Car Mechanics 101

Simon, normally the last out of bed, was up and working by the time I opened my eyes – a sure indication that he was thinking about the breaks till late last night.

After a few attempts and bad ideas from my side, Simon managed to remove the bolt that connects the broken pipe to the rest of the system and solder it closed to seal off the hole. So now we had breaks but we had no plans of driving very fast to test them. Back on the piste road next to the new tar road being built and going okay, then about 20km outside Bamako we hit a beautifully tarred road – you will understand these feelings after travelling on a very bad road for a day – pity we could only go about 40km/h.

Oh the joys of a big city where you can buy the things you need such as break fluid, since we used up our entire stock. Had to navigate some one way streets but managed to find the campsite in the centre of town with minimal trouble, well after driving straight passed the first time. The campsite is in an old mission, this I knew, so felt slightly foolish when we were redirected to the right spot and there is a five-foot cross in plain view for those who can see what is under their nose.

Bamako is busy, bustling and very, very hot! So much so that all you do in the afternoon is sit in any shade you can find and wait for the evening then you can do stuff. So arriving in the afternoon we moved into the shade and sat till it got cooler. Met two Dutch guys traveling around West Africa for some time now. They were full of good info and stories and we sat exchanging tales. It is great to just meet people who you can talk to as if you have known them for ages. Well we said to them that we would like to go to Timbuktu if we could get someone to travel with. They advised going along the north bank of the Niger River as it is very beautiful. Well it was getting late when two guys pitch up in a Toyota and introduce themselves as JW and Ludwig. Well when I told them my name they said they had heard of me – well not something that happens everyday. Turns out that they had gone to SA embassy in Dakar and met Ida Coetzee the lady helping me with my passport, so she told them about me and when I was there she told me about two South Africans who were going the same way and had being there 2 days before heading for the Gambia. So here we are in Bamako, all going the same way and so we agree to talk in the morning.

Tuesday morning and we go get our Burkina Faso visa, straightforward. Then back at camp Simon popped into the market, fortunately a block away, and got some spares to work on the breaks. Well managed to make up some contraption and has put the sealant on so we will see what happens in the morning. Simon’s understanding of land rover mechanics and how to improvise is improving daily, as Jenny keeps obliging by breaking. Hot listless day and I cannot be bothered to do much, paid someone else to do the washing. Then in the afternoon we walked across the Niger River, the bridge is long and appears never-ending when you have to negotiate your way over. Avoiding bicycles, people carrying huge things on their heads, people watching divers in the river catching fish and then the paving stones are loose and move underfoot so you have to look where you put your feet too. This while trying to admire the view, I was relieved to get to the other side.

Wednesday morning and we have managed to keep the mossies out of the tent for the night, a major achievement especially if you want a good night’s sleep. Simon’s break solution did not work and so it is back to the drawing board or in this case the market. The problem being that it is a pressurized system and so it keeps leaking when we try fix it and we cannot find the right length break line. Back from the market comes one Simon with the right width line but too long and second hand, so it required some cleaning. But it fit after a few extra turns and bends in the pipe to shorten it. Well no leaks so off we go sightseeing to the museum. After being dropped by a taxi we walk into the museum and find no one, then by some outside office we find out it is closed for refurbishment and they have not thought to tell anyone or put up a notice and our taxi is gone. So some walking in the blistering hot sun required but we managed to get another taxi and headed for the craft market.

Now on the topic of craft markets I am sure I could bore you silly but I will say it is usually a collection of very pushy, don’t take no for a answer, kid of people. All trying to sell you tourist tat that you will likely throw away the minute you get home and realise how ridiculous it looks in you nice London home. Also the people selling are not usually the people making and if you just cast your eyes in their direction it mean you really want any item they have in their store. So normally we avoid these types of places. But off we go, first to see the fetish market where you can get dried bat, rat, etc. So should you have the need for a dried monkey head and some herbs to ward off the spirits, this is the place. Then the craft market – what a pleasant surprise – each stall has the person who makes the stuff there making it in front of you with the ready made stuff on the shelves behind. You are welcome to look and you get greeted but if you just want to look then that if fine. It is a good place to visit if you want to see the jewelery, drum makers at work and want to compare goods and prices.

JW is a vet and arranged to go out with a local vet for the day so we are waiting for them; we have decided to travel together to Timbuktu and will be leaving in the morning. That night it is street food for dinner and it is really good here in Mali, they add the chilly separately so if you don’t like it you do not have to grin an bear it cause there is nothing else.

Thursday finds us and our new travel partners on our way to Segou, there we walk around but there is not much to see. The road is good and traveling is easy, when we reach Markala we come across an amazing canal irrigation system. I think the French set is up some time ago and it is very impressive. Neatly laid out and you drive alongside the canals with all the ploughed fields on the other side. It is surprising to see almost pastoral scenes around you with wheat blowing in the wind and goats grazing. Like going into another world. We filled up in Niono the last fuel stop and carried on until the sun set then we camped – cooking on the open fire- enjoying a bright moon filled evening.

Early morning and we normally rush off but the boys are in no rush and first there is coffee to be made, pap (porridge SA style) to be eaten then we go. The road and canal we are following ends 100km outside Nampala as does the lush countryside to one of dry sandy brush. Dunes in some places and the wind blowing up such a storm and sand cloud that you loose sight of the other vehicle. Did I mention that JW’s car is white, no good as he disappears into the background? When we got to Kere, a great little border town, we caused some commotion. Simon had about 20 kids watch him buy bread and then follow us around wherever we walked. Here the bread is different, not the long baguette type bread we have had since Senegal but flat round bread like in Morocco. There was also cloth that I had not seen before; it is the type the women use to cover themselves up by wrapping it around themselves over their other clothes. It is very beautiful and a mix of local native and Arabic cloth.

Another day of traveling marks Saturday, we are having problems with the inverter but Simon manages to sort it out, as it is just a loose wire. Stopped in Niafouke for more round bread and managed to get frozen yogurt of a street vender, it is always great when you happen on these little surprises. Then onto Tonka and the going is good when yes you guessed it – Jenny strikes again! And you wonder why the heading is mechanics 101.

We are driving along when we hear what sounds like cardboard dragging behind the car and so we stop to investigate. There we notice a hole in the rear diff (no I did not know anything about it either until recently). The plug that you remove to put oil in has fallen into the diff and the gears spun it around and punctured a hole in the cover so all the oil pours out. So the boys get stuck in and I – as in all crises – make tea and take photo’s as someone needs to record history and my motor mechanics are much worse than Simons (that are improving daily). Unable to find the plug we assume it must have shot out somehow, so JW and I head into town to find someone to weld the diff cover. Simon and Ludwig stay behind to work on plan B (disconnecting the axle and changing it to a two-wheel drive – I don’t know). In town we find someone and they patch the hole and make a new plug by welding a nut into place and using the bolt as a plug (this is for the boys who want to know how). Back at the car and the sun is setting so everything is put back in place and I make another round of tea. Fillings up with oil there are no leaks and so off we go. Just passed Tonka we find a spot to camp on the dunes, while busy with the welding JW and I found some great, freshly baked round bread. So that night combining our resources we made a meat like tomato filling (Soya) and stuffed the bread like pita, then we cracked open a bottle of wine and sat back and enjoyed the silence. The moon has been incredibly bright and full theses last few nights, so much so that we do not need any lights.

Sunday and this week is almost over so just hang in there. Good going, no leaking and we get to Dire in no time. At this point JW was leading and we were following happily when he stopped, the track gone and we are in the middle of nowhere. Turns out he was taking photo’s while driving and was looking down at the video camera and not concentrating. Well there you go, a lesson to all. So now we have the GPS point of Timbuktu so off we go, then we hit a river that bends in front of us. We have just crossed old irrigated fields, bumpy going and now we find ourselves following the river looking for somewhere to cross. Eventually we get over and after some more driving in circles we happen upon the road – compliments of local cow herder. Just before we got lost we only had 35km to go to Timbuktu and were feeling confident, we never learn. Then back on the road and getting somewhere we hit a tar road! TAR!! So no coming out of the dunes into the ancient town of Timbuktu – No, we came by the tar road and somehow it just spoilt the end for me. This is not the romantic arrival I had wanted and was somewhat put out. But here we are and camping in Timbuktu. Then all 4 hot and fed up travelers went to the bar next door for a beer, then chicken and chips, then more beer. Memory lane was followed by politics and when those 3 started repeating their points for the third time I decided to go to bed. They followed sometime later making an awful racket.

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