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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by richeyroo, Jan 12, 2017.
Ha ! That must have been one heck of a train ride! What was the actual distance and duration?
No writer wants their story to become predictable but this one is starting to feel that it may be going that way. After resting magnificently overnight, we breakfasted like Kings in Bamako, thoroughly enjoying the magnificent hospitality of our French Ambulance driving host. During our mid morning snooze, we heard a commotion outside and of course the Land Rover had made it from Kayes. I think the state they were in when they arrived vindicated our decision to take the train. It very much looked like the mud had won, and they too needed a period of rest and recuperation. And a shower.
With a wonderful colonial house to stay in for free in the centre of Bamako, we took the opportunity to embark on a visa hunt and sourced visas for Ivory Coast and Nigeria. With a huge amount of inertia holding us back after 3 days of fine living, (I don't think the physicists, mathematics or linguists will think that sentence correct - inertia can't hold you back) leaving Neil and Simon to refurbish the Land Rover, we dragged ourselves away from the wonderful hospitality and back onto the road.
Southern Mali gave way to northern Ivory Coast. It appears to be a been a relatively benign part of the trip with the exception of the diary recording a moment of romance. An Ivorian Customs official said that he too was called Richard and held my hand throughout the whole process of formalities. Now I know that that type of thing is completely unacceptable until you have been at sea for at least 3 days so rejected his advances and we were sent on our way.
Another night of pulling off the road just before dusk in the Ivory Coast and camping up with 3 or 400 metres of the road in the bush and we were very happy to be on the road again. Happy days.
So up at 0600 and on the road again and heading south for the coast near Abidjan. We planned to arrive in the city in the early afternoon but the diary records that I was distracted by Tracy telling me a story about all the ikkle donkeys who had gone on holiday to Mali. I don't know. I don't understand either and can only blame it on the anti malarial Larium tablets.
Anyway we hit an absolutely huge pothole which ripped the centre stand clean off, dented the rear rim, punctured the rear tyre, duffed up the rear plastics and snapped the mounting brackets on the pannier system.
Note the cheery, stoic disposition of your correspondent in the face of adversity......
I also can't quite understand how we weren't spread like strawberry jam over about 100 metres of road but somehow I'd kept the bike upright and we wobbled to a stop at the side of the road
Ultra keen readers will recall in the early stages of the report I wrote that we had a 15kg tool kit with us at the beginning. They will also see in the above photo I am using Yamahas finest tools, built with the tolerance of a wronged wife and the strength of a recently divorced man. 'Tis true, we did have a posho took kit at the start but when we did our preparations on the hoof in Rabat, Morocco, we realised that we had to ditch the tool kit in favour of some items more sensible like cups, food and plates. I hope the tools are still doing sterling work for the Morocco gentleman we gave them to, in the hope of gaining some good Karma in our post runner guilt.
I can't put myself even in the same universe as Ted Simon but of course these moments of mild peril often result in happy outcomes. He was a huge advocate of breaking down. A small crowd of enthusiastic Ivorians gathered and without a centre stand, they provided much needed manpower.
I'd never repaired a puncture before on a motorbike but I'd done it on a bicycle and I guessed it couldn't be much different.
It is. My knuckles found this out over the next hour or two. The Ivorians, realising that they weren't witnessing a first hand epic 5 minute tyre change by a world famous Paris Dakar rider gently lost interest and wandered off but they'd been kind and helpful.
We were on our way by late afternoon, and encountered that dilemma that many overlanders (uuurgh) will know. The dusk was gathering and we had nowhere to sleep. I think this scenario is much under represented in Ride Reports as the need to repeatedly find somewhere safe to sleep night after night is really quite tiring. Both of us valued serendipity and a complete absence of planning or a timetable. We could both cope with periods of relatively stress and uncertainly with ease but the cumulative effects of needing to find somewhere safe every day could get difficult. This of course would be further enhanced when one was looking and couldn't find.
As was the case here. We'd left it too late, we were approaching the outskirts of the city of Abidjan and remote, wild bush was becoming difficult to find.
We could turn back, head north for a few km and look for some wilderness.
A quick scan of our Lonely Planet book alerted us to the Hotel Sports in Abidjan.
Goodbye wilderness, hello burger and chips and a milkshake.
We were going soft. And this was only a few days after leaving the homely comforts of Bamako
We realised the errors of our ways in the morning and checked out of our hotel pretty pronto and feeling a little embarrassed at how gentile we were becoming.
We toured the beaches looking for somewhere to stay and came across "Copacabana camping". This was to be our home for the next week and rather pleasant it was too.
Note the magnificent pale blue tracksuit trousers and thick red socks bought in a local market to keep the mosquitoes at bay and the awesome upper body physique. I've no idea how we completed this trip.
We spent a week living in this rather wonderful little hut, and exploring the local area. We breakfasted nearby with school children on their way to school every morning where we had spicey beans and rice for about 10 pence each. They were so excited to see us every morning, it's the closest I've ever got to celebrity status. We washed and cleaned everything that needed cleaning and that was pretty much everything.
We wandered the coast which was absolutely captivating. As soon as routine family holidays (which I love) are behind us, I long to hop onto a plane, fly to a place like Abidjan and explore this coastline again
We explored around Grand Bassam which has recently (2012) been made an Unesco World Heritage Site. The Slave Trade was sadly strong here, and the Colonial buildings are faded and magnificent. I wish we'd taken more photos. Of course those interested can Google Image Colonial Houses Grand Bassam and will be digitally transported to a wonderful world.
Going to places on the Internet might make rather more sense these days in certain parts of the world. Islamic terrorists carried out an attack in Grand Bassam last year, singling out and killing Christians. I think had the terrorists done the same thing back in 1995 I might have stood out in my pale blue tracksuit trousers and I thank my lucky stars that we travelled when we did.
We worried (a bit) about being robbed, ripped off or just generally having a slightly tough time because neither of us were regularly mistaken for Mike Tyson. Of course we knew from the start that Algeria was off limits because of civil unrest but we made our whole trip really quite naively and innocently. It feels like very different times
We approached people confidently and happily and I don't think we gave huge amounts of thought trying to work out what might be a good situation and what might be bad juju. I'm not sure that's the case these days
A long distance overland trip can have many phases, and ours now entered the "domestic bliss, isn't this better than constantly moving" phase. Not one perhaps that will have the publishers clamouring for a signature.
In our little hut, we started to enjoy life
We sat around reading, washing bike, clothes and body.We cooked simple meals. A quick trip to the Ghanian Embassy for our visas made us think we ought to get moving again but inertia was proving a major influence on us and lulled us into a near comatose existence.
I think our map and compass was having a significant influence on us. From Day 1 outside my parents house and everyday thereafter, we headed south. With no GPS and often not being able to read (or see) road signs, we used our compass to get us to point south every day. If we kept doing that, we'd surely reach Cape Town one day.
But now there was a monumental change. We'd be heading East for the first time. Giddy times and we were too lazy to move.
But we returned from a trip to the shops one day to see our campsite occupied by invaders. Because of the time of year, there were very few overland vehicles on the road and we were surprised/annoyed when we got back "home" to see a white UK registered 110 Land Rover setting up camp. Harrumph.
But they turned out to be lovely people. Paul and Jill if you know them. Their trip was 2 years in the planning, and very well planned it seemed too. But once again we felt the benefit of travelling like vagabonds as they told story after story about customs hassles and border crossing agg. They weren't antagonistic people, quite the opposite but by virtue of the fact that they were carrying a lot of stuff, they received a lot of errrmmm ....attention. Tough times. Certainly they'd had different experiences to us.
But they did raise one interesting point. How did we plan to cross East to West across Central Africa during the next few months of the rainy season ? "Don't know" we said.
But they put the fear of God into us, so we procrastinated, rested and maintained our languid approach to expedition planning. In fact our domestic bliss in the little hut continued and the diary records that we invited Paul and Jill over to "ours" for dinner one evening. They bought proper glasses and red wine. Of a sort. We enjoyed our wonderful middle class dinner party and listened to the rain hammer down on our thatched roof.
Neil and Simon arrived. Inevitably. They were trundling around but after the madness of Mauritania were finding things a bit quiet and were contemplating calling it a day. But at the very least they intended to potter on to the next door country Ghana.
We had a different plan. Head to the port, find a kindly Ship's captain and bum a lift down to Cape Town.
Now I know from experience that if one hangs around dockyards asking for favours, dark times occur. Strange experiences come your way that you'd rather not tell your mother about. But even so, this seemed a better option that the mud and horror of Central Africa. We spoke to agents, crew, prostitutes, stevedores, captains and worse. We were promised the world one day and told to piss off the next. It was equally exciting and dispiriting as our hopes were raised and dashed. But one can get an overall feeling when things aren't going to go in your favour and the days of romantically hoping on and off ships seemed to have been killed by the evils of insurance, health and safety, regulation and making the world of shipping safer for the people that worked in it. Bugger. Back on the road.
We had one more night in our lovely little house, said our farewells to Paul and Jill and had our last ever breakfast of rice and beans with the schoolchildren of Abidjan.
And as with so many things, it was the thought of getting going again that was killing us rather than the actuality. Within 100 metres of leaving the campsite we were singing loudly and stupidly and life was rosy once more.
Getting into Ghana was a breeze. Aaah, the remnants of British colonialism. We may even have been saluted at one point.
In the mid afternoon we took a right, following a simple signpost down to a campsite. Serendipity once more. A magnificent stroke of luck, a campsite run by Paul from Sheffield and his Ghanian wife. I wish we kept more detailed records and taken better photos but at least what we have stirs the memories.
This is the bay where we camped.
In the night (too many coca colas I fear) I got up in the night to visit the bathroom and tripped over a gentleman who was asleep immediately outside our tent. He was curled up around a shotgun and announced that he was our security guard for the night. I found it difficult to sleep after this little encounter. I hadn't realised we needed an armed guard
Up and away and heading East into Accra the next morning, we got a couple of front wheel punctures. The Ghanians have done the same motorcycle lifting course as the Ivorians as each puncture garnered a helpful crowd of strongmen. I don't think you get that on the A40.
Accra was madness. Hot, wet and sticky. And not in a good way.
Our diary records that we found a campsite 10k out of town which was "quite nice and £1.25 with okay facilities". As one can nowadays, I've googled various names and towns and places that are recorded in the diary and Coco Beach Campsite Accra still exists today. Or so TripAdvisor tells me. Happy days. But it doesn't cost £1.25 and although it is much developed, the beach appears to be covered in rubbish and crap nowadays.
And it is the same for our next country. Robinson Beach, Togo. Still there, much developed. Perhaps there isn't a huge change, people find out about these places from the Internet nowadays and we found out about these places from a book or fellow travellers. Not better, not worse.
Ghana, Togo and Benin passed in a fairly orderly fashion. Perhaps we should have headed north and I wish we'd explored more of the voodoo madness that Benin in particular had to offer. But the trip was proving hair raising enough....
But Ghana, Togo and Benin offered little in the way of adventure or great excitement for us. It's definitely there but we were devoid of much luck in finding it. Things just seemed to be going well. Occasional rain storms resulted in huge floods but we travelled, camped, travelled, camped and enjoyed the experience.
I'm worried that I might be losing my audience here as Ghana, Togo and Benin were so lacking in drama.
At the time it was interesting enough. Neil and Simon sold the Land Rover for 1200 quid. They split the money half-half, Neil flew home from Togo and we never saw Simon again. He hitched a lift with 2 Norweigans in a Land Cruiser and was last seen heading East. We got Visas for the next few countries and huddled in the tent during rainstorms.
Our diary seems to record such monumental events as having cocopops with chocolate milk for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Our pannier frames were absolutely knackered at this point and we spent many a happy afternoon hanging around welding shops.
We wrote home and went to the poste restante sections of the Post Offices hoping for news from home which never came. We ate custard creams and tried to buy off road tyres in the KTM shop that existed in Togo even way back then.
Sometimes we camped wild and sometimes we camped in proper sites
There seemed to be a gathering of the Overland Trucks in the area which existed in various states of harmony. I'm not sure they still run today and I'm sure the guys who drove those trucks back in the day should have been paid a zillion times more than they got. We found travelling overland mildly stressful at times when it was just the two of us but these trucks were amazing little societies.
When you put alcoholics with teetotallers, tourists with culture vultures, party animals with hermits, carnivores with vegans, and Australian travellers with just about anybody, times are going to get interesting. We met plenty of folks who hopped off for a leg or two of the journey just to free their minds and get away from whatever it was that was bothering them. There were obviously good trucks and bad trucks but we found that animosity within the trucks was quite easy to come by.
We were quite happy with the independent nature of our travel and perhaps it was good that Ghana, Togo and Benin were so easy because we knew that Nigeria was looming large just around the corner and even in the days of limited research we had a feeling that Nigeria might be challenging.
But needing to liven things up for our future readership we desperately needed an anecdote and fortunately we got one in remote Benin.
We were stopped by policemen at a remote point on a dirt road who demanded to see all our documentation. So far, so routine. Our names and details went down in the book and we got the pleasure of having to write something under the "Tribe" heading. It was always good to see the nonsense that travellers had written during the previous weeks and months. Scouse, and Jedi got regular mentions as did all sorts of antipodean nonsense. So far, so routine.
But it was one of those uncomfortable settings that just didn't feel right. Lots of policeman and soldiers lazing around in plastic chairs, with rifles not too far away from them and the glazed look of boredom and intoxication in the eyes of these poor guys who were obviously paid little and infrequently.
After some time, one of them demanded to search our panniers and tank bag. Good luck mate, it's all pretty disgusting in there. Fill your boots. After a while he found our multi vitamin tablets which are obviously vital when you have cocopops for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
In French he asked what they were. In my very best French I explained that they were medicine that we needed to take when it was not possible to eat good food. Probably not a great idea in retrospect. A broad smile came over his face and he announced that the tablets would be good for him and he walked off back towards his mates, somewhat triumphantly.
Hey ho, thought I. Of all the things a bored, AK47 wielding, poverty stricken, absolutely wasted Benin soldier in a remote middle of nowhere could have done to us, nicking our multi vitamin tablets was something I thought we could just take on the chin.
I looked somewhat glummly at Tracy who obviously thought differently. Oh shit.
She marched off in the soldiers direction and grabbing him strongly by the arm, spun him round towards her, snatched back the multi vitamins and said, very confidently, "these are ours".
I absolutely crapped myself. Like never before. I couldn't believe what I was seeing and thought a remote corner of Benin was about to become forever a part of England as we rested in an unmarked shallow grave whilst drugged up Benin soldiers rode round on an XTZ750 fuelled only by our multi vitamin tablets.
A horribly long one or two seconds passed.
And then his mates, sat watching this whole charade from the plastic chairs started to roar with laughter at his humilation as this young lady physically overpowered him and robbed our tablets back.
By Christ we got out of there quickly before they changed their minds.
It was a sign of things to come though. Ivory Coast, Ghana and Togo had once again lulled us into a false sense of security, but Eastern Benin was anything but benign. And we knew Nigeria would be bonkers too so things were starting to look up, once more
This is excellent. I'm enjoying your story telling.
... you're " walking down memory lane " .
Absolutely awesome. Carry on.
Thank you. More on Monday hopefully
Awesome storytelling, thanks for sharing !
Keep on good man - following very intently and loving your storytelling .
In for the duration.
Brilliant RR, absolutely love the narrative. Thanks for your efforts, I will be following!