Diamou to Bafoulabe, Mali by Bike

We had arrived by train a couple of days before figuring it would be easy to catch the train out or take a bus. Wrong! No train was scheduled for a day or two and we weren’t sure how long we’d have to wait; and we were ready to leave and keep our schedule to meet Bill and Lisette in Bamako. Since this is posted out of chronological order, the date was Dec. 5. So the next day we got up early to grab breakfast and make the 60km (36 mile) as the crow flies trip to Bafoulabe. A black line indicating a route “suitable for motor vehicles” on our IGN map.

At breakfast near the station, we saw the three Catalan’s we’d seen the day before sleeping on the platform with their motorcycles nearby. One of the bikes had lost its crankshaft bearing and they were waiting for the train to Dakar (opposite direction). Good handling bikes from Austria with weak engines they said. It was the second time this had happened to them (they all had the same bike). We set off down the same good dirt road we had taken the day before heading towards Chutes de Gouina. This waterfall was the main reason we had stopped in Diamou. The falls were nice–maybe 300m wide and a 10m drop.Our overall changes of getting really lost were small because we were traveling in a 5 km-wide corridor between the Senegal River and railroad line. But about 10km out of Diamou it appeared we were going the wrong way and after asking several times we found we had to back track a few km and take a turn which was in fact the signed route to the falls. But we had taken a different route with our guide the day before (but that’s another story). Got on the correct track which was more of a donkey cart track than any kind of motor vehicle road. The track split frequently and was crossed by other trails. We kept following our noses and asking for the way to Bafalabe frequently. We usually were told we were going the right way and to continue tout droit (straight ahead) except usually after a few hundred yards of straight aheads we’d come to a fork. Follow our noses, ask, and consult the GPS (I had put in a nearby town–Mahina–before we left the US. We stopped were we had the day before in a settlement on the river and were offered a slice of watermelon. Louisa offered cookies in return, and they offered us a whole watermelon. What to do with a watermelon on a bike? Well, the watermelons were the best we had and it was hot and dry and about 10:30, so after almost refusing it, I said sure figuring we be ready to eat maybe half of it in an hour or so and the route wasn’t too rough or sandy. We did stop to eat it, but we ate it all–kept us going for another hour or so. This time of year western Mali is very dry (10 percent humidity or less at a guess) and about 90F max.From the GPS it was apparent we would never reach Bafoulabe before dark. And after our previous experience we’d sworn to stop at the first village we found after 5 pm since it gets dark by 6:30 and the villages have no power, and we wanted to be settled while it was still light. At 4:57 a village appeared. We talked to a group of women for a few minutes asking for a village elder and soon a gentleman came down the road and in response to our question said he could put us up for the night. Too young to be the village chief we figured. He lead us to his family compound, got some chairs and made us some tea. Wow! He had seated us in front of a square building with a semi-enclosed porch (many of the building are round huts) and we thought he told us we could sleep on the porch. We had no sleeping pads, but enough clothes to stay warm; and for only one night. A women came and swept the porch and then I thought he indicated that we could stay in one of the building’s rooms if we wished. I checked out the rooms and they looked like lightly used storage rooms with plenty of dust and cobwebs. Then a donkey cart came and unloaded several bags of grain onto the porch–harvested from the fields we assumed. Still room for us to sleep. But seemed a bit strange. Our host indicated he was head of his extended family. The kids of course crowded around and we entertained them taking pictures and showing them the images. Well behaved and not too pushy. But we got the idea that they didn’t get western visitors ever or often. We guessed this from their curiosity and fear of some of the littlest ones.Our host later made it clear that the porch was for storing our bikes and we’d have the use of a hut with a bed. Fantastic. Probably wasn’t clear at first because he had to make sure we could use the hut. It didn’t appear that it was being used, most likely someone was away for a while.Then we asked about possibly getting some food and he indicated that we would get something. He asked what kind of grain we wanted and we picked rice. Turned out to be rice with a bit of sauce. Our hosts name was Camara (common name here), and he was a fantastic host. Before dinner we took bucket baths. He asked if we wanted hot or cold water. I said cold was OK, but Louisa said she’d like hot. I wished I hadn’t spoken so quickly, but when Louisa was done she said she’d only used half the bucket, but in the two minutes it took me to get to the bath, someone had already got my cold water and taken the remaining hot–bummer. By the way, the bathing room was an open room next to the pit toilet, neither of which had a roof. Five foot walls.The next morning we were treated to hot corn mush with a large dollop of sugar. No money was suggested or requested; but we offered a more than fair price for what we’d received. We also said we send copies of the photos. Almost no one has mail service, but M. Camara’s sister works for the phone company and he said we could send them to her at work.And then off we went. Not terribly exciting country side. Mostly flat, with a few hills. Open forest. The grass is burned. We don’t know if it’s for prevention of major conflagrations as in Guinea or to promote some kind of growth. We asked just about everyone we saw for directions. Most didn’t speak French (and of course not English), so mostly tried to pronounce Bafoulabe in a way they’d understand. They usually pointed out the way, but sometimes just scrugged. One guy who was watching his cattle indicated we were going the wrong way and motioned to follow him off in another direction. What else to do but follow. In about 0.5km we came to a track and he motioned to follow it. We had probably taken the wrong fork a km back. We gave him a few packets of cookies. Not that he expected any payment. He had just left his cattle to guide us. For a while we were crossing and recrossing the railroad tracks. Along this stretch we occasionally a very good raised road, but then it would fade out. Also riding along the tracks at the edge of the roadbed.In theory we only had to go about 18 miles that day, but the road was curving around–presumably to avoid hills and the nearby river. And then the track started getting sandy. It didn’t help that I wasn’t feeling well (turned out I was coming down with diarrhea which would strike that night). We were getting close though. The GPS was predicting an hour away to Mahina (I didn’t have Bafoulabe marked). But due to a flat tire, stopping to eat a bit, sand, and a zigzaggy route, Mahina stayed an hour away for at least three hours. We finally arrived in Bafoulabe. We thought we be able to catch a shared taxi or some other transportation from Bafoulabe as it was on the “road.” But we quickly found out the only transportation was the train which passed through nearby Mahina. So we set out down a good road the last 10km to Mahina. We also were short of local money as we were basically waiting until we got to Bamako to get a better exchange rate. Upon arriving in Mahina and finding out about the train (was to leave the next afternoon), lodging, food; we found out there was a money changer 1km further down the road, but there was a “bank” in Bafoulabe. The only lodging was the most basic campement we’d been in. A compound on the edge of town with three huts, one main building and a covered area with tables for dining. Very unkempt with plastic trash, but the hut was OK. We lately realized that not many people stayed there, and it mainly served a local bar. Guys coming on their motos and walking. Most of the plastic trash was small packets of hard liquor. At least it wasn’t also the local brothel.The next morning I was well under the weather, so Louisa pedaled off to the “bank” to exchange money. Not possible. But she was able to change some Euros at the money changers at a not great rate.What I haven’t probably made apparent is that our expected one day of getting to Bafoulabe turned into two longest days of rather tough riding–mostly due to the sand and heat; but also unexciting countryside and roads much worse than we expected. The upside was the fantastic hospitality of M. Camara. The adventure!As I mentioned in another posting we found out Iris and Tom took the same route (doubtful exactly the same since so many optional roads) on their much heavier bikes. And I hadn’t caught up with posting this leg of the trip and they said they hadn’t either, although they had referenced this site. Their sites are in German, so I hadn’t been looking at them, but you may want to: http://schwarzfahrt.ch/ and http://rotfahrt.ch (black and red bikes).

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