Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Senegal to Mali Border

18.1.2010 – Day 30 – Near St Louis

I am in Senegal! The change in just one day is immense. Nouakchott is the sleepy capital of Mauritania with the sands of the desert threatening to engulf the city and nomadic tents on the outskirts. Within miles of heading south grasslands develop into landscapes covered in thorn trees and scrub. The faces became darker and the number of villages gradually increased. By the time I arrived at the Niger River on the Senegal border I saw my first wild boar and bird life was abundant. The energy of the people is different. Laughter, fighting kids, colour, vibrancy, sounds, smells and music all fill your senses.

In Mauritania I hooked up with a motley crew of travellers for a small convoy to get over the border. There is the French guy in an old Mercedes full of bric-a-brac that he is selling in Mali/Senegal, two French guys in an old Renault going to Mali, a car full of guys selling a car down here and a crazy back-packing Swiss girl. The first 100+kms was on good tarmac with plenty of suicidal goats and cows with long horns

.. it was about 100kms of dirt tracks, most of which were easy enough to navigate. I became the outrider checking the road ahead. The border was quiet but obviously the guards wanted a little money for their trouble. The first police/customs posts I came to on the Mauritanian side both had the guards asleep on beds in their offices. €10 is all each required to get me past. No-mans-land this time was a bridge of only about 8m (a little bit of an exaggeration). A guy wouldn’t open the barrier until I had paid €8. The Senegal side was particularly cheap at only €5 to get in and only €30 for the one-month insurance.

The level of corruption of the police here is almost laughable. I managed to get through three police checks in 50kms without a fine but the other cars in the convoy had to pay out hard cash for such things as: having no fire extinguisher, not putting the indicator on when pulling over, not wearing a seatbelt or not having a warning triangle or not having insurance. The locals of course don’t have most of the above but they don’t carry as much cash as us. It seems one trait so far throughout Africa is that everyone wants a bit of what you’ve got! Your jacket, sunglasses and money – particularly money. The police wave you over wearing their ‘Chips’ reflective sunglasses and try to be an intimidating presence with their large, athletic, stature. They’re just working out how to get some money out of the European ATM – no receipts, of course.

19.1.2010 – Day 31 – Near Saint Louis

A rest day! Well it was pretty chilled out. The Zebra Bar is by the sea in a nature reserve on the edge of St Louis. A mixture of campers and hutters relax all day in the open bar on the deck overlooking the sea lagoon. I hooked up with two more hippies – they are always such good company – both from Quebec. He juggles fire and drums African drums and she’s a herbalist. Beers in the afternoon was followed by an invite for dinner round the campfire. I also managed to do some washing, go to the ATM in St Louis and get some fuel. On the way to town I saw my first monkeys and was stopped by cops who weren’t interested on extracting cash from me, they were just interest in how fast my bike can go.

20.1.2010 - Day 32 - West of Mali

Today ended up being another big day. I started down the route I had planned but within a couple of miles there was more pothole than tarmac. Potholed dirt roads aren’t too bad but tarmac ones are a hard hit on the bike. I changed plans and headed for Dakla via the main road. The numerous road-kills – either dog, cow or goat – sometimes had vultures and dogs feeding on them. My view of the Senegalese police has improved – I wasn’t stopped once today.

The towns are the usual hustle and bustle but the countryside is filled with small villages made of several compounds fenced off from each other with several houses in each. The houses are about 10ft x 10ft, mud walled and thatch roofed.

The incessant request for cadeaux (gifts) or money has all but stopped also. In fact, I had my chain greased by a mechanic today who said his work was a cadeau for me!

When I stopped to look at an unusual village I met a nice guy who showed me round. It was completely made out of reeds. It looked like a mixture of one of Thor Heyerdahl’s boats (Kontiki), a castle and a Nordic church. The whole village was surrounded by high reed walls. Buildings had reed spires – all very beautiful and very unusual. 200 people live there communally. One section was for married families and the other was for singletons. The place is an Islamic cult started up by a Senegalese guy 20 years ago. All the men have to grow dreadlocks and the building can’t be made out of materials from the ground. Bizarre!

It’s funny that, when you are having a hard day you look forward to the evening when you might end up meeting some friendly locals and have a good place to get cleaned up in. But if it turns out to be crusty you look forward to heading off the next day and if, during the day, you feel things are mundane or difficult you invariably have a meeting which lifts your spirits. When all is said and done, travelling like this might not be easy but you feel you’re sure living your life!

21.1.2010 – Day 33 – Kayes, Mali

I motor-biked to Mali! I rode along a quiet stretch of road today through scrubland that is punctuated by huge baobab trees and thorn. Villages are fewer and the land is hot, flat and covered in dry grass. Occasionally I went through larger villages with bustling markets on either side of the road. Usually women run the stalls, often just sitting on the ground. Hundreds of people mingle wearing multi-coloured prints and flamboyant headscarves. A mixture of shared-taxis and donkey carts seem to get people here. The villages I passed looked timeless. They could have looked like this 100 years ago apart from the shining new orange mobile billboards – their vans are all over the place as well.

At the bottom of a small hill I passed a guy on a good-looking motorbike. To avoid the usual cat and mouse, back and forth overtaking, I accelerated hard and he disappeared from my mirrors. Later, when I had stopped under a tree for a break, the biker pulled over and said hello. He then proceeded to take his jacket off, under which he was wearing a gendarme’s uniform, combat boots, handcuffs and a gun. Luckily for me, he was more interested in my bike than giving me a fine. It turns out I had stopped at his official post. He then pulled an FM radio out from a nook in the tree as I readied to leave.

Although the road was quiet today there did seem to be a huge number of broken down trucks, always with greasy boys underneath trying to fix them. For sure there were more trucks broken than moving!

The Senegal border is on a bridge over a river. On both sides are strung-out settlements (shacks) and more greasy looking people. No buildings looked official so I overtook the long lines of parked and queuing trucks. Before I knew it I was crossing the middle of the bridge with the Senegal/Mali border sign! I had crossed into Mali without signing out of Senegal! Well, I thought I’d just carry on and see what happened. Over the bridge there was one building with an official in it and more greasy drivers’ helpers. The official moved me on. I trundled still further, past more shacks. I thought I’d stop at the petrol station to find out what was going on. I was concerned I was going to ride out of Senegal and into Mali without any stamps! The guy assured me I should carry on. I came to a barrier. I got off the bike. The official here was handing out visas – great! He asked for the Mali customs document. “Ah, what’s that?” I’d missed the building. With a little extra cash on the table he kindly gave me the visa if I promised to go back to customs. I did. All in all, a fairly average African border experience.

Western Sahara and Mauritania

Editor's note: The map is up to date as are the photos. In fact, the photos are a bit ahead of the blog. So bear with us - you will be able to figure out which photos link to the blog here.

I'll load up another one asap (all based on photographs of his diary pages that Andrew is emailing me) to get us as far as Mali. However - just to bring you properly up to date, he's spent the last few days seeing an incredible market in Djenae (gorgeous photos!), then a trip to Dogon Country (my jealousy is now seriously kicking in) and today reached the gorgeous-sounding Ouagadougou - capital of Burkina Faso. Suffice it to say - he's having an adventure! I can also report that he has narrowly avoided serious foot rot after a ticking off by his wife on the need for regular sock washes! So - he's in good shape, the bike is still running and he's making good progress. He told me tonight that Africa is big - it might look big on a map, but it's bigger! The photo he loaded up today pretty much says it all I reckon! I don't think I've ever seen such a vast flat expanse.

Anyway - less of the editorial interference. Diary extracts below for your pleasure. Enjoy!

12.1.2010 – Day 24 – Marrakech

Happy/sad today. With all the crazy drivers and rip-off rubbish food stalls yesterday, our first impressions of Marrakech were not good. Today Marrakech showed a better face…we headed into the Medina and Souks of old town to try and find the Marrakech Museum and an old school. En route we found the Marrakech of old alleyways with mopeds and donkey carts jostling for position with all sorts of interesting stalls selling great Moroccan food and almost everything else. By tagging onto the back of a tour group when approached by a tout, we found the sites we were looking for. Incredible buildings with open courtyards and rooms around the edges. Fabulous mosaics, carvings and paintings on all surfaces, reflecting the wealth made by some here over the years.

This is my last full day with Tracy for a while and I am glad it was a good one. We were even blessed with sunshine! It’s going to be hard saying goodbye tomorrow at the airport but it isn’t for that long really. It will be a difficult time for me as we work well as a team and I will have to get used to being self-sufficient. A little daunted and sad. What a girl!

14.1.2010 - Day 26 –90km south Tantan

This morning I hoped would start a new chapter in the story and the day didn’t disappoint. The first 100km was more of the same; mist, hills, olive, tea, etc. After a descent at late morning the Sahara got close. The air dried, the landscapes became barren, the traffic reduced and the temperatures rose. I was going to enter the vast limestone Western Saharan desert. I was also quickly approaching African bent bureaucracy. I got pulled over by the police, by a guy frantically waving and blowing his whistle to be told quite calmly that I had broken the speed limit and that it would cost me €40. He wanted to see my passport, driving licence, insurance and vehicle document. I don’t have insurance! He assured me I would get my receipt but then suggested that, as I was a tourist and I had a Yamaha motorbike ( he likes Yamahas) I should only pay €20 but no receipt. Great!! My first bent African cop!!

Later in the day I passed through Tantan, the gateway to Western Sahara. This is where the Tibet-style occupation policing starts. Lots of road-blocks and form-filling. It was also time to pack the reserves as supplies get further apart from here. More water, extra fuel tank filled, food bought and cash from ATM.

I have arrived at the dramatic Atlantic coast with desolate beaches, cliffs and waves. Camped out and given dinner by retired German campervanners (massive van, 15 tons). Amazing stars!

15.1.2010 – Day 27 – Boujdour

A Western Sahara day. I broke camp early inn light drizzle to get some good miles in today. Most of the day it has been scrub desert near to the coast with occasional sections of dunes. Towns are few and far between – most of which feel like the wild west but made out of concrete. The people seem friendly, honest and not tempted to rip off the tourist.

The flat, vast expanses of desert are punctuated by various police-stops. Most require me to stop and hand over a Fiche which details all mine and my bikes particulars. There is a friendly but heavy-handed approach to dominating this barren land. Some of the larger towns have had the municipal town planning hand. Big open roads and fresh blocks ready for more concrete housing and Moroccan migration.

I passed the disputed border location for Western Sahara which looked like a hell-hole, but at least this signified the start of cheap subsidised fuel. The towns are full of military personnel and the coast scattered with Saharan fishermen living in shacks. UN vehicles are everywhere as are huge convoys of tanks.

Met 5 Brits on motorbikes and their guide at a police check-point. And got good info from them on the road ahead.

16.1.2010 – Day 28 – Nouadhibou

Wow, what a day! If every day was like this we could have a life-time’s experience in a year or two.

I left just before dawn in the sea mist. The petrol station was still closed. I thought I’d fill up at the station 145kms away. With a tail wind I had good fuel consumption but by the time I arrived at the station I was very low. I eventually found the attendant to be told that they had run out of petrol! The good news was that it was only 25kms to the next station, not the 125kms that I thought. Phew!

The mist cleared and it started to heat up. The road is good – as long as you keep an eye out for sand blown into the road and the only police are at the big towns. I put the iPod on with ACDC and had a blast. Fast biking – making big miles. The landscapes became more barren and the cliff-tops into the sea were dramatic. I decided to try to make the Mauritanian border. By this point there was virtually no traffic and the land had minefields at both sides. I was occasionally passed by the military, or some black Africans running European cars to West Africa. A short way before the border I found a beleaguered looking German guy on a bicycle hiding from the sun in the shade of a small pile of rocks. He looked truly frazzled and, I think, on the edge of sanity – thank God that wasn’t me. This isn’t a good road to cycle. He was “kicking to the Cape” with a football on his bike. Unfortunately he lost his ball yesterday. At lease he was only 5kms from a bed and a cold Coke when he thought he was 30kms away!

The Moroccan border post was the usual 7 person job. Get form, check form, stamp form, check paperwork, write paperwork, check paperwork, check passport. Then you enter no-mans-land. There couldn’t be a better term for this place. You enter a wasteland full of blown up cars  and rubbish with several winding tracks through sand and boulders snaking for over a kilometre to the Mauritanian coast. You can’t stray off the tracks - not even a real track – as this is a minefield (a guy in his car got blown up only a few days previously and died). I took only 1½ hours to get through the Mauritanian border – better than the seven hours it was taking earlier in the week. It was total chaos with no signage and no-one having any idea what is going on. It was like crossing a line into real Africa. For much of the time I was stood directly in the desert’s afternoon heat. I thought I was going to over-heat but with enough shade and water I got through.

The officials obviously live off the takes from tourists. They live in the shacks on cardboard and thin mattresses on the ground. Without any real system I was spat out the other side. The sun had been lowering but with my head down I headed for the first town.

As always, the border brings changes and this time it was straight into sand-dunes, multiple police checks, plenty of black faces and camels on the edge of town.

I am a bit shell-shocked from a hard day but have found a skanky room with a compound for the bike so all OK. Tomorrow it’s the dash for the capital, trying not to get kidnapped as three Spanish did by Al Qaeda six weeks ago on this road.

Looks like the African Football Cup is on at the moment. Should be football mad from now on. Hello Africa!

17.1.2010 – Day 29 – Nouakchott

Another big mile crazy day. Well Al Qaeda didn’t show their heads today, thank God.

I set off early past the camel encampments to see the iron-ore express rolling into town. The landscapes today were bleak but impressive. First I passed through sand-dunes, quickly followed by vast open flatlands and finally climbing high into huge red sand-dunes.

Mauritania is a beautiful place to travel to but I can’t help feel it would be a Godforsaken place to live. The road was nearly deserted and the landscape devoid of people. The occasional settlements were hardly even that – just a few nomadic style tents and some tiny wooden shacks trying to fight off the sand of the desert. I passed through at least ten police and army stops, only needing to give them a Fiche (a form with all my info on it). Most of them saluted me and were very friendly. I think that sums up the people of Mauritania. It looks intimidating but it’s really quite friendly and safe.

The wind picked up and blew sand across the road. The sky darkened and I wondered if I’d ever get to my destination. The roads were in danger of covering over, the going got tough and this started to become a real Sahara day. Even on tarmac with these conditions and distances between habitation it wouldn’t take much for it all to go wrong.

I stopped by the side of the road for some food and stupidly put my helmet on my bike – so it, of course, fell off and smashed one of the fittings – I was furious. I couldn’t even find the bit because there was too much sand flying around and my helmet started filling up. I used some duck-tape to fix it and carried on. My wrists were getting sand-blasted as I rode with sand travelling at 70mph hitting bare skin – they soon went raw.

By the end of the day I removed more than a large handful of sand from the bike’s air filter.

Fuel is a problem in these parts so when I went into the only fuel station to ask for ‘essence-plein’ the response was to ask if I wanted 10 or 20 litres. I asked for 10 litres and during the sandstorm the guy went into his shed, decanted 10 litres from a 20 litre plastic container and with half of it blowing into the wind he filled my tank with 4* plus sand.

The next day I passed into Senegal…

Sunday, 17 January 2010


2nd January - Day 14, Meknes.
Already it is getting darker here much later than Edinburgh - we must have travelled round a fair amount of the world's curvature. thank the Gods that the weeather changed today - for the first time in 2 weeks it's been beautiful blue skies. We had fun yesterday but did get wet on a lovely ride to Chefchaouen; a stunning hill side town in the middle of the Rif mountains. The countryside is full of olive groves, orange orchards and, I guess, hashish plantations, given the amount that seems to be for sale on the streets and smoked in bars. Chefchaouen is famed for its vibrant blue than seems to have been liberally painted (read 'splashed') on all buildings, doors, windows and alleyway floors. the town is a tourist town, but unlike Malaga it is full of Spanish tourists and much more civil for it ... My introduction to the tagine was a mean affair, with the flavours mingling in the atmosphere with pot smoking, baggy-panted Spanish hippies.

We then split from Cactus and Keely for a few days so that we could get the Mauritania visa from Rabat.

4th January - Day 16, Rabat
Welcome to African beaurocracy! Today's job was to get a Mauritanian visa from the embassy in Rabat. Visas were available at the Moroccan/Mauritanian border until only a few weeks ago. The embassy staff in Rabat are obviously ill prepared for their new job issuing visas. The long New Year weekend coming to a close resulted in an army of vagabond travellers of all varieties congregating at the gates of the embassy in the early hours of this morning. The vehicles outside looked like an A to Z of Sahara overland cars, vans and bikes. The travellers ranged from the traditional muslim Moroccan to the crusty (and I mean very crusty) French youth. When the gates opened at 9.20 (late), pushing and shoving was the order of the day. Four to five people at a time were let into a tiny room with a tiny window in a wall from where visas applications were taken in.

Numbered tickets were eventually issued to the crowds outside, which resulted in arguments and more shoving. When the 11am official closure loomed and tensions rose futher, a representative announced that the embassy would stay open until everyone had been seen. Phew! Meanwhile we stood in the torrential downpours that were flooding the road, with only doorways and a tiny canopy to protect us from the wet. We finally left the embassy 5 hours later at 1.30pm with my passport accepted.

We were told to come back at 8pm the same evening to collect passports and visas. After more heavy rain and more waiting, I collected my passport at 10.30pm, after a further 2.5 hours waiting. But at least I have the visa!! Tomorrow we'll head East and South over the Atlas to eventually hook back up with Cactus and Keely.

6th January - Day 18, Merzouga
Sun and the Sahara. How happy are we? In our quest to head South for the warmth we've reached the Sahara. From Midlt at 1500m in the plateau beteen the middle and high Atlas, we climbed through stunning scenery to a 2000m col. The decent from there was stunning, passing a turqouise lake towayds the flat Sahara. For a while we seemed to be on a vast, completely flat,open, barren plateau, until Tracy pointed to our right where the River Ziz had created a huge cleft in the land. At the bottom of the gorge was a plam plantation and earth-built villages. With the towering escarpments above it was breathtaking.

Here the women wear black (always with a bit of glitter!) and those that are married have facial tattoos. As we decended, the temperature rose and the landscapes become ever more barren. We were heading for Erfoud and Morocco's Erg Chebbi - an enormous sand desert. After many landcruisers fll of tourists opassed us, we rolled into Merzouga with its brilliant red sand dunes and not so brilliant touts (it has the reputation of fast becoming the most tout-plagued place in Morocco). We rode straight past most of them, despite them leaping into the road infront of the bike in an attempt to stop us, and rode right up to the dunes for photos. The most persistent tout followed us on a clapped-out moped, yelling all the time. We succombed and are now at a comfortable auberge right by the dunes for the night. We are the only guests, and we can hear loud drumming - Berber music - being played from the dinning hall. We are determined not to go outside for fear of getting roped into 'audience participation' and a demand for money (in payment for the entertainment), so we're sitting in our room giggling instead with the door locked.

7th January - Day 19, Nkob
An early wake up today was rewarded by a wonderful, not quite dawn walk into the sand dunes. With no other toursts or touts around, we had a fabulous start to Tracy's birthday. We had made contact with Cactus and Keely and planned to meet them further west. They were taking on an epic crossing by piste roads (ie off road) from the North, while we enjoyed scenic tarmac roads through abrren countryside. At an interesting escarpment in the middle of nowhere, we stopped and walked up on to the ridge. As if by magic, three fossil salesmen with rtays of ammonites appeared from nowhere with enthusiasm, smiles and fossils. How do they do it? Where did they come from? It seems people are everywhere and everyone has something to sell. Cactus and Keely were having a hard time and their route and would be late, so we carried on to Nkob through very strong winds - which I'm sure is going to give me neck muscles like Arnold Schwartzeneger! We met a Slovac guy and his beautiful Ukrainian girlfriend for an extended lunch in a remarkable scummy restaurant and late fot shown around all the accommodation in town by our friendly, filthy waiter on his clapped out moped. We finally found a great camping auberge with warm rooms (a rarity!), the hottest and most powerful shower in Morocco and decent enough food. Cactus and Keely finally arrived, accompanied by a land rover with a British couple from Guernsey who had made the same crossing. Would you believe, Tracy knows them - having worked with Lauren for years handling cruise ships in Guernsey. Small world. Led to a fun evening with the 6 of us plus a another nice Brit called Tony. Not bad for the arse end of nowhere.

8th-9th January - Days 20, 21, Zagora-Dades Gorges
...the only thing more erratic than a Moroccan school kid on a bicycle is the suicidal dogs that obviously don;t think it's worth living in these parts, as they walk calmoly in front of you, watiting to be hit by the motorbike, even with the horn being pressed continuously. The Draa Valley is where the trade caravans used to travel en route between Marakech and Timboctu. Morocco was the trading post between sub-Saharan Africa and Europe. I assume the takes collected in the Draa Valley paid for the huge Kasbahs (fortressed houses) down this valley. The Kasbahs are like family/clan fortresses made out of earth and straw. They are beautiful to look at and suprising in the quantity and size that are still standing. The Kasbahs and the palm plantations and arid mountains behind make quite a spectacle.

We had spotted problems with the motorbike by the stage - serious damage to the chain chain set, with bit chunks being taken out of the teeth. It was a problem we couldn't ignore - probably caused by initially have the chain too loose, and then over-tightening it, we think. The bike isn't really designed to take 2 riders plus all our luggage. We'd need to get the parts replaced, somehow, before I could carry on through Africa. We started to make calls to get parts sent over from the UK and find a place to get it fitted. Cactus had contacts for both, and so we made a stop in Ouarzazate to visit Bikers' Home - an operation run by Dutch Peter and his Moroccan wife Zineb. He has a garage for repairs, rooms to stay in and offers off road touring - a great set up.

10th-11th January - Days 22,23, Ouarzazate to Marakech
We headed to Ouarzazate and the Bikers' Home to firm up plans to get bike parts out from the UK. A phone call back to the UK confirmed the usual lack of action in these situations - the parts had not yet been sent (ordered 2 days earlier). By sheer chance, a friendly Belgian guy called Boni was at the Bikers' Home too, and had the very bad luck to have completely buggered his bike while getting stuck in a river half way through an off road ride. His bad luck became my very good luck - it must have been a kharma thing. The bike he had is a Yamaha Tenere like mine. As it was now in a disassembly line of broken parts lined up on the garage floor, he very kindly sold me the parts I needed for my bike, from the remains of his. He simply added the parts we took to the order he needed to make for his own damaged bike. Boni - thank you - we owe you one, and we hope you make your trip through Africa some day too!

It never really occured to me before this trip just how delicate moptorbikes are. They also wear alot faster than cars or bicycles. 8am the next morning the mechanic came to sort out my bike (the Paris-Dakar rally has meant that Morocco is packed with good mechanics). By 11am I was on the road and Tracy was on a bus. We both heade over the High Atlas to Marakech, from where Tracy will catch a plane home. I was much happier with Tracy safe and warm on a bus and not cold and potentially unsafe on the bike with me. The pass over the mountain had only just re-opened after lots of snow. Luckily today was fantastic weather, the riding was fabulous with sweeping corners and mostly dry roads on the climb. At over 2000m, the high pass will be my highest point on the entire journey. At the top there was the first of 2 car crashes I passed. The Moroccans are truly terrible drivers - erratic, unreliable and if the vehicle is pwerful enough they drive way too fast. After meeting Tracy for lunch at the coach halfway point I soon passed the second accident. This time, the traffic backed up and after passing the accident site, the drivers started driving as if crazed. The slow trucks had caused tailbacks and cars cut me up trying to overtake them. For me to overtake them was dangerous as was staying in my spot in the line of traffic.

The approach to Marakech was no beter with some cars travelling at 100 miles per hour, others at a more moderate 40 miles per hour. I waited for Tracy's coach to pass me so I could follow it into the coach station. It turns out that the coach driver was as crazy as any driver in Morocco. I followed in hot pursuit as if I was in a Bond movie. Stressful and not at all fun!


Editor's note: We found a hotel in the Ville Nouvelle and walked into the famous main square of Marakech that night for a terrible, over-priced meal at one of the food stalls, had a quick look about and decided that we didn't like this place at all! We have felt that while in Asia, we were always approached by people wanting to sell us something, at least we enjoyed the interaction with them and felt we all had fun together. But in Morocco, we have generally felt that it is a one way relationship - everyone is looking for a way to make their buck, but without the rewarding chats, gesticulations and fun that we enjoyed in Asia. We set our minds to having a good full day the next day in Marakesh - our last together for a few months - and were rewarded with a day of wandering through the Northern part of the souk, eating in 'holes in the wall' (want any tripe or offal with that?), meeting a wonderful French man, Patrick, who runs the lovely Maison du Photographie and read us a beautiful poem about travellers that he had translated and generally just enjoying exploring together. Andrew dropped me off at the airport the next morning and headed South.

I spoke with him last night (Saturday 16th Jan) and he had already crossed Western Sahara and got over the Mauritanian border in the afternoon, which he described as 'interesting'. I decided not to delve further! Tonight he will reach the capital of Noukachott and will either spend one day there to get his Mali visa, or will scoot directly over the border in one day to reach St Louis in Senegal. Internet is sparse - and dial up only I understand. So he'll probably email blogs to me to load up for him. Not sure how we'll get photos loaded, but we'll figure something out. I haven't managed to get the link to photos working yet, but here you can do it manually:


Friday, 15 January 2010

Europe to Africa

Well folks - a chance at last to get a blog loaded up (courtesy of Editor, Tracy, now back in the UK and therefore with access to high speed internet). This first blog at least will be mostly made up of diary extracts, with gaps filled where necessary so that it hopefully all makes sense.

As Tracy writes, I am heading South into Western Sahara. In one or 2 days I will be on the border to cross into Mauritania - aiming to take only 2 days to hot foot it across and over into Senegal.

So in the meantime, sit back and enjoy this blog which deals with the European phase of the journey to reach the African continent. A second blog will follow in a day or 2 to cover the Moroccan part of the journey.

Hopefully the photos link is working, but Tracy will check this out and resolve any problems there - but if you look on our flickr site (same as for Bike Asia: ) you will see the latest photos. Some folk have already had difficulties posting comments, so Tracy will take a look at that and publish instructions if need be.


29th December - Day 10, Mid Spain, South of Salamanca.
Knowing that the ferry we were going to take was delayed going across the Bay of Biscay should have been the hint to how bad the seas were going to be. Most of the day was a gale force 8 which was way beyond the capabilities of the ship's stabilizers. Both Cactus and I threw up and we all stayed in bed most of the day. We had planned a fun-filled day of movies and coffees, with the odd break for whale watching - no chance with the breaking waves all around. There was more of a chance of seeing human whales in the "international buffet", even if they were a little grey in the face from the 'light swell'.

Off the boat this morning we made the required stop at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. I'm sure most people, like us, take photos without ever stepping inside.

The rain today was definitely in Spain. Terrible road conditions which made for very wet and cold biking, even though the temperature is much higher than in the UK. Tonight we are staying in a suitably bad trucker's hotel/service station, with dodgy shower, door, heating, lighting and staff. We did see the news tonight which showed huge floods all over Spain - no news to us!!

30th December - Day 11, Gibraltar.
"That was hard work today" (Cactus). We left our meagre hotel this morning before light, to be welcomed to a day of heavy rain storms and strong winds. At times it was dangerous, being blown hard from side to side down the motorway. Halfway through the day the weather improved slightly as we passed areas ravaged by flood waters that we had seen on TV the night before. Houses changed to stereotypical Spanish white-washed, perched on hill tops with lofty spires.

The rock of Gibraltar appeared on the horizon like an apparition late in the afternoon ...

... we arrived in British Gibraltar, that apart from the pie and chips, looks alot like Spain. One more 'last supper' of, well, pie and chips actually, before heading back to our youth hostel dorm (in the rain, naturally). Africa next!

31st December - Day 12, Near Tetouan, Morocco.
Well, we made it to Africa! ... only 2 miles brought us to a one mile traffic jam to the border for Morocco (the ferry arrives in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta on the African continent - from there you drive the short distance to the border into Morocco) - possibly one of the most disorganized on the planet. Henry Ford would have been appalled at the system in place for getting a visa. The process involved a temporary import document for the motorbike, getting visa and import document checked, getting passport checked, but mainly sitting in a traffic jam. A friendly 'fixer' for 5 euros helped us through the madness. Less than 2 hours later we popped out the other side of customs, slightly bewildered, to a very wet Morocco. It's hard to believe the Sahara is only a couple of hundred miles away. The highlight of the day though was the Moroccan guys wearing an outfit half way between a dressing gown and a Star Wars Ewok outfit. Bring on Morocco!

Monday, 4 January 2010

Happy New Year