Today Simon has his birthday and the pressie I bought in London has survived the journey, the Airfix kit is a plane not a car, I did not buy the right paints (I personally blamed the Hamleys helper for that) but at least it will keep him busy when we are stuck somewhere or have run out of books. Best of all, he did not guess what it was beforehand, an annoying habit he has.
We visit the market for some gifts for Saran’s family to say thank you. It is hot by the time we reach the market and we decide a cold beer would hit the spot, we it did as we had two. Having forgotten why one should not drink beer on an empty stomach in a hot country, we were quickly reminded when we stepped outside the shack/bar. Feeling tipsy we went in search of food, found some very spicy stuff that I normally would not eat but it worked a treat. Meeting up with Albert we set about shopping and the off to the family. Saran ran out to greet us and looks very happy, we present our gifts. Actually Albert does the presenting with a long speech, as is the right way to do it. We say our goodbyes to the family and Saran looks like a thundercloud, she is not happy to see us go.
Candle lit dinner for two during which I got sick and Simon had a headache so bed seemed the solution and so ends Simon’s 32nd birthday, we trust the next one goes better.
Tuesday we leave Kissidogou not sorry to see the last of the hotel, arriving at Kan Kan we search for an Internet café. Turns out it is in the post office, so if in Guinea look in the post office. Received mail from Geri confirming our return to the Gambia so we head back to Labe. We do not make it in a day but camp in a forested area, the tent light is working well and we had a nice quiet evening. We arrived in Labe in the afternoon and I got stuck into a book. Simon was chatting to a Scottish bloke who is cycling from Dakar around Guinea and back for his holiday. Let me emphasise cycling and holiday – now rethink your notion that Simon and I are crazy.
Thursday morning finds us in the bank changing money, then the heavens open and we are stuck in the bank for a little while. Got some CFA for when we get back to Senegal and filled all the diesel tanks and set off for Mali, not the country the town. It had started raining and we had a brief debate as to which way to go, either to Mali Guinea or back the way we came past Nikolokoba Parks west side. Neither of us fancied that road again so Mali it is. Good sand road to Mali, got there not too late and signed out by police and customs as it is the last town although not on the border. We pushed on, planning to bush camp just outside the town. On the way out the road split with both exits guarded and blocked by booms. Well Simon took the left one to the consternation of the guards who started waving and shouting, it was then we noticed the sign overhead that declared the left hand road as the entrance to the army barracks and that we should be taking the right which was just a checkpoint on your way out. Fortunately they were good-humoured but did ask us to drop one of their colleagues 20/30 km down the road, no problem!
The second we passed that checkpoint the lovely sand road disintegrated into an uneven rocky track. It took ages to get to the place where the guard lived and it was dark already, he then kindly speaks to the guards at the village and the hurry us through the checkpoint and we find ourselves in the unknown darkness. So having no choice but to go on, we go on. There was no where to camp as the road lead through the hills with steep sides or just small clearings that we did not really want to camp in. We could not see much around us and I think that is a blessing. We almost got lost but some guys ran up and pointed us in the right direction which turned out to be just the way they were going so they hung on the back of the car and climbed on the roof. When Simon stopped the car to make space for them inside and to ask them not to hand on (for all the obvious reasons) they jumped off and disappeared into the dark, only to jump back on again when we drove on. It was slow going and after a few attempts to stop them we gave up. At their village they all jumped off and that was that, we only had one oncoming truck to contend with and finally found a flat spot to stop. We step up camp and fell asleep to the sound of nearby drums.
Up with the sun on Friday morning and on the move, we camped really close to a village but could not see them through the trees, hence the sound of the drums. On reading the map we thought we had done the hard part, oh boy were we wrong. Really bad road last maintained in 1803 with steep rocky ups and downs. Simons driving is excellent and Jenny is doing well. This road is an extreme Landy enthusiast’s dream. Did I mention it is marked black on the Michelin map as an area that is difficult if not impassable. Finally in Kedogou after a long, long morning. We decide to rest at Hippo Safari Lodge, recognise the name, yep there is one in Dakar. But unlike the one in Dakar this one has a) river and b) hippos! So ice cold Gazelle beer and a decent lunch with an amazing view of the river bend and hippos playing, the day ended nicely thank you with early retirement to bed and well deserved rest.
Simon drove into town Saturday morning to change some money and get supplies, I caught up on the washing and got slightly burnt doing so. Then a group of 50 children turn up for a picnic with the goat as a mascot, obviously some school group with nun in tow. It was only when I saw the teenage boys returning wiping their knives clean and handing bowl of meat to the girls, that I realised the mascot was in fact lunch. That night there was quite a storm that rocked the car and left the area flooded in the morning. Sunday morning I was driving and all was going well, then 20km outside Nikolokoba town (we were now on the east side of the park), I felt something snap and the Jenny stopped working. So leaving me in the car Simon hitched a lift to Nikolokoba (town) to get some help. Turns out there is nothing in Nikolokoba except a few huts and gates to the park, a very nice group of people in a Toyota Landcruiser bring him back. On seeing us stuck they decide to tow us the 70km back to Kedegou, no small favour I will tell you now. Entering the town we wave to the police who saw us leave that morning, they laugh and wave back. We get dropped off outside a campement in town and when I thank the lady who towed us she says they we all need help at some point. Chez Diao is the name of our campement and the guys there arrange a mechanic to come look at Jenny. The mechanic says he will have her done by 10am tomorrow morning and we agree a price. Jenny is then towed away to the ‘garage’ 3 blocks away. The garage is a corner of someone’s compound with a few cars and trucks parked on it and in the street, his tools are kept in an old van on the side. Simon stays to watch but gets chased away when the sun sets, as for myself, well, Zelda (Gameboy) and I got on very well indeed.