Life's a journey, not a destination
05.19.2009 42 °C
Well.... I must start this off by apologizing for the extreme delay in this post. The internet here in Africa is few and far between due to the nature of our trip. Most time is spent on the road, in rural villages, and camping spots - and in the couple hours we do have in bigger centres every so often usually ends up spent cursing a rididuclously slow connection that cuts out 5 times while you try and upload photos or send an email.... With that said it is refreshing to not rely on the world-wide-web.... however... I have made communication and life on the road slightly more plush by purchasing a laptop so hopefully contact and blog updates will be more frequent.
Since I last left off I have been through 5 countries. I'll try and fill you in on all the highlights but I know cramming a months worth of travel into one post will hardly do it justice. Anywho; when I last left off we were setting out into the Atlas mountains.. there wasn't enough snow for an African snow angel unfortunately, but considering the state of all the southerners on the truck it was probably for the best. Our leader met a Moroccan man, Abdullah, last time around and he offered to cook for us and let us stay at his berber house in Todra Gorge, so we picked him up in Tinerhir and set off. The drive there was amazing with oases starting to spring up amidst the terracotta backdrops, absolutely gorgeous, and soo lush. We meet Abdullah's mother and father, his sister and some of his 9 brothers (Mohammed, Omar and Ismael). They cooked a traditional meal and played drums for us late in the evening. Most people had a go on the drums, with a few of us staying up late chatting with Abdullah and Ismael. We slept underneath the stars on the roof of the guesthouse. All in all it was an absolutely amazing authentic expereince to have organized for us - something that few other overland trips of this sort do. Abdullah stayed with us a few more days up to Marrakesh. We stayed in Dades Gorge along the way, and kept dry the next night by setting up our beds in a restaurant floor. Marrakesh was next on the itinerary; a few of us stayed for a few nights in Marrakesh at a hostel overlooking the main square. If there is one thing I wished I could take away from there it's the sounds of the city at night. There is so much going on -- we opted to try the local foods of snail soup and goat brains.. not the most tasty peice of meat thats for sure. After many souvenir purchases we took off to Essaouira, a quaint sea-side town.
Entering the Western Sahara we more or less bush-camped among the dunes for a few nights, and officially crossed the tropic of cancer (the 1st of 2 times on the trip). Mauratinia is a dry country; however a few rested easy when we got through the border crossing without a truck search. Mauratania mainly gave us an exorborant amount of practice with the sand-mats. Our first trial was 2 hrs of catterpillering across a 50m riverbed. Most everyone banded together for the task at hand and for a fleeting moment the new activity was a bit of fun... The real fun had yet to begin as we made our way to the illusive village of Oualata. With just a dodgy donkey trail to follow and no gps coordinates we set off through the desert to see an esteemed old salt trading city few have ventured to. I think we managed three tire punctures the first day.. and encountered a few more chances to practice our new skiills of sandmatting. The second day en route we found ourselves in a 3 foot rut that took us over 6hrs to get out of. Luckily we managed to get stuck in a tiny village right next to a well. I'm sure we gave the villagers stories to tell for years to come, and we were glad to keep hydrated while digging out the truck in 40+ degree desert heat. The next day things were looking more grim as the already ambiguous road became less and less clear as sand dunes blew across he horizon, so a decision was made to turn back before we ran out of water and got ourselves into unnecessary trouble. We took a break during the heat of the day and dug ourselves out when the sand cooled, and drove until we found ourselves stuck again around midnight. Getting back to Nema took 2 days - but the (2wd) truck managed to perservere through the riverbed this time around! Getting out of Mauratania meant one night camping in no-man's land, and entry into Mali the next day!
Once over the border and into a town most made a beeline to the bar for a well deserved beer after a week of sandmatting in a dry country. Some also had an interesting time collecting firewood that afternoon after 1.5 beers.... no names need to be mentioned! We got across the border quite late in the day so Bamako, the capital, was a bit farther away than expected. A swing vote gave the decision to push on through the night to Bamako rather than bushcamping. The incentive was a pool, air-con rooms, and a stocked bar -- SOLD! I was up for cook group that night, but it managed to go well and no one fussed over an 11pm dinner. We spent 4 nights in Bamako, most hardly making it into town. You hardly needed to with poolside shopping service. Everything you could possibly want to buy (dresses, masks, jewellery, suncream, etc) was brought poolside... a lot of money was spent by some (none by me). I was given the mali name of "Howar" here also, by a man named hakuna matata. At the camp we also did a spitroast of goat. I of course went to go with to pick it out and watch it get butchered, it was a superb dinner complete with a mali band playing alongside, and a night out to expereince some more mali music (although it turned out to be more spanish.. random). Our luxury could only last so long and we soon headed out for Sevare to begin our trips to Timbuktou and the Dogon villages. Oh ya, one visit worth mentioning along the way is the city of Dijenne.... this city was particulary interesting to me because concrete house construction is illegal! All houses and major buildings are constructed out of mud - however the slabs and foundations of these houses were clearly concrete... It also houses the largest mud mosque in the world which we checked out. Next up we took off on a 3 day pinasse trip down the Niger river to Timbuktou. It was a fantastic means of travel and the scenery (particularily the sunset the first night) was incredible. However, 3 days on a boat caused a fair bit of cabin fever for most, and a few dodgy tummies.. Did I mention there was a man whose job was to bucket river water out of the leaking boat? Oddly enough, the same bucket and water the cook used to prepare our food and tea! A few hippos were spotted along the banks and amazingly no one managed to get knocked over board on the 2m wide boat.
Tombouctou itself doesnt hold very much... It's a drab, very sandy, windy town. It was very interesting to meet some Tuareg people from the area though. On my camel ride to a Tuareg camp the guide Yousef told me all about the Tuareg culture - From 5-10 the boys attend school to learn the karan, from 10-15 their grandfathers teach them the stars/constellations, from 15-20 they travel the desert with their family members tending the herd of camels and at 20 they tend the herd independently for 3 months and if no slabs of salt are broken nor are any camels missing they have a big party through for them, and at 25 they marry their first wife of their parents choosing. Their nomadic lifestyle is certainly respectable still much alive.
After a stamp claiming entry into the elusive villa of Tombouctou (french spelling), we headed out in our 4x4s, of which ours had to have the clutch repaired - 12 hours later we made it back to Sevare. The week was quite busy as we headed straight for Bandiagara to begin our 4 day hike through the Dogon villages. I'll have to give this experience it's own post because Im getting tired of staring at a computer screen and it most certainly deserves it.
We are currently in Ghana, after a week at the beach and a week beforehand in Burkina Faso. Tomorrow we leave for Togo (the country which hates Canadians... double the visa fee from everyone else, even the americans!). I will try and get a proper post of these past few weeks soon, but this should suffice for now. I've also uploaded photos from Morocco up to the Tropic of Capricorn, hope to get more soon as well.
Until next time..