushcamp just south of Timbuktu

the infamous Timbuktu Timbuktu

There were loads of locals hitching along the road to Timbuktu, as it's still the main trading centre in the area - although a shadow of what it must have been like in the 14th century (when the emperor of Mali went to Cairo with so much gold that the price slumped for two decades). These days the salt caravans that kept it alive have all but dried up, and the town is slowly being swallowed up by the Sahara. We gave a lift to a Touareg chap, whose friends thought it was hilarious when his turban got caught in the car door and were all hanging off the side of the landie as we drove off. Within minutes of arriving in Timbuktu, the policeman's brother had found us. At first we feebly tried to pretend that we were German and tried to shake him off, but he reappeared everywhere we went (as if by magic carpet) so we explained that we really didn't want a guide and that there had been a misunderstanding. He looked terribly disappointed and said he'd been waiting for us for two days. Felt a bit guilty. The expectation of visiting somewhere like Timbuktu inevitably means it's going to be a disappointment, but actually we found it had a certain charm. There are a couple of mosques and the backstreets are interesting to wander around. It's a mysterious place, too - wily Touaregs with shifty eyes invite you into their tent to drink tea and see things 'plesasing to the eye, with no obligation to buy'. It was kind of a relief to be leaving again.

Day 47 - Thursday 06/12/07 - Timbuktu to Mac's Refuge, Sevare

escarpment near Douantza washing your car, African style

The road south from Timbuktu to Douantza was a real bone-shaker - huge corrugations and the occasional washed out part, just to keep you on your toes. Not for the first time in Mali, the scenery here really reminds us of Australia. We passed loads of cattle being herded south for the annual river crossings. At this time of year, the fula lead their cattle from the northern Sahel grazing ground to the southern banks of the Niger until the return of the rains in May. We stayed at Mac's Refuge in Sevare - it's a funny old place: Mac is the grandson of the Reverend McKinney, who established the first Christian mission in the Dogon country, and bears more than a passing resemblance to Uncle Jessie from the Dukes of Hazard.

Day 48 - Friday 07/12/07 - Sevare/Mopti

Mopti Mopti

After a fab breakfast at Mac's (pancakes, fruit, yoghurt etc), and taking full advantage of the wi-fi, we spent the afternoon in Mopti, which is only 12 km from Sevare, but feels like a world away. Again, expectation is all important: we'd been told that it was really hassley, but we found it really interesting and vibrant. Another reminder that when you shut yourself away, you start to get scared of the real Africa outside your door - much better just to throw yourself into it, shake off the would-be guides and start integrating with the everyday folk. Bought some chillis and hibiscus from the market whilst trying not to slip over on any fish entrails, then found a great bar to watch the world go by.

Day 47 - Saturday 08/12/07 - Sevare to bushcamp near Djenne

Feeling a bit rough again. Robin knew something must be seriously wrong when I didn't want any breakfast! Had been feeling rather hot/cold in the night and really achey, so when we got to Djenne he insisted we go to the hospital for a malaria test. When the results came back, they told me I'd tested positive for both malaria and typhoid, which was a bit of a shock (considering we've had every vaccine under the sun and spent a small fortune on Malarone!). I'm still convinced the doctor had a deal going with the pharmacist across the road. Wasn't going to argue though, so have started a course of antibiotics and antimalarials. Either way, it makes you really appreciate being rich enough to afford the test and the medicine. Had a rather feeble look round the impressive mosque (made from mud from the surrounding flood plains), then retreated into the bush to rest up.

Day 48 - Sunday 09/12/07 - Djenne to Hotel les Deux Caimans, Sanga

We heard of a river crossing in the area, so went to check out the action. At first nothing seemed to be happening, but gradually more and more herds of cattle started gathering, coming from all directions. When the collective mooing hit a certain decibel, the first group went - quite a sight as they whip the cows up into a quite a frenzy then run them towards the river. Group after group went across - at one point I could see a group of cattle heading straight for me so had to jump up a tree, and a couple of times the cows at the front decided to slam on their brakes just before the water so all the others ran into the back of them! Decided that top of the landie was the safest place - as did half the village. After most of cows had gone we headed off to the Dogon country where we'd planned to go trekking, health permitting. We were dreading having to sort out a guide and find somewhere to stay but luckily bumped into Kenneth and Jo (who we met in Senegal) who'd just come back from a trek and gave us all the details.

Days 49-50 Monday/Tuesday 10/12/07

Feeling much stronger than I was a couple of days ago, so decided to give the trekking a go. It's a remarkable part of Mali and has managed to retain a traditional way of life, with beautiful little cliffside villages tucked in amongst the escarpment, and grain stores that look like fairy-tale castles. They also have a mysterious astronomical knowledge (they've always celebrated Sirius as a triple-star system, which was only discovered in 1994 with modern radio telescopes). The walking itself wasn't too strenuous, but it took a while to resdiscover our leg muscles - too much trucking, not enough trekking. We spent two nights sleeping out on the roofs of the mud-brick buildings - not the most comfortable experience, but it was lovely to watch the stars and listen to the sounds of the village.

Day 51 Wednesday 12/12/07 - Sanga to Hotel OK Inn, Ougadougou (Burkina Faso)

Up early and back to Sanga for a quick shower and off to the border. Bit of a rush, but we need to apply for our Ghana visas before the weekend. The roads were pretty good + the border crossing into Burkina Faso was no problem at all (although the guy wanted to charge us 3500 CFA to stamp our carnet because apparently 12-3pm counts as 'overtime'! - so we stubbornly waited the 20 minutes until 3pm). Arriving in a capital city in the dark is never a good idea, but we knew where we were headed and had GPS coordinates so found it without too much difficulty. You can camp in the grounds of the Hotel OK Inn for free and use all the facilities, as long as you eat in the restaurant - fine by us as we've had nothing but rice and onions for three days!

Diary Burkina Faso

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