November 27, 2008
We arrived in Atar about mid day and checked out the various camping options. We then decided that since we were in a town at lunch time, we should have lunch out! We stopped at a French restaurant that was recommended in our guidebook, but it was out of our budget. We then went to the street cafe next door where we were convinced by the owner that the chicken was very good. And he was right. It was very good. Probably fried in some horribly unhealthy type of oil, but it and the french fries were delicious.
|After lunch we did some grocery shopping in the outside market and headed to the campground we had chosen. There were a couple of other overlanders and some other travelers, but apparently no one wanted to be friendly as no one even responded to my greetings in French or English. So in the afternoon we did some laundry and worked on the computer. Just as it was getting dark, another vehicle pulled in and lo and behold it was a British/American couple who were more than happy to talk to us and share information. We even got wished a Happy Thanksgiving from the Arizona native (can you believe it, three Americans, all from Arizona?!)|
November 28, 2008
|After some discussion, we decided it was best to start heading south and east toward Mali as our time to use our visa was running out. Along the road back toward Noakchott we were able to stop and visit with two different sets of motorcyclists that we had met previously, both of whom were heading north to Atar. We exchanged information (other travelers are your best source) and continued on our way. We even stopped to buy some type of watermelon from the locals - yes a watermelon grown in the desert.|
November 29, 2008
We camped last night in an unlikely spot: across from a huge house built up against the dunes. We were having a hard time finding a suitable spot (there were no roads and lots of sand) and finally found what appears to have been the driveway to this house. We drove almost all the way up and then pulled over, definitely within view, but still in the desert. There were some people wandering around in the dunes and then they let their dogs out to visit, but nobody came and bothered us.
In the morning we set off toward the dunes for our "coffee walk". After wandering in the sand for a while, we discovered that what we thought was just desert detritus, was actually old potsherds, bones and pieces of stone used in the making of tools. We didnít find anything of value, but we certainly enjoyed the search. We had read that there were all sorts of relics to be found in the shifting dunes but didn't expect to come across a Paleolithic-type scatter by ourselves.
We arrived in Noakchott fairly early in the day and immediately headed to the nicest hotel in town, where, we had heard from our motorcycle friends, there was free WIFI. We did a lot of computer work and then headed off to grocery shop.
Grocery shopping has become a challenge, but only because we have to make many stops at many different places in order to get all the items we want. Today however, we got pretty lucky in that the store that was recommended to us had quite a good stock of items. We got nearly everything on our list.
|By this time it was late in the afternoon and so we headed immediately to the fish market that we had also learned about from our motorcycle friends. As we got close, the traffic increased until it wasnít moving at all. We found a place to park and headed into the market. What a zoo! There were people and vehicles and fish on every available surface. After wandering around and taking photos, we decided that we should get some fish for dinner and head back to our campground. There was lots to choose from and we wondered how there could be any fish left in the ocean if this is the catch every day.|
We finally decided to get a kilo of some unknown type of white fish filet (thatís three meals worth) and it cost us 600OU which is about $2.60US, $.87 per meal. Feeling good, we decided to also purchase some calamari. After some debate and negotiating we decided on a small squid which was about a Ĺ kilo for 300OU (about $1.30US). We had the fish for dinner and it was outstanding (really glad we bought a lot.) The calamari weíll have for lunch tomorrow.
November 30, 2008
|Our goal now is to head off to Mali and see their interesting sites. We left pretty early in the morning after filling up with water and stopped only for lunch (where we got stuck in the sand) and gas. By the way, the calamari was excellent. We drove until just about dark and pulled over near Aleg for a wild camp in a grove of trees. We were pretty much out of sight and would be completely so after dark. We enjoyed the cool evening temperatures which were unexpected. It has been in the 100ís during the day but in the 60ís at night. Nice!|
December 1, 2008
Another long driving day and we crossed through many small towns where the main market spread across the roadway - effectively blocking it, other times the road just kind of dissolved into dirt, making us wonder if we had lost our way even though we hadn't.
The day was capped by finding a really beautiful wild camp spot outside of Kiffa. We were able to get into the shade of a large rock outcropping and were up above the surrounding countryside and so had a really nice view.
December 2, 2008
This morning on our walk, we were absolutely amazed to find a large grinding stone. It appeared to have been buried and recently dug up. It was broken in two pieces, but still beautiful. Whoever found it probably left it behind when it broke, but maybe it was because it was so large (about the two feet across) that it would have been very heavy. We figured that it was discovered by the local herder because there was no reason for anyone else to be around. Unless of course, like us, they liked the area as a camping spot We also found our first weaverbird nests hanging from a tree. The nests are amazing and look just like a woven basket.
Today was another driving day, made adventurous by the fact that it was market day in every town we drove through. This makes the road narrow and crazy with lots of people, carts, donkeys and other cars, all trying to pass in the same small space. One other thing that made our day interesting was that finding diesel became difficult. We finally found a station but a lot of them were empty. This in a town at a major crossroads!
Early in the afternoon we made it to the Mali border crossing which turned out to be really easy. We had stopped earlier at the last town in Mauritania to have our carnet stamped out, so at the border we just got our passports stamped out, bought insurance for the next couple of countries and crossed to the Mali side where our passports were once again stamped in. The insurance took the longest time, but the whole process took less than an hour.
It took a little while to find the correct customs building, as it was in Nioro du Sahel, but we finally got our carnet stamped and went out into the bush to find a camping spot. Our choice was a little too close to the road, so we had visitors right up until dark, but after dark everything was quiet.
December 3, 2008
|Our visitors arrived again just after sunrise, so we decided to find a different spot for breakfast. Once again close to the road, but apparently a ways from any village, we had no visitors and had a leisurely breakfast. Our drive today toward Kayes was also leisurely and we stopped a lot for breaks to look at birds and flowers. Throughout the day we drove through forests of huge Baobab trees. Before now we had only seen solitary trees, yet seeing forests of these monster like trees was amazing. We were able to park under one as we tried to put its size into perspective. We also saw a monkey, a type we haven't been able to indentify, but really surprising, in that most of the animal populations in the West African countries have been hunted.|
|This area of northern Mali is populated by a group known as the Fula. The Fula are herders, primarily of cattle with some goats and sheep as well, and who continue to live in traditional mud and straw homes built within small compounds. Many of the compounds are close to the road allowing us to stop and view how they continue to live their traditional way of life barely affected by the 21st century.|
Arriving late in the day in Kayes, we found a hotel on the Senegal River that would let us park in their parking lot for the night. Unfortunately, just as it was getting dark and we were settled in, the proprietor changed the price and we had to do some re-negotiating for a reasonable rate. Welcome to Africa.
December 4, 2008
We stocked up in the market, wandering through our first truly African market of this expedition. The sights and sounds, not to mention the numbers of people and the smells were nearly overpowering. We watched as people crossed the Senegal River in pirogues from villages on the other side.
Today we headed off for our first African 4x4 track. We headed southeast out of Kayes on a road that we had differing information on. Our guidebook said that it was a difficult 4x4 road, but someone we met told us the first part of the road was paved. After wandering around Kayes for a while looking for the paved road, we asked for directions and found that the original track we had started on (not paved) was the correct track. Bummer.
After about an hour of lots of dust and some rocking and rolling, we reached the town of Medine. Medine is the site of the first French fort in Mali. As we approached the town we were confronted with a bridge that has partially collapsed and the edges have been filled in with rocks by the townspeople to make it wide enough to traverse. Good for them, but it was too narrow to accommodate our width. We were then directed by locals to another track but this one had an angle to it that neither one of us was comfortable with. So we parked the car and walked around the fort and the accompanying town.
Afterwards, we decided to spend the night so we found a level spot within view of the bridge and the town and enjoyed watching other vehicles contend with the bridge and its rocks. One truck knocked almost all of the built-up rocks off and into the creek bed and another scraped bottom when he misjudged the height of the drop off on the far side.
We were visited by a National Guide a couple of times during the day who worked to convince us to hire his services. We declined, but we had a delightful afternoon talking to him (in English) and waving at the tons of people who went by in both directions. According to Mr. Sikkoko (the guide), because Monday is a holiday (The Feast of Tabaski, also known as the Tabaski sheep slaughter) many people were coming and going to the various villages in the area. The best part of all the comings and goings were that the people were so friendly and considerate and we felt a part of their town.