In Accra, you go deep.
Sunday 19th of April Next Door on Accra beach road, Pipona tells me her latest dream. The night saw another bout of violent rains, they're coming in more frequently now. Time to pack. The Land Rover has a virtually new engine. Will it hold? This is the start of what I term the Legendary Journey. I feel an urge to go home. Fatigue. African tiredness. After more then 3 years. I need change. And - I miss my boys.
Sunday, church day, colourful all day services. Out of Accra now, north, towards Lake Volta Region. Kapandu, Tilapia (wiki) and Jolof (comes from Senegalese Wolof suppose) rice, further north. After dark we descend on to the quiet of the village of Abotoase, the cool breeze right near the shores of Lake Volta (wiki), the sound of millions of toads encompasses, from further away drums and men chanting in trance. I fall asleep. Days and nights in Africa now are numbered.
Morning is soft, sweet, calm. Children fetch water from lake, way too heavy the load for the youngest. There is no coffee in town. No breakfast. No coffee and omelette culture in Ghana. What's the correct spelling of omelet/omelette anyway? We move on out into Togo.
Togo and Danyi Plateaux region.
Togo is pleasant, clean, the land wild of lilies, we enter at Badou, but is still hard to find coffee and an omelette. South over the Danyi Plateau, the track leads higher and higher up to 900m of altitude. Lush green, misty, plantations. Just before the sun sets the skies open up their evening blue. The village of Dzogbegan, walls shine yellow, a church, a bit away a bell tower, a palm tree, school children on way home, all super relaxed and meticulously clean.
Arrive in Kpalime in complete darkness. No lights. Power failure. Togo (wiki), small poor country, former home of Africa's longest sitting dictator (Gnassingbé Eyadéma 38 years), now his son Faure Gnassingbé is in power. Days before there was a gun fight between rivaling fractions of the military supporting either him or his brother Kpatcha Gnassingbé. Such is the situation, corrupt and fraudulent, a history of violence.
This is what I feel. People are lethargic, in the why-bother-working-if-someone-will-come-and-take-it-away-anyway-from-me mood. We are back in a country where many, from kid to 30 year old man and 50 year old woman ask for cadeau and money. Sometimes it bursts out 30 voices at once: cadeau, no aggressiveness, a lot of joking and smiling, no self-respect either.
The 3rd day in the legendary journey, swift, a drive through on Lome, capital of Togo. One capital in Africa that respects its beautiful beach front, several kilometres of palms and beach bars. A true ocean drive.
It's the legendary journey, I am not relaxed, breath is stressed, the heart hurts, my stomach cramps and this is only to become worth the farther I move away, to the east. Only one or two more days, maybe, I ponder. Then the pain should go away.
Afternoon Aneho, the Oasis Hotel. Lagoon view, nice food. Though my mattress is hung through, an onslaught by the mossies and no mosquito net force me to sweat under the soaked sheets, later the ventilation stops, blackout, a huge thunderstorm is brewing up outside, outside where it's pitch dark, the skies rumbling, bending the huge palm trees, I crawl out, need shut all windows of the Land Rover while the storm casts its coconuts after me.
As usual morning is quiet, only filter coffee on offer, no nescafe, very suspicious, hesitantly I accept filter coffee, - and surprise it is excellent. And I think, some Africans know so well how to run a restaurant, so many others are so complacent.
Another border Benin, Grand Popo. Saveurs d'Afrique, restaurant for great food (Toulouse sausages and mash), a walk on the beach, this evening has its colours play out. I meet Pipona - again.
Why did we have to come here? Feel the energy, the ocean, let the elements speak to us. One more time for the last time touch the sand, the stones, the shells, rounded, shaped by years of tidal moves, connect and listen to the universe, the message that is out there.
And the gentle breeze gives away a faint whisper: Don't be foolish, don't fight it, don't run off to the jungle with a Yorouba (wiki) priest, don't die in Africa. If you love me then follow me.
The last night on the coast. What a sunset? Such a worthy good bye from the Atlantic ocean. An arduous journey lies ahead.
Past Cotonou, turning north.
We ride together into Cotonou, the point to turn around. Repairs on the Landy.
Capital of Benin (wiki) Cotonou seems a lot larger than Lome, a lot busier/congested/developed in a way, its population more content. No one ever asks for the so famous present here. I wish we could stay.
Only some kilometres from the Nigerian border we turn north, Nigeria and Lagos not this time. A long way home has commenced. The pressure fades.
Porto-Novo to Abomey, further, this is driving, the back tank leaks, did not know that, have not filled it up for a long time, so rather drive than waste fuel, I want to go home anyway. It's driving me, at day and night. But landscape is green, the night past Dassa-Zoume and Saralou we catch rain again, rain all morning, but nescafe and an omelette in the typical outdoor marquis.
Ripe mangoes feed while we advance on Djougou and Natingou. Goats cheese in Natingou is orange, famous, not of much taste, misses the salt, rubbery, there is not much of a cheese tradition in Africa.
Natingou is still green, sub-tropical, we turn east, Pehonko, night falls. On dirt roads north for another 130km to Banikoara. In the morning Sahel and dusty millet fields are back. Always perplexed how quick the transition really is.
Niger National Park, northern Benin.
Months ago I was kicking the dust not far from here, some 50km maybe, west over the border in Burkina Faso, the same park there is called W National Park.
It's nice to be back, we attempt crossing where probably not another vehicle has crossed this year. Banikoara north, enter the park at Founogo, last village and then just north some 100km of scrub, far away from all civilisation, very quiet, few animals, some large antelopes, some baboons from far and one shy cat fleeing, no cheetah, no leopard, rather smaller, so fast. Always take care of the Landy, an accident here can be fatal, no wasting of tires, if we brake down we would maybe have to walk out, nobody would come and look for us, little survival in these arid, hot conditions of savanna and acacia.
The solitude asks for respect and cleverness and very careful driving, there are no settlements, ranger posts in the park. Larger predatory animals, we never see them but better assume they're here. 5 hours of prudent driving take all my adrenalin. 5 hours for 90km.
Past 8 at night we arrive in Malanville (border to Niger/Niger river bridge), customs doesn't work nights. This is Saturday the 25th of April 7th day into the legendary journey, end of the 3rd country. Does anyone wonder how Malanville made it to give its name to this very page?
Niamey and Niger.
The heat is up quickly in the day, rises to 48°C, 120°F and a lot more just above the ground in the sun early afternoon. Skies are dim, hung over, harmattan is back. 5 hours drive to Niamey, capital of Niger (wiki).
Hotel du Sahel, beers, stones on terrace are baking, view on river, hundreds of children play. Later terrace Piscine Olympic, diffused sunset over the big stream, more beers, don't move cause air stands still, heat still rises from the char coaled asphalt. You need an AC room at night.
Niamey is sleepy and lively, extremely poor and posh at the same time. It is all catering to NGOs, the Grand Hotel, the terrace after dark, pleasantly overlooking the Niger River, no one steps out of his AC room during daylight into the blistering heat, a band of African and desert musicians, but on all tables nearly whites only. There's good food in the African Restaurant Watta, captain fish from the river cooked in sauce arachide (ground nut) and Niawa, local small aubergines (eggplant).
After all these months, at the coast, under the constant onslaught of Christian hymn singing and evangelising, in Niamey we are back in a mainly Muslim country, Islam of the sahel type, an open faith. Islam in sahel is old, relaxed, no other religion seems to capture the bond with the hot arid hostile land better.
But here in Niamey with Islam it seems also much begging is back, at the junctions, the cripples, the blind, reciting Allah. None of that we encountered in Benin. One pillar of Islam is that the wealthy are obliged to give, it seems it enables the poor to bail out of society without bad conscience. Meditate, recite the Koran, and beg with some coolness attached, expose holiness, superiority, elitism, the scarve wrapped in a fashionable manner, mirrored replica Ray Ban. Look at me, I am holy, I am poor, give me.
Is it really the only choice some have? As opposed to working, like rearing goats, helping on market, driving a taxi? For some - maybe it is the only choice.
The road Niamey to Gao has some bad not so old stories attached to it. 5 months ago near the border two Canadian diplomats were abducted near Tilaberi, by - yes who knows really, simple bandits, Tuareg rebel fractions, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magrib? Main stream news media will always tell you it is Al-Qaeda - yes who knows - captured by bandits, sold on? Another group of tourists was taken hostage around about the same time while coming from a music/nomadic cultural festival in Niger/Mali borderland 400-500km east of Gao, no-mans land, Sahara, dunes. Since then, or rather for a while, the border crossing Niamey to Gao has not seen many foreign tourists/travelers passing through.
We come to Niamey and the news is actually quit good, 4 hostages released, government in peace talks with Tuareg fractions, elsewhere the military convoy to Agadez has stopped, traffic is free again. Still some more hostages remain in captivity, - well, have to understand this is to assure positive outcomes in gov. negotiations, I am told.
So we risk/dare going through. But pay attention as one police says, what ever that means? We are foreign passengers number 9 and 10 so-far this year crossing here. A 6 hours drive to Gao, arduous, dry hot. We move as swiftly as we can. All posts are hyper friendly.
PS. June2009, Well then the impression given was good/though our feelings tense. 3rd of June the sad news breaks, British/Austrian hostage Edwin Dyer in Mali killed, one of those not released back in April. You read all on the HUBB. There had been not many precedents for execution after kidnapping in the Sahara the many years before this, it changes things again to the worse, makes travel to Niger and northern Mali a thing we need to wait for still longer. (Account by intermediary who worked on release of hostage, TimesOnline)
Gao and more then 1000km back to Bamako.
Gao, Songhai centre, Tamaschek trading point, colourful, peaceful, came through here 3 years ago. Not the tourist season. There are these stalkers, that follow us into the police commissariat, where we get our visas. I am too tired for them. I sense their sly intentions. You need insurance, a trip to Dogon land, (a whore)? - Oh leave me! Later outside I ask one of them where I could buy a beer? - I come with you! - You're not! - In Mali we are together, you are at home, I come with you!
So prepotent, his taste buds can smell the Castel beer already. 2 minutes later I just get rid of him and his 3 companions. Fresh tourist fodder means free beer for them so often. They throw some insults at me, like racist, like ... I just don't want to walk around with a trail of fault guides. I am too tired to be friendly to thieves. In the shattered, run down hotel, just around the corner the lady overstates my bill 3 times. I cut her down, more expensive then in Bamako cannot be.
Then we can walk the market freely/slowly, no more hassles. What a delight, salts, spices, metal ware, hides, animals everywhere towards the banks of the pretty dry/sandy/all covered in plastic bags Niger river.
One more time I need to stunt, fall back in the sand of a busy market street, my head in the dust, lie there don't move, just hope he goes away. The fault guide, liar, thief lets go, ducks, just goes away. Everyone watches him - and me in the dust. I get up. Wipe the dirt off. Market people around all send me smiles. They're greatly amused. Local people usually feel uncomfortable near guides and re their aggressive tactics. Guides earn with a single rip off what a vendor earns in a month.
This is Gao, peaceful, friendly once you have seen the hustlers off. But - the rebellion, hostage stories stick deep, we leave soon, must not hang about, make everyone aware we are here, so potential rebel associates pass on the info, opening a slot for a kidnapping, cause spies are everywhere from Niamey to Gao to Bamako. Or just me paranoid?
Leave Gao, for Hombori, came through here 3 months ago, again not the tourist season now, no beer, still manage to get a bowl of rice. Night camp at the foot of Main Fatima, Hand of Fatima nearby. In the morning many little girls gather outside the Landy to sell bracelets.
Douetza, the heat, Mopti the heat, the off off season. But how do you deal with drunk hustlers when you are the only tourist in town? How do you cope with a beer bottle that has taken the same transport as a load of goats, has this faecal goats smell on it? Oh - this is easy, in this heat you drink it!
Two days later back in Bamako.
We fly out another 3 days later, to Morocco, I am united with my children again. They've grown up so much. I have missed them so much.
4 weeks later I reenter Austria for my bros' wedding. And I can't wait to leave again.
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