Yay!!! The border crossing from Senegal to Mali is totally easy. No unpleasant people, no money required and all accomplished relatively quickly. Just how they should always be. And so, we are here in Mali, but it is much later than expected and the sun is setting fast. We have an unbelievably scruffy border town to traverse to get to the Kenieba Motel, and there is very little street lighting, lots of potholes, trucks & shanties. We have to stop & ask directions until we find it down a dirty side street. Open gates, huge parking area, people everywhere – a party is in progress. No choice but to go in as it is now pitch black. But all ends well, the party finishes, Tv’s turn down and we have a peaceful night for free.
We plan to get to Bamako tonight as we want to get to an overlander’s hotspot – The Sleeping Camel. But it is slow going with large sections of broken seal to carefully manoeuvre around and crashed or broken-down trucks and buses everywhere. The countryside had changed – there are huge escarpments & lush bush dotted with thatched villages. Mali is definitely one step poorer than Senegal. By late afternoon we are nearly in the big smoke. A storm rolls in producing massive puddles. I suggest the bypass of Kati (just before Bamako) and what a mistake. An appalling section of road. Oh well, at least it is Sunday night so the traffic through the city isn’t too bad. We find our way across town, across the massive Niger river & eventually to The Sleeping Camel. We had pictured camping inside a big enclosure with hopefully a few other overlanders. Sadly (for us) they have just relocated premises – have a great area with restaurant & pool, but no room for us inside. We have to park on the street – outside their razor wire edged walls with double security door entrance! There is a Polish 4x4 that has squeezed inside so we can chat to them, but the rest of the crowd seem to be UN people (Interesting fact – there are apparently 120,000 UN people on the ground in Mali – that is huge)
In the morning we taxi in to the city. First to visit the Congo Embassy to try to get visas – yes, we can, but at Aus$520, we decide to try elsewhere. Find an ATM that will actually spit out cash before taxing back to GR2. We decide to head out. For us Mali is really just a convenient route – we cannot explore the amazing mudbrick mosques further north, or go visit the fabled Timbuctoo – definitely off-limits at the moment. We find a spot at the Hotel Piedmont in Bougouni where we meet a group of people from World Bank. They are checking their “loan” money to Mali is spent wisely. Naturally they do not expect the loan to be repaid.
Another long driving day to reach the border. There is lots of cropping – cotton, corn, root vegetables & chillies. At Sikasso we meet another main road so traffic (mainly overloaded trucks) increases. We reach the border at 3pm and it is quiet and stress-free. Yay! Hello Cote d’Ivoire. We still have a few more hours of daylight so decide to carry on, but broken roads & a storm rolling in means that it is hard to see much by the time we reach Ouangolodouoa. Fortunately, we locate a hotel with a slushy carpark & settle there for the night.
Lots of road works today making it slow going. The villages look more substantial (compared to Mali) & there are crops everywhere. Corn, rice, root vegetables, millet, bananas, pawpaw’s, And there is a big Military presence – we are stopped 8 times. We stop to watch the local guys at their looms set under the trees. The cloth is very heavy & used as wraps. On through the city of Bouake where the streets are heaving with people & markets and eventually to the city of Yamoussoukro. Here the roads are 6 lanes wide & we can see the dome of the Notre Dame rising high in the sky. We head there first to catch it before it closes for the day – but we are too late. It is one hugely expensive white elephant in a poor country. Our book says it cost between US$400-600 million to build. Time to hunt down a place to stay – and we try a few, winding along wide boulevards that are totally broken up. Carparks are too small, or prices too high, so we end up outside Hotel Concord on the street. A surprisingly quiet night.
We decide not to wait for the cathedral to open but to hit the road. And what a road – smooth motorway practically all the way to Abidjan. Awesome! Of course, there are police to flag us down – most are friendly. Only one tries to fine us for speeding, claiming we are doing 74km/hr in a 60 area. All the signs say 120km/hr!
Now we are in the massive sprawling city of Abidjan – over 4.5mill people live here. Many in shanties clinging to the hillsides. The city is crammed on to a string of islands and once off the main road the traffic crawls along very slowly. Our first mission is to find a tyre shop recommended to us – well they prove unhelpful, second mission – a Sim. In the process we find a great supermarket to stock up with food, and finally a Sim. Lastly, we head to the Embassy of the Republic of Congo and yes, we can get visas today – expensive (but not quite as bad as in Bamako) By 4.30pm we head out of the city to the coastal area of Grand Bassam. We are heading to Chloe’s place – The Elephants Nest where Overlanders are welcome. Chloe is away until Saturday so we will stay put for a day, doing chores. Then after chatting we will cross to Ghana. Fingers crossed please!
Will take the opportunity to post this blog while we have Wifi.