Tour d'Afrique - and then some

Discussion in 'Epic Rides' started by Asianrider, Sep 11, 2010.

  1. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    Yeah, I think that's one of the advantage of going solo. People communicate totally differently with a single person and with a group.
  2. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

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    <iframe width="560" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/3vo2NmRjqFI" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

    I've decided for the rough track, but it doesn't look that long, although it's obviously not on my Michelin 741 West Africa map. I take off late in the morning on the double track the hotel manager has shown me.

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    It takes me through a beautiful landscape of red earth and green leaves.

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    I can imagine it must be even more impressive during the rainy season, when the green is much brighter. But then I wouldn't have made it here in the wet of course. I overtake a 4x4 loaded with passengers slowly making its way down the track. I like to ride in front of them, knowing that if something happens there will be somebody to give me a hand.

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    At one point the track crosses a village, which is closed of by a gate at both ends. I suspect this is so that the villagers can extract a fee from the passing vehicles. One advantage of showing up in a funny vehicle is that you often get a free ride. In this case the kids come running in excitement and usher me in. Then they run after me as if I were Justin Bieber visiting a teenager girl's school. I slow down for them to catch up with me and they open the exit door and wave me farewell with big smiles. Priceless.

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    After a few kms of skirting the edge of the cliff, the road starts to climb down. (Sorry for the change in the picture's colors, I've got 2 cameras and they render colors differently. These ones are more realistic)

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    Excellent ride, it couldn't be better really.

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    And then the track gets really rough. I need to careful calculate my line to avoid banging my bashplate on the big rocks, and usually there's only one good line no more than 2 tires wide that gets you safely through.

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    The double track really is a single track for all but 4x4s with high clearance.

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    Until of course, in a corner while looking for the ideal line I slow down too much, lose my balance and drop my bike. It's a fine balance between keeping enough speed for stability but not too much that you're scraping the bash plate. Ground clearance is key, but also good suspensions and the BMW's aren't the best, especially with a bit of weight.

    I pick up my bike and stop for a few pics. By going solo the downside is, I don't get many shots of me riding. When it's technical you've got better things to take care of than take a picture of yourself.. so when I drop it first I snap a pic, I drink, rest a bit, etc..

    I take my time so the 4x4 is catching up with me. Actually, first the passengers join mw, because the ride is so rough that they prefer to walk down while the Toyota is inching its way down. That's where the 4-wheelers win: they can go as slow as they want when it gets really rough, we don't have this option.

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    Finally after may more close calls and a lot of sweating I reach the bottom of the valley.

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    The track is much less bumpy, I can relax and enjoy it.

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    It soon turns into smooth laterite, and I find out I have a fifth gear. This is Africa at it's best, you move in 1 hour from very technical challenging stuff to high-speed double tracks, all in beautiful surroundings and not a vehicle to spoil your fun.

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    As I reach a river I see a some life: people come to wash their clothes (or themselves I presume).

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    I was expecting a border crossing at some point. Only when I see the rope in the middle of the village do I realize it's here. I stop and look around, but it's all thatched huts. A uniformed guy gets out of one of them and comes to me. He's a bit curious about what the heck am I doing here, so we chat a bit. I follow him to his hut and he quickly stamps me out. I enquire about the customs for the carnet, knowing well that there was probably nothing like this here. But the guy tell me no problem, but he needs a few minutes. While he walks away with my carnet in hand and look a place where they're cooking. I'm a bit hungry since I've left late in the morning and it' snow well past noon. I order a plate of rice and mutton, with a lukewarm coke. While I'm eating the border official comes back with my carnet stamped out, with a big smile and another "bon voyage".

    Frankly, this ought to be the nicest border crossing in all Africa! But I'm only half done, the dreaded Senegalese border is "about 20 keys" away according to the official. Well rested and fed I get on the bike on the nice double track.

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    I get confused a bit as there are now several crossings, but there are also always somebody who can tell me the right way. The scenery changes radically as the forrest has been burnt down. The road is also pretty badly potholed so it needs a lot of attention when riding fast. Not the place where you want to break a rim.

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    I thought I was done with the technical riding, but there's another ridge to climb down, and this one is just as bad. I had caught up with a 4x4, and as I stop he also stops to let the passengers out. Again they will walk the rough part. I look at the line and need to move a few rocks to fill the larger holes where I would bottom out. The driver joins me and we work on the road together, exchanging thoughts about the quality of the road.

    I go first and just 50 m down I drop it again. This time it falls down on the mirror and breaks it.. at last. I had imagine this would be one of the first thing to break in the trip, but it had survived the worst until my last rough ride of the whole trip! The driver is right behind me and jumps out to help me right my bike.

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    At the bottom of the track is the first Senegalese village, and the border. Now, Sénégal is a usually the first country in Africa that the overlanders reach when coming down the west coast, which gives them the first experience of dealing with corrupt border guards (Morocco and Mauritania are usually quite tame). The border between Mauritania and Sénégal at Rosso is famous for the chaos of fixers harassing you, the officials extracting bribes from you and the general nastiness of it. For me it would the last one when I exit Sénégal later on.

    But here it's like another world. I go to the immigration, and the guys there make me step in front of the queue skipping the passengers of the 4x4 that was following me, and who've reached the village first. We chat a bit, they stamp me in and bonne arrivée! They ask for a cadeau, but I crack a joke and that's about it. In 5 minutes I'm done and on my way to the next sizable city, Kédougou, where I should visit the customs to get my carnet stamped.

    The road to get there is quite decent and passable for all kind of cars. In fact it's a bit touristy as there are some villages that are worth visiting, according to a guidebook. I decide to carry on to the next town and do a bit of maintenance and possibly get a cold beer or two.. I pass twice in front of the customs building in Kédougou without seeing it. I manage to find the official who knows about Carnet. Or at least who's got the right stamp. I help him sort out which one to put where, and he then just wishes me a nice trip and I can go (note that I'd already secured a Yellow Card insurance for all of West Africa so I'm good in this side).

    It's nothing like coming from Mauritania, where the same custom officials want a backshish to fill your papers, then to pay for a passe-avant, buy an over-priced insurance, and finally require you to go to Dakar to stamp your carnet...! so that's the proof that there's no law like this and that it's just a small gang of crooks who run the border there as they wish and take advantage of the gullible white people with pockets full of cash. In fact the money corrupts them.

    Looking for accommodation, it's immediately obvious that I'm in a different country. There are a few high-end lodges caring for tourists coming here for the Niokolo-Koba park. Finally I haggle down a reasonable price for a room without bathroom, and I try to mangle with rich French tourists, while I feel a bit disconnected with their centers of interest.
  3. Motorfiets

    Motorfiets Long timer

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    Oct 1, 2007
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    2,997
    Location:
    North of Jack Daniel's, South of Country Music
    :lurk

    I was excited to read about the downhill bit!

    How is your TT tank holding up? :ear
  4. eSTes1300

    eSTes1300 Adventurer

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2011
    Oddometer:
    71
    The 505 is amazing. Trash it in the dirt, then go 150kph on pavement and it rides like a Benz. The best suspension around. I beat them around West Africa, just great cars. Thieves love them, as do those who strip the lights, wheels, and windows. The 404 was a tough car as well.
  5. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2010
    Oddometer:
    120
    The tank is strong and very robust, it's had more than its share of crashes and it's just scratched. I've had to redo some plastic bushings that sit around the fasteners, which is a bit annoying. Lately, the fuel pipes running to the main tank have started to leak: pretty bad quality, after just 2 years. For this you have to take the main tank out and this is a major PITA.
    Another annoying thing: the lid is leaking when the bike is laying down.
  6. Motorfiets

    Motorfiets Long timer

    Joined:
    Oct 1, 2007
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    2,997
    Location:
    North of Jack Daniel's, South of Country Music
    Thanks for the update...I have been happy with my tank. I took mine through Mongolia and Siberia last year and didn't have too many issues. Just curious because there are a few guys who have broken the tanks from too many falls.
  7. Johnnydarock

    Johnnydarock Been here awhile

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    May 6, 2009
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    Redondo Beach CA
    Laurent - I've been following your ride report for 2 fucking years!. Now bring it home! Don't top now!

    Johnnydarock
  8. NellieDriver

    NellieDriver Been here awhile

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    Germany
    Laurent,

    thank you for sharing your story about that formidable trip through Westafrica, especially throug the Ivory Coast. It makes me remember the time when I have been living there in the early 1980. I and my friend had both a Honda XL and travelled through the country everytime we could. With your report I can see how the country changed or not changed. Have a good time and be save.
    Greetings from Germany.
    Nelliedriver :clap
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  9. Allie_Smit

    Allie_Smit Allie

    Joined:
    Sep 1, 2006
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    Pisvoetlaagte
    Tx for posting and enjoy the ride..... :muutt:muutt:muutt
  10. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2010
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    120
    I wanted to post this because of the recent developments in Mali. Back then it had crossed my thoughts that I was lucky to be able to enjoy this great country and the wonderful hospitality of the Malians in peace and quietness, and I was enjoying the fact that because there was signs of unrest in the far north, the tourist scene had all but disappeared. Little did I know that it was so close to pack up, and with hindsight I'd have preferred to have to deal with the obnoxious tourists rather than them having to bear the brutality and ignorance of the Salafists. And now the war and the inevitable bitterness and revenge feelings.

    Unfortunately it looks now like that this country is going to be riddled by war and violence for a long, long time.. goen are my dreams of crossing Algeria to Mali. There's hope though, as Ivory Coast has shown: after years of violence it looks like it's getting over and taking a fresh start (although their problems were internal, and could be dealt with internally, whereas the violence in Mali has been brought from abroad).

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    So long Mali and be safe.
  11. Asianrider

    Asianrider Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2010
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    120
    The election is only a few days away, and it looks like the result could upset the whole country. The incumbent president Wade has twisted the rules trying to get a 3rd mandate while the Senegalese constitution allows only two. It's always extraordinary difficult for an African president to step down and relinquish its power. And all the perks that come with it of course. No one can guess how the outcome will be, but if the Ivory Coast is any example it could be nasty. On the other hand Sénégal has a history of democratically elected leaders and no coups. On top of that, and to prevent any attempt at skewing the results, all travels between provinces is forbidden during the election. So I have to move to Dakar and find a safe place at my friend's house before the deadline.

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    Now Dakar isn't that far away and the roads are good. I still can spend a couple days exploring the area, not enough to go down to Casamance has I had wanted to, but the Sine-Saloum (a natural area of mangroves in the delta of the Saloum river) in on my way. The road out of Kédougou is being completely overhauled, a usual pre-election gift. So that means a few klicks of rough diversions and then perfectly smooth and fresh tar through the Niokolo-Koba national park. Unfortunately for me there are no animal to be seen from the road (and I heard that it's not so great inside the park either). The temperature is rising fast too. Gone is the coolness of the Guinean mountains, it's now hovering above 40 degrees at mid-day, a normal temperature for this time of the year. Of course there is no way to get out of the road crossing the park, so the ride is pretty dull. After 370 km I've had enough and try my luck at a campment that's sign posted from the main road. The bungalows are OK and after some haggling the price is acceptable. It turns out it's a relais de chase, providing accommodation for hunters who come from France and elsewhere to try some different game. Needless to say I didn't have much to share with this kind of rich and colonialist people..

    The main road continues until Kaolack, where I turn south-west toward the sea. The villages become obviously more and more touristy with many hotels and campements. I start looking in Toubakouta, and have no trouble finding a bungalow at a good price as most of these places are empty because of the approaching elections. Unfortunately that also reduces my options to do some tourism. The attraction of the Sine-Saloum are the mangrove in the meanders of the river, that you can only explore by boat. For me it was too expensive to hire one alone, so I had to look at it from the river side, which is nothing to write home about.

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    But I'm a biker and I crave for some proper dirt roads. The problem is the Saloum river, but apparently there's a ferry crossing in a village called Foundiougne - I'll let you english speaker find out how this is pronounced :evil. I had to find out because after having left the tar road I stopped regularly to ask the locals how to get there.

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    I end up on some very nice single-trails with hard-packed sand, making for some excellent if short ride to the river.

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    The ferry is here but it's not ready to leave yet. I chat a little and watch the line form behind me.

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    Islam here comes often wrapped in a sect lead by some guru, whose picture the drivers put on their dash - or directly on the windshield.

    The crossing is short and uneventful. On the opposite side I shortly consider crossing through the fields but the countryside seems more crowded and I reluctantly hit the tar again. As I cross the last main towns before Dakar, a strange phenomenon strikes me. Within a couple km, the temperature that's been in the low 40's very suddenly drops to the mid-20's. Just like that, and without any change in elevation. It's feels like I'm hitting a wall of coolness. Very weird, that's the first time I see a drop of 15 degrees or more in such a short distance. As I top a hill I begin to see the sea. The Atlantic is bringing cool air which blocks the hot inland air much like a thermocline in seawater.

    From there on, the road changes into a 4-lane highway and the famous Dakar traffic congestion slows the traffic down to a pace. Thomas had given me the address and GPS coordinates of his house, situated at the very end of the peninsula. Fortunately I had loaded the OpenStreet map of Dakar which helped me get through the city without much drama. My friend is working for a big Swiss firm, and is renting a big house in the poshest area where all epxats are living - indeed his neighbor is the ex-dictator of an African country. Can't be bad, uh ? We should be safe from the unrest of the elections, if any. My friends has even been given a sat phone by his employer in case the country goes tits up.

    As you know by now the election went very smoothly, the bad guy lost and didn't play hardball. He just left. Incredible, and again the Senegalese have proven to be one of the more solid democracy in Africa.

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    I spend a few days enjoying the soft mattress, white linens and air-conditioning - actually there's no need for A/C as the temperature is pretty cool at night. I walk around the place, but as it's an upmarket residential area there isn't much to see except for the gigantic Monument de la Renaissance africaine which reminds of the soviet architecture. And has apparently cost around 20 million euros... unfortunately, the Senegalese chicks don't dress like the woman depicted, otherwise I would still be there :norton.

    I service the bike and purchase a Mauritanian visa - a painless process and the last visa I'll need to come back home.

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    No this isn't used motor oil, this is how they make coffee here, and it's actually pretty good. Unfortunately it's time for me to hit the last leg of the trip, straight up north through Mauritania and Morocco. It's about 3500 km to Tanger and to me it looks like next door.. I'm in no hurry to get home, but I've made plans to meet my girl-friend in Marrakech.

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    Before leaving I make an obligatory stop on the Lac Rose of Paris-Dakar fame, and this day luckily it is actually pink - which isn't always the case.

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    The road north between Dakar and St-Louis is quite enjoyable and varied. At some point it looks like they had set up a vegetable market in the middle of the road, but it's actually a truck that's turned over and been emptied before fixing it and reloading it.

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    The area is thick with baobabs, a tree that's special to Africans. And to me too.

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    You can see that the baobab growth rings are very eneven, which makes it hard to determine their age. It's also a kind of wood that's brittle and difficult to use for construction.

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    I have to stop at the Zebra bar I've been told about, near St-Louis, one of those places where overlanders meet. Well, it's a nice place all right in a beautiful setting, but there were no other overlanders, only German tourists - as it is run by Germans.

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    St-Louis is a very nice town with a well preserved colonial architecture.. and an auto parts market, where I buy a scooter's rear mirror and have it welded to the stem of my broken BMW mirror. Much better.

    From there on, there are tow border crossings to Mauritania: the infamous Rosso border, where many overlanders have their first taste of African corruption - and often leave a few dozen euros lighter. And then there is the Diama border, at bridge over a dam that's less used because the road behind it is gravel and impassable during the rains. Well for me there's no contest: last time (it was more than 20 years ago) we spent the night in Rosso to avoid paying a bribe. Diama it is.

    The border is very quiet, no fixer, normal. The customs side is easy, the carnet is stamped out and I walk to the immigration office. There's a guy half-asleep, he wakes up, looks me up, takes my passport and asks for 20€. Ah-ha, here we go. I start my show, explaining to him how I crossed dozens of African countries without paying any bribe and I'm not gonna let go now. He starts his pitch, everybody pays up so I should too (a thick wad of Euros bills comes out of his shirt pocket). 1-1 we see each other's a pro, that's not going to be a walk in the park. I use my tactic of stretching out and making myself comfortable, as if this is going to take a long time and I'm in no hurry. And then the guy folds and gives me back my passport. What, so easy ? come on, you can be better.. but I'm already back on my bike. The last hurdle is the toll on the bridge. This one seems legit, and it's cleat the guy isn't giving a shit what I'm saying and won't budge. This time I cough up the cash and I'm let through to the Mauri side.

    On their side it's all pretty straightforward. The small office is full of crates of beer and alcohol that's been seized: Mauritania is a dry country! I need to purchase an insurance, but that's expected. What I didn't expect was the guy a few kms later on the middle of the piste asking me to pay for the entry to the national park. How convenient to put a national park where the road crosses, isn't it ? But overall it's a very easy crossing and none of the drama of Rosso (although it may be a little more difficult coming the other way).

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    The road that follows the river on the Mauri side is bad corrugated gravel, which means that most vehicle prefer to drive next to it. Arriving in Rosso I head toward the center to fill up. As I arrive, a swarm of fixers assault me showing me the way to the border. Tough luck dudes, I've already crossed and I'm heading home. Disappointed they go back waiting for the next gullible tourist. Pfew! With a full tank of petrol I turn north - toward the Sahara.

    Bye-bye black Africa, salaam aleikoum Arabian world.

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  12. joenuclear

    joenuclear Planning.....

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    Mar 16, 2007
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    Fort Smith, Arkansas
    Wonderful RR. Thanks!
  13. Allie_Smit

    Allie_Smit Allie

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    Pisvoetlaagte
    Tx AR - enjoy the rest of the way home..... :freaky
  14. undersea4x2

    undersea4x2 Big Bore wanna' be

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2007
    Oddometer:
    277
    Location:
    Croydon Victoria Australia
    Hey Asianrider, great read and ballsy trip mate. 2 1/2 years since your last update?
    FINISH IT..............................................please!