Into the city

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.

We head off into the sunset and I pat my old iron horse to thank her for every powerful pulse that pushes me past this perpetual plain and onto another bed somewhere in the distance. We eventually reach the hotel and it appears they haven’t finished it yet. Sorry, that should read, ‘they haven’t finished demolishing it yet’. The place is on its last legs but any bed is good enough tonight.


Today the desolation continues on and on up to the Moroccan border with Mauritania. Again the Moroccan border guards seem to be experts in ‘Time and slow motion’ techniques..Tick..tock..tick..tock..TICK TOCK YOU GIIIIIIIIIIITTTTTT.Never use one pen/stamp/bloke when 10 will do. It’s like some sort of Fawlty Towers episode you’re featuring in.We get across just before it closes for the evening. There is a 6km section of unmade rocky and sandy piste road between Morocco and Mauritania and it is through a minefield so we’re warned to stay on the tracks.For once in their flippin lives the riders do as they are told. Loads of them come off in the soft sand sections and end up sweating and heaving at the Mauritanian border.

You can simulate a Mauritanian border quite easily in your back garden. First position your illiterate inbred cousin at the top of the garden path to ask a dozen useless stupid questions and fill out all your details on a form.Next, put an old garden shed 3 yards further down the garden. Place an old table in the shed and put worn lino on the walls. Get all the local dogs to decorate the border of the shed with perfect curly turds and as many piss stains as you can manage. I suggest using the shed as an open toilet for at least 2 months before opening for business. Next, sit in the shed and wait for punter. When 10 punters have arrived put the passport of the first punter at the bottom of the pile and process that of the last punter to arrive. Continue to randomly process passports between mandatory 5 minute breaks every 6 minutes. Make sure waiting punters see new punters queue jumping by including ‘pictures of the president’ in their docs, then wait until other punters find another suitable ‘picture of the president’ in their wallets before processing their passport immediately.Next, get a run down stable block and get your delinquent kids to charge 10 Euros to stamp your vehicle Carnet as you exit customs.I think it took about 3 hours to get through these borders so let that be your guide. This road wasn’t tarmac until very recently else we wouldn’t be here.The sand storms are particularly bad this year we’re told later and there are a lot of sand drifts across the roads.Riders drop like flies on this stuff.

We head for the only town nearby.Mauritania is a very sparkly populated and poor place and as we head into the ghetto in the dark we’re choked by the fumes and pelted with water and stones by the kids.The campsite is way around out the ghetto and we collapse into tents patrolled by rabid dogs.There is definitely a different atmosphere here and I don’t like it at all.

Up to find that at least everyone has arrived safely and run the gauntlet successfully.We’re going to It’s over 300 miles away down a new road across the Mauritanian Sahara. We’re told there are no petrol stations enroute which is fantastic news. Plan A was to build the road. Plan Z was to do the infrastructure. We’ve not left plan A yet. Heading off into the desert here is almost complete isolation.It’s like a wave of humanity has been getting thinner and thinner these last few days and now it’s virtually petering out.There seems no reason at all. There is nothing here, nothing at all. At least you think there isn’t but every now and then there are little groups of tents.Fledging ‘Service Stations’ for the new road.One of them has ‘Restaurant’ written on it. We stop to look.We’re in the middle of the Sahara during a sandstorm, but there is a tent to shelter from the wind, and soft mats to lye on.It’s almost surreal as you lye there and the wind buffets and rattles the tent around you.There is a big group that wants to try the menu so another nanny goat is slaughtered and the head bought in to confirm the death. I check it’s pulse and it’s definitely sans heartbeat. I know the wait will be ages for it to drip dry, be skinned and then cooked so I’m on my way into the storm again.

All day at 50mph to save fuel across this wilderness. It is the most soul destroying, boring, mind numbing day I’ve ever ridden in my life.The visibility is so bad most the day that it is like riding over a big blank piece of paper. See that scene in the matrix where where they stand in complete white waiting for the guns, it’s like that out here today in the sandstorm. As the wind drops later we start to come across other riders out of fuel and waiting for the back up truck. They’re probably still chewing rank goat and won’t turn up for hours.

Eventually we get close to Nouakchott.The wind subsides and signs of life begin to appear. This is the capital but it’s only worthy of a small c. It’s all low level buildings and mess. No signs, few lights, no nothing of anything much really here on the outskirts. Find the auberge and slump into a bed after a disgusting dogburger and soggy fries.

43wPreparation day. Get the tyres changed today for some off-road styley knobblies. This place is poor.Very very poor indeed.Even the flies beg at the roadside.We select the nearest tyre changer by virtue of him being right across the road. They’re more ‘Fuck-Wit’ than ‘Quick-Fit’ though. They pull, push, grunt and groan with bent spoons and a big hammer to change the tyres.My front tyre is changed by the sorcerers apprentice and he scratches and mauls his way through the procedure like a retarded cabbage brained twot. He seems more interested in the contents of his nose than fitting my tyre. I help him out by grabbing two 6ft scaffolding poles and driving them one up each nostril with a HUGE hammer.He’ll never generate enough snot to clog those up. He’ll also not be able to small his own stench and will be able to smell trouble coming long before any of his mates. He’ll thank me later.


We have to decide where we go from here today. Which way we go, or in fact whether we go to Timbuktu at all. We hear lots of stories of bandits and generally bad sorts. Some people talk of threats to kill tourists to the city. I’m not usually worried by these things but the group mentality can take over if a lot of people are agitated and can drag you down into it. So today I’m shitting bricks.That has something to do with my new diet (Concrete for breakfast, a cement shake for lunch and a Blue Circle happy meal for tea + as many Loctite and Araldite ‘Lite’ bars as I want) and something to do with a fear of the unknown. The place feels quite threatening and every time you open your wallet you’re surrounded by salivating locals.They’re probably looking at a few months wages easily and you can imagine the temptation. I’m guessing it’ll only get worse. The shitting bricks thing has it’s advantages though. Tonight I built myself a small but compact bungalow complete with terrace, en-suite, brick paved driveway and double garage for the bike.Smells none to pleasant and I’m not a fan of the brown decor but needs must I guess. Phone home from a landline and speak to the family. I just want to climb down the line and back to the comfort and security of my abode

45wThe driving around here is pretty shocking. The cars go from the new and shiny to the more usual MOT-Super-Failure. Most of them don’t have any lights. That’s not that their lights don’t work you understand, it’s that they actually don’t have any lights period. If they can move then they’re roadworthy. Indicators are a ¬£500 optional extra it seems. I used mine once today and immediately drew a crowd of 500 youngsters, old folk, the army and the chief of police. It was like they were watching a firework display with lots of ‘Ohhhhhh’ and ‘Arrrrrrrs’. They also seem to use the old French system of always give way to the right everywhere. Flippin scary.

Into and through the city.There are thick blankets of rubbishstrewn absolutely everywhere.I see what looks like a dustbin lorry going along but I cannot make out whether it is picking stuff up or chucking stuff out.The air is thick with fumes and noise. The weapon of choice round here is the 190E Merc diesel. They’re everywhere and appear to be able to run with just 3 wheels and a horn, anything more is a luxury. Out of the city and the landscape is changing a lot. Initially lovely dunes of intermingled red and white sand turns to savannah-esque land with trees and bushes. Later we even see standing water as we head towards Mali.

The intimidation I felt earlier is repeated in towns we pass through. Kids throwing stones or hitting the bikes with sticks. I think Mauritania is a strict Muslim country and appears very anti-western or maybe anti-american to this observer anyway. I’ve had people think we are yanks (of all the insults!) and so maybe that’s why they are acting this way.You even see old women shaking their fists at you or old men trying to hit you with spit. Out in the desert again and it’s a bush camp for the night. Not a happy bunny today!

Out the tent and on the road. Lovely hazy sunrise over the mountains sees cattle on the way to graze.


West again across the ever changing land.It’s like you’re being presented with a constant stream of options from a landscape menu.Flat, mountains, green, red, sandy, bush, everything.Cattle are living quite happily along here, except for the ones lying in different states of decay along the roadside. I smell one recently deceased example and then see a dog run out from inside the carcass.Nose covered in blood and licking its lips after its breakfast.Not something you see in Basingstoke. Riding round here has lots of potential perils. Herds of goats are the biggest threat, then donkeys, cattle and biggest of all the camels. Camels seem completely incapable of making any sort of a decision in a hurry. They just dither like someone you meet on the stairs and you’re never sure whether to go left, right, or underneath.

Luckily my patience has arrived and it is good stuff. One dose of that and nothing can touch you.The Dakar is bleeding the infrastructure dry. Most of the petrol stations are dry. Stations that actually have essence are rarer than ice sculptures round here at the moment.I sat for about 5 hours in petrol stations today, waiting and waiting, not a twitch.. not even a flicker. The only down side of these pills is a constant urge to pray. That’s fine when you’re stationary but putting your hands together and closing your eyes whilst riding at 70mph frequently results in extra animal luggage appearing.I got my own full life size Camel pack this afternoon whilst in the middle of one particularly long prayer, which was nice.

The roads get worse as we head west.The potholes are getting more and more frequent and much much bigger. Some if the bastards are so large that they have their own communities complete with hospitals, international airports and visa controls. Some of the biggest have their own eco systems. I think the next series of Planet Earth is due to be filmed in one.Some of the roads today are only 30% road and 70% holes ,worse than some I’ve been on in India and that’s saying something. It’s a flippin nightmare and the poor old bike is taking a pounding. I really feel for the old girl and hope she can make it all the way.


We roll into some town where the Dakar is parking up for the night. It’s a complete circus.We’re directed out into the wilderness to camp. Driving on this deep soft sand is OK if you have a megg souped up hyper developed 6 wheel drive uberrocket with tyres like an aircraft and 1000 turbo horsepower.On a motorbike carrying too much luggage with a shit scared under skilled pilot on board it is always a nanosecond from disaster and a burnt out clutch. My backside is clamped tighter than a submarine door. All the dogs have their paws in their ears and I shatter every window I pass. Some family is turfed out their house so we can sleep on the floor.

As I sit here there is a goat dripping from it’s neck just outside the door, being skinned for dinner. You can hear the Dakar boys tearing around practicing for tomorrow outside.

I start today with a Positive Mental Attitude. I’m absolutely positive I’m mental. My bike is up to the rims in soft sand. I’ve spent the night in a house made of shit, even my dirt has dirt on it now.I can be smelt from North America and I’ve got spots in danger of causing an international NBC alert if they go off in a public area..They’re sending in a bomb squad tonight to perform some controlled explosions on them.

The Dakar bivi is a few 100 yards up a sand track from where we are. As we chomp through some bread and jam we watch the riders make their way down to the main road and to the stage start. They’re conserving fuel and they’re apparently satellite monitored so not allowed to speed but they’re cruising past nonchalantly through the sand. Stood up and some waving as they drift through the ruts at about 50mph. It just looks too easy when it’s done perfectly. One of the Italian riders pulls up against the fence and asks if we have seen any fuel for sale locally as he is running low. I give him my spare can , I hope I won’t regret that , and he puts it in then pulls a big rooster tail in the air and drifts away from the fence like a big powerful speedboat leaving a jetty.

We burn, bump, push and shove our way out onto the main road and get moving.We’re embedded in the flow of Dakar traffic off to todays start. We’re riding alongside the riders at a cruise.All the trucks are here too like big metal mothers tending their young.

Later we’re riding alone quite merrily.The people look different, the signs look different, the country looks different… er it looks like different because we’re in a different country. Shaggafuggingbollocks. We’ve crossed not one but two borders without stopping and driven 40 miles inside Mali. The border people go into the Dakar bivi the night before and get all the stuff done then trucks and bikes etc are all waved through all the borders.The border itself is just a small shitty brown hut so it’s easily missed. We drive through both the wrong way again and go through the Mauritanian border fine.After all this hastle the Mali border still doesn’t want to know. ARHHHHHHHHHHHH. We’re off again.There has been a multiple donkey pileup on the road. One has obviously cut the other up and one cart has rolled. They’re busy trying to extricate a horizontal donkey from the wreckage.His feet are still kicking so I hope he’s OK but it might just be like spinning wheels on an overturned car. Get to the first town in Mali and get our first experience of Mali mobbing by the kids at the petrol station.


We’ve got to turn left to Bamako but as usual, it’s not that simple. First you have to go to the police station to get the passport stamped then round to the customs office via rough unmade streets complete with hot and cold running sewerage to get the Carnets for the bikes stamped.

Back to the police station then back into town for insurance. It’s going to take 2 hours at least for insurance so we’re going nowhere tonight and have to hole up. ‘Hole’ being the operative word. I look at the GPS screen as we pull in and it’s showing a huge steaming turd next to a hole, and it’s not wrong.This place is without doubt the worst, shittyest, filthiest, most squalid place I have ever got horizontal in. It is ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTING.It is not one star, it’s not even the tip of one star, it’s not even an Sssss. The ‘rooms’ are like cells only worse. Grubby piece of Lino over 70 % of a rough concrete floor. No windows, no beds, no nothing except a single 10 watt bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. Someone makes the mistake of plugging in a phone charger and it blows all the electrics for the whole place. The ‘showers’. Open completely to the left, right, and top. A shower is a public viewing experience but I don’t care. I walk into the shower and there is someone in there, taking a piss. It’s not a case of ‘do you piss in the shower’ but more a case of ‘do you shower in the piss’. The place absolutely stinks of crap and urine. The hole in the floor just goes to an open piss/crap/water pit and HUGE cockroaches emerge and disappear to and from it on regular occasions, all bloated and supersized on a constant diet of human waste. Very very quick cold shower and sit to wait, and wait, and wait for dinner.When it finally appears it looks like a certain candidate for a bad case of MaximusVersuviusGravyarseEruptus and I don’t touch it. We’ve got one bloke in a seriously bad way gut wise already and I don’t want to be ‘No.2’.Just eat some more bread. All I’ve eaten lately is bread, bread and more bread. A legacy of the French colonial occupation is the bread. It’s everywhere.There are more baguettes down here than you could shake a French stick at.

Slept out in the open on the concrete last night cos it was about the cleanest place I could find.I seem to have been a KFC meal for 1000 mosquitoes in the night though. We’re off… No wait.. we’re not.As usual there is a problem.On of the BMW GSs has a broken ignition wire and it won’t start. The rider has made a Heath Robinson fix to it in the past and he’s fucking about unwinding 30 miles of insulation tape in order to attend to it. The backup truck driver isn’t having any of that and immediately cuts through all the ignition wires and has it hotwired in an instant. 5 mins and we’re off again at last.

The ‘road’ to Bamako from here is shown on the maps as ‘under construction’. The first 10 miles is twisting hilly piste, loose and scary. Then we meet some newly constructed road. The top scrapings are new and loose but it’s flat at wide.Then it gets even better. For 100 miles we think ‘game on’, how lucky is that and hurtle down the tarmac towards out destination dreaming of an early finish and a relaxing evening.Trouble is, Bamako is 300 miles away.At 105 miles the road stops and turns back to piste.This piste is severely corrugated and is like riding over a washboard. It shakes the bikes to pieces.You need to go fast, at least 40-50, but the surface is loose and there are sand traps everywhere so maybe that’s not a good idea. Riding at anything less than 40 on this is like being upended by the timpani drummer and having him play a ‘bum roll’ on your arse with two 6lb lump hammers. Standing up is even more scary but it seems the only way.

I’m trying to find a smooth area near the left hand edge of the road. One wrong move, just one wrong move, that’s all it would take… err… takes… err.. took.I was suddenly in the real rough stuff on the left off the edge of the road. Still doing about 30-40 and swinging the rear round like the tail of a very happy dog.Not the quick wag of a small dog mind, but the slow slow way of a big big dog. Left, right,.. Oh my god.I’m heading for dense rough and there are HUGE lumps and bumps everywhere in the sand.I’ve talked to the engine room and they say abandon.I talk to the bridge and they say we’re going down, I’ve pulled back the cover of the eject button, the quiet rush of air connected with the inevitable free flight from the bike starts to build up then suddenly all is calm again and we’re pointing in the right direction and even still moving. I think all the planets plus the moon and sun aligned precisely at that moment and awarded me a ‘gimme’, I can’t think of any other reasonable explanation. I don’t think my bowel will ever open again. I’m following someone quite calmly when I’m overtaken at speed by another rider.The dust is horrendous and visibility is nil beneath the wheels.He hits a bump, then another bigger bump, then the mother bump and he’s Superman. He’s got hold of the handlebars but that’s about it. He lands flat on the bike and it’s all over.When the dust settles there is a downed BMW and rider. The frame is broken, snapped at the gearbox. Bugger. He’s a lucky boy though cos it’s a long way from anywhere here.


The drivers round here are absolutely bonkers. They have a bit of a reputation for death on the roads. The ‘taxi’ services are old Merc vans that seem to have had all suspension removed.They hurtle over the corrugations like complete maniacs with complete disregard for anyone else.We’re also overtaken by battered old coaches too.All the people are leaning out the windows waving and screaming. For all I know they may be creaming for their lives but we just wave them by. Every time you stop you’re mobbed. Personal space seems to have had the ‘space’ removed and it’s all got ‘personal’.The kids throng around you and start pressing buttons and pulling luggage but at least there isn’t the threatening atmosphere here like in Mauritania. There is no space anywhere here though. It’s people soup. God only knows what it’s like Christmas shopping round here.


As for crowd control.We saw one petrol pump attendant chase off the kids with a 6ft piece of hydraulic hose. It’s dog eat dog out here. Get to Bamako late.It’s dark, it’s smelly, it’s tight with traffic and it’s hot. What a flippin hole.The air is almost solid with fumes. I go to look for a bottle of fresh air but it’s only for the super rich round here I think..I stop a taxi to direct us to the auberge. He takes us across town to the wrong one because he is incompetent/illiterate/having a laugh. I’m unimpressed to say the least. No fucking about this time. I grab the driver, ram his arse over the exhaust and bang him right on with my biggest twatting hammer. Start the bike and give it a large handful of throttle and fire the nobber off the end like a mortar. Lovely noise. It’s left a bit of a stain in the silencer though. Get another driver to direct us through the chaos including going ‘on’ a dual carriageway using the ‘off’ ramp, which was nice, as near death experiences go.Get to the auberge and pay driver 2.57wDriver 1 arrives and wants money.Christ knows why he is here. If he knew where it was why didn’t he bring us here in the first place.There is ‘a bit of an argument officer’ and so I pay him to avoid a lynching. I saw one bloke butter our breakfast baguette this morning with a 12 inch killing/maiming/scaring the shit out of/ skinning knife this morning. These blokes don’t mess around. Sleep in nets under a big Libyan tent

OK I’ve got to get native. I’m getting impressively smelly now. I am quite proud of it actually. Even though we shower..sometimes…the layer of film on my body seems impervious to it and you end up dirtier than you started. I’m going to have to enjoy the experience. The fashionable scent for the boys seems to be ‘eau de crusty crack’ but that’s a bit inconvenient for riding a bike. Having a bum with a thin hard layer of poo would be like riding sitting on an Easter egg which could crack and fracture at any moment and stab you with a sharp shard.I’ve gone for a big ‘smear on’ container of ‘Potent Pit’. It’s easy to find out here. Just locate a dense cloud of flies, hold your breath and dive right in, there is bound to be a Potent Pit seller located in the middle. I feel like PigPen as I ride along with my little squadron of flies and insects.

Out of Bamako towards Timbuktu in the distance. This is proper Africa as I think of it. Beautiful plains with low trees.Women heavily laden with fruit and veg on their heads wandering round. Mud huts and houses, the most basic of everything everywhere. Donkeys and carts, big cattle, big skies, browns, greens, blues, yellows, blacks.Basic colours give such a beautiful contrast against the scenery.Kids run round covered in dust.The only clean bits are their eyeballs sitting clear in their little dirty faces. A lot of them speak frighteningly good English too. We end up today in Segou right on the banks of the massive Niger river. We’re accosted immediately as usual by scruffy street kids looking at the bikes. This place is a lot more touristy than all the other places we have been. The kids come to chat and speak to us in fluent English. This is the middle of Mali and the 12 year olds speak more clearly and eloquently than some of the scrotes my little lad brings home for tea. How sad is that. They’re all offering to clean the bikes or wash our clothes, poor little buggers. Do they know how much it has cost us to make them this dirty? I wouldn’t want them to know though. Our wealth is absolutely obscene against theirs. Wander down to the jetty to try and take some pictures. The kids all want to see themselves on camera and it’s impossible to take any pictures without them in, so I take pics of the kids instead as the sun bounces off the river then falls below the horizon.



Wait for dinner at a restaurant by the river amongst the mozzies and fleas.The place is crawling with women of the night who for a small consideration will no doubt enroll you in the ‘Mali High Club’.Some of them are seriously young, illegally young I would say. It’s very sad but I guess that’s life around here.

Today is a brown day. I’ve seen every shade on the landscape, the animals and the fauna. The kids are fishing in the Niger with weird conical nets. Big horned cattle are bathing in clay blue brown pools of water, the ground is swollen with fields of pumpkin like vegetables fed by the Niger river delta. I really should look where I’m going. I’ve missed my turn and I’ve led a load of the riders astray. Bollocks, never mind eh, the sun is out, the heat is on and the roads are dry. As long as can avoid the clouds of thick black smoke being belched out from the trucks. I’m sure it’s turning me Negroid from the inside out. You can easily forget where you are though and get a bit ahead of yourself. Driving at 60-65 is asking for danger. A goat runs out followed closely but its kid, followed even more closely by my front wheel. FAAAARK that was close. My bike can do without a little goatee thanks very much.. We’re getting nearer and nearer to our destination. See those perspective shots of roads where they taper off to a point into the distance, well it feels like I’m on a road like that. The roads are getting thinner and smaller every day as they point towards Timbuktu.I’m really happy that I didn’t give up earlier and turn around though.

We end the day in Douenza which is like a trading post in the middle of absolutely nowhere.The accommodation is another concrete room and smelly bed.No food, no nothing.We’ve regularly been buying cans of stuff where possible then eating out tins like allycats in the evenings. Anyway, in Douenza, all the petrol pumps … well the pump … well all the bottles of essence are gone in town. A bloke near the empty essence bottle seller offers to get on the back and direct me to Mr Essence who still has some hidden in his socks. Now I did try to explain that getting on the back of my bike to go through soft sandy streets in the pitch dark was like offering to let a 3 year old scratch a sketch in the front of your speedos with a scalpel. He wasn’t put off, jumped on and off we went into the bowels of the dusty dark ghetto.Mr Essence has an old glass gravity pump and a drum of fuel and is charging 4 times the going rate to desperate bikers like us.Still cheaper than England though, just.

OK, today is the day. It’s T day at last. The final push. Out into the ghetto where we sit and eat omelets at the roadside with coffee from a steaming bucket.God only knows what effect this will have but I’ve not eaten a hot meal for days, maybe a week or more, and sometimes desire and hunger win over common sense. The road to Timbuktu. Road, well, not really. 200kms doesn’t sound much. 200kms doesn’t take long. 200kms it turns out gives the worst, most spine tingly scary, abhorrent and nightmareish riding day of my life. We start out over easy piste.Life is good.The world is waking and beautiful morning light is illuminating the mountains we go through at the start. This piste only flatter to deceive. It is absolutely impossible to describe the conditions or the ride today. The road is very very heavily corrugated and the corrugations are very high frequency. The top surface varies from loose to lost. It twists and turns and dips and climbs and is punctuated by random sand traps, some very very large, and many frequently just over the brows of the hills. It is absolutely positively leathal. 90% of the riders come off today. Some, like myself, more than once. First one was chucking the bike to one side in a sand drift to avoid another rider that just bottled out and stopped. The 2nd more serious one was when I had to divert at speed to avoid another rider slowing directly in front. You can’t slow down, you can’t brake because the surface is loose and ABS just means you go straight on, you just have to hold on and pray. Anyway, 2nd time I took a diversion straight into a big sand drift at an angle. One second later and I’m 20ft or more from the bike .It’s dug right in, engine running and horn jammed on. My shoulder is a bit wankered and we’re not even half way yet.It goes on and on and on. My sphincter muscles have had it. They’re as loose as a 100 year olds, overworked on a day of 1000 scares. I’ve had more moments and near death experiences today than I’ve had in my entire riding all together.If I’d have had a ‘one use only’ beam me up Scotty button I would have used it today. If I had two wishes, I’d use one not to have to ride that road again, ever. Finally, after 135 miles the road peters out to a big sandy spit from where the Timbuktu ferry departs. I drop my bike one more time in the deep sand for luck.



80wThe little spit sits alongside the mighty Niger river. Big, wide, quiet slow and calm in the evening light. There are several families living here in their little tents and there are feral kids everywhere, all wanting money as usual, and their pictures taken.We watch the kids fighting/playing and bathing in the river and watch their wet shiny ebony faces shine as the sun sets. The ferry arrives just after dark and we cross the river by moonlight. Takes an hour as the river is 3 miles wide at this point.



Off and another 10 miles to another hovel on the edge of Timbuktu. So we’ve made it, we’re here, what do we do now. I’m feeling like the free diver that has reached the bottom and can head back slowly to the surface for air.Lovely. Homewood bound tomorrow.

This place is a bit of a disappointment really. We do not have time to get to the old part of town and I’m sure that it is a lot better than the outskirts, just like any town really.

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