My Dear Readers,
Feb 20 I will go on my next trip to Western Africa. I will start from one of my favorite cities Tangier, Morocco, then go down along the Atlantic coast through Mauritania to Senegal. Means of transportation are folding bike, bus and hitchhiking.
From capital of Senegal Dakar I will take a train to the capitol of Mali, Bamako. In Mali I will visit Dogon country and Timbuktu. From Mali I will go through Burkina Faso to Ghana.
I may visit Gambia and Guinea from Senegal and also Togo and Benin from Ghana. I will fly back from Accra, Ghana. If anybody can advise something on these places, please do, especially on malaria prevention drugs and border crossing. I will be back home by June 6 for my birthday.
Map of my trip is attached.
Also you may take a look at half fiction story about my encounter with shark (first
one) written by my friend Anatoly KaRdanov (in Russian). http://www.litsovet.ru/index.php/material.read?material_id=102382
or in English at http://www.foldabikes.com/CurrentEvents/Story/shark_attack.html
Attached picture of my daughter scuba-diving in underwater cave, unrelated to this report.
Jan 30 2007
I think that everybody who gets paid for his writing will feel some kind of obligation to not offend his donors. I am not getting paid and I write what I want.
To be precise I get some donations from my former coworkers and I appreciate it very much. But I do not feel any obligations because of their donations.
So I write exactly what I feel about different countries, people of different nationalities and am not afraid to insult any minorities like gays, bisexuals, trisexuals and so on.
Due to unique capabilities of Google I received letters from people from all over the world. People read my travel notes which are reprinted in many Internet sites and these people want to tell me something about my Notes.
Mostly they ask for advises on some places which I visited. I always give detailed response. Some people sent thank you letter. Some did not. They probably think that I am some sort international information service.
Some people exited about my trips especially shark episodes and even see me as a role model. If they would know that I am also a partially handicapped person,,,. One mile is too long distance for me. Half a mile is longest distance I could walk without bike.
I always wanted to set an example for other people with disabilities in order to prove for them that with certain degree of inventiveness you could overcome your disabilities. But magazines like Arthritis Today never accept me because I am only half handicapped.
It was always like this with me, half opticians, half electrician; half Russian half American; and now half handicapped half glob-trotter.
Some people got angry with me for writing negative things about their country or city. It is sort of unexpected twist. Due to Google my letters which are written mainly for my family and friends became such a public property. I would like to reiterate that my letters contain just my personal opinions. But I get feeling that some readers expect me to weight my every word as if I am making a presentation for United Nation Assembly.
Here are few letters from my readers:
Sometimes ago I got nice letter from a guy who lives in Bayonne on Atlantic cost of France and collects pictures of ships. He found in my Travel Notes
picture of ship "Pacific Star" on which I sailed from Vladivostok to Kamchatka in Aug 2003 and wanted to include it into his pretty good internet site.
Recently I get several letters from the President of Russian Federation on Gorodki (sort of skittles) He found picture of International Competition on gorodki of year 2001 in my trip report:
So he decided that I am big fan of gorodkis and invite me to participate more in the gorodkis activity.
Recently I got angry letter from a guy who was furious about my Travel Notes from South America of year 2002
His letter is in attachment.
I really feel obligated to answer him. I like South America. My favorite countries are Ecuador and Bolivia. Country he is probably from - Peru is in third place. When I started to think about the reason, I came up with explanation why Peru is number three. Peru has most of tourist attractions in South America and it has probably most developed tourist industry. Famous Gringo Trail is also mostly on Peru territory.
As all travelers know very well, people who are making money on tourists are usually not the best representatives of local population. But tourist spending few weeks in a country have no chance to make contacts with local people. So it is our own (tourists) fault, so to say.
As for Lima, you can smell urine almost anywhere. At least it was like this in 2002. He wrote that local people are chewing coca leaves not for cocaine. But for what?
I feel sorry that my notes offended him But it will kill entire genre of travel writing if you will write only nice sweet things about all places you visited.
I also had an angry letter from Georgian on my TN from Georgia of 2002.
He responded on my letter of May 30 2002 and exclaimed that I hate Georgians. I reply him that in my prior letter of May 25 I explicitly wrote that I admire Georgians for their flamboyant national character and feel sorry for their country which is obviously having a difficult time. It looks like some people simply cannot tolerate any negative remarks.
I am in Barcelona now and in a couple day will take a train to Malaga, than bus to Gigraltar and cross it on ferry to Morocco.
Feb 22 2007 9 am
LETTER FROM SOUTH AMERICA
why are you sooooo negative about south america in general and peru in particular? when one travels there we know before going that it is not NOVA , thank god for that. i have spent alot of time thruout peru and have never had even one bad experience. i do not expect 5 star treatment when traveling there. seems your negativity would prevent you from enjoying and appreciating some of the warmest and most hospitable people in the world. not sure what part of lima you were in, but i have never ever smelled urine anywhere. something i can not say about DC, new orleans . it isn't pisca, it is pisco,,,,,,,,,not gye but cui , not ballerians islands but ballestras. shame you miss out on so much as you travel the world and discount the people along the way except other western 'civilized' travelers you encounter along the way. mate de coca does NOT contain cocaine as you state, cocaine is a processed drug made from those leaves, much like heroin from poppies. and to say that the native quechua/inca people look as if they are mentally defective?!?!?!? i have never read such a condescending and arrogant travel report in my life. i can only hope and pray that the good people of south america are not subjected to another of your visits
My trip started in Andorra. I went there with large group (60) of skiers from mostly Washington and New York
Ski lifts in America are so expensive that it is cheaper to fly to Europe for sking
It was dangerous endoaver. No skiing itself, but staying in 5 stars hotel with good food and drinks included. Everybody complains on overeating
From Andorra we moved to Barcelona, then other people flied back home and I moved to 15 euro hostel with 3 bankbed in room. As for compensation 4 were filled with pretty girls and one with talkative Japanese guy
Barcelona is great city. I love it. It is home of 4 most talanted and most crazy artists
Why Barcelona produced such large amount of inconventional artists? I found an explanation National Palace which dominate city is such a triumf of simmetry that it should create protest in creative people
Thanks to everybody who reply to my last E mail. Internet is great. Traveling alone I am always in contact with people
I have to rush to train to Malaga
8 pm 22 feb 2007
|1. Some skiers||3. Hostel||4. Barcelona welcome sign||5. Miro||6. Gaudi||7. Dali||8. National palace|
From Barcelona I went to Malaga, which is not impressive after Barcelona. I stayed near Principal (main) street where most of inexpensive hotels are located. The area is filled with halal store and restaurants and sex shop selling porno videos. It seems to me strange. But may be it is OK, if it is for infidels. One tout even told me that he swear with Allah that his store sells best porno in town.
I took a bike ride along Costa del Sol which is covered with typical resort dwellings. As a nice surprise a 10 km North East of Malaga it was a cement plant, see picture. Costa del Sole is not an Amalphy cost, not even close. It was tons of seafood restaurants there and they adopt Chinese habit to sell dim sum. However Chinese dim sum are small and inexpensive. Here the portions are large, so it was not as good for solo eater as Chinese dim sum.
One hour and a half ferry took me to Tangier. It is such a contrast!!! It is hard to believe that in a such a short distance from Europe, such an exotic place is located. People are dressed in costumes from 1001 nights. It is mostly combination of KKK robe with hood with re-straighning jackets used in hospital for mentally sick.
Streets are filled with strolling people especially in the evening. There is interesting linguistic observation: In Russian language there is no word for privacy, because there is no such concept exists in Russia. In English language there is no word "gyliat" which is ruffly translated as strolling the street without any particular reason.
If you will see somebody strolling the street in the residential area of USA, then there is a 95 percent chance it is a Russian. American will be in the street and not in his car only if he is walking the dog or jogging. Moroccans like to stroll even more than Russians.
After king Mohamed 6 introduced prison sentence for hustling the tourists, the legendary Tangier's hustlers disappeared. But it is still few tourists here. I stayed in the Miramar hotel, half a mile from the port on Mediterranean shore. It was fantastic view on port and Medina from my large double room, 12 dollars per night. It had no hot water. But I have a big mug and electrical spiral.
These who do not carry electrical spiral would better stay in Continental hotel right above the port, double/single 41/33 euros. It is at first right turn after the port gate. I put in so much details because one of my favorite readers is going to Morocco soon.
Street food is great. Those who gets poisoned in foreign counties are people who everywhere prefer familiar salads and sandwiches. In order to not get poisoned you should eat what locals eat. Locals eat bean soup and sea snail soup from street vendors. It came with excellent fresh crunchy bread, cost 30-50 cents. Bread is especially good here, and there is a wide variety of it. After soup I cannot resist excellent crispy fried fish and then mint tea from one of myriads of outdoor cafes.
Morocco is one of moderate Muslim countries like Jordan, Turkey and Tunis. People do not get prostrated in the middle of street like in Egypt. Muezzins did not wake you up in the middle of night. West should help to these countries as much as possible to set an example for these countries where Islamic fundamentalism is growing.
With all my love to Tanger, I should admit that I found a better place, accidentally. On my way to Fez I stayed at small town Chefchaouen. The Tanger is ruff, for a person without bike medina will be unpleasant because the store owners are still too aggressive. Chefchaouen is different. You can stroll through medina all day long and nobody will bother you, which is very rear for Muslim country. Location of town is very scenic, with picturious Rif Mountains on the background. Hotels and food are exellent and cheap. I will include Chefchaouen in the my list of best place on the planet, similar to Forbs maggazine list, but with quite different contents
March 1 2007
|Photo 082||Photo 093||Photo 110||Photo 116||Photo 120||Photo 126||Photo 150||Photo 117|
Internet site Foldabikes.com has translated story about my incident with shark written in Russian by Anatoly Kardanov. See it now in English at: http://www.foldabikes.com/CurrentEvents/Story/shark_attack.html
So, if you remember, after charming Chefchaouen I went to Fez. Surprisingly not far away from Fez, there is ski resort with donkey powered ski lift. Unfortunately it was no snow at that time.
Fez's Medina is quite different from Chefchaouen's one. Chefchaouen Medina is very clean nice and even romantic. Fez's is very medieval with appropriate sounds and smells, especially from near tannery, which uses the same technology as thousands years.
Next was Marrakesh. Marrakesh is tourist trap. Medina is large dirty, dusty, polluted shopping mall. It is too many tourists, locals, cars and motorcycles there. Central plaza Djemaa el-Fna is advertised everywhere as a major attraction of Morocco with thousands food stalls, snake charmers, fakirs and other Eastern attractions.
Food is served mostly by people in white uniform. This confused me and I loose my usual precautions. But it was no running water there. So all dishes for thousands of tourists and locals were washed in the same few baskets of water.
As a result I get diarrhea. Best medicine against diarrhea is fasting. It was also good idea to fast because it was long way to Mauritania border through Western Sahara, for several days. Western Sahara is most boring place on Earth, flat as table, covered with sand, small stones and few bushes. I rode buses and taxis. Taxis are faster, but they put 6 passenger in standard size car, four on rear seat and two on front one next to driver. Why did not I fly? Flying will be cheating. Travel should be owerland.
It was nothing to do during these long rides. So I found that most enjoyable way to spent time was to think about food. I realized that in-spite all my travel eating experience my favorite food is still Russian. But my favorite fruit were exotic. Number one is mangoostine, number two is durian number three is pamelo.
In first days I thought about hefty meat dishes, in following days my preferences changed and I prefer to think about vegetable or weak chicken soup. After five days of fasting and four days of bus/taxi ride I came to town Laayone, still two days from Mauritania border.
Here I found out that round trip to nearby Canary Island is only 150 dollars and I bought ticket and stop my fasting. Tomorrow I am flying to Canary Islands, hooray!!!!!!
Mar 9 2007 7 pm
1. Olive stand
2. Chefchaouen medina
3. Fes medina
5. Camel face
6. King of Morocco Muhamed 6-th
The Canary Islands hold special place in my biography. In 1965 I decided to quit my job of instrumentation engineer at Petrochemical Research Institute and take a job of instrumentation engineer on an oceanographic ship which was supposed to sail toward Canary Islands.
The ship was not supposed to call at any foreign ports. But anyhow, possibility to get behind iron curtain was very exciting. Also even if ship will not go to ports I am a good swimmer and I may jump and swim to the shore, I dreamed.
In order for me to finally get this job, it had to be approved in a closed Communist Party meeting in my institute. The chief of department where I worked, professor Ioffe was against. So my trip to Canary Islands did not happen.
This is why I ESPECIALLY wanted to go there now.
But anyhow, I quit my job and take a temporary summer job in geological expedition going to the middle of Siberia. We sail on Lower Tunguska river on inflatable raft with gasoline motor. For weeks we did not see any people or villages. But suddenly in the middle of nowhere motor boat has appeared with two KGB man. They were looking for, guess whom, me!
The reason was this Not far before my departure one guy with whom I graduated from my college, his name is Valerii Ronkin, gave me the book, he wrote. The name of book was 'from dictatorship of bureaucracy to dictatorship of proletarians' and this book called for armed revolt against Communist Government of Soviet Union.
Soon Ronkin was caught by KGB and gave them list of all people to whom he gave copy of his book. No, it was no physical torture at KGB, as you may expect. In his recently published book
Ronkin wrote that during interrogation process, the KGB investigators were quite polite. He, himself, turned out to be a week person, not ready to withstand psychological pressure. And the KGB definitely put best investigators to this process.
Life of many people was broken, few committed suicide. For me it turn out to be even good.... eventually. My security clearance was taken away. So, 13 years later when I emigrated to USA, it was no problem with KGB. Many people have to wait for years until their security clearance will expire.
So now, I eventually got to Canaries! Las Palmas the capital of Canaries is big but still nice city. It is many tourists where, but city is not touristy.
I rented a car and first night I spent in car. It was OK, I do not mind sleeping in car. I was parked at high rocky shore and in the morning I went down to the ocean for shower and toilet. The descent down to ocean level required some mountaineering skill. This is why I was alone at ocean level and was not visible from the top. Waves were to big to cross them, but I found the hole which was periodically filled with biggest waves and function like Jacuzzi.
Las Palmos turned out not to be as expensive as one may expect and I for rest four night stayed in pensione Ibitsa in the middle of nightlife area for 20 euros. After five days at Canaries I fly back to Morocco and continue my trip to Mauritania I am in Mauritania now. I cannot attach pictures, I will sent them later
Mar 18 2007
Here are some photos from Canary Islands:
Nouakchott (capital) , Mauritania
March 22 2007
It is difficult to find Internet cafe capable of sending images, So I will sent now pictures related to my next TN. Which will be about people whom I met in Sahara
March 22 2007
While I was waiting in Canaries Airport for my plane back to Morocco, one man tried to talk to me in different languages. I told him peacefully to get lost in Russian. He responded in Russian! He was a German man working for a travel agency. He invited me to join his tour group for half day tour to Sahara.
Tour group consisted from 5 middle aged boring Europeans. We had lunch of camel kebab with nomads completed with photo session and visited incredibly dirty fish port. But one part of tour was amazing. A jeep took us to part of desert covered with lots of minerals. It was like open air mineral show. I have never seen anything like this. Unfortunately I cannot carry too much weight on my bike.
Next morning I went to bus station of Laayone to take a long bus ride to Dakhla. This is where I met very nice French bicyclist Nicolas. He traveled for 7 months from French/Spain border on bike most of time, not like me because I ride only part-time. But Laayone - Dakhla part was too tough even for him. Next morning we even rode together a little bit. His luggage was 5 times heavier than mine, but he was 2.5 times younger than I. So, I manage to follow him, but barely.
In Dakhla Nicolas was invited to ride to Mauritanian border with French family in their car. And I took a bush taxi, where I met 3 American guys. I sent you pictures of Nicolas and Americans a couple days ago. Eventually I start to meet right people, young enthusiastic travelers. I feel myself with them much better than with people of my age. Like philatelists or numismatists, travelers do not separate themselves by age or nationality. They all are TRAVELERS first of all.
I stayed two night at Nouakchott with American guys in 4 cot dorm. Than I took the train to Adrar. This is the longest train in the world and is famous entertainment for travelers to West Africa. It brings iron ore from deposit in the Middle of Mauritania to Nouadhibou port and returns back empty. It is 2.3 km long and consists from about 200 cars. There are two dilapidated passenger cars in the back of train.
When the train arrived, the waiting crowd stormed it, through doors and windows, pushing bulky bags... It was like in movies about civil war in Russia, like doctor Zhivago. With my bicycle bag I cannot compete with them and got in last. It was crowded but not overcrowded. I was the only Westerner in train. Weird looking people dressed in bulky national clothes with faces covered in scarfs, leaving only eyes, were amazingly friendly. They found good place for me near window and offered food.
I saw amazing dunes through windows. One was especially interesting. It was like a checker board, where each square was covered with incredibly steep sand cones, probably formed by micro tornadoes (like dust devils).
At sunset everybody prayed. After this in complete darkness religious chanting started exactly as it was predicted in Lonely Planet book. After this there was a lot of singing and dancing. Women actively participated too, something which I did not expected to see in Muslim country. They even invited me to participate.
At 2 am we arrived at station Choum. It was moonless night and it was no electrical light at all. People jumped from the train and run after cars slow moving through sand. And people shouted names of their destinations. I also start shouting: Atar, Atar, Atar. Somebody from darkness replayed to me Atar, Atar.
Then a man appeared and grabbed my bag with bike and threw it in the slow moving car. I catch the car and jump in. Car took me to Atar, a very dirty, miserable town. I expected something quite different from LP. So I took bush taxi to Chinguetti, which accordingly to LP should be charming. It was not. Hotel which according to LP may be overran by French group tourists in fact was overran by local black teenagers who crated mess in lunch area. And most unpleasant I lost my mobility because roads were covered with sand, and I became a target for beggars and shops owners. So next morning I took taxi to capitol of Mauritania Nouakchott.
Being cheated few times by LP I skipped nearby oasis Tanouchert and Quadane, which supposed to be major attraction of Mauritania. These of you who were there tell me what I lost.
In Nouakchott I stayed in Auberge Menata. Nouakchott is main point through which overlanders cross from Europe to Africa, and Menata is the place where they stay. I met lots of amazingly interesting people there. You start talking during breakfast with ordinary looking guy and learned that he sailed Amazon river, or something like this. The only place I can compare with Nouakchott is Ulan Bator, which is crossing point between Europe and Eastern part of Asia.
From Nouakchott I took bus to St. Louis, Senegal. I rode it with Spanish actor Santiago, who is in real life playing role of Don Kihote. Pleasure of traveling in these remote places is in meeting people. When in crazy messy disorganized bus station it is only two white people when you definitely start talking
Tomorrow I will leave St Louis and go to Dakar
Mar 26 2007
My Dear Readers,
I am out of Africa. I am at home. Before the trip, Africa was a big question mark ??????
How will I survive the incredible heat, especially in countries far from the shore, like in Mali in April?
What vaccination and medicines should I take against different diseases of Western Africa?
Which country is safe to visit and which is not in terms of political situation?
Now I am done with Western Africa and I believe I know how to handle it.
It is easiest part to handle the nature. Most problems are man made.
Yes, it is very hot in Mali in this part of year. But I rode bike in the middle of the day under the baking sun in Sub Sahara and I felt great. It was OK because I rode bike, dressed only in shorts. I was sweating a lot, but wind, which I created by biking had provided the necessary cooling.
The situation was different in towns. It is mostly Muslim countries, and Allah does not like to see the human flesh, so everybody, including visitors have to be completely covered, no shorts, no short sleeve shirts. And this was tough, especially in buses, taxis, tro-tros. Black people, by the way, suffer from heat not less than whites.
Second question in West Africa after what country are you from, is what disease did you get so far? I met people who get malaria, typhoid and cholera. Major contribution to this is lack of drinking water, very low sanitary standards of local people and lack of proper hygiene habits of tourists themselves.
In Asia and South America I preferred food from street vendors because I can see how it is done, and this gave certain warranty of safety, like if it is boiled in oil, it should be safe.
In Africa street food is so unhygienic that you will not have any desire to try it. I survived mostly by food I prepared myself with submersible electrical spiral (kipiatilnik) and pealable fruits and vegetables.
I will write more about countries and sites I visited. The most impressive was Dogon Country in Mali
Attached are pictures of great French and German bicyclists I met in Africa. Unlike myself they travel all the way from their country on bike. It takes almost a year.
May 10 2007
My Dear Readers,
The Ghana in Africa was hundredth country I visited. It is only 46% of all countries, by the way.
LIST OF VISITED COUNTRIES:
|1 Andorra 2007
2 Anguilla 2006
3 Antigua Barbud 2006
4 Argentina 1998
5 Armenia 2002
6 Austria 1979
7 Azerbaijan 1962
8 Belarus 1968
9 Belgium 1994
10 Belize 2004
11 Bolivia 2002
12 Bosnia Hercegov 2004
13 Brazil 1996
14 Bulgaria 2000
15 Burkina Faso 2007
16 Burma 1994
17 BVI 1989
18 Cambodia 2000
19 Canada 1980
20 Chile 1998
21 China 2001
22 Costa Rica 2004
23 Croatia 2004
24 Cuba 2004
25 Czech Republic 2000
|26 Denmark 1997
27 Ecuador 2002
28 Egypt 1999
29 England 1991
30 Estonia 1967
31 Finland 1999
32 France 1994
33 Georgia 1953
34 Germany 1997
35 Ghana 2007
36 Gibraltar 1997
37 Greece 2002
38 Grenada 2006
39 Guadeloupe 2006
40 Guatemala 2004
41 Honduras 2004
42 Hong Kong 2001
43 Hungary 2000
44 India 2000
45 Israel 1991
46 Italy 1979
47 Jamaica 2005
48 Japan 1999
49 Jordan 1999
50 Kazakhstan 2002
|51 Kyrgyzstan 2005
52 Laos 2000
53 Latvia 1967
54 Lithuania 1967
55 Luxembourg 1994
56 Macao 2001
57 Malaysia 1994
58 Mali 2007
59 Martinique 2006
60 Mauritania 2007
61 Mexico 1983
62 Moldova 1975
63 Monaco 1979
64 Mongolia 2001
65 Morocco 1997
66 Nepal 2000
67 Netherland Antl 2006
68 Netherlands 1994
69 Nicaragua 2004
70 Pakistan 2005
71 Palestin Terr 1991
72 Panama 2004
73 Paraguay 2003
74 Peru 2002
75 Puerto Rico 1989
|76 Romania 2000
77 Russia 1937
78 Saint Lucia 2006
79 Saint Vinsent 2006
80 Salvador 2004
81 San Marino 1992
82 Senegal 2007
83 Serbia Monteneg 2004
84 Singapore 2006
85 Slovakia 2000
86 Slovenia 2004
87 Spain 1997
88 Sweden 1995
89 Switzerland 1995
90 Thailand 1994
91 Trinidad Tabago 2006
92 Tunis 2002
93 Turkey 2000
94 Ukraine 1947
95 Uruguay 1998
96 USA 1979
97 Uzbekistan 2002
98 Vatican 1979
99 Venezuela 2006
100 Vietnam 2000
May 13 2007
My Dear Readers
I would like to thank everybody who sent me letter in response to my 100 jubilee.
Knowledgeable people corrected me: 1. Country of "Serbia and Montenegro" is now divided into two countries Serbia and Montenegro. 2. Gibraltar is English territory. So it cannot be counted as an independent country. Well, it is still 100.
I used list of countries from popular site: http://www.world66.com/destinations
This year is year of good round figures and anniversaries. I have good round figures for my birthday and for my wedding date in addition to 100 visited countries jubilee.
These round dates are major problems for traveler. You have to break your trip and came back for the celebration.
I remember that I owe you Travel Notes on rest of West Africa. However as I learned from the past, it is fun to write TN from the road. But it is quite difficult for me to write TN when trip is already finished. Also my camera was stolen at the end of my trip, so I will attach only these few pictures which I saved on Internet.
So let me return to a point at which I finished my last TN from Africa...
I took long distance bus from St Louis to Dakar, Senegal. Dakar is known for its terrible traffic problem. So bus unloaded passengers far away from the city center and passengers have to continue their journey on city bus, then this bus also stopped in the middle of jammed cars, motorcycled and donkeys.
I unfolded my bike and started to ride toward South, because Dakar is supposed to be on the South. And eventually I got to Dakar. And again I had a chance to prove how wonderful my transportation vehicle is.
Dakar is not as bad as Bamako which I visited later, because it is on the ocean, and the ocean diluted the pollution a little bit. I spent two days in Dakar and took a train to Bamako. This train is going once a week and I did not want to wait another week for the next train.
So I spent only one week in Senegal. During this week I noticed that Senegalese women are quite elegant. Old and young are dressed with such natural elegance and such attention to details. And in rural areas woman are dressed more elegant than in capital. Sometimes you see international class model, dressed accordingly, walking dusty not paved street. Faces of some women are quite European having no negroid features at all, just painted in black.
The Dakar- Bamako train is another African legend. This train goes without schedule. Everything that was not bolted is stolen, including pieces of metal sheets on which you walk between the cars. So you have to jump. For two days I survived on beer and peanuts. There were only two Westerners on the train, me and Sorbonne student, making movie about this train. But the trip was safe, I should say in everything except for jumping from car to car. From the window we observe baobabs, large termite houses and village life untouched by civilization, and not changed in centuries and may be millenniums. Sorry pictures are lost.
Bamako, the capitol of Mali is awful. Sidewalks are occupied by hordes of hawkers. Roads are filled with kamikaze motorcyclists, issuing clouds of poison smoke. Good thing in Bamako is French Cultural Center, where I spent two evening watching French movies and communicating with French people using two French words I knew -- merci and boku.
This note is written on the road from Bamako to Mopti, Mali:
I have traveled for more than a month in Africa. I covered thousands of miles in dilapidated buses, taxis and trains. I visited overcrowded, dusty, polluted towns. Towns where people sink in the trash generated by themselves. Every time you are on the street you are approached by dozens of begging children.
I am glad that I survived all that, but did I enjoyed that? Not really. I start to be afraid for my life, which happened not too often with me. What if I get sick or got heat stroke. Most of people do not speak English here. Will anybody be willing to help me?
Distance between life and death is so short in Africa. When I rode taxi from Atar to capitol of Mauritania Nouakchott a woman died in taxi, not ours, in another taxi driven by our driver's nephew. They took her out and put on sand. It was not clear if she is already dead or she was dying. Ten minutes later they pulled her body back into car and put it on floor. When all passengers get back. It was usual taxi package, three in front and four on rear seat. They probably have to put their feet on her body. Nobody called emergency or police. There is nothing like this in the middle of Sahara. So I counted days before I will be done with West Africa.
But yesterday something happened which changed my attitude. I took bus from Bamako to Morti, Mali with intention to exit at turn to Djenne and get another bus or taxi to Djenne. It was none of them. The distance was only 30 km and I decided to ride bike. It was nobody on the road so I rode dressed in shorts only. In Muslim country nobody wear shorts. It was not too hot riding bike even the day was hot and in bus, which I rode before, everybody was profoundly sweating.
I had lunch under enormous baobab tree. I kicked large termite houses. Eventually I was alone with Africa and it was great!!!! I rode through villages with round mud brick huts, with roof covered by dried grass. Naked children run after me and laughed. This was real Africa about which we read in children's book. And I understand now why some people are getting African bug.
In order to get feeling of Africa you should travel by bike with small tent. Mosquito net, which I carry, is not right replacement for tent. This is why I did not camp along the road and rode to the Djenne. I reached Djenne at darkness and slept on the roof of nice hotel Ches Baba ($6) By the morning I even have to put on sweater. Now I am not afraid of Africa anymore and not rushed to finish my trip.
From Djenne I went to Mopti. From Mopti you can go to Timbuktu or Dogon Country. Places I already visited Segou and Djenne are quite similar to Timbuktu. Djenne's mosque, see picture, considered even better than Timbuktu's one. So I decided not to go to Timbuktu just for sake of being able to say "I have been to Timbuktu!"
I went to Dogon country instead. It is called Dogon Country, but it is not independent country. It is autonomous region of Mali. Dogon country is undoubtedly the most interesting part of West Africa. It is large area occupied by people of animist religion. Constant flow of tourists did not change their lifestyle. So visitors have a chance to see absolutely unique, flourishing animist culture, quite different from anything you could see elsewhere in the world. Dogons are great!!!
From Mali I went through Burkina Faso to Ghana. Like Japan does not want to be like rest of Asia, Ghana does not want to be like rest of Africa. They are furiously fighting for cleanness, they are polite and friendly, and you will not see any beggar in Ghana. Nobody smokes in Ghana. And Kofi Annan Secretary General of UN is also from Ghana. But it is still hot there, like in rest of Africa. Burkina Faso is in between in all sense. And it is preparing you to Ghana.
I leave Accra, Ghana too early because the only not expensive flight to Europe ($450) was on charter airline "Astraeus", flying once a week. And next flight was two days after my arrival to Accra. I flew to Washington from London on Aer Lingus. I never heard about these airlines before, but they were OK.
May 29 2007
1. Alex in Mali
2. Djenne mosque
3. Dogon mask dance
4. Dogon village
5. Telem graves in Dogon Country
6. Donkey pulling car
7. Nouadhibou, Mauritania