donderdag 27 maart 2014

Looking back

Posted from back home:
The original idea was to sell the VW van in West Africa and fly back, but as I liked traveling in this van so much, I even liked it more than traveling by motorbike, I decided that I would drive it back to Belgium and keep it for future adventures. I basicly took the same way back through Guinee, Mali and Mauritania, and again had some troubles at the borders with corruption. It seems that regarding corruption, things have gotten really bad over the last couple of years, whereas previously you could just smile and dismiss their questions for money, now they insist you pay up and have no problem refusing you to enter the country. They even make the locals pay, as I've seem on the Gogui border in Mali. Paying 5000 Cfa, or 8 euro's to stamp your passport annoys the hell out of me, but just imagine what it means for a local, earning 2 euro's a day.  This, combined with the burocracy, made me decide that I was finished with Africa, or at least, for now. I still had to drive the 8000 km back home tough, and was glad it all went pretty smooth. I got blocked in Bamako for a week, as the Mauritanian embassy wouldn't issue a visa until we officialy changed our intinerary away from the route de l'espoir.
With Karl, last night in Diema, Mali.
Going up, the borders were a bit easier to cross, and I had a good time as I traveled with an Austrian biker up to Dakhla and with a French couple in a van up to Essaouira.
I had some side-road adventures as here taking the wrong road up to paradise valley and the Immouzer waterfalls, spending the night on an gnarly track high in the mountains.
What do you do when the road gets worse and worse, and you haven't seen a vehicle all day? You just keep going!
But overal I got home fairly quick in 5 weeks from Bamako without any problems.

I would like to end with posting some trip statistics for anyone planning a trip like this. And if you are not going to do  'real'  offroad and like to save money and have more comfort, I can honestly recommend buying an old van instead of a 4x4. This van was a 4x4, but you would be surprised how far off the beating track you can go with any 2x4. To go off the main road looking for a nice place for camping, you don't need a kitted out, expensive toyota or landrover.

  • Days on the road:                 141
  • Days slept in the van:          140
  • Theoretical money saved on hotel costs at 30/night: 4200 euro
  • Total distance:                      20000 km
  • Distance offroad:                 1000 km (that's including the very bad roads)
  • Repairs on the car:               2  (gearshift in Sierra Leone 10 euro, glowplugs in Spain 200 euro)
  • Flat tyres:                             0
  • Getting stuck:                       2 (both in soft sand in Morocco)
  • Bribes paid:                         5  (totaling 60 euro, way too much)
  • Days of rain:                        2
  • Cost of visa's:                      300 euro
  • Cost of fuel:                        1600 euro (estimate)
  • Total cash money spent:      6700 euro ( 1340/month)
  • Cost of the car :                   3500 euro   (TOTAL: that includes buying it, getting it roadlegal, building the interior and maintaining it during the trip)
  • Things I would do different next time:     take (even) more Belgian beer!

Last day camping in the desert and one of the times I got stuck.

donderdag 6 februari 2014

Bye bye beach, hello mountains

Bureh beach is an amazing place, if I had to compare it to other beautiful places in Africa, it would certainly be in my top 3. The relaxed atmosphere makes it stand out from other places, most of the day the van would be wide open, without me having to worry about theft and no pushy sellers of souvenirs were to be seen. Cold beers were served right up to the van and ladies selling cookies, eggs or even more would just present themselves.
Alima and some school children
Cookie lady came by every day

All were very happy with their own picture

My new guard dogs

Life was slow during the week, with the white expaxts only showing up in the weekend, but 2 backpackers from Norway arrived and together we made a daytrip to Banana Island.

Fruit bats at Banana Island

Ever seen a banana this color?
At one of the party weekends Gary met a Spanish guy building schools up North in Kabala and as he was looking for a project to support he made arrangements to go and visit these projects. For me, spending 9 days in a row on a beach was plenty, and as I was going the same way back into Guinnea, I joined him towards Kabala. Being up in the mountains I looked forward to a bit cooler temperatures too. We said goodbye to the lovely people of the Rakis hotel and the surf club and were happy to find the road in good condition, with only the last part slowing us down because of roadworks.
Coco, as the Spanish guy was called, turned out to be a great guy, already for 2 years in Sierra Leone, he build 4 schools together with the locals. As these little villages are only accesible with motorbikes, Coco repaired his little honda 125 for me to ride, so the next day we could drive out in the jungle with 3 bikes.

Gary on the way up to the villages
 It turned out to be quiet an adventure, after some more repairs in the morning, we only left at 11 so we needed to hurry to complete this 100 km round trip to 3 villages. But even before we made it to the first one, I had a flat tyre, one that prooved difficult to fix, both Gary and Coco busted their knuckels getting the tire off the rim. Coco had a pretty deep gash in his finger and to make matters worse, we pinched the tube getting the tire back on. So the 2 remaining bikes drove to the next village while I waited for them to return.
Lit a fire to keep the flies away
In a good hour they came back with the wheel fixed and so we made it to the village of Kadanka. We also managed to reach the next one through some amazing little roads riding up and down big mountains, but luckily we skipped the last one and were already on the way back when Coco's bike lost the retainer of the front sprocket. Just before dark we made it back on 2 bikes to Kabala to end the adventure with cold beers and nice food in the 'Choices' bar.
After that I had a bit of a rest day while Gary and Coco went for more and the next day I was to drive North into Guinea.

donderdag 23 januari 2014

Beach time

Fishermen on Tokeh beach
Last week has been spend relaxing on the beaches of the Freetown peninsula. After Laka beach, were Jason put up with us for free for 4 days, we stopped at Nr2 river beach and Tokeh. But the most amazing place surely is Bureh beach, where the boys of the 'Bureh Beach Surf Club' welcomed us and Gary finally got back on his board again.

The pink fruit is called apples and taste like apples too

 I made a good deal with the owner of the next door hotel 'Rakis Beach Side Resort' to let me use the bathroom and showers and I am parked in a quiet spot almost right on the beach. There is no hassle from anyone and the place is secure, so at night I sleep with all the doors open, looking at the stars and hoping for a breeze. Dough even if there is a breeze, the temperatures doesn't drop below 27°c. Days usually get a steady 32°c, but it's the humidity that gets to you, both Gary and I are struggeling with a bit of a cold, coughing with a runny nose and a headache, weird. I'm planning on one more weekend and on monday it's back to work, well, back on the road, for the 3 month trip back home.

woensdag 15 januari 2014

Sierra Leone

So there I was in Conacky parked next to a Total gas station near the Sierra Leonian embassy. From 9 in the morning I sat in the embassy, and when I filled in the application they said I would need a hotel reservation. So within 30 minutes I came back with a reservation I printed myself and they were pleased with that, however the visa would be isued in 72 hours. As I didn't fancy spending 3 days next to a dump, I pushed a bit to get it the same day. After explaning that I'm sleeping in my car on the street and an elebarate private interview with the ambassador they told me to come back in the afternoon. It was walking back at 3 the same afternoon that I spotted a motorbike with a surfboard strapped to it, that could only be one guy, Garry. I know Garry from a tread on the HUBB and met him already  in Morocco, so it was nice to see him again. He was going to put his tent at the gasstation as I went to pick up the visa and laisser passer, which for Sierra Leone is also printed at the embassy. Next day we drove up to the border in good spirits, but when we were finaly in, it was 4 hours later and both of us were at boiling point, especially the last hour long discussion about our 'carte brune' insurance not being valid was too much. I ended up bribing and paying my way into Sierra Leone, but at least we were on perfect asfalt roads. After a mechanical hickup (the gear change lever came loose), we found a perfect spot by a river to camp.

The next day we drove straight through Freetown in search of the famous beaches and there I was, at my final destination and on the perfect location. We ended up at Jason's 'Hard Rock' hotel in Laka beach, and I must say, it comes very close to what I envisioned when I dreamed about driving a van to Freetown 6 months ago. Just look at the picture....
Broken down just over the border

Garry and me

vrijdag 10 januari 2014


Driving into Guinea prooved more difficult than I imagined. At the main border the gerdarmerie immediately wanted money for a stamp. I refused, and while the guy shouted to the others 'if he doesn't pay, he doesn't come in', I went to see the customs for the laisser-passez. There a second surprise awaited me, as they believed I was going to sell my car in Guinea, they wanted me to put up a bond, which I would receive back when leaving the country. So how much would this be I asked: 1000 euro! I thanked him and made my way back into Mali, being lucky to have a mutiple entry visa.
For a moment I realy thought of just going back to Bamako and call this whole trip off, but then I noticed a small border post on the map, very close to the main one, it would invalve 150 km offroad and I thought it was worth a chance. That night I slept in the bush in Mali and the next day it took me another 6 hours to get to the small border over very bad piste, and I was amazed how well the van holds up on this kind of road. Within 1,5 hours I crossed the border with a free laisser-passer and without paying any officials, result. This piste followed the Niger river and by the evening I came upon one of the most scenic camping spots I ever been on. Right on the banks of the river, with an 180° view of the river's birdlife and with the rumble of the nearby village just hearable as the wind carried it towards me. I stayed for 2 days while Syncro discovered the surroundings.
The next day I drove to Kan Kan, hoping to get some money out of an ATM and find some fuel. Both were utterly impossible. So I changed some money on the black market and calculated I had enough fuel for another days drive. The town reminded me very much of the hot cities in central Africa with their crowded markets and street food on every corner. I quite like Guinea, and am glad to have gotten in, I was even more pleased when I found some very good menthol sigarettes for 0,15 euro per packet.
Because of the gasoline shortage, I decided to go straight towards Conakry, thinking there must be fuel on the main road towards the capital, right? No, not only was the road in very bad condition from Kouroussa up to Mamou, even in Mamou no fuelstation had any gasoline. 20 liters were bought on the black market and only in Kindia I found a working gas station.

I had to get to Conakry to get my Sierra Leone visa, and I knew it wasn't a pleasant city, but my God, this is one of the worst ones so far. First the road was under construction (by the Chinese of course), and the congestion starts 30 km out of the centre. Then I'm pulled of the road at a checkpoint and were the checkpoint have been very friendly so far, now this one 'boss' finds something wrong. It's the dog. Where is the dog passport? I tried reasoning but he insisted he would drive with me to the 'direction generale' of customs in town to sort it out. Somewhere along this drive I manage to bribe him and get him out of the car. Syncro owes me now one watch and 9 euro's. By then it's late afternoon, over 40 degrees, and I am completely stuck in traffic. For 1,5 hours I see the GPS is stuck on 'destination: 11km', then the traffic free's up but at every crossroads with police I'm pulled off the road so they can check all the papers while demanding some gifts. I decide to camp at a Total gas station, near the Sierra Leone embassy and that is where I am now. It's a lovely place as you can see on the pictures, there's burning garbage, pigs, flies and muskietos, luckily the people are friendly and helpfull.

dinsdag 31 december 2013

Walking the Dogon

From Bandiagara, me, Esteban and Abdul organised a 4 day walking safari, together with Sheick Dolo, whom I met in Bamako and brought along for guiding us trough his native region.
River just before Sangha

We had to hire a 4x4 for the drive up to Sangha, cause the last bit of this road is just too hard going for my van. Once in Sangha, we left syncro (the dog) at the family of Sheick and started walking the North side of the Dogon.
house of a hunter

Via banani and Koundou  we marched to Yougodogorou.

We spent our first night under the stars, luckily without moskietos, as this is the dry season.

The second night we had a beautiful sunset overlooking the plain towards Burkina.


We only walked from 7'30 to 11' and from 14'30 to 17' due to the midday heat. The rest of the time was basicly spent waiting for the food to be prepared, which usually took 2 hours.  On the 3rd day we visited some very nice Tellem villages, with the typical mud houses and storages hanging from the clifs.

Bronze ring

The last night we had a nice dinner with some beers in Yandouma celibrating christmas before the 12 km walk back to Sangha. Once in Sangha I found my dog had been well taken care of, as she was fed dried fish and looked twice as big.