Trans Africa update - Senegal, Mali & Burkina Faso

Here is the next update from Nev & Kristy our crew running the Oasis Trans Africa expedition and a few members of the group of their tales and stories of their adventure.

SENEGAL – By Kristy….
Entering into Senegal we crossed a bridge. On that bridge was a stony faced man who demanded 5 euro for the privilege of passing. We politely questioned for what we were paying and requested a receipt. The price was immediately upped to 10 euro. This was the point at which the warning bells began ringing. But apparently we had our hearing aids turned down and thus failed to notice their metallic sound. We eventually paid and parked 50 metres further. I entered immigration with our 22 passports. The locals were all digging deep and handing over about a dollar worth of local currency for the privilege of Mr Immigrations red rubber stamp. He took one look at my stack and barked 10 euro. I sighed but agreed that there were 22 of us after all. And so I sat patiently whilst he grumbled and stamped, and locals pushed in, and he grumbled and stamped some more, and finally he was done. “10 euro” he snapped again as I bundled the passports together, “ok” I said, handing over the cash. But no, he wanted 10 Euro each! I made excuses and hurried back to the truck to find a commotion in full swing. One look at Nev’s reddened face said it all: despite everything that righteous person at the Senegalese embassy in Casablanca had protested, when she refused to issue visas as we were non-residents, and took our “is there an non-residents fee we can pay” to mean “you are trying to bribe me”, this was indeed a country rife with money grabbing corrupt officials. And they had set their sights on us. They were systematically tearing the truck apart – the tents were out, the kitchen was out, the tool boxes were out. Locals were loitering waiting for the opportunity to find something unattended. Inside they were ripping our bulk food out of its boxes, traveller’s bags out of their lockers, spare truck parts from their containers, and accusing us of importing with an intent to sell, and to not spend any money in Senegal. They demanded receipts for everything. It was pretty tense. But in the end what it all came down to, so one of the locals enlightened us, was cold hard cash. There was a reason the customs guy instigating this skulduggery was so well dressed. And this was his little charade to get us to cough up!

Eventually, after non directly purchasing three shiny new suits complete with loud shirts and pointy toed shoes, we were escorted to Saint Louis. The following morning we took the truck into town to change some cash and stock up on fresh produce. As we entered town we were stopped by traffic police manning a roundabout. They demanded to see the truck documents, and Nev produced them. There was nothing out of order, but the cop scanned them intently looking for fault to provoke a bribe. He pretended to find something out of order and began demanding payment. The previous day still bitter taste in Nev’s mouth, he cut the engine and sat out their demands. It took an hour, but they eventually admitted defeat and returned our documents.

Feeling a bit unwelcome, we got the hell out of Saint Louis and headed to Dakar. Here we found no hassles, only a bustling city and slow internet. After a quick look around and a restock of produce at the local markets we began the slow dusty journey to Mali.

MALI – By Katie….
We spent our first week in Mali driving along a very quiet dirt road, bush camping in beautiful locations, bathing in rivers, passing through small mud hut villages, chased by barefoot children waving and yelling. It was a great way to experience rural, non-touristy Mali at a relaxed pace. At one riverside campsite we were alarmed to discover fresh hippo tracks around our tents but none paid us a visit that night – or not that we saw. We stopped in a small town to food shop and parked up near the school. Within moments we were surrounded by children as the whole school came out to greet us. They all wanted us to take photos and there were plenty of scuffles as they jostled for prime position. When we showed them the photo they all fell about laughing before demanding us to take another…and another…and another. The teachers let them run wild for 10 minutes before they were all chased back into the classrooms by the bigger boys wielding sticks. It wasn’t enough to deter them as one by one they would slip out the open doorway and race back over for more photo fun. It was clear that there would be no more learning done until we had left!

We arrived in Bamako, the capital, in time to spend a week preparing, celebrating and recovering from Christmas. Our home for the week, the Sleeping Camel, was the perfect location for this purpose, with a bar serving cold beer and wifi for contacting home. Bamako also has a huge rabbit warren of a market and most of us decided that an outfit purchased here would be the perfect attire for our African Christmas. We all had plenty of fun selecting material, finding tailors and explaining what we wanted in our broken French. The days leading up to Christmas were an opportunity to experience the local nightlife that Mali is famous for. The music, dancing, drumming and beer drinking led to a few 6am finishes for some of our crew.

Christmas day dawned bright and sunny (as every day is in Mali) and we all donned our colourful outfits ready to start the festivities. Our great leader, Kristy had thought of everything – a mini Christmas tree, Santa hats for everyone, decorations for Truck, Secret Santa and of course a food extravaganza. We had a full English breakfast with banana pancakes in the morning, cheeses, crackers and dips in the afternoon, and the highlight – a huge pig on a spit with all the trimmings for Christmas dinner. The pig took all day to cook and we spent the time preparing food, eating, drinking punch and playing games. We all went to bed that night with very full bellies!

Mali was one of the highlights of the trip but there were also disappointments. Most of us followed FCO advice and did not go to what is arguably the highlight of West Africa – the Dogon valley. Some made their own way there but missed out on Christmas with the group. We also made our first attempt to obtain Nigerian visas and were denied even though we dressed up in our finest clothes and jumped through all the hoops – after the embassy had sat on the passports for a few days and we had phoned and visited several times we were told we could not possibly expect them to process 20 visa applications in such a short time – they would need at least 2 weeks. When we eventually obtained them in Ghana it was in a matter of days (for a fee of course).

Burkina Faso, six days, one New Year’s Eve party, waterfalls, village tours, local beer and crocodiles… amazing! In Bobo we pushed our way through throngs of people at the “Grand-Marche” where we did our food shopping. We paused to stock up on rehydration salts and then took a tour of the “old town”. The highlight of the old town was evidently the local brewery, where the millet beer is boiled in a big vat and then served up for visitors in big clay bowls. In the evening, people crush into a vehicle carrying double its capacity to head off to a local pub with live music.

Our New Year’s celebration was to take place at the Karfiguela Falls. The big plans include swimming in the falls and numerous games. The big party was nearly thwarted by a bridge that was out, making the road impassable for our big truck. The group we’re getting stressed in the back as Nev assesses our chances at navigating the detour made by the locals. It’s not going to happen; if we got stuck we’d be there for hours digging. Luckily, just in the nick of time a young guy on a motorbike arrives and swears he knows another way down to the campsite. So winding through sugar cane fields and dodging irrigation equipment we followed all the way to our destination. Happiness! We set into our shenanigans… two full days of fun. . There is of course a truck party; this included celebrating the arrival of the new year in every time zone from New Zealand to Vancouver. Others set off to a local village party. In one section of the village about 50 people were crowded around a 27″ television to watch a movie, in another section there was a full bar and dance party talking place! The mothers dance with babies on their backs and everyone in town wants to dance with us. We danced the night away to modern French music before rejoining the truck folk who were still playing, who can stay up all night?

Fancy an adventure? Find out more about our Trans Africa Expedition!

Look out for the next episode and many more tales and adventures to come from Africa soon!