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Nigeria's desert beauty

2006-06-19 10:32
DAYS 16 to 20: 10 - 14 June

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 - Kantchari NIGER: Niamey - Birni Nkonni - Kano - Bauchi - Yankari Game Reserve, Wikki Warm Springs.

On Day 19 we decided on a quick change to our planned route and headed south to central Nigeria to visit Yankari National Park, one of Nigeria's treasures mainly because of the Wikki Warm Springs that flow serenely through it.

We arrived at the park just as night fell, an escort of night jars fluttering alongside and - as the guidebooks had warned - we were hugely disappointed with the facilities.

Although it's all beautifully green and shaded with tall trees, very scary toilets, flushed with a bucket, and no showers greeted us at the camp site, so we decided to hire one "VIP Suite" to at least give us access to a bathroom - which had a bath and running water, if only when the generator was working.

After a hot and sticky day, four of us decided to check out the springs, even though it was dark, and what a revelation: at the end of a fairly steep set of rather ugly concrete steps and decks is a gorgeous, 200m long stretch of river, chin-deep at the eye of the spring, of the most brilliant clarity and with a white sandy bottom.

Seeing it the light next morning was even better - the water is Kreepy-Krauly clear, a beautiful swathe of turquoise shaded by baobab, sausage and tamarind trees.

We sunned and soaked for the day, took a game drive (not many animals beyond a herd of elephant, but plenty of birdlife) and chilled for some very welcome R&R.

We haven't been this clean in weeks!

We've been extremely lucky in the roads so far, which have treated the vehicles well and they've been running faultlessly in return.

Apart from the nightmarish stretch to Timbuktu, and the earlier section on gravel in Mali, we've been on really good tar surfaces. We left Niamey, Niger's capital, on Day 16 on good tar, although potholes started to become a problem about 150km out of the city.

After a stunning bush camp in a beautiful desert setting near Birni Nkonni, we headed for Maradi, the border town before Nigeria on Day 17. That bush camp was slightly less idyllic.

Word got out to neighbouring villages, and we had a constantly changing awestruck audience of at least 20 people all the time.

They left some time after sunset, but were back by 6 the next morning, which made ablutions that much more challenging?

Dressed in long pants and shirts with sleeves - this is Sharia Law country - we crossed into Nigeria and made for Kano, a sprawling, chaotic and fairly ugly city where the smog has to be breathed to be believed.

The sun vanished a good half hour before sunset - it looked like there was a bush fire.

Next morning we visited Old Kano, which dates back 1000 years, where we wandered around the market - a warren of alleys between shanty-type stalls, some less than a metre apart - and the 500-year-old dye pits, which are still used to produce the indigo cottons you see plenty of here.

We left three of the vehicles at the hotel while Goose bravely drove one of the Fortuners through the maze of roads and swarms of bikes.

Here you drive by hooter - our taxi driver tooted 69 times in a 15-minute drive. But the traffic cops and police at (frequent) road blocks have been a delight.

They've stopped directing traffic to wave and smile as we pass, they've blocked traffic to let us through, and everywhere we've been told we're very welcome and they hope we're having a great time in Nigeria.

This was one of the countries we had some concerns about, but our passage here has been blessed with friendliness and wonderful smiles.

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 5:30 pm.


Bamenda's impossible beauty

2006-06-29 19:10

Inside Wheels24

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