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Dust storms in Mali

2006-05-31 11:57

Malian adventure ... the Toyota Timbuktu-Table Mountain Expedition in the heart of Mali in a village constructed from mud.

Geoff Dalglish & Adelle Horler

With the team assembled in Dakar, we risked death by taxi - the Dakar traffic is like a nightmarish ballet for daredevils only - and headed to the deep, dark underbelly of the port, where, as night fell, two immense and smoking trucks delivered our containers.

Inside were our bright new Toyota Fortuners and Land Cruisers, slightly dusty after their three-week journey by ship from Durban, but ready for the journey that will take us to 12 countries down the wild western side of Africa.

The stickers of each country's flags say it all: Senegal, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, Cabinda, DRC, Angola, Namibia and home to South Africa.

This 62 day 15 000 km adventure is the first trans-African challenge for the new South African-built Fortuners, although the rugged Land Cruiser bakkies are no strangers to even the remotest corners of the continent, earning the nickname 'King of Africa'.

Well equipped

To equip them for the epic adventure we'd outfitted them with all the toys: Pertec satellite phones, Garmin GPS, tracking devices from African Stuff, and roofracks, rooftop tents and all manner of camping gear from 4x4MegaWorld.

The Fortuners looked unusually purposeful with their high-riding Old Man Emu suspensions, tall and chunky tyres and ARB bullbars, attracting envious attention wherever they went.

"Is it a rally?" many wanted to know.

No, more like a baptism of fire for the Fortuners and a chance to explore tourism highlights along a route less travelled, including Timbuktu, which was once regarded as the remotest and most inaccessible place on Earth.

We left the frenzied chaos of Dakar behind on May 26 on excellent tar for about 200 km as far as the town of Kaolack, then hit pothole country, relieved only by the sight of thousands of baobab trees stretching into the distance on either side of the road.

Then disaster struck for the first time: Skywalker, one of the Land Cruisers, had a blowout on one of the BF Goodrich competition tyres, specially developed for the Dakar Rally - which we figured would be pretty bullet proof.

Thankfully driver Colin Brown brought the vehicle to a safe stop, but changing the tyre - as the scorching sun pushed the temperature up to 35 degrees - coupled with the potholes slowed our pace to an average speed of 47.7 km/h for the day, forcing us to overnight in Tambacounda - which was supposed to be our lunch stop.

More good tar though on Day 2 brought us to the Senegal-Mali border at Kidira-Diboli, which we breezed through in a lightning-fast three hours.

Panting dogs

Waiting with us were a group of five heavily pierced and tattooed Spanish nomads travelling in two French army trucks with six panting dogs - and we thought we were heavily laden!

Celebrating with some Putumayo Malian music on the CD, we bopped into Mali and set off for Kayes, which some guide books say is the hottest place in Africa.

Well, we have to agree: the town's dusty, crowded streets treated us to 43 degrees, and at the same time fate stepped into deliver yet another setback.

As we stopped for a view of the wide Senegal River, Toast Coetzer - a journalist from Weg magazine who's travelling some of the way with us, commented: "Is that a famous West African dust storm approaching?"

A huge red cloud in the distance loomed, then swallowed us within minutes, buffeting gusts blasting us with sand and dust.

This is the dreaded Harmattan, West Africa's infamous hot wind that delivers violent and billowing dust storms straight from the Sahara.

We crept through the storm for a while, even though visibility was down to 5 metres at times, until we reached an impenetrable barrier: a police boom manned by a Malian Chuck Norris, complete with cool shades and swagger, and there was no way he was letting anyone through.

We spent a long but entertaining hour and 20 minutes at the roadside, waiting as the Fortuners and Cruisers turned into small saunas (the temp had plummeted by now to 30 degrees) and watching a stoic Chuck turn ochre from the red dust.

As the wind howled, cars and donkey carts piled up haphazardly around us, scooters were sent off the road (Chuck was confiscating their keys), and even pedestrians remonstrated with for not taking shelter.

As the wind was finally spent, and after a curt nod from Chuck, we pushed on towards Diema. Now, about 50 km from the town, we?ve pulled off the road for our first bush camp, in fact our first night under canvas.

It's an idyllic setting: a pale sun is dipping down to the horizon, we're popping the roof top tents in the sheltering shade of a large baobab, Goose (otherwise known as Johan Goosen) has lit a fire and there's a cool breeze which should keep the mozzies at bay.

I guess this is what we came for. (Although you can keep the solifuges - pink and hairy spiders that are attracted to our light - we'd like to put our feet down now, please.)

Adelle Horler
Geoff Dalglish

Visit the web log for updates and photos at Toyota Timbuktu Table Mountain Web Log

With thanks to our sponsors Toyota South Africa, Megaworld, African Outback Products, Pertec, Garmin, MWEB @ Home - iPass, African Stuff, Toshiba and DataShuttle. Thanks also to CFAO Toyota dealerships in Senegal and Mali for their enthusiastic assistance.


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