Challenge Diary - Page D - Timbuktu to Bamako
Tues 16th Jan - Timbuktu to Mopti
Mark ensures everyone is awake at 5am for an early getaway and
hopefully beat the ferry queue.
The ferry is 10 miles south of Timbuktu and is the only way of
getting across the mighty Niger River for those heading south.
The group leave well before Tim, he gave some camping gear and food
for them to carry, but still has some gear to get rid of before
leaving town. He sells some gear and his guitar for a nominal amount
to the guys who bought the car; they then take Tim to the ferry in
the Escort. At the ferry Tim says goodbye to the Escort and its new
owners and transfers his bags to a Toyota Landcruiser, this will
take him (and the other local occupants) as far as Mopti [map].
Ferry across the Niger from Timbuktu
Village on the Niger
The ferry arrives, boarding commences and we saunter over the river,
arriving at the opposite bank in about an hour. Looking at the track
immediately from the ferry, Tim wonders how any 2wd cars could have
possibly made the first 600 yards. Undulating and deeply rutted soft
sand tracks must have caused problems. Even the Landcruiser had to
work hard to get through.
Although bad, the road/track ahead was not quite as severe as
expected and the Landcruiser made fairly good speed. After a couple
of hours we had caught the back of the group and managed to overtake
them, despite the off-road conditions and huge dust clouds from the
moving vehicles. In relative comfort for the first time in days, Tim
smiled and waved as he passed his friends bouncing along. Soon
after, the track smoothed out significantly, we then turned from
South to West where we joined the main tarmac road just before
Douentza [map]. This is where we stopped for some lunch. Goat of course
followed by some fresh fruits.
Strange noises from the engine made us pull over to investigate, at
which point the engine started to over-speed, billowing clouds of
blue smoke and refusing to stop. At Tim's suggestion, putting the
car into gear and stalling it was eventually the only way to stop
it. It was obvious the Landcruiser was seriously ill and further
attempts to restart just ended with a repeat performance.
Another passing Landcruiser stopped to assist us (a friend of our
driver), took us in tow and after half an hour, stopped due to a
puncture. Things weren't going too well.
On the move again and another hour later, our Towing car broke down.
Not too surprising considering the speed they were trying to
While deliberating how to fix the tow car and allowing all occupants
the chance of a 'comfort stop', Tim spots the group approaching,
flags them down, retrieves his bags, wishes his ex-driver and
passengers good luck and squeezes his bags into the Land Rover and
himself into Nathan & Frankie's Merc.
Amazing, 3 breakdowns in as many hours, whereas the Escort only had
1 incident in 3 weeks!
The group seemed to have faired OK from Timbuktu, but the cars must
have had another severe beating. Our collective objective (nice
rhyme eh?) is now to try and take in the sights of Mopti and Djenne
on the way to Bamako.
John, Ray, Tim & the Land Rover
We get to Mopti [map] before dark and manage to find a couple of hotels,
one for the guys who were happy to blow the budget and bask in
luxury, the other for those still watching the pennies. Despite
carrying a fair wad of cash, Tim shares a basic room with Ray & John
as their budget is limited, also they are happy to share their Land
Rover and fuel costs with Tim for the next 2 days.
It seemed a good idea (after getting permission from the hotel
manager) to let off some of the fireworks left over from New Year
(we had meant to do this in Timbuktu). It looked pretty spectacular,
launching from the hotel roof, and it certainly lit up the sky.
Unfortunately we were not aware of certain facts.
The local police thought there was a rocket attack and possible coup
in progress, they sped round to the hotel in a car followed by a
pick-up truck with mounted machine gun.
Fortunately and by chance, a British lady who was residing nearby
saved the day. She spoke fluent French and explained to the Police
Chief that the fireworks were an expression of our happiness at
being in Mali, and Mopti in particular, and how we loved all the
Malian people. The brown-nosing worked a treat, the police shook our
hands, they left, we thanked the lady, laughed and went to bed!
There's not too much to see in
Mopti other than a frenetic market, a
busy commercial port on the Niger and the usual impressive mud-built
We set of, all three of us squeezed into the front of the old Land
Rover, Tim is driving. Before we are out of town, a traffic
policeman pulls us over at a roundabout. He opens the drivers' door,
looks around and points out that Tim is not wearing his seat belt.
We immediately twig what is now going to happen.
Tim apologises profusely for the offence (which probably is not an
offence) and promises never to forget again. The policeman then asks
for driving licence, insurance etc. Unable to find anything
seriously amiss, he informs us that there is a fee for not wearing a
seatbelt (surprise surprise!). Tim politely points out that every
single car passing us has a driver who is not wearing a seatbelt. No
good, the fee will be 17,000 CFA (£17), payable in cash, no receipt,
or go to police station in handcuffs. The fee demanded is probably
more than he is paid in a week. Our problem is that we need to be
moving on, or will not get to see the sights before Bamako. If we
stick it out, calling his bluff, it could take hours. We decide to
try to negotiate the fee, more out of principle than need. We claim
that we cannot afford the fee and that it is too high. After a few
minutes we hand over 10,000 CFA and drive away. After ten minutes
driving, Tim puts his seatbelt on!
We reach the outskirts of Djenne
[map] and stop for lunch just short of a
ferry that will take us over to the island. No sooner have we pulled
over when we are welcomed by a small party of men, headed by a
smartly dressed Malian man wearing designer sunglasses, he
introduces himself by the name of John Travolta, tells us that we
are most welcome and that he owns all the land 2km either side of
the ferry point, and that it will be 5,000 CFA to park or picnic
here. We all burst out laughing, pile back into the Land Rover,
cross on the ferry and picnic on the other side in peace.
Ferry to Djenne
World's largest mud
The Mosque at Djenne
The ferry is interesting, a little smaller than the one that crosses
Lake Windermere, but this one is powered by a single 15 hp outboard
motor! Still, it gets you there.
The mosque at Djenne is as magnificent as it is portrayed in
photographs and guidebooks. It's easy to see why it's claimed to be
the largest mud built structure in the world. A shame we're not
allowed inside. Unfortunately the rest of the town is not so
impressive, after a stroll we buy some bead souvenirs, backtrack via
the ferry and John Travolta to the main road.
It's getting dark when we arrive in
Segou [map], our last overnight stop
We find our chosen hotel to be full, so head back towards a posh
looking place we saw on the way into town. John is driving this time
and we find ourselves heading the wrong way down a one-way street.
Guess what? Yep there happens to be a policeman waiting whom
politely advises us of our error and that there will be an 18,000
CFA fine. Same situation as before so we choose to negotiate the
price down and pay 10,000 just to get to the hotel before the
Hotel Independence is highly recommended. Clean, good food, cold
beer and a nice swimming pool (though the water is a bit cold in the
After breakfast and a refreshing swim, we manage to leave
without paying any further fines or bribes.
Taxi rank, Mali style
Daytime firework display
We catch up with the rest of the group and then pull over to let off
all the remaining fireworks. A bizarre sight, watching a firework
display in the semi-desert in the middle of the day!
We approach Bamako via the old causeway and Hydro station that
crosses the Niger River to the East of the city. By 2pm we are back
at the Dakan Hotel.
Tim tells the others roughly where things are in the city, how to
get onto the Sofitel Hotel roof, banks etc.
Everyone's priority now is to try and sell their cars for a half
decent price, and not to let anyone know that we are all leaving the
country the following evening.
Ray thinks he will sell the Land Rover OK and deals with a guy who
will come with the actual buyer and money tomorrow.
We all eat at a local Chinese restaurant where certificates are
awarded to some of the group members for various deeds or acts of
stupidity. Anna announces that she and Philippe got engaged while in
Timbuktu. We were all pleased for them but no great surprise;
throughout the trip they had been all over each other like a rash at
After asking the restaurant staff, we finish off Tim's Damson Gin
and bottle of Port he'd been saving.
Tim spends the day getting rid of his remaining gear and having a
last look around Bamako.
Rays buyer for the Land Rover doesn't show up at the agreed time.
Tim offers to take Ray, John and the Landy to a prosperous area of
the city, by the BICIM bank where Tim and George were approached
just over a week ago. Nathan comes too, to change some CFA's. As we
park up, a well dressed man takes interest in the old Land Rover and
within 5 minutes a deal is struck! It takes him a while to gather
the cash together, worth the wait because he also helps us out in
changing all our remaining CFA's into Euros, at a very good rate.
After a few text messages back and forth, it is decided that we will
all meet at the Sofitel for a last meal together before flying out
of Bamako at 3.30am next morning.
After a few well-earned G&T's in Bamako's finest Hotel bar, we
decant to the restaurant for a very average meal with very average
service. Hey Ho, this is Africa, and nothing must be relied upon!
We all recount our adventures and promise to try and have a reunion
Grand Mosque. Bamako
Rush hour, Bamako
Open sewers. Bamako
It was agreed that everyone's digital photo's will be collected and
collated by Nathan, then re-distributed to all at a later date.
Frankie reads out her secret 'gay list' which she compiled soon
after we all met in Morocco. All men were given a rating of between
1 and 10 depending on how gay they were, (or how gay they were
perceived to be in Frankie's eyes). It would be unfair to comment on
Nick and Tim's particular rating, other than to say that Nick's
score suggested him to be closer to Graham Norton than he would
After the meal and collecting all our belongings together again, we
ordered a bunch of taxis to take us to the airport. Ray, John and
Tim got into the last one to arrive, a rather tatty (even by Mali
standards) Peugeot 305. As the last bag was pushed into the boot, it
pushed out the whole rear light assembly, previously held in by a
single strand of Sellotape. The driver just chucked it inside with
the luggage. Then the car wouldn't start. The driver decided to
coast the car down the slope, towards the main road, presumably to
try and a bump start it. He didn't even try; without stopping, he
simply coasted the car across the two lanes of busy traffic and let
it come to rest by the roadside. We were all terrified! He then
grabbed an empty fuel can from the passenger footwell, got out of
the car and flagged down another taxi and demanded that the taxi go
and get him some fuel! The man was clearly a lunatic and knew he had
no fuel before he collected us. We all got out and tried to open the
boot, but it needed a key and the driver wouldn't open it. We
argued. Tim threatened to get the police and the boot was opened. We
got all our gear out and transferred it to the other taxi (who
unsurprisingly refused to get fuel for the lunatic). As we got
moving again the drivers door was pulled open and the lunatic was
running along with us, demanding that our new driver pay him a
commission for providing a fare! Amazing. Our new driver chucked a
couple of coins out into the road just to get rid and for the sake
The rest of the journey to the airport was fine.
Despite a limited number of flights, Bamako airport seemed somewhat
chaotic. Umpteen officials checking our passports around every
corner, some of us being questioned about the whereabouts of the
cars, we finally made it to the departure lounge and at 3am boarded
our plane and left for Casablanca.
After a long stopover we caught our connecting flight to Heathrow
and then Tim got the shuttle up to Manchester.
Expecting to see just Arlene at Manchester, it was a nice surprise
to also be met by Nick and Jenny.
Different in many ways to our adventure last year, but again it
seems that our challenge was completed without any major breakdowns
(car-wise and relationship-wise). All credit to Henry Ford and those
men & women in Germany who screwed him together so well. It still
amazes us just how much punishment a car can take.