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Old 01-21-2012, 03:54 PM   #196
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Joined: Jun 2010
Location: Playa Azul & Zihuatanejo
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Desde Mexico

Te mando un saludo de Mexico, y quiero felicitarte

Sobre todo por lo HUMANO de tu reporte ... por esa gran sensibilidad que tienes para captar esos instantes y transmitirlos hasta donde podemos apreciarlos, gracias por ilustrarnos de este modo !!!!!

Se despide un amigo tuyo de este lado del atlatico ....

Seguire pendiente de tu reporte y agradeciendote lo que compartes .....
... tambien me dijo un arriero, que no hay que llegar primero, pero hay que saber llegar ......
xr650L / DR 650 / TRX400FA / C90 ...
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Old 01-22-2012, 12:27 AM   #197
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Enfin du neuf (finaly some news)

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Old 01-23-2012, 10:48 AM   #198
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West Africa

This post is a little digression from the usual ride report, telling more about how it feels to live (and travel) here.

There's a definite difference that you can feel when you're crossing from Nigeria to Benin and Burkina. Mainly I guess it's due to the colonial heritage, because the countries and people aren't that different really. First off is the language, obviously.

But even if you don't speak French, or even can't read, you can still try to guess what these different conditions are:

Most non-French people I've met were eager to leave the french-speaking world and get to Ghana or Nigeria to be able to communicate, but for me it didn't make much difference. I did have a hard time understanding he Nigerian English, but there is also some getting used to with the African French, not so much the accent but because they're using different words. "Bonne arrivée" (welcome) is the first sentence you hear and it's never used in France or Switzerland. Also, if you order a "tea" it means "African tea" - arabic style. If you just want hot water and a tea bag, it's a "lipton", etc.. Quickly the conversation turns around the bike: "ça, ça dépasse les voitures, hein!" (this is faster than cars), but very often it's just: "tu dois me donner la moto" (you have to give me the bike), or "quand tu repars, tu me vends la moto" (when you head back, you sell me the bike). They often believe that, like many Europeans driving a car down here, I would sell it here and fly back.

Also there is a definite change in the woman lifestyle. Here in Benin/Burkina/Mali you see many women on the street running errands like they would in Europe, dressed however they want, and most striking, they drive their own moped. Outside of South Africa, it's probably the first time I see such independent women. Not just the smart bitch (and there are a lot of them..), but the "soccer moms" as well, they all get around alone on their moped.

It's not about religion, it's pretty mixed here as it was in Nigeria or Cameroon, but over there you never see a woman on a moped, they always ride pillion to a moto-taxi. It's the little differences that make the trip always interesting.

In fact, it's the first country where I see so many mopeds; there are many, many small chinese bikes in Nigeria and Cameroon, but almost no scooter/mopeds, although they seem much more practical. And in Southern Africa, there is just no bike at all, so to say, except for the whites. Here it's the majority, it runs from the old battered Peugeot P50 moped to the ubiquitous orange 80cc Yamaha scooter to the more modern and shiny Chinese stuff, like the famous KTM (yeah, the Chinese brand, what did you think ?). And here there are only 1 or 2 persons on the bike, as it's meant to be. Not 3 persons as is the norm in Nigeria.

Helmet is the exception, but live chicken hanging off the handlbar are pretty common. At least you can be pretty sure it's fresh.

On the public transportation side, it also mean there are no moto-taxi/okada in Burkina or Mali. Most people seem to go around on mopeds, taxi, or ride the buses. One difference here too: in Nigeria/Cameroon, virtually all buses are Toyota Hiace minivans. Over here they've opted for the bigger Mercedes mini-van. Not only can you fit more people inside, but more importantly you can fit a lot more on the roof rack. That's crucial since many people seem to take their moped with them when they travel from one city to another. I have to admit that it's a pretty nice system.

On the automobile side, there are surprisingly few old Peugeot left, although the 404 pickup is still around, they seem to prefer the old and trusty Mercedes 190.

There are also a lot of bicycles, which are definitely the most brilliant means of transportation for short distances. I still wonder why there are none or almost none in Cameroon or Gabon, for example.

Actually, the donkey may be the most useful "vehicle", and they're everywhere here. Why aren't there any in central Africa ? why are they using bicycles in DRC instead of Donkey carts ? they cost basically nothing. Maybe they don't like the climate and fall sick ? but why none in Southern Africa then ? strange.

The food on the street isn't that different from previous countries, basically rice, beans, couscous, mill, yam, the usual stuff.

And the simple-but-effective "squeeze-and-suck" orange.

But the big difference with ex-English colonies is that you find good bread everywhere, mostly French-style baguette.

One thing never changes, though, that's the beer.

It's pretty much the same kind everywhere, the local brand here in BF is "Brakina" but the inside tastes about the same. Even in predominantly Muslim countries like Mali, there's beer to be found everywhere, and no shortage of drinkers. They've taken Islam with the "alcohol" option, which just makes sense to me.

Unfortunately, the trucks drivers carrying it seem to be helping themselves with the load..

On the border crossing / customs side, so far it has been a breeze, no hassle, no bribe asked, and the police in the street very discreet. Burkina and Mali have toll roads, but it doesn't apply to bikes. And there's no gate, everybody seems to be quite honest and stops to pay the 500 CFA (1$). Arriving in Ougadougou I was totally amazed. Most African capitals and big cities so far have been very chaotic, noisy, constantly jammed with hectic traffic, etc.. not so in BF: the traffic is light, drivers seem to respect each other and don't try to drive 50cm behind my rear wheel. Even more surprising, on the ring roads of Ouaga, the mopeds are segregated from the rest of the traffic on their own dedicated lane. And I couldn't believe my eyes, but they do stop at the red light, even when there's no police to be seen around !! I'm very impressed. Ok, Ougadougou is a pretty small city (the airport is bang in the middle of the city), but still it's easier to drive there than in Southern Europe cities.

But Bamako.. that's another story, there we're back to the usual African chaos. In fact I would have gladly skipped it altogether if I hadn't needed to get some visas. As I will probably skip Abidjan and Conakry, in the next countries I'll cross. Big cities are always interesting to visit on foot, but driving into them in always pretty stressful and gets on my nerves. Also they're often more expensive and the cheap accommodation sucks.

Mali is different from previous African countries in that it is (or was) a very touristy place. Loads of (mostly French) tourists used to come here until 2 years ago, when it was very safe, and people adapted to this. That means that the kids can be a bit annoying shouting "un cadeau" (a gift) at you, the only word in French they know (few of them go to school), and the touts can get pretty insistent.

And at the end of the day, there's a common point to all African countries (including South Africa): abysmally slow Internet connections. More later when I have the patience..
2006-2007 Mongolia - Pamir - India - Nepal
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Old 01-23-2012, 12:31 PM   #199
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Outstanding travel log.

I travel the world but not on a bike. I've eaten street food but never felt comfortable about it. Diarrhea and stomach cramps aren't enjoyable anywhere but third world countries add an additional fun factor. Have you managed to eat without these unpleasant surprises?

I'm curious because my stomach became infected with h pylori bacteria which can be contracted in developed countries. This can develop into stomach ulcers or in some people it can cause cancer. I got the cancer which is easily treatable with a 95% survival rate 10 years later. I'm not writing to scare but shit happens (sorry, bad pun).
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Old 01-23-2012, 12:36 PM   #200
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Fantastic RR so far. Thanks!
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Old 01-29-2012, 08:04 AM   #201
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Originally Posted by Swinefahrt View Post
Outstanding travel log.

I travel the world but not on a bike. I've eaten street food but never felt comfortable about it. Diarrhea and stomach cramps aren't enjoyable anywhere but third world countries add an additional fun factor. Have you managed to eat without these unpleasant surprises?

I'm curious because my stomach became infected with h pylori bacteria which can be contracted in developed countries. This can develop into stomach ulcers or in some people it can cause cancer. I got the cancer which is easily treatable with a 95% survival rate 10 years later. I'm not writing to scare but shit happens (sorry, bad pun).
I understand the concern if you're leaving home for a 2-weeks vacation. For me it's really a non-issue, I just eat where everybody's eating. It feels just like going to Taco Bell in the US, no worse, no better. (disclaimer: I've never been sick in Taco Bell, it's just an example). What you have to understand is this:

1. If you're stepping out of the plane and immediately head for the nearest curry in New Delhi or a plate of grilles fish in Kinshasa, you're asking for trouble. When you're overlanding, you're taking it slow, allowing your body to adjust progressively to new kind of bacteria. At the end of the day, there's no reason you should be more sick than the millions of locals who're eating in the same place. Although of course, they do get sick from time to time.

2. Conversely, when I get back to Switzerland I'll pretty immediately eat a nice cheese fondue, with lots of white wine and booze, as it should. And I will get pretty sick, I already know it. Because my stomach isn't used to it anymore - cheese is pretty darn hard to digest in big quantities.

3. Sometimes you just don't have a choice. If your vacation is a tour of touristy places and nice hotels, chances are that you'll be able to eat pizzas and steaks everyday. But out there in the bush in Africa, tough luck. You might try to cook for yourself, but that's just a huge PITA when food is available everywhere for next to nothing.

4. One reason I go overland on a bike and do it slow, is to be able to immerse in new countries and get a good feeling of it. Food is an important part of this experience, and I wouldn't miss it for anything. Even if it does actually sucks, like in DRC. But over there, there was actually no choice, I wasn't carrying food for 2 weeks on my bike.

5. If I have to spend a couple days in the loo because I ate something foul, that's no big deal - I'll get over it - although I'd rather do it in a hotel room with a private bathroom of course, which doesn't happen very often. On the other hand, wasting 2 days of your 8 days vacation is really a bummer.

That said, I must admit that I've been lucky to not get sick (yet.. knock on wood) in this trip. Likewise I haven't gotten malaria, haven't been hit by a speeding bus or mugged by a thief, etc..

Bon appétit!
2006-2007 Mongolia - Pamir - India - Nepal
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Old 02-11-2012, 06:32 AM   #202
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Pit Stop

During my trip break in France, I stocked up on some parts that are hard to get here. I brought a rear tyre of course, I knew the one I put in Lubumbashi wouldn't last the rest of the trip. I had this TKC 80 that was in storage in France, and as I was pretty happy about it I took it with me when I returned to Cameroon. The one that was on was still OK so I tied the new one the back and carried on. As it turned out, it would last all the way to Ouagadougou, where my girlfriend was to meet me, and I could have spared the burden of carrying the new one and asked her to bring it with here to Ouaga (the nice thing about Africa-bound flights is that you have pretty high baggage allowance). Instead I asked her to bring me a front one, a Pirelli MT21.

I didn't really plan my trip further along in much detail, and this is how I like it. So it just happened that since I left Cameroon and crossed to Nigeria (on a perfectly good road, not on the infamous Mamfé - Ekok stretch), I rode mainly on surfaced roads, or pretty good gravel. I've had to ride a few patches of soft sand, but really not that much. So my knobby tyres weren't of much use, even worse, they wore out pretty fast. This is a trade-off I was willing to make until now. I'm avoiding mud at all cost, but still the added traction and better control made the riding on gravel so much more fun. The Heidenau K60 experience in South Africa hasn't been convincing. On the other hand I knew from my riding in the mountains of Albania (gee, that now seems quite a while ago..) that I could perfectly do pretty bad roads on "trail"-like treading, like the Scorpion. After DRC, Gabon and Cameroon I didn't expect much crappy roads, but maybe some sand up there in the Sahel. Mauritania is either tar of deep sand, and I don't fancy the latter.

In retrospect therefore I should probably have brought a more street-oriented and longer-lasting tyre, such has the Mitas E-90, which I've been told about. An added benefit is lower fuel usage and less noise. On the front side, which always lasts at least 50% longer, the TCK 80 started to wear off in a very uneven way, every other knob much more worn that the other, and in a very slanted manner. Not sure why it is so, but it doesn't look good. It still gives good control, but the noise on tar is dreadful.

Fortunately while driving around in Ouaga I found a motorbike dealer who had a few big bikes on display, a couple Ténéré and even a V-max (?wtf?). I stopped by and spotted a still pretty good Pirelli Scorpion A/T, that I quickly haggled for 20€ and my old TKC-80.

Meanwhile I've had three punctures in a row in the rear tyre, in Benin and Burkina. Two in fact, the last one was due to a previous patch that tore off. The puncture under it had split and was now a long cut in the tube. I decided to swap it for my spare one. It might just have been bad luck, but that led me to think that the tyre was growing too thin and was more prone to letting a nail through. When my girlfriend arrived I decided to swap the rear for the new TKC, but keep the old one in storage here, as we would come back to Ouaga for Cécile to fly back to France. That bought me a bit more stability riding two-up, but after our 2500 km round trip through Mali we'd done maybe only 25% of it on gravel, and that was pretty good gravel. The rest was tar, so the knobby one was really unnecessary. Back in Ouaga, I'm heading down to Ivory Coast and Guinea. Ouaga - Abidjan is a bit over 1000 km, so I have probably about 1500 km until I reach the possibly bad roads in the far west. In Guinea I'll be using mostly main roads, except for the Fouta Djalon, but this is supposed to be the dry season..(?) Senegal will be mostly good roads and Mauritania almost all tar, all the way to the mountains of Morocco.

If I can shave 2000km off the old tyre, I should be good with the other one until Morocco. The front MT21 is actually pretty aggressively knobby, that wasn't the smartest choice. But it's light, I'll carry it along until I find a good reason to use it.

So much for rubber, but my other concern was the chain. Unexpectedly, it started to get pretty lose soon after I headed out of Douala back from France. It's a high-grade DID X-ring that I put in Durban, South Africa. Even though it had like 18'000 km when I arrived in Ouaga, I could pull the links a few mm off the sprocket. Unlike what I had reckoned, in won't survive the rest of the trip. Damn, I don't know what happened, the BMW chain lasted like 40'000 km.. I haven't oiled it much, as I did with the other one, that's my theory for the maintenance of chains in dry/dusty environments. I thought a lot about it, but I couldn't miss the opportunity of Cécile flying down here so I asked her to bring along a full chain set. The rear sprocket was OK but funny enough the front one was pretty worn too. Maybe because it's a 16-teeth, or possibly because it's aftermarket ?

Once Cécile had arrived, I went back to the workshop with the big bikes, and asked the guys to give me a hand with the chain. The BMW chain is continuous, which is good because I don't have to worry about the master link getting lose (although it's never happened to me), but it means I have to remove the swing arm. This in itself is not so hard - if you have the right Torx bit of course.. I had to fence off the dudes here who wanted to work on it with a hex key, they didn't really see the difference! But to put it back on was a major PITA, requiring the help of two other guys to align the swing arm and drive the axle back in.

That should be my last pit stop of the trip - oil change excluding. The clutch is a bit "edgy", it shows that it's been through a lot, but it will do until I come back home for an overhaul. The last issue popped up on the way to Bamako: the sidestand switch eventually (and unsurprisingly) started to act up, It would come and go and the engine would stutter. I was ready to cut off the wires and short them, but a good clean-up of the switch itself was enough to get rid of it (so far so good).
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Old 02-11-2012, 03:11 PM   #203
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Old 02-11-2012, 04:40 PM   #204
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beau voyage!

Superbes photos! Merci beaucoup!
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Old 02-12-2012, 09:12 AM   #205
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Burkina Faso is just a small hop away. The border is crossed in short ordeal, after which I spotted one "Safari camp" sign. Hey why not, let's go and see. The campement is a few km off the main road next to a lake. It's a rather upmarket affair in a beautiful setting; it's empty, I look for the manager and I start to negotiate a stay here. He wouldn't budge on the price for the rooms, but he agrees on me camping on the parking lot; it's not cheap but what's the heck, there's a small pool and ice-cold beer!

He explains to me that the place will start to get customers from Christmas, rich Whites (French, mainly) who come here to hunt. The big draw is to kill a lion, of which they have about 70 in their private reservation. I look a bit puzzled, but it sounded like they're actually managing their business is a responsible manner, allowing only a handful of kills every year (he wouldn't tell me how much that would cost, but I'd guess 10'000 - 15'000 € for a lion). They're more concerned about the elephants, of which they have too many, because the international treaties ban all killing of elephant. They'd like to be granted an exception like Kenya, where they're allowed to control their expansion.

The next day I arrive in Ougadougou, where my girlfriend will join me for a few weeks. I settle at the OK Inn, a hotel where they allow overlanders to camp for free. As a campground it really sucks, it is set inside a closed parking for trucks waiting to pass the customs, moving around in the middle of the night, and right at the end of the airport's runway (interestingly, the airport is bang in the middle of the town, but that's not much a nuisance as there are just a handful of flights every day). But the price is right.. there's even free wi-fi!

Arriving in Ouaga is a shock, just about every other African capital sucks big time, it's always a mess of pollution, chaotic traffic and stressed out people. Here it's the opposite, everything is pretty subdued. There are such unbelievable things such as dedicated lanes for bikes and traffic lights that people abide by, even when there's no police in sight. Mind-blowing. It's probably friendlier to ride here than in Naples or Marseille! Despite that (or probably because of that) it is also ever so boring, and there's no other overlanders in the hotel to swap stories with.

I shop around for a bike mechanic (see next installment), and make plans for the next visas I need. Mali is easy, a temporary visa cab be bought at the border. The Ghana embassy is willing to make an exception to the rule and sell me a visa anyway, but I'm not sure I want to go there, it's a bit too beaten of a path for me. Ivory Coast is the way to go, now that the war is over. The thing is, they have put in place a very complicated and expensive system of "biometric visa". It costs over 100€ in France to get it.. but there's a trick: the passport office here in Ouaga is issuing the (in)famous and elusive "visa tourisitique d'entente", a five-countries visa that also covers Ivory Coast. It's 25'000 CFA (around 38€) and valid for 1 entry in each country for 2 months. Nice. There's no embassy for Guinea and Senegal, because there's no common border I guess, but I'll be able to sort that out in Bamako.

Cécile arrives only in a few days so make a short trip down to Tiebele for a bit of "cultural tourism". The place is OK, there are some remains of the local culture but it's a bit bland and kept alive artificially for tourism. Which is nice per se, but the touristy thing shows too much. They tell me there would be a big party for Christmas Eve, although they're not much Christian. The party turned out to be a single place with lousy sound reinforcement and a pseudo-famous Ghanian singer who speaks a lot and lip-dubs on taped songs. Yech.

Back at the OK Inn in Ouaga there's still nobody in the campground. I take a nice room in another hotel in Ouaga and go wait for Cécile in the single-hall Ouagadougou international airport. Once again the customs make no difficulties with her baggages (tyre, chain, the usual tourist stuff..) and she's cleared in an hour or so, i.e., just the time necessary to fetch the baggages and put them on the conveyer belt. I was looking forward to seeing her, sometimes it's just better to be traveling with somebody, I get to see stuff I wouldn't go to if I were alone. We both wanted to visit Mali and in particular Dogon country. We had some discussions following the recent abductions and the killing of a tourist in Timbuktu, coming to the same conclusion that it was a one-off banditry thing and that the south of the country, where the interesting places are, present no particular problem. Usually I'm usually not into the heavy touristy places, and Mali is definitely the most touristy country in West Africa, but for the last couple years most tour operators have stopped going there, following the security warnings issued by the French and other foreign ministries. Therefore it might turn out to be actually a good window of opportunity to visit these spots in a more calm and authentic way.

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Old 02-12-2012, 02:10 PM   #206
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outstanding can't believe an advrider actually passed through my country! (Nigeria) Your comments on fuel being smuggled from Nigeria to Cameroon are interesting because they - (Nigeria's mostly corrupt leaders protected from the wrath of the mostly uneducated and impoverished people by the machine gun toting cops) - removed the subsidy as you noted.

I'm amazed at how calm and peaceful Cameroon and our other neighbours are.....we were much less violent as a nation until oil was discovered and we've been suffering from the effects of the "dutch curse" ever since. Our Agricultural industry has died off since oil was disvovered. Youths feel helpless as the political system is very corrupt. in fact i'll use this forum to ask my fellow riders what would u do if u were born here and care what happens?

I really hope and pray we come out of our problems in Nigeria, thanks for passing through and happy rides on the rest of your trip wish you safety and favour IJN.
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Old 02-13-2012, 08:12 AM   #207
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in Mali, Mopti, Segou, Djene are interesting towns. Not sure if safe to travel there these days (I was there in the late 80s). Went back to the very beginning of this RR and admit, it is one of the best ones I have read on ADV! thank you again for sharing
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Old 02-19-2012, 06:57 AM   #208
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Ouaga/Burkina Faso

Hello Laurent,
thanks again for your interesting stories and pics of your long ride. I've been for 2 or three times in Quaga in the years 1982-1985, when it was still called Ouagadougou in Haute Volta. In this time it was a "big village" with relaxed and friendly people, even the taxi drivers have been correct. The traffic was low and the airport was outside the city (all in comparison with other african cities par ex. Abidjan). It is amusing now with a lot of years that passed to see that there was not a great change, in opposite of other capitals in this edge of the world. Kinshas was exploding from 4 mio. to more than 10 mio. habitants and the infrastructure has not kept pace.
I'm shure you will have a good time in western Africa and your visit to the Dogons.
Curious about your next post.
Ride on.
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Old 02-19-2012, 02:25 PM   #209
Lucky bastard
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Hoi my hommy

stunning man, I love your report keep it coming!
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Old 02-20-2012, 08:43 PM   #210
ya' mon
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Amazing adventure. Thanks for taking the time write it up.
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