Saturday, January 8, 2011

… and bush trails

Next day we have breakfast at a local food stall, where eggs on sandwich come with heated discussions on politics. The situation in Ivory Coast is slowly deteriorating after the elections, with both candidates claiming victory, and everyone seems to have an opinion about it. It only takes a few minutes before the talk turns to the Belgian situation. Oh dear… The amount of times we had to explain this in Africa shows that a lot of Africans are really well informed about global issues, especially compared to us Europeans/Belgians.

Yesterday we did what was supposed to be the easy part, as that route was designated "surfaced road" by Michelin maps. Michelin assigns different categories of road widths and conditions varying from "surfaced" and "improved" – both stated as all weather roads – over "partially improved" and "earth roads" to "recognized or marked tracks" and "unmarked tracks". Starting from today we have 200kms of "marked" and "unmarked track" ahead of us. In Mahina we have to cross the Bafing river again, using the railway bridge.

As a lot of people are walking on it, we decide to put the advice to inquire about train schedules aside (it doesn't look like a high speed train is going to pass by any soon) and try our luck. Once on the other side we leave the larger supposedly tarred road to Tambaga and take left direction Kalé, the first big village at about 20kms away. Thanks to the GPS we soon find the right track, which is obviously mainly used by little mopeds. It zigzags between bushes and small trees, passes through thatched-hut-villages and covers all kinds of terrain from sandy patches, to large rocks and solid earth, now and then badly weathered and breached. We quite enjoy ourselves riding it but progress is slow.

It takes us more than an hour to reach Kalé, which to our disappointment doesn't harbour any shops. We continue without proper provisions and hope for the best. Every once and a while we come across the old railway. At certain places the rails have been removed creating a nice gravel surface, which is used as a road of course. On stretches like these we even make 50km/h. Only disadvantage: the (almost) non/no longer existing bridges…

We plough on for another couple of hours, taking only one break for sardines and Vache Kiri (without bread). We're starting to get really tired, hungry, overheated, dehydrated and weak limbed, while the track only gets rougher, with larger height differences, some nasty erosion, rocky slopes and sandy bottoms. When I mistake one of these last for the continuation of the track, I get myself stuck in the sand. It's impossible to turn to get up the slope and find the real trail. Nicolaas saw what happened and tries to help but with the two of us we can't manage. And with no more water left we were just starting to get really desperate when a man carrying a large bundle of reed on his head appears on the road. We call him. He hesitates for a moment but then he comes rushing to help. Some more people arrive. It takes 4men to lift the bike and put it in the proper direction.

 One of the men speaks some basic French. We try to explain him what we are doing here – "we're tourists" –, where we're going – "trying to reach Oualia, a larger village one third of the way to Kita, before sunset" – and that we really need water. They agree to take us along to their village to get water from the well. The people are very welcoming and immediately we feel relaxed. At least our biggest problem is solved now. While filtering the water – which is obviously a hilarious and very entertaining process for these villagers – we're invited to stay the night in the village. We agree. We're not even sure what to find in Oualia and after all isn't this what travelling is all about? Staying in unusual places, meeting extraordinary people, getting up close and personal with everyday life in previously unfamiliar countries… What better place to do this than this cozy village called Dioubeba? Our hosts take us on a tour around the village and to the fields on the other riverbank. We spend the rest of the night talking and greeting the large extended family of our host, the village chief and well… a whole lot of people.

The next morning we're compelled to take pictures of the whole bunch and then some more, but we don't mind. We've been accommodated and fed with all that was within their reach. We learn some interesting news on the paths ahead as well. The next 16kms to Oualia will be worse, but from there on there should be a good gravel road.

Indeed we spend the better part of the day working our way through vicious gullies and over breached tracks, but by noon we've finally reached Oualia in the district of Toukoto, a former colonial settlement. If the road is as good as they say, it shouldn't take more than two and a half to three hours to traverse the last 130 kms to Kita.

But alas, as all good things come to an end, soon the nice track is broken up by road works yet again. Still the deviations are not as bad and dusty as could have been, so we keep our optimism… at least until we come to a large river crossing, where the new bridge wasn't finished yet and the old one completely disembodied. In vain I try a sideway, which disastrously just leads to me getting stuck in the sand and losing more time. After trying two more dead ends, we find the right "deviation" – couldn't they have signposted this one??? – going roughly in the right direction. In the end we're very pleased with this turn of events, because this track is smaller but far better, with less wash-boarding and no deviations. The surroundings are nice and green, and we can even admire the views without worrying about potholes or slowing down to less than 60km/h. Excellent!

When we arrive in the dingy town of Kita it's already half past six and we're tired and hungry (no lunch today either) but we both really want to get to Bamako. So we push on for another almost 200kms of tarred road. By the time we're half way, it is getting dark and the air is full of fumes. People have started small fires everywhere to burn down the weeds. We ride the last kilometers through the traffic from hell of Bamako, and the fact that Nicolaas' headlight is burnt doesn't add to the joy. Unfortunately our guesthouse is on the other side of town but thank god we have the GPS coordinates! At eight o'clock, after a twelve hours ride we settle for a bed and a mosquito net on the roof top terrace and a slow meal at the local diner.

1 comment:

  1. Isabel, Nicolas
    Het rommelt behoorlijk in Soedan.
    Volg de situatie daar!