After six days of riding through the West African desert and Sahel, the Globebusters / Motorcycle Outreach Research Expedition has reached the town of Kayes in Mali.
Two days in the Sahara Desert, crossing Mauritania between Nouadhibou in the north and the Barrage De Diama in the south, saw BMW R1200GS rider, Craig Carey-Clinch and his wife Barbara Alam, brave sand storms, long piste tracks and increasing temperatures.
Entering Senegal, the couple spent a day at the travellers haven of Zebrabar an auberge in the heart of the Barbary Coast National Park. This included researching accommodation and activities in the beautiful former colonial town of St Louis.
Then it was eastwards again, riding the Northern Senegal route to the road border with Mali, along mixed roads which are off the usual tourist trail. The towns of Matarn and Bakel on the Senegal River were visited.
A final day’s ride took both across into Mali at the Kidira/Diboli crossing and pausing to remember the late Simon Milward, who died in a 2005 accident on the road between the border to Kayes, Craig and Barbara later arrived in Kayes, a town which is reputed to be Africa’s hottest in the summer.
Craig commented; “We’ve seen some terrific riding and visited incredibly interesting places. The piste between Rosso and Diama in Mauritania goes through a national park full of different kinds of exotic birds. St Louis is also well worth visiting as is Kayes, where we looked at the former French fortress near the town, a short ride on a piste which covered the bike in clouds of the distinctive red dust of Mali..
“The 500km stretch between Nouadhibou and Nouakchott saw us beset by a sand storm. It seems that the Harmattan winds are blowing early this year. The bike held out fine, though the left side was blasted as clean as new by the sand. The Touratech headlight protector really came into its own and saved the headlights from the kind of sand damage that we saw on other travellers cars when we stopped in Nouakchott”
The couple now head west again, crossing back into Senegal and on towards the Gambia and the Atlantic coast route south again.
That sand storm in Mauritania was an exhilarating experience, though not one I would want to repeat too many times. The sand flowed like water over the road as we travelled and every so often visibility was reduced to a few yards as the wind whipped the sand up into a kind of yellow opaque mist. Certainly an experience we’ll never forget. Fortunately for the Globebusters expedition next December, it should be too early in the season for these kinds of winds.
The Piste from Rosso to Diama was a real highlight of our journey so far. The route is mixed packed mud, loose dirt and the occasional patch of soft sand. Quite easy for the GS, despite only having road tyres fitted. The birdlife is something to behold, a particular highlight was seeing a vast flock of Pelicans formatting over our heads as they caught thermals to fly in organised groups ever higher in the azure sky.
We took the piste to avoid crossing the border into Senegal at Rosso, a border crossing of particular notoriety and not for the faint hearted.
In Senegal, Zebrabar was our base for two nights as we did some research in the northern coastal town of St Louis. This travellers auberge is run by a Swiss couple and caters for overland types, both two and four wheeled. It was good to meet the various folk that blow into the place from the desert, or from further south.
Special mention must go to Dan and Jodi, a Kiwi and a South African, who were en route between London and Cape town on their two motorcycles. A great character was Nic Collins, a Landrover driver from Stroud, Gloucestershire, who was coming to the end of year’s solo travel in Africa. His tales of adversity and adventure in Central Africa would make an excellent book.
From Zebrabar, we headed on the Northern Senegal Route to Richard Toll. This transit town is the centre of Senegal’s sugar industry and is the site of an old ruined French Chateau which sits in a huge formerly planned garden of trees and shrubs. The garden and house give the town its name, “Toll” being Senegalese for garden. Well worth a look anyway.
From here, we rode the long and picturesque route towards Kidira where the traveller crosses into Mali. This road is quite good, though there are short stretches which are potholed and due to some ongoing road improvements, short stretches where the tarmac has been ripped off the surface, allowing us the opportunity to practice a few off road skills!
The landscape varies a lot on this road, from beautiful forested undulating hills, to riverside plain, to quite rocky and steep areas, where troops of monkeys can be seen going about their business.
A night’s stay at Ouro Sogui and we headed for the border and crossed into Mali yesterday lunchtime. A totally hassle free experience and no ‘cadeau’ or ‘fees’ required.
On the 90km road to Kayes from the border is the place where Simon Milward died in 2005. He was travelling along a road which was at that time a fairly poor piste, though nowadays a brand new sealed road has replaced this. We stopped for some time here, remembering Simon and his life. He left a lot of memories behind for all who knew him and although he was known as a riders rights man, when he founded Motorcycle Outreach and the Flores project, he left a legacy of great humanity.
Kayes is known to be hot and arriving in the heat of the day, we were glad to sink some cold lemonade at the Hotel Du Rail. This former French colonial building is faded and battered now, but the rooms are good and the food excellent.
This morning, we took the bike to visit the old French fort at Medine. The fort is set in hilly and picturesque countryside and is well worth a visit. The ride 16 down a hilly gravel, red dust and soft sand piste, two up and using road tyres was an interesting challenge though!.
Tomorrow, we head for Tambacounda, back in Senegal. From there we will see if it’s possible for bikes to visit the national park near there, which hosts big game and large mammals. If not, we’ll see what one day or two day tours can be arranged directly from Tamba, for the December expedition.
After that, we head for Kaolack and then south and into the Gambia. We hope to send an update at around about this time.
Our best wishes to you all.
Craig & Barbara, on the road.