Day 52 (26 November) – The road south east to Parc National du Niokolo-Koba
We decide to drive the long haul the next day and get as far as we can towards the Southern border crossing with Mauritania past the town of Saraya. We aren’t 100% sure there is an open border there but it looks like a more interesting drive than the highway to Kidira. Some maps have a point and others not, the guidebook says there is a bridge under construction and you can technically cross there if the river is low enough. In one day we make it from Mbour all the way to Wassadou in the Parc National du Niokolo-Koba. By the time we arrive it is almost 6pm. Eowyn has been shouting “Arewethereyet? Arewethereyet? Arewethereyet?” for the past hour and Senna crying. We put up with it after such a long day as we feel we deserve it! We spend two days here to repair the car, take a shower and let the kids run around.
Day 53 (27 November) – Replacing spider joint
Stanley and Niels started to check the cars. First the red Landy… Things looked fine, a few loose bolts… But then… One of the spider joints (I think that is the English name) is completely worn out and needs to be replaced before the whole drive shaft brakes off!
Luckily Niels got 2 spares when he bought the car. This time we decided to read the book before starting tooling. We dissembled the parts quickly but the bearings were so damaged it needed quite some force in order to remove the spider joint… I think the photos give a good impression of the damage. The new joint was assembled quickly and the car drives again without any squeaks!
The blue Landy didn’t have such an exciting story and inspection was done in a few minutes…
Day 54 (28 November) – Southern border crossing into Mali
We left Wassadou and drove the new tar road to Kedougou on to Saraya and then to the border. We stopped at the police post in Kedougou to get stamped out in the passport and continue on to Saraya where we have the Carnet stamped out. It is still 50kms to the border. The customs official said the bridge was not yet complete and the river had been flooded a few weeks ago. When he was at the border last week he was unable to cross in his Hilux. At the border the construction workers on the bridge tell us it is not possible to cross. They guide us down the dirt road to the river’s edge so we can see for ourselves, we do have Land Rovers! Hmm, we see a raging river! Stanley and Niels look at it from every possible angle but the water is moving fast, it is wide and not possible to see how deep it still is. No one has crossed the river (except by boat) since the last rain. Stanley waves to the overlander on the Mali side who was undoubtedly hoping to cross to Senegal. The Kidira border crossing is 500kms back on the tar road or 300km off road from where we are. It is 4pm and we retreat to Saraya to be stamped in again on the carnet( we now have 3 pages in our carnet just for Senegal – stamped in Saint Louis, Stamped in Dakar-out at Saraya and back in at Saraya!) and go to Kidougou for the night.
Day 55 (29 November) – Shortcut to Northern border crossing
The 500 km tarmac option to get to Kidira via Tambacounda is too depressing – boring tarmac half of which we have already driven. We opt for off road. On most maps there are no roads shown and there is nothing in our GPS. We have one map with a few points on it. One guy tells us the road isn’t really a road at all but really a track for bikes and one guy tells us it is ok and we might enjoy it. We have no idea what to expect. We drive back towards Saraya and then off road. The road starts as a grated dirt track with some washed out sections. We pass through a few small villages and small groups of men and boys herding cows and goats. At Dalafi the map is incorrect, we are trying to match out tracks on the GPS with what is on the map but it isn’t making sense. The road we are on is continuing to head East and we need to be going North. We take the first opportunity North which becomes narrower and narrower until it is a single track through high grass. The path ends in the middle of a small village and the whole village is standing there staring at us. The men and kids come forward to greet us. One man tells us they did have some tourists in their village before – one or two years ago! They tell us there is a way to Kaussane (which is not marked on the map) – just turn around and take the first left continuing north. We thank them, turn around and drive back looking for the left. We see nothing that looks like a road but according to the directions it should be where we are. We turn around to drive back towards the village and look again. Then we see one of the villagers chasing after us on his bike. We missed the turn (another single track through the tall grass). It isn’t a road at all and now we remember why we have Land Rovers!
Our average speed is 6km/hr. The scenery is beautiful. It is mostly flat savannah. We drive through forests of baobabs – their leaves off but full of fruit. We see some burned areas and forest fires in the distance. We pass the occasional herder or motorcycle and pass through the villages of Khossanto, Bransan and Boutougou Fara.
It is nearing 5pm and when we come to the village of Bokolako. We ask the village chief if we can pitch our tents for the night. The two newly appointed teachers help to translate. The whole village comes out to see us. The kids especially are curious and want to touch Eowyn’s hair and skin. Before it is dark the teachers take us on a tour through the village. The 2 teachers, the 5 of us and at least 20 village kids set off on the tour. The village is comprised of maybe 10 compounds with between 1-4 families in each. There is a deep water well with a pump, a mosque (without any walls), a ‘boutique’ (which seems to sell chicken feed, matches and onions).
They bring us to the ‘school’ which only consists of some long sticks in the ground. They have only been in the village a few days and will build the school out of sticks and thatch and then can begin lessons for the two groups (younger and older kids).
We walk through compounds greeting people as we go. One woman is cooking couscous made from corn– which seems to be the local staple. There are also piles and piles of enormous squash/pumpkins. The women are dressed in colorful long dresses/boubous and gold earrings. The earrings are very thick gold hoops with red cloth wrapped around the piece that fits through the hole in the ear. There is a black string that is attached to the earrings and goes across the top of the head to help support the weight. Some women also have smaller hoops in additional holes. Our compound is shared by several families and the teachers. The dirt ground is swept clean around the mud huts with thatch roofs. There are wooden beam ‘beds’ where people sit outside. We are provided with a large mat to sit on outside our tent. The other families are cooking around open fires and we light up our jiko to cook on the charcoal. It feels as though we are just incorporated as another family into the compound. Before bed we take a trip to the ‘bathroom’ which is just a section of the field out back.
Day 56 (30 November) – From Bokolako into Mali
Early the next morning the talisman(Imam) walks through the village singing the call to prayer. We hear him gently chanting walking by and within a few minutes hear the low hum of the men reciting their morning prayers. Roosters begin to crow and then people are moving around, lighting fires, sweeping. We pack up, thank the chief and our hosts, leave some paper and pens with the teachers for the new school and drive on. The road from Bokolako is very rocky to start and again it is slow going but nice to be off road and beautiful scenery – more baobab forests and savannah.
It isn’t long before we come across a group of herders. One of them needs to go to Kaussane (and he knows the way) so he hops in with Niels. When we come to the village of Dide Julia and Stanley are stopped by a villager asking if we can take another person to the main road. We don’t have room in our car and as we are discussing whether Niels has room the man runs off. We assume he has taken our hesitation as a ‘yes’ and is getting his bag or water bottles or whatever. He comes back pulling a very large and very reluctant goat... They have the goat tied down and ready to hoist on the roof rack before we can ask what they are doing with that goat. The villager assures us that it is no problem, the goat will sit nicely on the roof. When we ask him where the man will sit he says ‘on the roof also – no problem!’ Not wanting to take more weight on the roof than necessary nor be responsible for that guy being whipped by branches or falling of it is decided Julia and Stanley will take the goat and Niels will take the man. I cannot imagine how long it would take us to get a large, horned goat successfully onto the roof of our car but these guys have it done within 5 minutes – impressive. So, we have a goat and another passenger and off we go.
Kidira is your standard dirty, chaotic border town but little hassle. We are stamped out of Senegal and head across the border to Mali. There are kilometers of trucks along the side of the road – days it will take them to get through – but we are through in about an hour and continue on the tarmac road to Kayes. Kayes (pronounced Kai) has the distinction of being one of the hottest cities in Africa. Not exactly what we were looking for but there isn’t an alternative at this time of the day. The town is surrounded by iron containing hills and due to its location near the desert and in the valley between these hills temperatures are easily above 40°C in the cool seasons. The air is no longer humid and it is dry, very, very dusty and H.O.T. Fortunately Senegal and Mali (so far) are able to grow an abundance of watermelons – they are piled up in heaps along the side of the road and there is almost nothing better than a watermelon to save us from the heat and the dust. When we cut out the first slice Eowyn says it looks like a ‘butt-crack melon’. We can easily finish a whole watermelon in one sitting. We find a campsite in Kayes, pitch our tents, take a shower and sit down to enjoy our warm tea/beer. A very warm beer can be better than no beer and we drink it all.