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Haplessly traversing home

2006-06-08 12:03

Camping out in Dogon country

SENGAL: Dakar - Kaolack - Tambacounda - Kidira MALI: Diboli - Kayes - Diema - Didiena - Kati - Bamako - Bamako - Segoué - San - Djenne - Mopti - Douentza - Timbuktu - Sévaré - Mopti - Dogon Country: Bandiagara - Sanga - Bankass BURKINA FASO: Ouagadougou.

We've turned south and are heading for home, only around 13 000km to go. Leaving Timbuktu was almost as hard as getting there: the temperature spiked to a smouldering 50 degrees, with a hot harmattan wind making it so dry the skin doesn't even sweat.

It felt like standing too close to a bush fire and made metal-rimmed sunglasses burn the skin. Our Toyotas kept their cool, however: as the Fortuner's outside temperature gauge soared, the engine temperature remained absolutely constant and the cars performed faultlessly.

Their flawless performance is despite the pounding they received from four and a half hours on the (correct) gravel road out of Timbuktu, the corrugations and jarring taking its toll on several after-market accessories.

Both Fortuners lost their number plate fittings attached to the spare wheel brackets, a water tank flew out of its roof-top bracket after a large bump, and bolts on two of the snorkels needed tightening more than once.

Poor Colin Brown, our technical wizard, and TV cameraman Tim Chevallier in the Cruiser Skywalker, were the most unlucky, as their aircon packed up.

At our next overnight stop, Hotel Ambedjele in Mopti (a real oasis in the desert, with a gorgeously welcoming pool), Colin spent several hours going through each vehicle, tightening nuts and bolts that had worked loose.

Encountering the Dogon

Dogon Country was the next stop, home to a largely animist tribe (although many have now converted to Islam and Christianity) who believe all natural things and phenomena have a living soul. The Dogons have lived along the Bandiagara escarpment since the 15th Century, in beautiful mud villages sprinkled on the plateau, the actual cliff face (or falaise) or the plain below.

Despite the temperature in the low forties, we opted for a 7km hike through five of these villages, wandering along alleyways sometimes just a metre wide between mud-walled granaries and huts, topped by thatched roofs spiked like witches hats. The climb back up the 400-metre high cliff face at around noon is not something we'll forget in a hurry, and TV presenter Saami Sabiti disappeared for the rest of the day with heat exhaustion.

The Dogon gods must have been smiling on us, because on our arrival in Sanga, our base in this area, we had a near miss with what could have been a fatal accident.

Electrical wiring in Brutus, one of the Land Cruisers, shorted or chafed, and unbeknown to driver Pankil Pillay, our team doctor, a fire had broken out in the back of the pick-up, right over the gas cylinders!

Luckily the canopy is fairly airtight and the fire extinguished itself quite quickly, but not before burning through to the compartment housing the gas, damaging kitchen equipment and entirely blackening the interior and everything in it.

More bad luck

Clean-up operations got underway after we'd rested up after our hike, made trickier because water is so scarce in this rocky area. Every drop is drawn up by hand from a well, and carried in a bucket on someone's head. Then, just as the entire contents of the kitchen Cruiser were spread out on the ground and had been washed clean, a local stopped us and pointed to the sky: a huge dust cloud was billowing on the horizon.

Running like rats, we had maybe five minutes to get everything back into the Cruiser, pack away cameras and computers and dive for cover just as the first gusts whipped into the courtyard. Seconds later the world went a dark orange as the dust blotted out the sun like a surreal eclipse, and papers and plastic bags whirled around like dervishes in the half-light.

Despite more than our fair share of dramas, we were sad to leave the spectacular rocky scenery, dotted with benign baobab trees and delightfully quirky Dogon villages behind as we headed for country number three on our journey: Burkina Faso.

We drove into its capital, Ouagadougou (pronounced Wogadogo), in the dark last night, dodging scooters, cars, buses, bikes and goats that spilled into the middle of the roadway. Right now the vehicles are at CFAO Toyota, having Skywalker's the air-conditioning regassed and the wiring in Brutus checked, and we've discovered a new disaster: our visas for Niger, which we're entering in two days' time, should have been waiting for us here in Ouagadougou. In fact, it transpires, the applications only went in yesterday.

So we might be here in the city for a few days. And as I write, the world has gone dark outside, another dust storm has blown up. Is this unlucky day 13? We'll keep you posted.

Adelle Horler and Geoff Dalglish

Visit the Toyota Timbuktu Table Mountain Web Log for updates and photos at http://blogspace.mweb.co.za

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, Mali and Ouagadougou for their enthusiastic assistance.

Catch the television series on this expedition on SABC TV3 on Sundays, starting on September 3 at 5:30pm.


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