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Old 02-24-2012, 03:09 AM   #211
Asianrider OP
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Hi there,
quick update, since the internet connections are so unreliable. Yeah, I'm still a few weeks behind on the RR. I've arrived in Senegal, you may have heard of unrest in Dakar, but it's very quiet here in the bush. Still, I'll stay put for a few days until after this sunday's election and things calm down. I'll then be able to catch up on what's happened between then and now.

In the mean time, here are just a few random pictures from last weeks to keep you wating (and guessing; no, they're not geotagged..)













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Old 02-24-2012, 04:13 AM   #212
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Great! Looking forward to the update.
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Old 02-24-2012, 04:16 AM   #213
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Hi Laurent, I met you at sleeping camel Bamako, it seems we just missed each other, you were in Ouaga 2 weeks ago, I arrived here on monday, I'm staying at 'Le Pavillon Vert' owned by French biker Guillaume.
I'll be on my way to Ghana in a few days.

Lovely report, keep it up!

www.tony-roundafrica.blogspot.com
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Old 03-02-2012, 05:02 AM   #214
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Quote:
Originally Posted by titbird View Post
Hi Laurent, I met you at sleeping camel Bamako, it seems we just missed each other, you were in Ouaga 2 weeks ago, I arrived here on monday, I'm staying at 'Le Pavillon Vert' owned by French biker Guillaume.
I'll be on my way to Ghana in a few days.

Lovely report, keep it up!

www.tony-roundafrica.blogspot.com
Hi Tony,
I read about you getting up and close with African law enforcement.. happy to see it all ended well. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of your trip.
Happy riding
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Old 03-02-2012, 08:04 AM   #215
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Mali

In December, the weather in Burkina isn't very hot. And it becomes truly cold when the Harmattan blows. Harmattan is a cold, dry and dusty wind blowing from North, from the Sahara. The temperature goes down to 10-15 degrees at night, the dry air parches your skin and upsets your nostrils, and the dust blocks up the sky and irritates our eyes. For me, I just caught a good old cold. Not nice really.



I had shed some weight by leaving behind some non-essential, and off we go with Cécile as pillion. Our objective is the famous Dogon country, which is actually easier to reach from Ouaga than from Bamako. The road to the Malian border is good tar and good gravel, so pretty easy and fun. As we reach the border in the friggin' fraîcheur (coolness in African French), wearing a sweater under our jacket for the first time for a long time, I meet the first overlander biker for quite a while: an funky Italian dude who wasn't really in the mood to chat. The paperwork is quickly processed with any fuss, no asking for carnet by the Malians. They sell us a 48-h temporary visa, so the first task will will be to extend it in Mopti, on the shore of the Niger river.



The ride brings us on a very nice gravel road up the Bandiagara cliff (Dogon country) on a plateau, from we quickly reach Mopti. We stop on the way for a first glimpse of Dogon culture, venturing to a small village on the plateau through 1-spur pistes. The welcome is nice and we do what we're supposed to do: give out a few francs to a "guide" for him to lead us into the village.

We then head for the official Dogon tourist office and book a 3-days tour with them. It comes out not being cheap, but it feels just wrong to us to take advantage of the totally ruined tourist industry by haggling down to death. Those guys aren't responsible for AQMI and the war against Touareg rebels that have scared off all tourists.



This done we went to Mopti, a city famous for being a major trade center of the region. It also used to be very touristy, witness are the dozens of touts that jump on us like birds on a bleeding donkey.



That's not only annoying, but also ruining the ambiance. To top it up, the kids have learned that White people are willing to give out sweets, pens, small change, etc.. A far cry from the last countries I've been through.

There's still a lot to enjoy at the market. They sell everything that goes through here, including salt from the Sahara



mountain heaps of dried fish from the Niger



medication for every possible condition



.. and video games (well, not really).



We find a nice (but deserted) campement to pitch the tent and prepare for tonight's New Year's Eve. As it turns out, they don't really give a damn and there isn't much of a party going on there. One opportunity missed to get up the next morning with a hangover.

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Old 03-18-2012, 03:57 AM   #216
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Question

Hello

Hi Laurent, could you please write me what modifications did you make to you BMW, when you get the chance?
Did you put in new springs, like Touratech says for when you put new tank, also if you did which one?
Also I read in the manual of the tank, that you have to always put the bike on a main stand, with the new tank, so what does that mean exactly?
Also what kind of panniers did you use on your first leg of the journey?

Thank you in advance
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Old 04-01-2012, 12:16 PM   #217
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kinimod View Post
Hello

Hi Laurent, could you please write me what modifications did you make to you BMW, when you get the chance?
Did you put in new springs, like Touratech says for when you put new tank, also if you did which one?
Also I read in the manual of the tank, that you have to always put the bike on a main stand, with the new tank, so what does that mean exactly?
Also what kind of panniers did you use on your first leg of the journey?

Thank you in advance
Sure, I really haven't bothered to make many mods, apart from the extra tank and progressive fork springs, the set that's sold by Touratech. It works really well, but unfortunately I can't compare as I haven't tried the extra tank fully loaded with the stock springs - I changed both at the same time. The tank isn't absolutely necessary but it gives considerable peace of mind knowing that you don't need to stop at every fuel station to top up. Except for DRC, all countries I've visited have plenty of fuel stations - although Ethiopia and Malawi experienced severe fuel shortages and I was glad I had a 700km range. During the DRC crossing I would have needed more than that, so in any case I had to top up on the black market off jerrycans.

Another advantage is that the tank is protecting the radiator in case of crashes, and it is very robust so after numerous crashes it is only scratched - and the radiator is intact. The drawback is that it interferes with the riding position when standing up on the pegs.

It held up very well, only recently I have discovered a leak where the pipes connect with the base of the (stock) tank. I'll have to take it out to fix it. One thing that I noticed is the lid leaks pretty badly when the bike is leaning on its side, so when I crash with the tank full, my tank bag gets soaked with petrol. Not nice. So I can imagine that if you top up the tank to the brim when the bike is upright, then it will probably leak when put on the side stand. I would always fill it when the bike is on the side stand so I never had an issue with that - even though I might be losing 1/2 liter of capacity or so.

About the other mods:
- get rid of the useless paper air filter and fit a foam filter which is reusable, and extra filters in the snorkels.
- install a foldable gear selector
- add hand guards
- add some electric connectors wired directly to the battery
- install the low-octane fuel engine mapping
- change the seat for the BMW "comfort" seat
- the sump guard was standard on this model, the BMW aluminum one, a kit with LED indicators, heated grips and board computer

The hard panniers I installed were Caribou cases: The cases are very robust, but the rack is the weak link. It's great when new, but if you start to bend it with crashes then it's more and more difficult to straighten it back. After my crash with the car in Mozambique it was really badly bent; after much efforts I have been able to attach the cases back on it, but it became a bit of a pain really.

Hope I answered your questions. Cheers,
Laurent
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Old 04-01-2012, 12:26 PM   #218
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Lazy

Gosh it's been months I haven't updated the report. Now that I'm back home (no, really, it's no April fool's), I'll get to it, but don't expect anything very exciting, just nice riding in nice places. In the mean time, here's where I left off, thanks to Google it now looks very 80's Dakar...

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Old 04-01-2012, 12:49 PM   #219
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Fantastic trip. Love the map. I spent a couple of years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo, 1986-88. Travelled to Benin, Ghana, Burkina Faso & Niger. Brings back lots of memories to check in on your thread. Lots has changed, but lots has remained the same. Overall, beautiful and kind people in most of West Africa. Thanks again. Ride safe!
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Old 04-01-2012, 05:55 PM   #220
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Congratulations !!!!!

Felicitaciones y agradecimientos por tu gran y original reporte !!!!!!
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Old 04-02-2012, 03:05 AM   #221
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Thank you very much on your reply


Quote:
Originally Posted by Asianrider View Post
Sure, I really haven't bothered to make many mods, apart from the extra tank and progressive fork springs, the set that's sold by Touratech. It works really well, but unfortunately I can't compare as I haven't tried the extra tank fully loaded with the stock springs - I changed both at the same time. The tank isn't absolutely necessary but it gives considerable peace of mind knowing that you don't need to stop at every fuel station to top up. Except for DRC, all countries I've visited have plenty of fuel stations - although Ethiopia and Malawi experienced severe fuel shortages and I was glad I had a 700km range. During the DRC crossing I would have needed more than that, so in any case I had to top up on the black market off jerrycans.

Another advantage is that the tank is protecting the radiator in case of crashes, and it is very robust so after numerous crashes it is only scratched - and the radiator is intact. The drawback is that it interferes with the riding position when standing up on the pegs.

It held up very well, only recently I have discovered a leak where the pipes connect with the base of the (stock) tank. I'll have to take it out to fix it. One thing that I noticed is the lid leaks pretty badly when the bike is leaning on its side, so when I crash with the tank full, my tank bag gets soaked with petrol. Not nice. So I can imagine that if you top up the tank to the brim when the bike is upright, then it will probably leak when put on the side stand. I would always fill it when the bike is on the side stand so I never had an issue with that - even though I might be losing 1/2 liter of capacity or so.

About the other mods:
- get rid of the useless paper air filter and fit a foam filter which is reusable, and extra filters in the snorkels.
- install a foldable gear selector
- add hand guards
- add some electric connectors wired directly to the battery
- install the low-octane fuel engine mapping
- change the seat for the BMW "comfort" seat
- the sump guard was standard on this model, the BMW aluminum one, a kit with LED indicators, heated grips and board computer

The hard panniers I installed were Caribou cases: The cases are very robust, but the rack is the weak link. It's great when new, but if you start to bend it with crashes then it's more and more difficult to straighten it back. After my crash with the car in Mozambique it was really badly bent; after much efforts I have been able to attach the cases back on it, but it became a bit of a pain really.

Hope I answered your questions. Cheers,
Laurent
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Old 07-25-2012, 08:45 AM   #222
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Dogon



Yeah... this has been a long hiatus in the RR. Somehow, with the end of the trip looming, I've lost my enthusiasm for talking about it. Even more when I had returned, it's like I've put it behind me so as not to regret having to end it. But given all the effort I've put into it until now it would be too bad to let it rot like this. So I'm coming back to finish it up.

It's also heart-breaking to jump back to a country that has since turned for the worse. The Islamists and Touareg rebels have made the headlines recently and taken control of the northern part of the country. At the time I was there, in January, it was already a bad place to be so I've avoided it. Even though I was attracted by the idea of a music festival in Timbuktu I didn't like the fact that it would be accompanied by heavy security, convoy traveling and other artificial constraints. Of course the very fact of "making it" to Timbuktu was very tempting, just for the sake of it, as it's always been one of those mythical places in Africa, although only as a cul-de-sac and not a gateway to the Sahara. Now that the dark forces are tearing up its historical background to pieces, it may be too late to visit it. But I had such a great time in Mali that I'm happy I've been able to get there at all. It's probably still OK to go in the south of the country but it may collapse again pretty much overnight. Unlike Libya the country has no oil, so the Western countries haven't shown a great interest in helping them out and the Africans lack the organization and resources to affectively fight them out. In fact, the Libya war has probably made the situation worse. Anyone been there recently can comment on the situation ? Back to the present tense for the follow-up:



For us - Cécile had joined me in Ouaga - the plan was for a trek in famous Dogon country. We had pre-booked our tour with an official guide, so we just headed for our meeting point in the heart of Dogon country, Sangha. Arriving in the town, I had to dodge people literally throwing themselves into my front wheel to offer me a hotel room. The place is plastered with signs for hotels and trekking agencies. A couple years ago they were all busy catering for the crowd of tourists coming here, thanks mainly to a weekly jetliner that landed trekkers in nearby Mopti. But the area featured also predominantly in the programs of the Burkina Faso and Mali tour packages. Nowadays they've almost all closed, except for the only upmarket hotel with western-spec'd rooms and a handful of reputable addresses. One of them is "La femme Dogon", which also hosts a charity association. We had just found a place to sleep on the rooftop when our guide shows up to meet us. The word had quickly spread around town that a big bike with two Whites has arrived and the guy did the math.



The next morning we leave early for 3 days / 2 nights in Dogon country. We aren't carrying much as we would sleep in villages where they have beds and food. The only thing that we need to bring with us is a bag of Kola nuts, which are used as a gift to the locals when we arrive in a village or meet somebody, as a mark of respect. They're much appreciated by Dogon people and are pretty much expected from a visitor. Nothing else is expected from us, and there is surprisingly very little hassle in the villages that we cross, even from the kids, which is very much appreciated; apparently they got the message through that hassling the tourists is killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Smart.





On the other hand, there's a feeling that some of the scenes that we've observed were staged just for the tourists. Our guide is telling us stories that are so close to those written by the European ethnologists that we start to wonder if those tales were told by their grand-father, or of they read them in the same books.. but we quickly brush away those details and enjoy fully the great vistas and the relaxed like of the villagers, aware that we wouldn't have appreciated it half as much with large groups of noisy trekkers around. We hardly met a dozen other tourists in the tour, and that was great for us, but obviously an economic disaster for those who were living off the tourist industry. The only other source of cash for the Dogon is the growing of onions. There are onion fields everywhere, flashy green against the brown background.






After 3 days we're happy to get back, anymore and it would have been a bit tiresome. We spend a last night in the hotel and the next morning we load the bike and head back to the Niger.

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Old 07-26-2012, 11:37 AM   #223
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On the Niger



Back on 2 wheels, we're headed to Djenné, a city famous for its mosque. It sits across the Bani river, but there is no bridge. The road ends on the bank of the river. Arriving there we're immediately greeted by on of the guys hanging out there. He can show us around in Djenné, he knows good hotels, etc.. the usual show. We start the usual chat and make clear we know where we're going. He wants to get us a canoe to carry the bike across, instead we ask for the regular ferry. It's due in an hour or so. Or maybe more, or perhaps less ? It's pretty hot, so we sit down and keep chatting with the guys. They're disappointed of course not making business with us, but the good thing about the Africans, they quickly forget and just enjoy the chat.



The ferry finally arrives, the price is correct and the boarding easy enough through 20 cm of water. The "guide" still follows us and insists on visiting the "best hotel". Ok, let's not be an ass. The place is a bit far from the city, and pretty much empty, except for the owner who tries to water a few trees. It's not quite finished, and the price isn't even good. We carry on to the city proper. It's quite small, but nice enough with little traffic. We visit a few places and finally settle for a nice hotel where they let us camp in the courtyard, but keep a room open to use the shower. It seems mostly empty.



The big attraction is the grand mosque, sitting right in the middle of the main square, next to the noisy market. It's a very impressive sudanese-style building made of banco, which is basically mud. Which means that it's facade needs to be redone every year. The mosque isn't particularly old in itself, having been built at the beginning of the 20th century. It's now unfortunately forbidden to non-muslim, but as we were walking around it, in a back alley a dodgy-looking guy steps onto us and explains that he knows the son of the mosque's Imam, and that with some cash he can let us inside the mosque. What the hell? either he would walk out with our money or we would eventually run into problems and need to pay more. We brush him away and return to the hotel to find a beer.



A beer, right.. as it turns out, the whole city is very religious and alcohol is very hard to come by - unlike other parts of Mali. We finally find a (discreet) place where they stock up on beers, happy to sell them to us for an extortionate price, allegedly because truck drivers must be payed extra to bring booze in the sacred city.. yeah, right, but the sundowner no the river is great.



The next morning, instead of taking the ferry back toward the main road, we take a pretty nice track that heads towards Segou, crossing some nice villages on the way.



Today we want to camp, fortunately there is no lack of space for doing so. We just need to be a bit away from the villages to avoid the unwanted attention from the noisy kids. We find the perfect place, next to a big baobab at a distance from the the main piste.



Actually is West Africa you're never very far from the next village, but the locals leave us a lone ad they come back from the fields.



The night under the stars is fantastic, but in the morning as the sun rises and we take our breakfast, we find out that the big empty baobab is home to a wild beehive. They were already asleep when we set camp last night, but now they're up and so thirsty that they gather by the dozens over my water bag. We scramble to pack and leave quickly for Segou.



Ségou is a major city along the river, that used to be on the tourist map. It shows by the number of touts we have to deal with. Apparently the thing to do is take a pinasse, the local boat, for a cruise on the Niger and visit a fisherman's village. We instead intend to take the bike across the river the next day, and ride to a village of pottery makers. Cécile is (was) a pottery maker and is very interested to the local way of doing it. The information we get from the local is very contradictory, so we just walk to the beach and find a proper ferry. For a modest fee they bring us to the other side. Apparently the locals aren't paying for the ferry, each village is paying a fixes price to the owner every month and they (and their mopeds) ride for free. Which means it's difficult to get a price for the bike, only the cars pay for it.



On the other side we chat with some fishermen and they show us the track leading the the village we intend to get to. On the way back to Ségou we take a canoe as the ferry isn't running anymore. I spot how much the locals are paying and casually give the owner the same amount, without asking for the price. Still he tries to ask me for more money, but I just laugh - and so doe the other passengers, amused by the defeated scam.



The next morning we come back to the beach with the bike fully loaded, for what what will become a small but typical African scam, so I will explain it. The ferry is docked, and we inquire around for the schedule and price. A guy quotes us the price to charter it and leave immediately, which is way too much. Instead we can also wait and pay a reasonable price when it's scheduled to leave anyway. So of course we wait, sipping some tea and watching the guys play baby-foot (foosball). Then suddenly after a couple hours of wait the ferry starts its engine, so we hurry our stuff and board the ferry just before it leaves. That was the mistake. When aboard, I go to the helmsman to get a ticket, but he doesn't know for sure. He refers me to the owner who proceeds to write me a receipt.. for the whole charter price! of course... after more than 1 year in Africa how can I still fall in the trap ? the guy I had discussed the price with wasn't the owner! Obviously I can't have chartered the boat as it was about to leave without us. But now that the bike in onboard, the negotiation is futile, I'm a sitting duck. I refuse to pay and leave the bike parked in the middle of the deck to prevent the cars it's coming to fetch from boarding, to signify that I know exactly what he's up to and won't give up so easily. Things are heating up but we keep our calm, and try to explain to the other passengers that there's no way we will pay the same as a car. Finally the guy fetches the head of the village, an old guy who doesn't understand why I won't pay for the ride.. (he has no clue what the correct price is for a bike, nobody pays in the village). All of this is pointless of course. I don't want to pass as the arrogant toubab and I decide to give the money to the head of the village, ignoring the asshole and his receipt. At the end of the day this is just a minor annoyance, but one that drives me crazy - especially since it's my fault. Unfortunately it has happened only very rarely to me. No hard feelings, TIA.
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Old 07-27-2012, 12:50 PM   #224
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Fantasic!

Glad to see a new update! Thank you!
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Old 08-02-2012, 10:22 AM   #225
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Pottery



This post isn't about riding. It's one thing to ride your bike around the world, but really but makes a motorbike travel special is the possibility to stop in some remote spot and enjoy the life of the locals, outside of the main tourist drags.

Cécile used to make a living selling (and making) pottery, and she's much interested in seeing the local women in action. There's a village right across the Niger from Ségou, famed from its pottery makers so we decide to pay them a visit, and hopefully learning something from them. Only a few km from the ferry exit we arrive at the village and park the bike in the nearest house. We ask the owner for a pottery maker, which he isn't, but guides us to the next house. There we meet several women finishing up a few pots, and the head of family, Gui Doillon, who is a bit surprised to see us coming from nowhere but welcomes us with a nice smile. The women don't speak much French, but he does, and we proceed to sit down and explain our coming. He's a great guy, and he immediately invites us to stay at his place, freeing a room for this - no way he would let us sleep in our tent, as usual in Africa.



In this village, almost all women are making pottery - and only women. The men actually don't do much, as there's no employment to be found, and little in term of agriculture. The fishing is exclusive to another ethnic group, so out of question. Most men then leave for a big city to find a job. Our host has just returned from Bamako at the end of his contract.





Today is a special day because that's when the women are cooking the pots to be sold the next morning at Ségou's market. There are several technique for cooking earthenware, either in ovens or in open fires. Cécile explains to me that in Europe they use electrical or gas ovens with a very finely controlled temperature curve, slowly cooking the argil over several hours to avoid cracking them. Not so here, the fires are built by interleaving branches and pots in a big stack, and putting it on fire. After only 1/2h or so, the pots are taken out and soaked in a special mixture of leaves to leave a special finish. So much for the developed world rocket science!



These fires are pretty spectacular, and they attract some tourists from Segou - though not so many nowadays of course. The villagers put in place a very intelligent system where every visitor pays a small fee to the village, in return there's absolutely no hassle or soliciting. As far as we're concerned, in addition to this we also agree with Gui on some cash exchange for the privilege of staying with them and some pottery courses the next day.



Although most of the village's income is based on a single activity, it's not dependent on tourism and therefore still sustainable. Their pots are exported as far as Bamako after they're sold at the local market. In addition, they have no extra costs: the earth is dug up from a nearby field and the wood is cut in the surroundings.



The next day many women are at the market, and it's a rest day for most others. It goes without saying that in addition to making pots, the women also need to take care of the kids, cook, etc.. Meanwhile, the men.. uh.. well they're pretty busy drinking tea and chatting!



There are several women in the house, all of them expert at pottery of course. Gui is married and has one wife, but after his brother died he now has to take care of the widow, and her kids, as the custom goes - so it's quite a lot of people to feed. These women will be Cécile's teachers for the day.



The process begins with the trip to the clay mine, a shallow pit in a field nearby. Then back at the village, the clay is mixed with broken pieces of already cooked pots, and mixed with the feet on a goat skin.



They start by making a few small pots, which are easier to tackle at first. In France the pots are usually made on a wheel, which Cécile is very good at. Here however they use no tools, except for a used-up flip-flop. They make all the pots by stacking coils of clays, which is much more difficult.



Their simple but perfected technique allows them to build impressively tall pots, which would be quite impossible on a wheel. The dialogue is quite limited as the women don't speak French (they probably haven't been to school), but it's really all about showing the hand movement and exercising. Cécile has a blast, and the women too as they often giggle looking at how the white woman struggles with the most basic (for them) tasks. The magic of these encounters is that at the end of the day, somehow the information gets through pretty easily.



This has been a very enjoyable stay, and we will remember the kindness of the Malians for a long time. We reluctantly leave our new friends the next day. We were thinking about organizing trips for French pottery makers to go and visit them, bringing them some income at the same time, but the current situation in Mali makes it all but impossible. Fortunately, unlike the Dogon guides and hotel owners, they don't depend on the tourism for their living and hopefully this will remain so, but an occasional income would allow them to buy flour and some building material to fix their house.

On departing, Gui insists on showing us to another ferry, and borrows a bike to lead us on a small path to an empty beach with just a few fishermen fixing their nets. No way you can tell it's the end of a ferry if you didn't know it. The boat is on the other side of the river, you need to call the owner on his cell phone to come and pick you up. This time it's pretty clear we have to pay the full charter price, but that's OK for me as long as I know it beforehand. We say good-bye and exchange our phone numbers so that we can meet later in Bamako, as Gui also needs to return there.



The crossing is eventless and off we are on the main road on the other side of the Niger, headed for Bamako, the busy capital.

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