Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dakar to Bamako

Good times with friends

The King's tomb near Ngayene
Stones in the field
We spent a pleasant time in Dakar, visiting friends, doing some needed repairs and purchases, and then we were off. Our first stop was to see the mysterious stone circles that are found in Senegal and Gambia. We had read a little about them, but now, on our way south, we turned off the main road and went looking. Eventually we found the one group, near a village called Ngayene, but they were fenced and locked. Local ‘helpers’ warned that we were under no circumstances to do what they did, and crawl through the fence. After a number of unsuccessful calls, we had to leave to find some place to camp, just as someone came running to say the man with the keys was on his way.

Peanut field camping, before the rain
The chief of a nearby village allowed us to camp in a peanut field, and we pitched the small tent to save time, as rain was threatening. I had done some repairs since it leaked on us, a year ago in Mafikeng. Well, the repairs did not work. We sat on the inflatable mattress like to shipwrecked sailors, watching the water around us, ducking the drips and trying to keep a few essentials from the water spraying in. Eventually we slept, in the puddles on the mattress.

Finding the stones
Crossing into the Gambia was an education in patience. The Senegalese officialdom was friendly, but the Customs officer insisted on stamping also a copy of the SA registration papers, as well as the original! But the Gambians did not have a clue how to treat South Africans. We left, after a few hours, with a tourist stamp valid for 28 days, but were sent back by the first police officer, it seems we also have to have a visa!

Eventually we had lost so much time that we abandoned the idea of visiting the Gambian stone circles, and headed for Banjul instead. No fears for the notorious ferry, they have a new one! Well, they have, but the ferry and the docksides do not match, so it does not work. We crossed after a record four hours, others had taken six.

Using his own funds, Mr Pa tries to conserve his heritage
What a pleasure to be able to crash, tired, sweaty and suffering from a sense of humour breakdown, with an old fried in her air-conditioned house, cold beers in the fridge, washing machine ready,

The sense of peace, history and time was palpable
Two days later we left again. By now we had abandoned the idea of trying to see the dugongs in the Casamance, and so we headed back to eastern Gambia, where, we were told, there is a museum at Wassu where one could see the stone circles.

And what an experience it was! Mr Pa guards the site of burials of centuries ago, making do with what he can get, while international funding usually stops in the capital. We were warned that we might see ghosts, but only felt a warm sense of history around us.

Female Ground Hornbill in Senegal
Crossing back into Senegal, we headed for the acclaimed Niokolo Koba parek, where elephants, lion, buffalo and the rare Derby Eland could be seen.

We had to pay for a guide, and so on to the headquarters where we could camp, but were encouraged to use the air-conditioned hotel with swimming pool. Well, there are air conditioners, but most do not work, and there was no diesel for electricity. Some fuel was found to run the water pump, so there were cold showers. And there is a swimming pool….

Past glory: looking over the Gambia river.   
Between the guide, who had been there for eighteen years, and a researcher, who had been there three years we heard that elephant dung had been seen twice, and two Eland had been found, both dead, killed by poachers. We saw monkeys, baboons, ground hornbills, and a few antelope. Warthogs were around, but that is about it. No paths, no tracks, no buffalo wallows, no sign of herds of antelope, or of elephant tracks. Sad.

Then we left for Mali, where then border formalities were painless, although not too fast. We were told about the beautiful new road, the Southern Corridor to Bamako. Four hours, and we will be there. They did warn that we had to be at the bridge by three, and we were, ten minutes before, just in time to see a crane begin to demolish the temporary bridge. And the permanent one will not be ready to carry traffic for months! Chinese planning!

The result of Chinese planning: A bush camp in Mali
So we turned back on the long road, and almost 800 kilometer, three days and three bush camps, some of the worst roads on the trip and sadly frayed tempers, we are in Bamako. Now we think we should have taken a picture of the Chinese engineer, to invite all readers to stick pins in.

We have done some 10 000 km since leaving Pretoria, and the straight line distance home is just over 6 000km!

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