Monday, August 22, 2011

East from Bamako

Bamako traffic
Bamako road art
We spent a few days navigating the burocratic maze and traffic of Bamako, chasing visas, and we managed to 'do' three countries. At the same time we rested and recovered from the nights bushcamping. My wife got severely bitten by bugs, maybe mosquito's and also burnt, I thought by a local variation of the Nairobi fly that we had come to know in Uganda.

Artist's centre near Segou, working with earth colouring
Then we tackled the road east, along the river towards distant Mopti, and from there, Timbuktu. Our information was ambiguous so far. Some advised against even trying to go to Timbuktu, as it would be dangerous without a military escort, but on our first night stop in Segou we were told by the hotel owner that there were no problems, but that the collapse of tourism had caused a serious problem and that we should expect many people to offer their services as guides, or try to sell us souvenirs.

That did not prevent us from admiring the villages we passed through, some with mud buildings in the ancient style, most with granaries to store their maize and millet.

Tire change in the bush
As we began to count the kilometers towards Djenne, we had our first problems. My intermittent radiator problem resurfaced, and now, after I had filled in Bamako with Total Radiator liquid, we could see water in the bottom of the fan housing. Then Hans had a leak in the brake system, and we went up ahead to warn him of speed bumps and other obstacles. And thirdly we notices that one of my tires was losing air. Slowly, but steadily. We had to stop and change it, before going on.

That sealed the argument: we would not go to Djenne, but on to Sevare, a bigger town on the main road. But where to stay? We started out with about seven names of places where people had camped before, but one by one they were eliminated. Several did not exist any more, victims of the collapse of European tourism, the others just could not accommodate campers. We settled on the Hotel Viavia, next to the bus station, basic but at least open.

Bamako on the water
The Sunday was spent in dismantling, and the hydraulic problem was soon apparent: the heat shield of the turbo had rubbed against the pipe, and that was that. It took some artistry before it was out, but then a local artist brazed it and the deed was done. Bleeding the circuit took some time, and the assistant lost interest before the brakes were done as they should, but at least they work, and we will bleed them more next time we can get to grips with the cars. As a bonus we resolved a problem with the Land Rover's inverter too.

Earth mosque in a village along the road
On the Cruiser we spent time, and bad language, getting the radiator out. It became clear that Silverton Radiators did not take it out when they worked on the system a few months ago. And the radiator mounting on the Cruiser is one example of lack of foresight, uncharacteristic of the Japanese.

Soldering the radiator was a classic example of shade tree mechanics: two guys under a tree have a small collection of wrecked cars around them, the boots of which serve as storage of tools. They have an oxygen cylinder and a contraption in which they put carbide, then add water and clamp the lid: Voila, an oxy-acetylene rig! They found the leaks, melted out the old solder, then slowly but deliberately re-soldered the joint. Testing was done by the solderer holding the bottom outlet, the next customer holding the top inlet, and the assistant blowing in the filler neck after filling the radiator from a plastic kettle.

Shade tree mechanics!
The resultant leak was brushed out, and again carefully re-soldered, and all for CFA 5 000. About R 80. Sevare Radiator services, on the north side of the road, look out for the wrecks.

The tyre episode waited for the afternoon: again I was directed to Mohammed Tyres, who broke the bead with a hammer, then lifted the locking ring with two twists of his tyre levers, where Q-Tires in Pretoria needed two burly Zulus and a long time.

The cause of the leak was sand inside the tyre, and a label, left by the manufacturers, which had trapped the sand and this had worn through the tube. And, warned Mr Mohammed: There is no powder in the tires. He sent his assistant to get a bottle: CFA 750 (About R 12) produced a blue container labelled: Good for Baby's comfort. It even has a rattle in the top! This was applied liberally, the talcum will make the tire run cooler. Assembly was the same demonstration of practised ease, and the whole operation cost CFA 1 000. About R 16! Beat that, South Africa! Only concern is that the other tyres are going to go the same way, sooner or later.

That was not the end of the drama. As we were leaving for Djenne we noticed water dripping from the radiator. So back to the shade tree, and after some deliberation we decided: The radiator must come out again. My wife went on with the others to see Djenne, and she will report on her blog about that. I spent the morning under the tree. The new leak was at the neck of the radiator, caused, I was told, by our han-handed assembly technique.

Soldering done, radiator back in, and some kilometers test drive, and another leak. Again the radiator came out, and laborious testing produced no leak. Back it goes, and after some minutes of running, voila! A leak! This time it seemed that the top radiator hose is not sealing as it should. I have spring type clamps, and according to the expert the hose is too thick for the clamps to seal properly. He was about to build up the neck of the radiator with scotch tape, a well tested technique, he assured me, but then he learnt that I had a tube of silicon.

That sealed the argument and the radiator, so, filled this time with water, and not Mr Total's blue stuff, I was off to Mopti to scout out parking and other wild delights for the people who were still in Djenne.

Granaries in a village near Djenne

River scene near Bamako

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