This post comes to you from Bamako, Mali. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, this might come as a surprise because Mali was not on our route. We didn’t have visas for Mali. We never bought a map of Mali. We weren’t going to Mali.
We seriously started planning our route for this trip about two years ago. There were two big contributors to how we planned our route at the time. One was that we learned that the summer (when we were originally traveling until Jackie’s accident) was the rainy season so we needed to stay away from the coast lest we get mired in mud, literally. That put the route through Sierra Leone and Liberia out of the picture. The other thing that happened in January 2012 is that Tuareg rebels started a rebellion in Northern Mali, eventually resulting in a coupe that ousted the Malian president and left Al-Qaeda affiliated rebel groups filling in the vacuum and taking control in the north of the country. This meant that we couldn’t go through Mali either, much to Jackie’s disappointment.
That was all ok, though. We set our course through Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire and that was our plan until a couple days ago. Thursday night, we sat down on our last night in Senegal to plan our route in Guinea for the next morning. We knew that roads weren’t supposed to be good, but some examination of Google Earth showed us we were headed for several hundred miles of dirt roads through remote mountains. And that was just days one and two of Guinea. Côte d’Ivoire didn’t look much better, so we made a game night decision and headed for the Mali border. Ever since we got back on this trip in mid-December, everyone we’ve met, both African and European has assumed our route was taking us through Mali. When we told them we were going through Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire they’ve been confused. Everyone wanted to know why we weren’t going through Mali. Mali has been quiet for the last 6 to 12 months, so we went for it.
We’re happy with the new plan. The roads through Mali have been great, Bamako seems like a cool city, and the people have been really friendly. We’re still not going through the North for safety reasons, but our new route brings us right to the part of Burkina Faso where we’ve gotten a bunch of recommendations. Plus, we’re shaving off about 1,000km of riding, which should let us enjoy more time in Ghana with people we know.