From our time in and around Bamako

Another catch up post in mostly pictures and short summaries.

*** ROAD TO BAMAKO ***

A village on our route to Bamako (from Keyes). We liked this village because it looked like a maze of mud buildings.
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*** NIGER RIVER IN BAMAKO ***

In many growing cities around the world, the bodies of water that are in or pass through the city are disgusting (true of developing and developed countries). But the Niger River that flowed through the center of Bamako was surprisingly clean and beautiful. Maybe it’s because the rainy season just passed, but we really enjoyed crossing the long bridges that spanned this river in the middle of the city (and where we stayed happened to be right after one of the bridges, very close to the water).
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View from the end of the street where we were staying.
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*** THE SLEEPING CAMEL ***

When we were at Zebrabar in Saint-Louis, Senegal, we met a crazy Italian motorcyclist. He was one of the strongest advocates for going through Mali instead of northern Guinea and Cote D’Ivoire, and he told us about The Sleeping Camel in Bamako. We stayed there for 5 nights, and it was great. We hung out with Matt, the owner, a bit (but he never gave Jackie the Sleeping Camel billiards/pool champion T-shirt he promised her after losing a best of three contest), and got lots of good travel tips from him and all of the staff. There were also a few people that regularly hung around, and it was a great social atmosphere. Plus, there was very reasonably priced laundry (!), a good menu, and bunnies! We became a bit attached to the bunnies.

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We also met another motorcyclist who was traveling overland. A Dutch guy, who seemed to have overland travel down to an art (the stickers on his bike and cases show that he’s been all over Africa, Europe, and into Siberia, multiple times). We wanted to learn more about his travels, but unfortunately he didn’t really speak any English, which seemed surprising from a) a Dutch person, and b) someone who’d travelled through that many places. Alas.
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*** IN THE MARKET ***

Per the suggestions of everyone we met at the Sleeping Camel and the wonderful Sophie (a friend of a friend who used to live in Bamako and gave us a great list of things to do in record time), we visited the main market and the Maison des Artisans on our first day in the city.
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Mali is overflowing with KTM Power K scooters, a Chinese knock-off of a Honda from 1995 (and not actually from the Austrian KTM motorcycle manufacturer). We really couldn’t believe how everyone had the exact same scooter.
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We then visited the Maison des Artisans, where we looked for a small bag/purse for Jackie (who’s been looking for one for when she has to dress up, which is becoming more often now that a bunch of her friends have been getting married). We didn’t see one that we liked immediately. But Aron had spotted a pattern he liked a lot, and Jackie saw a size she liked, and so we asked if they could custom make a bag in 48 hours. The Maison des Artisans was filled with people working on their crafts, and so they said it could easily be done. We discussed all the details of what the bag would look like, and then gave a down payment for the work.
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Two days later, we returned to find exactly the bag we wanted. The strap was a bit too long, and so the man who made the bag made a new strap in about 15 minutes, and we got to watch him finish the work.
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Oh, and while in the market, we found bottle-shaped water sachets. Aron thought these were pretty cool (and it was his first time drinking a water sachet).
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We also visited the national park, which was nice and tranquil, and we went out a couple nights to see the local restaurant/club scene.

*** MALIAN DANCE ***

Sophie put us in touch with a friend of hers, Djibi, who dances at the Yeredon Centre for the Arts. He invited us to one of his practices, and so we drove a bit out of town to watch. We had a great time watching the dancing. It was very similar to the type of dancing that Jackie did in college, when she danced in a group called PADAME (the Pan-African Drumming and Dancing Ensemble). It turns out that the main choreographer of PADAME, Joh, was a part of Yeredon (possibly in starting it? we didn’t fully understand the explanation in French), and Djibi and the others knew him well.
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*** DAY TRIP TO SIBY ***

One our final day in Bamako, we took a day trip to the Siby (suggested by Matt at the Sleeping Camel). It was a beautiful ride to Siby, and we took the smaller road to get there. We ended up riding on 19km of dirt road to get back to the main road and to the town, and that’s where we found this awesome blue Citroen 2CV (abandoned and complete with flat tire). Note that we both really want a 2CV someday.
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When we got Siby, we drove through town and found the stone arch. We took a small road that didn’t look like it’s traveled very often to get as close to the arch as possible. We then attempted to hike up the mountain on a path that looks like it’s only used by locals collecting firewood, and eventually disappears. We got close enough for some good pictures, though, and didn’t get hassled by anyone trying to be our guide.
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When we drove back through town, we found the real road that leads to the arch, and also to a nice waterfall if you continue for 19km. Oops. Next time!

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Senegal in (inadequate) summary

We just spent what is planned to be our last night in Senegal. We realize that we’ve been a bit negligent with blog posts but hopefully you’ve all been too preoccupied with the holidays to have noticed. In order to make up for the impression of Senegal you may have based on only stories of harried border crossings and ferries run aground, we present you with the highlights of our time here in list form:

  • The main roads in Senegal have generally ranged from good to excellent. This is especially true the roads from the north border down past Dakar and until our ferry to Foundiougne. Starting from Foundiougne to Kaolack to Tambacounda we’ve hit patches of dirt road (that looked like it was being prepared for paving), areas where giant potholes appear with slalom-able frequency, and a few stretches of pothole fields where weaving left and right across both lanes or standing on the pegs and sucking it up were the only ways to go. That said, most of the country has been navigable at 60mph+ (100km/h+) and outside Dakar traffic has been pretty light.
  • We spent Christmas Eve at ZebraBar, south of Saint-Louis, Senegal. It was a lovely dinner with a bunch of other overland travelers from Italy, Spain, and Switzerland. We relaxed and traded stories and traveling tips.
  • Christmas day was spent hanging out, chasing birds that walked like tiny dinosaurs, kayaking, and running on an empty beach accessible only by boat. That night was spent with Jackie experiencing flu-like symptoms and 101.5°F (38.6°C) fever.
  • We got on the road to Dakar in the morning with Jackie feeling better, full tanks of gas, and almost no cash. With only about $20 on us, we decided to skip the toll road into Dakar. This meant that we sat in two hours of traffic getting into the city, but we got to see the street vendors, people hopping on and off on minibuses, and life on the outskirts of town. (We took the toll road out of the city. It was cheap and really nice.)
  • In Dakar we followed excellent recommendations given to us by our Senegalese friend, Aminata. We walked out to the Westernmost tip of all of Africa and then took a short taxi ride to our lunch spot for the day and one of Aminata’s best recommendations. We ate at La Cabane du Pecheur situated on the water across from Ngor Island. Those of you who know Aron know that he doesn’t eat seafood, but the meal was so fresh and well prepared that he broke down and just enjoyed the excellent food.
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  • After lunch came a trip to Gorée Island which was one of the smaller ports of departure for the slave boats that headed towards the Americas. While waiting for the boat we met Kane and Abdel, a Dakar local and his cousin who moved to the US at the age of seven and is now a college football player and CS student at Ohio State. Abdel heard our American accents and responded with his own American accented question asking where we were from. We talked to two of them on the boat and then Kane conducted our tour of the island. We also met up with him for dinner last night in Tambacounda where we were staying and where he is living and working as a doctor.
  • We bought a small, hand carved wooden chair, the “petit chaise”. We usually have different styles and we both liked this chair. It cost about $30 and we got to see where the guys on the street were hand carving them. Our intent was to ship it home. We tracked down the DHL office and brought our “chaise” there only to find out that it would cost $250 to ship it home. The “petit chaise” is now in Aron’s motorcycle case for another 2,000 miles or so of traveling through Africa and will be one of our carry on “bags” for the flight home.
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  • After Dakar we met up with Aminata, her sister, husband, and friends at her family’s beach house outside Saly, Senegal. They all left after we had lunch together, but we stayed and spent the day swimming in the ocean, doing an oil change on the bikes and resting. We were really happy to be outside Saly in “our” private villa. (Note: Saly, which is a pretty small town, has its French Consulate due to the huge numbers of French expats there. We probably saw more white French people in Saly than we did in Paris last summer.)
  • We did a two hour mini safari in the Bandia Animal Reserve, where they bring animals from other parts of Africa, but we got to see antelopes, water buffalo, giraffes, rhinos, and zebras.
  • Then we headed for Foundiougne, where our ferry across the Saloum River got stuck in the sand (blogged previously), where we spent New Years Eve, and where Jackie got taken out by food poisoning for about 30 hours. With an unplanned recovery day behind us, we got to Tambacounda last night.

Gas in the city (Marrakech)

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The old Medina in Marrakech, with it’s narrow and winding streets, seems like a place that should be pedestrians only. It’s not.

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Here is a one one pump gas station in the city, where all those scooters that almost hit you while you walk around can fuel up.

Hello from Chefchouan, Morocco

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(I’m going to start adding latitude and longitude coordinates to posts when I remember. You should be able to copy and paste them to google maps and see where we are.)

Hello from Chefchouan, Morocco. Based on a friend’s suggestion (thanks Lizzie), this was our chosen destination for our extra time in Morocco due to our schedule change. We’re in the mountains so, despite the sun, temperatures are fairly comfortable. The biggest surprise is how windy it is northern Morocco. It’s made for some slow going on the road.

In the old part of town, all the buildings are painted varying shades of blue. It’s really pretty. We both happened to wear blue shirts today, so we blended in nicely.

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Paris and the Château de Chambord

We’re in Spain now and about a week behind on blogging. We’ve stayed with incredibly welcoming people in France and Spain and we ate six different soups that we still need to write about.

Literally between our attempts to fix Jackie’s bike, we saw the big sites of Paris: Notre Dame, the Pyramid of the Louvre, Musée Rodin with the Thinker, and the Eiffel Tower. We stayed right near the Champs-Élysées across the street from the street from the US Embassy, the UK Embassy, the Columbian Embassy and the French Presidential palace. Because of the neighborhood, the was a constant police presence at the corner of the street where we parked the bikes.

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After Paris we set off towards the castles of the Loire River Valley a.k.a. Mechanical Problems – Day 3. The end of Day 4 brought us to the Château de Chambord. This “hunting lodge” was actually a completely over the top castle with more rooms than we can remember, carved stone vaulted 20ft plus ceilings, and a central double helix, spiral staircase. Wikipedia says “The château features 440 rooms, 282 fireplaces, and 84 staircases”. Like I said, over the top.

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A comment from Jackie’s mom: The Thinker in 1999 (note that the boy in the photo is Jackie’s brother, not Aron)

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A world of LEGO

On Wednesday, Jackie flew into Denmark from the UK. The closest airport to Aron’s dad is Billund Airport. Billund happens to be home of the original LEGOLAND (and the LEGO company), and so we headed there directly from the airport.

LEGOLAND has some theme park-style rides, but the coolest thing about LEGOLAND is the incredible number of intricate things made out of LEGO! There were LEGO people that moved. There were LEGO sharks swimming around LEGO pirates. There was a LEGO canal with working locks and a LEGO boat that traveled through them. But descriptions aren’t enough, so here’s a sampling of things made out of LEGO:

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