Moto-cross Africa  
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On The Road...Niamey

On the morning we were due to leave Bamako, we checked the tyre pressures on the bikes and I noticed my rear rim had a crack in it – not great news. Further inspection showed stress and small cracks around quite a few spokes, including stressing on the front as well. We unpacked all the tents and gear again and with the wheel tucked under my arm, I jumped onto the back of Ed’s bike and we started searching for a replacement rim.

Having got briefly excited at one point, only to then see that the wheel in question was a 17 inch not an 18 (and with the wrong number of spokes) we finally gave up and the next morning I managed to order a new set of rims and spokes direct from the UK.

My family managed to arrange for the rims to be DHL-ed to Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina, about 1200km’s away. That meant that as long as the rims held up, I could ‘limp’ the bike on and we could get back on the road the next day.

Leaving Bamako on my birthday, we rode a few hundred kilometres East and stopped at Segou. We found a hotel with a pool, and stuck our tents up ‘round the back for a few pounds each a night.

The others were all due to do a slight detour North East to see the famous mud mosque of Djenna, but with some off-road and the extra milage I was planning to stay behind to rest my rims and meet up with the others the next day. As it happened, Linz wasn’t feeling great the next day so Dan 2 stayed too, as Dan 1 and Ed went on ahead.

The following day was a long but pleasant ride and we crossed the border into Burkina Faso (after waking the chief at the border post to stamp us out of Mali). That evening, when we met up with Dan and Ed again in Bobo, we realised that whilst Dan had been stamped into Burkina twice, I apparently wasn’t in the country. Our fault for not checking at the time, but at least we had relevant visas and hoped it wouldn’t cause a problem later on.

The plan was to spend a day or two relaxing around Bobo, so after having fixed another puncture on my bike, we hired some of the local mo-peds for the day, stepped into our protective bike gear (the locals rarely ever use any, it seems a pair of flip-flops will provide sufficient protection in a collision or fall) and set off to some springs 15k’s away for a swim.

Several hours, repeated breakdowns, a new engine ‘mount’ (a large spring) and two kilometres later, we decided it was time to turn around and towed the most recently broken mo-ped (Ed’s) back to town. With one machine too weak and flimsy to tow another, we ended up riding in a formation of 4, with a variety of arms linked and holding onto different parts of each others bikes, in order to get the bikes back along the bumpy dirt road. This was made even more difficult as Dan 2 could hardly see due to crying from laughter whilst we wobbled our way home. An unsuccessful but very amusing day.

Having given up on mo-peds for the time being, we left our luggage in Bobo and took a detour South West to Banfora. Near Banfora we visited the hippo lake, and took a pirogue out on the water to see them. Then, after some lunch (African chickens don’t have enough meat on them though!) we made our way through the sticky sugar cane road to the cascades (waterfalls). Although it wasn’t the rainy season; it was still worth the visit – see the photos sections for the views.

After our time in and around Bobo, we made our way to Burkina’s capital Ouagadougou (Wag-a-doo-goo). My rims hadn’t arrived as apparently the plane from Nigeria had broken down, but I was assured they would be at the airport on Monday.

On Monday, I was told that they hadn’t arrived and to come back on Wednesday. It seemed this wasn’t quite true, however, as after three hours, many offices, ten stamps, a few bribes and much bureaucracy later, I walked out with goods in hand. We then dashed to the wheel-lacer that we had lined up before hand (when we had asked Antone, who knew Thierry, who took us to Jean-Paul) and by 5pm, two complete wheel were ready for the bike.

About 25k’s before Ouaga(dougou) we stopped for the night near a lake of crocodiles. The hungry crocks are teased out of the water for our viewing pleasure before being ‘thrown to the lions’. There are no fences or cages, just a man with a stick to try and give them a tap if they get too close. Having each quickly done our Steve Irwin impressions by touching the croc’s tail, we took some more photos then walked the uncomfortably short distance back to our tents, hoping that the chickens were meaty enough for the scaly creatures.

In Ouaga we once again met up with Mikey, who’d detoured up to Timbuktu on his bike. After a day or so with us, he decided that his hangover had got the better of him and he was actually going to stay behind for a day whilst we went up to Gorom-gorom.

Gorom-gorom didn’t seem to be anything special, particularly as we’d missed the weekly market, but at least we’d been able to squeeze in 60k’s of piste each way (and a flat tyre for Dan 2 on his DRZ).

With the police checkpoint not questioning why I wasn’t stamped into his country (what is the point in checking my passport then!?) we continued our trek East along the edge of the Sahara towards the Niger border, only about 100km’s away. Although the road wasn’t a main road, we hadn’t realised just how basic the track would be.

The was no road, it wasn’t even piste (ie an obvious, if bumpy and rough mud/sand/dirt track), but instead just sandy ruts where some vehicles had passed before. By 3pm we were all knackered, had averaged a couple of tumbles each and decided it was best that we set up camp for the night somewhere between the crowd of villagers where the Burkina exit post was located (who checked me out of their country with no questions).

Stocked up on water, we waved goodbye to our audience the next morning and soon found the road got sandier and ruttier. Although the going was tough (particularly for Dan 1 and Linz, who were pretty much manually walking their bikes through the sand whilst astride them) I was glad to get onto some challenging roads as there has been so much tarmac all of the way so far, which I had expected to run out many countries before. The villages that we rode through felt genuinely remote, and some people seemed quite shocked to see us. The usual ‘cadeaux, cadeaux’ demands for sweets, money or pens had finally stopped, signalling that we were off the ‘tourist trail’ and that these people didn’t see many Europeans passing through. We stopped at one village to use their well and replenish our water supply, which also allowed us to have a break and cook up some pasta for lunch. I had my helmet camera on again and over the two days, took four hours of footage (although admitably half of that is trying to capture some of our falls)!

A full day, and 55k’s (about 30 miles) from where we had set out that morning, we rolled into a place called Tera. At one comedy moment, whilst trying to find the checkpoint to formally stamp us into Niger, 3 of the 5 of us (Linz, Dan 2 and myself) all had our bikes lying on the deck from sliding around too much in the deep soft sand.

Even though we were all knackered, we decided to move on the next morning to try and find a decent campsite in the capital, Niamey, to rest for a day or two. Ed and Linz both had slow front punctures from thorns on the tracks, so after some repairs we left the campsite in Tera for one which hopefully wouldn’t try to rip us off. We even managed to successfully evaded the deranged man from the night before, who we had tolerated until he started slurping from my drink and sticking his grubby fingers in Linz’s food.

An hour on the road later, and we had to stop again. Neither Ed’s nor Linz’s patches had help, so it was wheels off and roadside repairs, washed down with tinned fruit and corned beef goodness for lunch. We then made our way to the ferry crossing over the Niger River, leaving us about 80k’s from Niamey.

Once on the right side of the water, we rode on the road being mainly tarmac but with some potholes, dusty deviations, a shallow river to ride across and parts of piste. We had been through some soft sand, which has to be taken at speed, so Dan 2 and I were riding out ahead. We were going through a village at about 40km/h, and passed a large school playground on the left. After waving back at the kids, we were riding along next each other having just finished discussing the temptation to go and ride over to the kids, when Dan disappeared.

I dropped my bike and ran over to where Dan had fallen. The bike was upside down and Dan was lying on the old part of concrete that had once been the road, with the bike trapping him underneath. I lifted the bike up and Dan managed to free himself. Then Linz arrived followed by Dan 1 and Ed. The young boys playing football, along with the other villagers, formed an instant crowd. With Dan out of the hole, his arm was obviously broken, and the bike was somehow still dangling above the hole with half of it below ground level - having curled itself around the remaining concrete.

Luckily by this stage we were only about 10k’s from the capital, and a passing car was made available to take Dan and Linz to the hospital. With about half an hour of daylight left, the remaining three of us set about trying to retrieve Dan’s bike.

With the luggage cut off, we tied all of our straps and rope to it and hitched it up to a Toyota Landcruiser. With the bike in such an awkward position, the only tactic was to try and ‘pivot’ the bike out of the hole the way it went in, but inevitably this failed and the ropes merely helped to soften it’s ‘descent’ (fall) to the ground. From the bottom of the pit, the bike was manually hauled out by the villagers and then flipped back the right way up.

Having composed ourselves, a kind old man from the village offered us somewhere to stay. We gratefully gathered all of the scattered belongings and bikes and put them within his ‘fence’, with us camping next to his home on the football pitch that we had rode past about an hour earlier.

So at the moment we are grouped at a campsite in Niamey, with Dan in hospital nursing the two broken bones in his left arm. He was put under general anaesthetic whilst the bones were straightened and now has a nice big cast on his arm, which is held in a less than manly position (see photo).

His bike is rideable (well I rode it the few miles to the campsite anyway), but unfortunately Dan and Linz will stay behind in a day or two as we have to make a break for Nigeria before our visas expire.

With Dan in good spirits, we can only keep our fingers crossed and hope the bones start healing quickly. If everything is straightforward, the bones heal quickly and Dan and Linz manage to arrange transport to Cameroon to catch us up, then there would still be a chance they could make it to South Africa – if not they will miss the seasonal window and will have to rethink their plans for Africa.

 

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