Sunday, May 7, 2017

Bumping east!

It was quick and easy to pack up after a night on the banks of the River Saloum on the eastern edge of Kaolack.  We got back on the main road heading east, Christophe was still coming with me but unsure where he would turn back, but this was sadly his final day.  I had heard from Oleg, the Russian biker who was sending google map locations via WhatsApp as to where he had been camping, he was probably 250km ahead of us!  I had 511km to complete to enable me to stop in Kedougou for the evening, we stopped a few kilometres down the road in Birkelane for breakfast next to the Mairie (town hall).  Continuing on, we came across a bus that had recently crashed, it was on it's side, burnt out and still smouldering, another reason I don't travel at night!  The following village two large trucks had crashed head on, we both thought of Pietr and Marius who were reliant on truck drivers to give them a lift, luckily they weren't in this smash!  The road was in a good state of repair, the vehicles were often not so safe!  

Another coffee break
We continued on, Christophe was debating whether to stay in Tambacounda, which is a large town and gateway to the Niokolo Koba National Park.  A small minibus full of toubab tourists kept overtaking us, we were surprised they didn't seem to stop to show the tourists the sights en route.  Eventually we got to Tambacounda and refuelled on the eastern edge of town having tried to find somewhere for lunch.  Christophe still wanted to continue, so I suggested we get to Wassadougou and have lunch, about 60km further on, I'd stayed here years ago on my way back from Guinea and the Fongolimbi border crossing with a Spanish man who owned a campement.  

Really into baobab country

We entered Wassadougou at speed and almost had a nasty meeting with the bridge which shocked us both with Christophe at the wheel.  Having crossed the bridge I knew we'd gone too far, so we turned around to find Francisco's campement just off the main road.  We spoke to a man walking out of the road that led to Francisco's place, he confirmed that it had been closed for a few years.  We drove back into the village and followed the signs to Campement Hotel Wassadou which was a few kilometres through the bush, to the most stunning site on the banks of the Gambia River.

A group of German tourists had just arrived and were settling in.  We went into the restaurant to be told there wasn't anything to eat, they had only catered for this group!  We ordered a drink and were given a bowl full of nuts, this was the end of the road for Christophe, he had decided to get transport back towards Dakar from the village.  It was a sombre half hour talking about my drive to Kedougou and his accommodation options in Tambacounda where he finally spent the night.

Views from Campement Hotel Wassadou

We got back to the village and I noticed a minibus loading, calling out to the driver to ask if there was a spare seat, Christophe was suddenly dispatched.  It was a quick, brutal and difficult goodbye but probably better that way, wished each other luck, gave each other a big hug whilst they loaded his bag and he got on. I'll admit to having a few tears to see him go, he had truly been the most amazing traveller and we had completed thousands of kilometres together on brilliant terms.  We're still in touch by phone and both wanting to do the trip again!

Solo ... I started Franki, pulled myself together and started to drive out of Wassadougou.  I got 300m and was stopped by a young police officer, I couldn't believe it.  He was rather unfriendly and kept insisting I get out of Franki which I refused to do, the doors were locked and I asked him what he wanted.  Eventually it transpired that the man we had asked about Francisco and his campement was owed money by Francisco, the two of them decided I was bound to pay the man.  I was obviously a friend of Francisco and should settle the financial matter.  I wasn't having any of it, I made it clear I had met Francisco whilst hitchhiking from Kedougou towards Dakar, he had offered me a lift then a room at his campement years ago.  I had no other contact with him, the argument continued for 30 minutes or so, I was hoping Christophe had maybe seen me parked on the side of the road with the policeman but he had long gone!  Eventually I was allowed to continue onto Kedougou 173km away.  It was already after 2pm and I wanted to be there by dark, little did I know what I was about to encounter!
Christophe's transport west
Nids d'Elephants ... the most horrendous piece of road for 90km, this was a relatively good stretch!

Only 8km from Wassadougou I found roadworks, red dust found its way into everything, this continued for 30km. It was gruelling and I could help but thinking that Christophe had done the right thing to leave me at Wassadougou.  I turned the music up, sang along (Christophe used to whistle badly but he hadn't heard my singing which is always badly out of tune) and got on with the job of driving.  I entered the Niokolo Koba National Park which is split by this main road, and hoped to see the end soon.  Coming across a small two door car that had stopped in the opposite direction with a French lady in her fifties or so and I presume her elderly mother I asked when it would end.  She grunted at me and said, it's horrendous, it gets worse.  I hoped she was just in a bad mood and this wouldn't be the case.   The roadworks finished, I was on tarmac again for all of maybe a kilometre then the potholes started, in French they're called 'nids de poules' or chicken nests.  These weren't chicken nests but elephant sized nests and horrendous, I was averaging 10kph it was taking all my concentration to drive Franki through the best bits of the road.  The worrying part was that there was very little traffic, for an hour or so I didn't come across any traffic at all.  The only signs of life I saw were a few warthogs and some policemen happily asleep under a tree midway through the park.   Putting a possible breakdown situation to the back of my head, I slowly crept forward to Kedougou wondering if I'd make it by dusk.  I later told my friend Phil in Bamako about this stretch of road, he took it a few weeks later on a jakarta scooter and also suffered!

120km later, I made it to Mako and tarmac.  I was so happy, so filthy, thirsty and very hungry.  I decided to press onto Kedougou anyway as it was only 43km away and I was worried the road would change again.  It didn't, it was a smooth ride!  On the edge of Mako I noticed a lot of small boys, between maybe 8 and 15 years old all covered in mud.  I'd heard that this region has now turned into a mining goldfield with a lot of illegal and dangerous mines, the boys were obviously being exploited in the mines.  Walking along the side of the road, ragged clothes, barefoot and very muddy, life can't have been easy for them.  I crossed the Gambia River and pushed Franki eastbound.

Pulling into Kedougou, 512km from leaving Kaolack that morning I was elated to have made it. I drove around looking for somewhere to stay, I couldn't find the auberge I'd stayed in years ago.  Due to the mining activity, hotels were pricey, so I drove off to the 5* hotel in town, Relais de Kedougou and had a chat with the manager.  Negotiating him down from 5,000CFA, he agreed I could use a shower and stay in Franki in their car park for 2,000CFA or 3€.  The shower was pure bliss, the red earth was washed out of my hair, my ears and I scrubbed my very red face ... I felt normal once more.  I discovered the minibus that Christophe and I had seen earlier that day, it had been full of Spanish tourists who were staying at the hotel. Keeping to my agreement with the manager, I entered their restaurant, chose a table overlooking the river and thoroughly enjoyed a good meal.

It was Thursday 28th December, I was still on target to keep my promise to friends in Yamoussoukro, to spend New Years Eve with them ... but would I make it?

Gambia River crossing at Mako
River Gambia at Kedougou, from Relais de Kedougou

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