Timbuktu or bust…..

Timbuktu or bust…..

10th Dec 2010 – 24th Jan 2011

Friday 10th Dec.

In the midst  of getting Christmas presents etc, Clive and I are also getting ready to drive an old car ( see photo) through Europe to Morocco, North western sahara, and Mauratania  to Mali. Final destination is meant to be Bamako where the car is auctioned off in aid of various charities. We, however, have a real wish of getting to Timbuctou, a place that we have tried to get to on our bikes twice before but never quite made it. Bamako to Timbuctou is a 2 day drive on sandy corrugated road. It is not encouraged if you are in an old car about to be auctioned, for it might easily decrease its value ie it might fall to pieces all together.

We are putting our faith in an old mercedes estate, a 200TE. It is quite gutless but trundles. It has done 212,000 petrol miles. It was bought on ebay in August. Since then it has had a new wheel bearing and a second hand prop shaft. That work was done courtesy of Millenium Motors in Dereham who could not have been kinder. We have not been to them before so were not faithful customers; nevertheles they supplied much of the labour for free and were very sympathetic to our cause.

Burnham Motors too, have been generous, by not charging us for the car’s MOT. It only needed an MOT for three more weeks  which was annoying but they have sorted us out.

Other charitable donations have been received from Kingsway Tyres (a tyre pump ), The Present shop in Burnham with a boxful of gifts for children/adults, Randell NFM ( a tow rope) and Johnsons with lots of small bits and pieces that might be useful for bribing policemen etc.

We are told we will be stopped and searched more in a car than we are on our bikes. We shall see. The trip was Clive’s idea in spite of the fact that he hates being driven by me ( or anyone). Obviously the driving will be shared!!! Clive has been practicing lately by allowing me to drive more often than is usual for when we are together.!

We have friends in Dahkla who are very much hoping we make it, as they have asked us to bring out some of the British things they miss most. So we have a box full of things like Birds Custard powder , Branstons pickle and Marmite!

We set off on 21st Dec via Portugal for Christmas. Then its down to Tarifa afterwards.

Thurs 16th Dec

These are the two charities that this venture is donating to:

Quote…1. The Eden Medical Centre Dinfara , about 80Km from Bamako , , it has 8 wards with one fully in use with medical equipments brought by the UK Mali Aid team of the Challenge of 2009, 2 others are near completion.
2. The Mother and Child Hospital Kalaban Adeken just about 10Km at the outskirts of Bamako, it shall have 3 wards, we already have a water point, flowers planted around the centre and enough briques to put up the Out Patients ward , all monies are also from the challenge .

We have had a great deal of email contact with others taking part in this venture. There are three groups, One sets off 17th Dec, then ours 27th Dec and a third on the 7th Jan ( I think). About 10 vehicles in each group. Whilst Clive and I have not actually taken much part in the emails flying back and forth it has been fascinating to see what others are worried about or are intending to bring. Some think they are going to be in the back of beyond all the way and are bringing the kitchen sink, whilst others talk as though they are in new cars, and plan 750 miles a day. We are not bringing much in the way of tools or spares as they either have to be left behind or brought back. Maybe we are wrong…..We believe we will find internet cafes, others have invested in expensive satellite phones to stay in touch with. We believe our mobiles will work and will be able to send texts. We shall see…….

The weather is currently miserable here and snow may thwart our progress to Portsmouth on Tuesday morning.

Dec 21st Tues
We are both a bit anxious about the state of the road from Norfolk to Portsmouth, where we are going to catch a ferry to take us to Santander in Spain. So we wake at 3 am to find that it is -10c outside. Is the old car going to start? It is packed pretty full with Clive’s stuff, Freya’s stuff, our bags, and boxes of gifts from The Present house and Johnsons of Fakenham. We will be able to bribe all on the road now AND give some lovely colouring books/paper/crayons etc to children we see .Thank you to you all.
The car starts….we had jump leads standing by….and off we go into the night. It is beautiful, the full moon is shining in a clear sky and we have a great chance of seeing the eclipse of the moon at 6.30am. The snow and frost sparkle in the countryside and our road is clear of snow. Slight worry as to whether the salt is working if the temp stays at -10c as I heard it stops working below -9c.
Unfortunately cloud appears in the sky as we leave Norfolk and the chance of seeing the eclipse fades. We pull into Mimms services and realise it is not as cold any more. We have no more problems and reach Portsmouth with 2 hours to spare. We can relax and leave frost bound UK behind as we board the ferry. In the queue is a motorcyclist! He has come from the Shetlands in two days and was heading to Gibralter. I think he was in the services as he shook my hand!
Dec 22nd Wed
Ferry gets in early, Santander seemed very warm, and off we head to Portugal. We spent nearly an hour doing loops round the town. Clive took a short cut he knew about, but though he was on the right track his memory was thwarted by bad sign posting. Uneventful after that till we reached Portugal when the map reader ( me ) apparently chose the slow route though it was the obvious route on the map . The driver had insider knowledge. Car went magnificently in the sometimes torrential rain on the plain of Spain. It is completely gutless up the hills but we have no other problems so far.
Christmas in Penela ( Beisterio). Back on the road 27th Dec

.Dec 27th Mon

Began at 8 am to do 450 miles to Tarifa. Uneventful, good roads, little traffic and dry weather. Car trundled very well. We arrived at the hotel..room free as part of the rally ….about 6pm. Found one team had arrived. Service guys who had never been outside Europe. As we went to our room two more teams arrived….see them in the morning. That is 4 out of 10….bit of a poor show.

Dec 28th Tues.
In the end 6 teams made it last night ( inc ourselves). We saw them all in the morning and admired their cars. Our car is the oldest out of these 6. The other teams’ cars are covered in stickers and writing, whilst ours is plain ordinary. We think we do not need to bring attention to ourselves…thieves, corrupt officials etc , especially further south. Hotel which was good, had electricity failure whilst we had breakfast.
We left to catch ferry to Tangiers. Bought tickets for the 1pm and ended up catching the 11am as it was late in leaving….perfect. Took half an hour to get through customs…not too bad at all….for Morocco. Then trouble began; Clive, who was driving made a unilateral decision to go on the motorway. We were not short of time and had only 250 kms to do to reach Rabat. I was very unhappy and cross. There was a good main road to Larache THEN the motorway would make sense. Instead we left the motorway south of Larache and literally picked our way along a minor road that had been hard hit by recent torrential downpours. It was very slow going but plenty to see . Much flooded land, lots of sand on the potholed road, donkeys, carts and people wandering. It was a road that we had come the other way on last year….it has deteriorated a great deal. Saw plenty of storks on their nests way up on top of poles; horse ploughing with single furrow plough and donkeys with their carts. Very interesting but slow progress……!!!
Finally reach Rabat. We have to get Mauritanian visas here. By 8am tomorrow morning we have to be outside the embassy if we want to get the visa on the same day. I had problems getting money out of the ATM machine. Some of it due to me as I was foolishly trying to use a card I don’t often use. Phone call to uk sorted it.

Dec 29th Wed
Up at 7am to take taxi at 7.30am to Mauritanian embassy. Arrive at 7.50am to find an unruly queue/bunch at the door in the wall already. Join back of queue like good Brits behind some Spaniards. Soon the all important form is handed out by a smart suit clad official. We all struggle to support the form on anything hard as we stand in the ‘queue’ and fill it in. It was in French but we all helped each other with questions like your mothers maiden name etc. All the while other people are turning up and not coming behind us but making a bigger bunch by the door.Then an official tries to make a queue of us and we good people retreat even further back or away from the door. Females were then directed to come out of the queue and go and stand on the opposite side ( of the still closed door). At first he did not spot me and of course I was with Clive but then he saw me: I motioned that Clive and I were together so he put Clive’s passport etc in my hand and off I went to the no doubt more advantageous position nearer to the magic door in the wall. The men all pushed a bit more. It was all very unfair. We ladies were all in a bunch on one side and the men on the other. The reason for the separation is islam ie men are not supposed to touch women . The door opened and both females and males shove for the open door. It opened on to a tiny room. 4 people could queue inside all aiming at a tiny hole in the other wall where sat our suited official going about his work at a very slow methodical pace. It took me about an hour to reach him. The Europeans were stoic, the arab element were very vociferous. Still new people were joining the fray, frantically filling in the form and clutching photocopies and spare photos etc. I had an ally in a French lady ahead of me and an enemy of a muslim lady behind!! She was pushing and shoving and the men were pushing us ladies too; most particularly the arab men!! Eventually me and a German man held the doorway waiting to enter the room. Clive meanwhile was not getting anywhere so it was very lucky that he had a female with him. I eventually got there and when done had to push against the crowd to escape. The exit and entrance were the same so anyone who had finished had to fight their way out. Survival of the fittest . It could have been handled so much better. Probably only about 50 people but all trying to get through a single hole at the same time. Unfortuately we could not get the passports back today; we have to wait for tomorrow. So another night here.
We went sight seeing in the medina and Khasbar. The weather is very pleasant..sorry!!

Dec 30th Thurs
Hang around till setting off in the car about 11.30am to visit an historical site on the way to the embassy. Did a quick tour of old Sale/Chellah just on outskirts of Rabat. Amongst the roman and islamic ruins were lots of Storks ….much more fun to look at on top of their nests!
Off to the door in the wall at the embassy. Many of yesterday’s people hanging around and door firmly shut. Clive tries chatting up an embassy driver but though he tried to get our passports he failed. We must wait. We hear that there was a real fight in the queue yesterday after we had gone. As the time neared 11.15…the cut off point/door shut time, tempers frayed . Glad we were gone. Today we wait, make a cup of tea in the back of our car on the stove and eat what food we have. Finally the door opens and it is women first !! The man behind the hole in the wall has lots of passports on his desk, but instead of being in number order, country order or even by colour they are randomly placed. I spot mine but it is a while before Clive’s is located..it was lying the wrong way so the number was not showing. Success finally, visa is got and off we go again heading south after saying goodbye to the two Spaniards Clive had befriended in the queue yesterday.
Soon we have a major argument again about the road. Clive in love with motorway and me in love with anything but.
It is very picturesque by the coast south of El Jeddid. Green fields on one side and fun shore line and the crashing atlantic waves on the other. The fight over motorway or not becomes inconsequential as the choice is now between main or secondary road. We end up coming into Oualidia about 20 mins after dark. The last few miles were tricky as firstly it rained hard and secondly the locals were scurrying home on foot, by donkey or bicycle….all unlit.

Dec 31st Fri
Had nice drive to Essaouira. Pretty countryside, green fields,donkeys galore, mules and carts, horses and carts and mopeds. The locals are still using animals as their main mode of transport. Part of this coastal region looks a bit like southern Ireland ( now that it has greened up with recent rains), We have been trying to video but are not being that clever. Thought we had filmed one village where there was literally a donkey park(!!) but had failed to switch it on! Also tried to film a tortoise walking across the road but mostly missed it! Some European cyclists toiling up a steep hill were our next try and they came out like dots. We need help!
The car trundles. Almost clocked 214,000 miles now on its petrol engine. We think there is a bearing noise but ignoring the idea for now.
Heard from the other teams that the Mauritanian embassy had a much more controlled system in for the day after us and that it had decided to be open Friday which it normally doesn’t. They (the other teams) have all headed off to Marrakesh. I think we are the oldies team……all the ones we have met are much younger than us! We are celebrating the New Year here. Its 8pm, we have booked a table in the medina where there is already a fair amount of music noise.

1st Jan Sat
We sat on a terrace high up on a roof top to eat our meal. Though the day time had been pleasantly warm it was now too cold to be outside to eat! So we sat in all our coats eating an indifferent meal. There was music being played on another roof top and the square below was busy at first but then quietened. We did not quite make it to midnight!. This morning the Moroccans have been sympathetic to our new year and greeted us with happy New year greetings.
Drove through Argan oil country and bought some from a roadside stall. Hope the coca cola bottle full of oil makes it on the plane back home in a suitcase. It is so delicious and impossible to buy back home.
Saw a camel pulling a single wooden plough! That was only just down the road from a farmer with a smart new tractor.
The car is now covered in seagull shit from being parked near the fishing harbour in Essaouira! It blends in very well with all the old mercs on the road. Ours at 18yrs is quite a youngster and in spite of what we think is a gutless engine , can outperform many of the even older ones. Traffic moves slowly as many cars\lorries are old and knackered; overtaking is slow and hazardous! We struck lucky on food today and have good tagines at the right price. 40 drms should be about right but sometimes we have been had for 3 times that price. I love the amazing ambience of these local cafes..this one south of Esssaouira, had the fruit and veg shop, butcher, cafe and restaurant in one. Tables and chairs to the front, sheep and goat heads in a pile on the floor next to our table and the cooking to the other side. Service is efficient and quick; paper table mat, coca cola, bread basket followed by hot tagine in 5 mins. All the other tables full of men chatting and eating a shared plate of food piled high in the middle of the table with their right ( Islam) hands!

2nd Jan Sun
Night was spent in Tiznit in the “Hotel de Paris”…sounds grand but it was what we would term ‘adequate’! In Guelmim we were offered 6000 euros for the old car by a Mauritanian. Said we could sell it for that once there!! In UK it is worth £300. Well we want to get to Timbuctou so on we go! This man also suggested we bought tea to trade with in Mauritania. Said we could buy petrol with tea. So we bought 8 pkts of tea ( 2 kilos) for 3.5 euro each pkt. Will let you know how the trading goes! Clive is trying to sell his old mobile phone too. We need this distraction as the road now gets dull. Stony desert, straight road, some trucks, Mercedes taxis and silly travellers. We had hoped to stop before Tarfaya but the hotel was full and so we had to plug on to Layoune. Saw camels, did some more videoing from the sunroof of the car but still getting the car bonnet in the picture!!
Other teams not far behind. We think most teams will get to Dakhla tomorrow night, cars willing. We have checked the oil , it needs some but we have now done over 2000 miles without a top up. Heard that a team in an earlier group has completely broken down 400 kms from Bamako…..message was ‘could he leave it in the desert!’. One of our team members is still in Rabat…he has some catching up to do.
3rd Jan Mon
“”The old car headed south out of Layoune, purring along at 60 mph so as not to kill the old engine. The stony desert stretched out in the sunshine to the horizon, flat as a pancake except for the odd pile of rocks dotted here and there. The detritus of vehicles littered each side of the tarmac as it stretched out ahead in the desert mirage. Every now and then was a foul smell…dead camel, or as we came to think, rotting fish liquid from where fish filled lorries stop and some of the melting ice /blood/oil spills out and on to the ground. You could see pools of something dark. The only excitement was camels when the passenger in the car would stand up on the front seat and try and take photos/video out of the sunroof!
Nowhere to stop apart from Boujdour and the odd filling station in the 330 miles it takes to reach Dakhla and Colin and Freya. The old car has now covered 2500 miles of its 4000 mile journey and looks as good as it was when it set off. Bit dusty

.6th Jan Thurs
We have set off again after our stay with Colin and Freya in Dakhla. They were very kind and let us stay 3 nights. Big thank you to them. Colin kindly took us into the desert for one whole day where we enjoyed the peace and quiet, the birds, and some of the quirks of the Sahara. It is not all flat, nor all sand and we even found some water in the form of a small pond. Glad is was not a really hot day!
Met some of the teams as they began reaching Dakhla and saw the rest this morning before we set off. One team is still on its way to Dakhla and will reach there tonight. We are 8 teams. The rest are younger, as we thought, and have separated into teams of three. One car has lost its bumper and its exhaust, one has had to replace the clutch, one has had a blowout and one person has been pickpocketed. So we are going to be leaving first and the French/Chinese team is alone ( at the moment) at the back. We are not keen on the convoy laid on for over the border as it seems it will be slow moving and the guide appears to demand various bits of money. Thus we intend to slip through the border by ourselves tomorrow and perhaps wait for the rest to catch up in Nouakshott. That is the plan…..So now poised for the border at Barbas.

7th Jan Fri
The entire border crossing took about 3 hours. It was worse on the Moroccan side where a system seemed hard to fathom. Always helpful to be two endeavouring to understand the system. We needed to get through with enough time to reach Nouakchott before dark. It was a 5 hour drive after the border. No mans land was not a problem as the car lurched slowly over the rocky sandy road. We left the border at 12.45 and reached Nouakchott at 6.15 as it got dark. The Auberge Sahara beckoned, an hotel we had heard of.
Food by the road was a bit limited ie chicken and no more!! We asked for eggs but no they had none. Chicken , chips and pepsi. Here at the Auberge it was fish…that was it.
Petrol expensive here…nearly £1 a litre. Car has now notched up 3000 miles. All well. We had to give some of our little “presents “ to various police at the good half dozen checkpoints on the Nouakchott road who asked for cadeaux. We have filled the locker of the car with some of the little things we were given by Gloria and Johnsons. Particularly good are a little colouring pack which look like a kind of tube. We have a boxful which is really good. It is really rather silly giving grown men little colouring sets as a “present”but it worked!! We hope to hand more of these children’s things directly to children now that we are in one of the poorest countries.

Several cyclists here who have made the 1500 mile trip down through the desert. They mostly get a tail wind which helps. Most of them are on their way to Cape Town. We hear from one of them that the French Ambassadeur has been shot in Bamako . We are headed to Bamako.! And Timbuctou!

8th Jan Sat
Relaxed day in Nouakchott. Very spread out place, huge wide filthy streets on grid pattern. We taxi ride in, find some little shacks selling tourist trinkets. Wander some more and take another taxi ride in the most dilapidated Mercedes taxi imaginable. Windows stuck shut ( its hot), rope handle on door, back of seats missing, engine struggling, screen with plenty of cracks, wheel bearings going, steering jiggling etc. It stalled at one point so we ran backwards down the hill we had struggled to get up, in order to bump start it. Later we(us in the taxi) were stopped by the police .Drivers insurance appeared to be out of order.! We felt sorry for him…he had struggled to find the way , was fined the cost of our ride by the police and was virtually out of fuel!!
Clive has had the car washed…it no longer looks the part. Just hope it gets dusty again

9th Jan Sun
Happy Birthday Clive. Left Nouakchott at crack of dawn as we have a long day on a supposedly dangerous road and must make town by nightfall. In the dawn light we drive carefully to avoid animals and people and cars with no lights. The road is potholed in places but in the 350 miles we do today, it is mostly very good. Potholes, though , are deep and could do damage. It was difficult at one point to watch the road for potholes and the verge/countryside for animals. These were donkeys, camels, cows and goats. There was a great deal of road kill, many carcasses in places, just left to decay. Where are the vultures?
The countryside was sandy with dunes but trees dotted around and scrub. It gradually looked greener and at times even like savannah. Small villages in the valleys …they were either tents or little 2 room boxes/houses made of breezeblock. They like the colour blue for roofs and the tents are always lined with decorative cloth. In the towns everything was filthy.Dirty streets, dirty cars, houses, people, goods, and rubbish everywhere. The Tuaregs and Saharaese look amazing in their blue or white flowing robes. They are clean! Some ladies looked okay in their colourful dresses. Goats everywhere, donkeys pulling carts.
We found a cafe in one town. It was empty. We asked what they had in the way of food. Seemed to have nothing. We asked for an omelette. Took ages….they had to go shopping for the eggs first! On the whole cafes do not exist. Finally arriving in Kiffa, another filthy chaotic place , we had difficulty finding a place to stay. It was nearly a night in the car! Clive so reluctant to do that! Given we are in hostile territory probably not the thing to do anyway. We eventually found an hotel…it was quite empty, and neglected but open!
Mauritania not that cheap. We have virtually run out of the local money…again! No worry, somebody will want to change some euros.There will certainly not be any ATM’s in town!
Car…well it is so far amazing..touch wood.

10th Jan Mon
Gina’s birthday!
Last night we stayed in the empty hotel looked after by a caretaker who cooked us a meal that we ate at a table in the hallway of this quite big hotel. Chicken and chips!! No drink, soft or water! Only guests. Tonight,in Mali, we have found a place run by an entrepreneur in the middle of town. Shared bathroom with what look like prostitutes, plus six swiss travellers. It was the only spot and the Mali man is doing a great job. It is in a faded crumbling French colonial house with a great balcony ( about to collapse through lack of maintenance), where you can sit and look at the street life in the market across the road. If this was Mauritania the place would be dead by dark but here half the people are NOT Islamic and more fun is being had!! We had a beer each ( wine a stretch too much) and celebrated reaching Mali. Chicken and spaghetti tonight….very scrawny chicken.
Clive tried to shop for some cheese but forget it….no dairy industry even from the mass of goats. The longlife milk we bought comes from Germany. The bread is good and Clive fancied something on it…there has been no butter since Northern Morocco.
Road was very bad in parts today. First it was dirt road and then tarmac with loads of deep potholes where progress was slower than dirt road. Then things improved again. Car now done it and reached Mali. One more day to Bamako. However, since the car has done so well it is going to take us to Timbuctou before we hand it over in Bamako.
Needing to change money we were directed to the pharmacy..where else would you expect change!!? There is a brand new ATM machine but it would not work for me. No internet, mobile does work, donkeys and goats wander the streets and people live/sleep in their market stalls. Car is being guarded as usual. Children now a pest asking for “cadeaux”.

11th Jan Tues
Woken to the sound of donkeys braying…and the water pipes vibrating. The guarded car still there, amidst various bodies picking themselves up and starting a new day from their shacks.
Have to get a Laisser Passer from the Douane at the edge of town; then we can head on to Bamako. Its a peage road! Single carriageway but we have to get a ticket for the sum of about 70p. After a while we realise we are on the main truck route from Senegal to Bamako. Lots of oil tankers but very few cars, so overtaking not a problem on this good fairly straight ( boring!) road .Some excitement is had when looking at all the broken down trucks on the road. There is no hard shoulder and when trucks breakdown they have to be fixed right there…there is no breakdown truck system. Drivers may help each other but sometimes its days by the road fixing a major breakdown . Today there were many wheel related cases but the most amazing was a coach/bus that had its engine out on the road! . Mauritania has more cars than Mali, but they are very old; Mali has much fewer cars but many more mopeds. Country people have donkeys, horses and some bicycles, then there are mopeds and cars only near towns. Petrol relatively expensive in both…about 80p per litre.
Countryside still unproductive and dry. More birds in Mali than Mauritania and pretty ones. Trees get bigger and bigger as we near Bamako….huge Baobab trees and others with red flowers. No more police stops….getting to be a real bore in Mauritania, happier smiling people who want to wave. Proud male horsemen riding horses, all dressed up in bright clothing, looking good on nice horses. Women walking with loads on their heads, brightly dressed.
We cannot find food but settle for a drink at a drink stall with some lads including one from Senegal. We eat tins of sardines we have bought for emergency use; on bread bought by one of the boys. We end up handing out some of our colouring books, pencils etc presents. They actually say thank you.
We made it to Bamako, official end of this rally. Car ….!! We are going to Timbuctou!!

12th jan Wed
Met the guys from a team in the group before us. They had failed to reach Timbuctou because their clutch failed. Another team who had come in an old ambulance, went via Senegal and had their entry to Mali in the old ambulance denied so its languishing on the Senegal border forever! One of them had also had a pedestrian accident with a moped and cut his head (needing stitches.).

13th Jan Thurs
Just back from another gourmet meal of chicken and chips and fish with spaghetti! I have now had spaghetti 3 nights running, The fish tasted of mud, just like carp but much smaller and the chicken was another leggy bird. We are in Djenne which is on the way to Timbuctou from Bamako.
Djenne is on an island in the Niger River basin. It has not changed in several centuries and is a world heritage site and is Mali’s pre eminent tourist site…so says my guide book. It is a town built of mud and has a grand mosque that is the largest mud structure in the world.; also the most beautiful mud structure too! We turned off the main road to reach here : on the map it depicted a 29km stretch of tarmac road so we were very surprised to end up driving down an earth bank to a tiny ferry. Boarding was okay but getting the car off the other side looked hairy….the ramp went steeply down into about 2 ft of water and a 10 yd stretch to the bank. Clive inched the car down till the radiator was half in the water and then had to go for it. I thought the back would ground but it didn’t and all was okay. But what about the return tomorrow? Clive thinks the car won’t make it through the water and up. There are other cars here so presumably we will manage!!
We had a long day getting here after our 24hrs in Bamako. Three of our teams arrived and two are now ahead of us trying to reach Timbuctoo as well. One is a Merc driven fast by its young driver. He managed to write two tyres off on the potholes in Mauritania.The other car, a Peugeot 205 has some kind of oil leak,,clutch or brakes. They are hoping to get to Timbuctou tomorrow night. In theory we should meet them coming back as we head in the day after.
All three teams had had problems entering Mali. Not sure where they went wrong but their cars were impounded for the night by the police. They had to camp on the border. The other 4 teams are miles behind still in Mauritania.
The countryside is very bushy in parts with some lovely big trees but all of it is so dry that you wonder how any of the villages feed themselves. Some very traditional villages with mud houses and strange round (stores?).Others a mixture of modern brick and mud. Lots of donkey, and round here, horse carts. Life is hard but the women look so very colourful in their bright clothing and head dresses.

14th Jan Fri
We took a quick walk around Djenne after getting rid of the man who had picked us up, so to speak, the day before. The locals are all desperate to earn from the tourist and try to guide us around. That done we had to fight off all the sellers of trinkets. I ended up buying some beads to show other sellers I had bought! The place was interesting , the whole concept of living in a mud town designed before electricity and drainage etc, and then trying to incorporate these things. One has to say they were failing on drainage and rubbish.
The ferry was not so bad and the car went on okay. I have some video footage!
We are now in Doggon country. A quick read of the book which explains some of the different shape mud houses we’ve seen. Fantastic colourful clothing on the people. Camels coming back in as we head north again on our way to Timbuctou. We reach Douentza. Timbuctou is now about 200 kms away but the road is bad and we should be in a 4×4 instead of an 18yr 2 wheel drive old car. We have heard nothing from the other two teams ahead of us.

15th Jan Sat
We have made it….we are in Timbuctou, or however you spell it!! It seems to have different spellings. The inside of the boot of the car has red dust in it, my suitcase has dust in it where it has come through the zip ! Red dust has come up through the bottom of the car, its everywhere!! But the car made it. Its silencer got dislodged at some point either getting on or coming off the ferry. ( we fixed it) . Both times the car grounded on the ramp of the boat. We shared the ferry with some goats, 7 sheep and 4 or 5 cows…all loose but keeping to their groups. The ferry ride was longer than expected, about 45 mins chugging up the Niger.
The 200 kms of road had severe corrugations! Poor car, felt sorry for it as we rattled terribly. No speed is good and slow is no better than a bit faster. 4×4,s go at about 60mph in a huge cloud of dust, we went along at about 35mph in a lesser cloud. There were sandy patches but not really a problem except for one place at the end where there was a deviation round a piece of water. We had been told to keep left. I got out to check the way through the sand when a soldier driving a Mercedes (!) came along; he ploughed through the bit I was checking and then stopped for us. We then followed him at high speed , weaving in and out of bushes in the sand. We glimpsed a bus stuck in the sand before we arrived back at the road proper. The soldier had indeed helped. How are we going to get back through it tomorrow without his help?
We met the other two teams on their way back from Timbuctou, in the middle of the piste! One car had gone through two more wheels/tyres and said his back shocks were gone and the other had just lost half his exhaust. But they were happy , they had made it!
We are now in an hotel run by Brits…a couple who set out a year ago to travel, reached here and bought an hotel!!! Timbuctou is not dying , neither is it being completely swallowed by sand. It is dirty, it is dusty, noisy and busy, Tourist trade has dried up because of the security threats. French tourists staying away, and they are the main stay. This is the tourist season but we have observed that it is very quiet tourist wise.
Very poor countryside on our way. Dry ,sparse; how the animals manage to feed I do not know.
So, aim has been achieved. Now we have to head back to Bamako, possibly via Doggon country to have a look see there. Clive in the meantime is trying to sell the car here and chatting away in his Arabic.!!

16th Jan Sun
We left by 8.30am having seen most of the town yesterday afternoon as we drove around trying to sell the car. Mud houses, more modern houses etc. Much more interesting at the ferry . It was right at the end of a causeway. Some people live there permanently. We had just missed the ferry which does not have a timetable. This meant a whole lot of hassle. Our car was surrounded by a whole lot of begging filthy snivelling children, their noses pressed up against our mostly shut windows. In front of our parked car were a group of women who were much more interesting. They were from some ethnic group who were handsome ( I thought). One started breastfeeding her child…no problems! We had various gifts still in the car…drawing crayons, books etc. We naively gave some out thinking the children would now disappear only to be besieged by more. Clive got out and wandered off and I tried to sit it out by playing a game on my phone and ignoring the cries of “madam” and the snotty noses on the window. Eventually I gave up too and wandered off , followed by my entourage of children to watch a lovely local boat being loaded with marble slabs.
A ferry came in eventually and promptly broke down. We watched the repairs to the alternator/fanbelt but it seemed to fail. Slightly in despair we then spotted another ferry coming in,,,thank goodness! By now it is 4 hours after getting here. We give out more “cadeaux” to the children as we finally board…some of them seem to follow us on board!!! Peace on the ferry finally as we make a cup of tea from the back of our car and watch the Niger river and its river bank inhabitants go by. All t5he locals on the boat are dressed in anoraks…they think it is cold while we think it is warm/hot!!!
The road back to Douentza was a relentless battering on the car.We negotiated the tricky bit around the lake again by following another vehicle….I hung out of the sunshine roof trying to video as Clive drove. We are now feeling quite loyal to it..whilst it now does not matter if it breaks down I think we both feel we would like to get it back to Bamako in one piece. It got us to Timbuctou… a dream since we saw the sign in Zagora in Morocco saying “42 days to Tombuctou by camel”.
We arrived back to the “campment” that we were in two days ago only to find another Mercedes there. It belongs to one of the teams that we met on the way…the one that had broken shocks. It had been towed in from about half way. It looked really sad, sunk on its back suspension and abandoned. Testimony to driving recklessly for too long. Our older car had made it! We were warmly welcomed back!! The oldies had made it, some of the young had failed.

Here is what the team driver of the Mercedes had to say” Good to hear she was recovered!
She is in a sorry state though… we caught a large rock reversing out of
the hotel in Douenza and didn’t realise we had a fuel leak until 20km from
the Timbuktu Ferry…
The day after, we were going slowly to avoid further issues and both the
rear shocks didn’t take the strain (one first, then the next). With the
absorbers gone, the other components had to take the strain… we ended up
bending just about everything, and the wheel was essentially in the boot.
We unbent everything with a bottle jack and large rob of steel… but it
was substantially weaker… So we called Sunny, who advised us to attempt
to get to Douenza and sell the car there… we tried (very hard) but around
17:00 I was driving on 3 wheels and a rim (the tyre blew out from rubbing
against the inside arch and suspesion bits) and this led to the drive-axle
snapping as well as something in the gearbox detaching. At that point, we
made the difficult choice to ditch the car – we didn’t want to be in the
dark on the “offroad” segment to Douenza! “

17th Jan Mon
The wind is blowing and the air is full of dust…very fine! Glad we are not heading into the desert. The car did look a little down on one side at the back as we packed but once we started up, the suspension sorted itself out. Maybe we have a small leak in the air assisted system….it would not be a big surprise…. Clive pumped up the tyres we had let down a bit for the hard corrugations of the days before. Without much bother we reached Segou: a long day, but we have ended up in a nice spot very near the River Niger

.19th Jan Wed
We drove back from Segou to Bamako easily enough and booked in to the Colobris hotel. We met Sonny, the guy to whom the car should be handed over. In the meantime Clive is trying to sell the car!!! Met a couple from the first wave of teams. They have been holidaying in Mali after getting here in a little white van. Tried to change our flight to an earlier day but all flights full so are going to have to sit it out. Could have chosen a better spot but this hotel does have a swimming pool so doing lengths to regain some fitness

.All of the countries in Africa have their own identity and Mali and Mauritania are no different. Here in Mali it has been very friendly, not bothered by police checks on the road , lovely vibrant colourful ladies with their matching head dresses or just brilliant coloured cloths wrapped around, men in their flowing robes ( again in good colours), the rubbish ( seen worse), the begging children , the filth and life in the streets and finally the dry countryside where a huge majority of the population are subsistence farming. I understand that many of the different ethnic groups mix well and live together including the Muslims and Christians. ( it is 80% muslim). Dogon country is more unique and they are still animists there! The Nomads in the north are the worry as they are not so happy and Al queda has a foothold.
Mauritania was much more controlled, police checks everywhere, tight muslim society, no alcohol, still colourful but not so relaxed.
Both have fairly expensive petrol , 1 euro per litre, and cars are sought after by the elite whilst the poor ride donkeys. Mali seems to have Libyan backing as well as Chinese. China seems to be supplying cheap mopeds galore( as well as much more). Mauritania did not seem to be getting so much support ( I could be wrong!)
Sunny, who is the guy in charge of auctioning all our cars, is a Rotarian ( the governor this year) and runs his own engineering company involved in energy. Mali only has enough electricity for 20% of the population at the moment. We think our car will be auctioned this Saturday. It takes place in the car park of one of the smart hotels.
Clive will probably say that Bamako is a dump. It is filthy in parts but it will change, I am sure. Tourism is negligible right now. Real downside is air quality….pollution and dust.

21st Jan Fri
This is our last day. Getting into lazy style, lying in bed etc.The hotel is in a compound, we are in what they call a bungalow. Plenty of men hang around, occasionally doing little jobs like sweeping the parking area, cleaning cars. There are lots of mango trees dropping their ripe mangos on the car roofs…bang, splish and then you have ripe mango on clean car!! We asked for a mango yesterday but these guys are very swift at picking them up and making them disappear amongst all their mates etc. Probably selling them so we did not get a free one until I found one near our bungalow !!
Over the wall from the swimming pool is a small allotment type piece of land where boys are tending very tidy strips of herbs. They are meticulous and water constantly from wells which are just deep holes in the ground into which they lower a bucket on a rope. They are working hard.
We have made little sortees round town and to a cafe down the road , different eating places etc. Tourist food is not cheap but there is a huge gap between that and local food from a filthy stall

.24th Jan Mon
On our last day we met a man working for an aid organisation who kindly suggested we go to a concert with him at the French cultural institute in the evening . As we had a very late fligh,t that worked well for us and we watched/listened to a Kora ( long knecked harp/lute made from a gourd) being played by a Mali man accompanied by a Frenchman playing a cello! Strange combination but it worked.
One of our flights home had just 10 passengers including us. So relieved that it flew! A very empty 737.
The car should have been auctioned by now. We will try and find out what it made.

Asia Long Distance Touring