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Published: November 13th 2008
Friday 07 November
We split up to do various bits and pieces before our starting on our road to Mali. We agree to meet up at the roundabout in the middle of town. I get to a service station to refuel when a 1200 GSA pulls in. Jean-Marie comes from near Avignon, speaks great English as well as quite a few other languages. He is touring around. He wants to go to Mali but was told it would be very hot. We talk. Why not tag along with us? OK. We are on our way.
The road to Mali is probably the best we have been on since Northern Mauritania. The countryside is heavily wooded to begin with and becomes drier and drier the further east we go. There is a lot of timber and charcoal waiting for collection at the side of the road. Charcoal kilns are everywhere. While there is millet, what else?, production much of the land is for grazing. All morning as we head east we run parallel to the main railway line between Dakar and Bamako. As the trains only gor three times a week unsurprisingly we see none. This is savannah country. There
is lots of controlled burning of the dried grasses at this time of the year. There are fewer vultures about. We stop at a stunning tree with vivid pink flowers but none of of the children know the name. They do tell us there is an elephant near by!
On newer roads and good surfaces there is a squared increase in the number of accidents, skid marks, wrecks at the side of the road. Either people go mad on good surfaces or the vehicles can't take it. We stop at one for the photo opportunity!
Then we have the border to cross. The police/pasport office is in the most out of the way place in Kidira but there are no hassles and anyway, armed with our fluent French speaker, we are less likely to cause a diplomatic incident with our pidgeon French. We leave Senegal without stopping at customs. I still have the precious passavant and will frame it when I get home! Jean-Marie thinks that stopping at checkpoints only leads to trouble! However Geoff does have to go back to the Senegal Douane to get his carnet stamped otherwise he will lose a lot of money. Entering
Mali across the Senegal river at Dibole is simple. Both sides of the border are graced with similar border towns with lots of commercial activity in a basic, run down, dusty and grim setting but the river and bridge are impressive. It seems an age since we last crossed it with very different experiences.
Once across the border there is, believe it or not, a peage. No it's not a multi-laned highway. There is a discussion amongst officials as to whether bikes have to pay. They are not included in the list of tarrifs. We go through for nothing. To begin with our road to Kayes is very heavily wooded with many species of tree including accacia but the most dramatic is the baobab tree. They rise like sentinels amongst lesser mortals with their giant trunks. Many seem to have small crowns almost as if they had been given a crewcut. Others are graced with glorious crowns and others still have seen a bit of life but have survived. Tough isn't in it. Much of the grass has been burnt and the landscape is as flat as a billiard table. The nearer we get to Kayes the hotter it
gets, the smaller the trees, the more stunted the growth of plant life. We are running close to the Senegal river which waters the area. Near Kayes millet production as opposed to grazing takes over yet again.
We stop at a service station to refuel near the city and are treated to slices of melon by the friendliest of people. Kayes is hot, incredibly dusty, run down, chaotic and full of life. We find accommodation for the night and take a walk downtown. The dust rises in the evening sunset like a pall over the town. You breathe it, it gets in you skin and hair. Your clothes are caked. It almost adds character to the noise, music, cars, mopeds and trucks all of whom take no prisoners. Apart from one patisserie there seems little in the way of eating establishments. Jean Marie does a lot of the enquiring and discussing and it is interesting to see that he has nearly as much difficulty as we have talking to local people. Well, not quite but there are lots of misunderstandings based on both culture and language. Food seems expensive here. There is one price for Toubabs, us, and another
price for local people. There are stalls selling barbecued lamb, fish etc but we've not yet figured out the system. We return to the hotel, have a meal and a beer and swap a few stories. My jaw drops. Jean-Marie hasn't figured out yet where to put the water/coolant in his bike. Difficult with an oil-cooled bike! Somebody, at last, who knows even less about bikes than me!
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