One other rider and I head into town but the sand is so soft that it is almost impossible to keep forward progress so we abandon the idea. We’re stopped at the side of a sort of roundabout round a statue. My mate goes round but there is absolutely nobody around and it’s just a big sand pit so I nip back down the way I came. As I ride off back to the auberge, some scruffy scrote in baseball cap pulls along side on a battered little 125 and tries to indicate for me to pull over.I think he’s a salesman and continue on my way. He comes along side again and starts shouting ‘Police’. Uh oh.I pull over and he shows me his warrant card. Now, we decided last night that we cannot ride back along the road of death and destruction that we arrived by yesterday because it is too dangerous and we were very very lucky that nobody got hurt so we spoke to someone at the docks and we have chartered a boat to take the bikes 150 miles down the river to Mopti. We need to be at the docs shortly… ‘You come with me to police station’. Your gut starts to tighten and you see a big pear shape appearing. I feign innocence.I know what he’s telling me I’ve done trying to mitigate and think of a way out.I tell him in my finest French that 20 of us are catching a boat to Mopti in an hour. ‘You come with me to police station, NOW’. OK, I show his some money ‘I pay a fine yes?’. ‘No, it is very bad’. Ummmm, plan X.I ride away from the copper and catch up my mate who has stopped in the distance.Safety in numbers and more pressure on plod.Plod comes too and his is obviously getting frustrated because neither of us admit to speaking any French.I just try to look sorry and keep absolutely quiet, not replying to him at all. ‘You give me money’. YES, result. Group photo in Timbuktu and off to the docks.
The charter boat is a 90ft long traditional Mali river boat, sleek and narrow and shaped like a giant Sycamore leaf.It’s not exactly a ro-ro ferry though. The docks are chaos.Beggars, flies, food sellers all crawling all over you trying to extract cash. I’ve taken a couple of patience pills already because I thought this might happen but I think I’m becoming a bit of an addict and I need a bigger fix now. Dusty faces squint into the sun and push little hands upwards, people argue over prices, bustle becomes hustle, it’s flippin hot and I’m getting angry.
‘Loading’ means 5 or 6 youths lifting and manhandling the bikes over the side of the boat, through a small gap with the roof, then arranging it amongst the planks and poles.Bikes that 2 weeks ago were the owners pride and joy and now on their sides amongst the bilge water and detritus at the bottom of a Mali river boat.
Up early and out into the desert.South of here and there isn’t really much of anything for the next 6-700 miles. As we leave Tan Tan I cross the ‘Comfort Zone’ customs and see it disappearing in my mirrors.I feel like a free diver on the surface taking a last breath before diving into the depts. below. Out into the desert we go.The wind yesterday was just a taster for today.It is a pure, constant, fierce wind blowing straight across the road left to right. The road has been built across the desert and, like a scar it is trying to heal, the desert is trying to return it to its natural state. There are dunes on the left that want to get to their mates on the right. They’ve reached the edge of the road and are streaming across in the vicious wind.Imagine a pure flat waterfall. Change that water for fine sand.Turn that picture 90 degrees and repeat until the horizon. The Sirocco is powering this mass movement and it is mighty impressive. The road is only just visible in places and hidden under the rushing sand are drifts of very soft sand.My arse is busy transmitting SOS in UHF again. Two riders are off.One is up to his axle in soft sand off down the side of the road and another looses the back end and flips himself off.We stop to help and immediately the rider next to me is blown clean over in the wind. I’ve ridden in most conditions but this sandstorm is a new one on me. We’re causing a lorry jam so we put the bikes on their stands leaning into the wind when we recover our fallen colleagues. It is so windy you cannot hear the bloke next to you speaking. Very impressive.Deep Joy.
The wind doesn’t stop all day.By the end of the day my neck is half Tyson, half Tinkerbell.The Sahara here is seriously impressive. We’re only traveling around the edge and often close to the sea but you can’t see the water in this sandstorm.The sand gets everywhere.It’s even rubbing inside my helmet which is not good whichever way you look at it. We’re parallel to the cliff tops.They’re huge round slab like edges jut out over the water like giant coins on the precipice of the penny shove machine at the arcade.The water is way below and maybe has never tasted human skin. The desolation is incredible. Sometimes you chase the horizon for what seem like hours before coming upon any signs of life.I’ve ridden across the outback but this seems a lot more isolated somehow.
Every 100-150 miles there is a small town completewithobligatorypolice stop. The whole Western Sahara region is a disputed territory though frankly I can’t see why anyone should want it.Every police stop wants passport details, destination, marital status, number of kids, which insurance company you use, which supermarket your prefer etc etc. I’m getting really fed up with this. The last bloke is takes AGES.This really is taking the piss I think so I return the favor against the police station wall. We make a late stop at a fuel station with a cafe. Sitting drinking coffee, two chickens are tossing a coin to see who provides dinner.They both call ‘heads’ and both loose. Flapping around on the floor sans laughing gear.Someone has obviously ordered mixed grill as a nanny goat gets a very close shave and lies dying in the gutter. It’s a different world.
This is a diary of my 2007 trip from Southampton down to the mythical city of Timbuktu in Mali. A few weeks of sweating in the madness that is Africa. I’m afraid it’s more effluent than eloquent, but it gives me something to think about during the long hours alone inside my crash helmet. In my opinion, this diary is a little to self conscious. Last time when I went round the world I didn’t know anyone would read it so my mind was free to roam but this time it might be a little different. I think it gets better towards the end anyway, but if it all seems like a long loud fart, just look at the pictures.
Thanks must go to Nick Sanders for providing me with the opportunity for such an adventure. I went round the world with Nick in 2002 and ever since have been doing trips with him acting as guide/dogsbody/shepherd and it’s been a lot of fun.Thanks also to my friend Paul Blezard who is a motorcycling journalist and all round good bloke. He’s a gifted rider who can, in 99% of cases, including mine, get on somebody’s bike and ride it as well if not better than they can instantly. Paul took on some off road training before I left and whatever it taught my brain was probably the most useful thing I needed on this trip.Apologies for the photos…. When you’re leading a group of riders or running late and playing catch-up you have no if any chance to spend time taking shots of the beautiful scenery I saw. Most the shots are ‘grab and go’ so please be gentle! And… one of my cameras got nicked so there are a lot missing. And I know a lot of people travel, far and wide, up hill and down dale. I don’t ever mean to sound condescending so please forgive anything that comes across that way. I’ve left it how I wrote it at the time, and that may be when I was spaced out with no food and having had my life flash before my eyes… for the 10th time that day….Sooooo…. if you have half an hour to spare some time, then take a look.