2 December 2002
Hi all, and welcome to Steve and Debs' Africa Bulletin Number 3.
We are writing this bulletin in Bamako, Mali on the 2nd December. We have had an interesting few weeks in Western Sahara, Mauritania and Mali. Highlights include climbing sand dunes in the Sahara, getting lost crossing the border into and out of Mauritania.
After Marrakesh we headed for the coast and then follwed it south into western sahara which is currently disputed territory, although under Moroccan occupation. Heading down the coast we broke the suspension on our rear axle (I call them front, drive and rear). We took the wheels off that axle and put them on the roof - the next day the wheels fell off the left hand side of the drive axle and passed us down the road - exciting!
Passing through Laayoune in the Western Sahara was quite tense as it is mainly military town with lots of soldiers wandering around. When we went off shopping for food at the local market a couple of policemen followed us - we are not sure whether it was to keep an eye on us or to make sure we were safe.
We reached the border with Mauritania after which the road ran out and we got lost. We eventually stumbled onto a police checkpoint outside Nouadhibou where we were reprimanded for not passing through the correct border controls and picked up a guide. We made it to Nouadhibou without further incident (apart from getting the sand-mats out a few times) and stayed there for a couple of days while the axle was patched up as best we could.
Also around this time our camcorder battery charger died and we rapidly exhausted our batteries. Dad is very helpfully arranging to have a couple of replacements sent to us - one should have been waiting for us here in Bamako but DHL seem to have lost it.
We then headed deep into the Sahara, hoping our guide really knew what he was doing. He managed to get us to the beach at the southern end of the wildlife park, from where we drove down the beach to Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania. There is not a lot in Noakchott, but as we had been on the road for a month we treated ourselves to a hotel room for a night.
From Nouakchott we went inland, heading for Bamako in Mali. We decided to take the southern route through Kiffa, Kayes and Kita as it is more scenic. Once we left the main roads at Kiffa we slowed down a lot, getting lost a few times and at one stage camping less than 50km from where we had camped the night before. When we crossed the border into Mali the villages changed from collections of tents to collections of round mud huts with thatched roofs. The whole experience is getting more "African" every day.
The last few stops to pick up water in the villages have been great fun. All the locals come out to meet us and get very excited. Some of the girls even bother to put tops on occaisionally - Steve doesn't mind too much though :-) Debs absolutely loves the bright colours that the women wear here; generally with a baby slung on their back.
Most of the recent days travelling have been on tracks rather than roads. Two-Dogs, the driver fro, Bog-Rat which is a 4 wheel drive, says he can't believe that our truck (Priscilla) has made it along some of them.
The 29th November was a pretty bad day. To start with we didn't close the side cupboards properly and almost lost our cooking gear. Then we ripped the tarp all the way down one side of the truck by getting too close to a thorny tree. Finally part of the clutch dropped out of the bottom of the truck. All within the space of an hour. Luckily Richard and Paul (driver and mechanic) were able to fix the clutch in a couple of hours and we were back on our way again.
Total injuries to the truck so far...
A couple of days ago my cook group, being fed up with vegitarian food, bought 4 kilos of rump and fillet steak in the market in Kayes. Everyone (apart from the vegitarians) was really looking forward to it but when we stopped the next evening we discovered that the fridge was not working and the meat was off. Luckily, Debs and Vanessa (the other quartermaster) had some reserves in stores and we still had our vegatables so no-one starved but it was still disappointing.
The next day Richard, our driver, stopped at one of the villages we passed and bought a goat. Bog Rat, the other overland truck, belongng to Bukima, that we meet up with every so often, had a spit and so we all had spit-roasted goat for dinner. As a bonus, we are now in Mali which is not a "dry" country like Mauritania was and so we manage to get cold beers as well.
The stretch from Nouakchott to Bamako has been our longest without a shower so far - 8 days (and still going). This will probably pale into insignificance when we head through Sudan, but right now it seems (and smells) like a long time.
Vanessa started an advent calendar for the truck yesterday. Somehow Christmas seems a long way off when most days hit 40 degrees c.
On the creepy-crawly front, things haven't been too bad really. We've had scorpions under our tents when in the Sahara, and a really big spider dashing through the camp - Steve was trying to relocate it for its own good, but it ran one way (with Steve chasing) and everyone else screamed and ran the other. No snakes yet though, apart from the snake charmers in Marrakesh. Debs and a couple of the others saw a monkey the other day as well - so they claim ;-)
So far the most popular truck games are backgammon and twister! Twister can get very amusing after a few beers, especially when playing on sand in the desert.
Debs is starting to get as brown as everyone expected she would, but then again we are not sure how much of that will wash off when she has a shower.
We have now all finished off all the beers we bought in Morocco, and are going to have to find another supply. Thats 40 "slabs" of 24 each. Ben is looking forward to the end of Ramadan - he is not a muslem but decided to try it anyway. His trousers are definately too big for him now.
The scenery has changed a lot since we left the Sahara. Following the Senegal river was beautiful - exactly like an African river should be. Also, just outside Kayes there are some waterfalls where it was safe for us to swim which was wonderful.
Finally, thanks to those of you who have sent us letters to Bamako. We picked them up this morning and will read them tonight.
Missing you all
Steve and Debs