Baobabs in all shapes and sizes border the road to Kayes. A combination of extreme temperatures and heavy traffic –despite toll and weigh bridges - has torn up the surface of the road. It looks like the tarmac has spontaneously crumbled, creating huge potholes. In the old colonial town of Kayes we're greeted by a whole army of mopeds busily buzzing in all directions, male and female riders alike. We're escorted personally and free of charge to our guesthouse by the first chap we ask for directions. Room prices are reasonable, people on the streets are friendly but discreet and the toubab (a.k.a. white person) surcharge – if any – is modest… Our first impression of Mali and its inhabitants is more than okay. We feel at ease and put our prejudices aside.
Since the main tarred road from Kayes to Bamako makes for a big detour, bordering an area that is considered less safe, we decide to ride straight towards the capital through smaller but perhaps more interesting dirt roads. This should take us alongside the Bakoye River, the main upstream branch of the Senegal, with several of its cascades. Upon leaving Kayes, we follow the track next to the railway. It's more or less well kept, but not very large, which makes us wonder about the road ahead… After a few kilometers we encounter the first of many, many, many sandy traffic deviations. After our cycling trip in Ladakh in 2009, road works are an all too familiar pain in the ass… Soon we're biting dust, quite literally actually, and cursing the Malian public contractors. However, it appears that we have to curse the Chinese, since the construction companies seem to be of Far Eastern origin, and the road does (not incidentally?) deviate past Chinese mining companies. The good thing is that, further down the road, they provide us with a smooth gravel road where we can make some speed. In Sélinkegni village, the adjunct-mayor of Bafoulabé gives us directions to his town: 20 kms from where we meet, the gravel road has a dead end and we have to take the old bush track.
The track leads between the straw huts of a village and past the soccer terrain, before entering the scrub and tree savannah. Thanks to our training in Mauritania, we have very little problems with the sandy, bendy single donkey track. It is slowly getting late though, and after a whole day of off-road riding these last 50 kms of bush track are exhausting. With the sun setting over the beautiful landscape, we arrive at the junction of the Bakoye and Bafing Rivers, where we are welcomed by a crowd of cheering kids. Some men eagerly propose us to ship the bikes per pirogue to the other bank, but one of them admits that there is a (safer) ferry too. Indeed, after a little waiting and a lively discussion with the captain who is demanding a shamelessly high fare, we are transported to Bafoulabé. By now, it is dark, the engines (especially mine) are stammering, presumably because of a clogged air filter, and we are starving. Luckily, a guest house is easily found. Nicolaas washes the indeed very dirty air filter with diesel oil from our cooking fuel stash and increases the engine idling speed – we don't want to waste time now. In one or two days, we'll be in Bamako and have plenty of time while we wait for our Burkina Faso visa.
|For more pics, see album "Baobabs".|