Tunisia is a small diverse North African country tucked between Libya and Algeria, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north and in the south the semi-arid interior merges into the Sahara.
In the north of the country not far from the eastern end of the Atlas Mountains lies the African mainland’s second nearest points to Europe after Gibraltar.
The arid central hinterland is among the world’s premier areas of olive cultivation and Tunisia’s eastern Mediterranean coast is home to long white sandy beaches lined with five star resorts.
The first job after arriving was to check into the Marina Cap Resort and find a car and driver and then see as much of the country as reasonably possible in a week.
Several years ago Tunisia was a popular holiday destination for sunseekers from the UK and Europe with about five million visitors annually, mostly to several coastal resort towns, like Sousse and Monastir. Then in early 2015 three terrorists with guns killed twenty-two people in a local Museum.
The nail in the coffin for tourism occurred a few months later when a lone terrorist walked along the beach near Sousse with an AK47 assault rifle and shot seventy six tourists, killing 38, mostly British.
My guide/driver in Monastir tells me the only tourists that kept coming were Russian and Ukrainian. Walking through the Monastir medina I was not surprised to hear the local shop keepers now speaking Russian.
I was most keen to visit the Roman Amphitheater/Colliseum at El Jem. Built in 237AD and with a 35,000 seat capacity, it’s one of the most accomplished examples of Roman architecture still standing, with the added bonus of no other visitors.
The walls of the main arena and the underground passages and rooms are practically intact. The entire amphitheater has a whole other level underground and it was eerie walking around under the main arena past the Lion pens and holding cells where gladiators and slaves waited to die in front of 35,000 cheering onlookers.
After El Jem we drove to the town of Kairouan and visited the oldest mosque in Africa with the World’s oldest minaret.
We stopped at the impressive Roman Mosaic Museum where I photographed the Little Owl mosaic below, created in the third century AD. Not long after leaving the museum I found a real Little Owl at roadside stop.
We continued our journey south through the coastal towns of Sfax and Gabes, with olive fields stretching to the horizon for over two hundred kilometers.
At Gabes we turned right and headed into the mountains and towards the Berber town of Matmata. As we approached I saw the first doorway on the side of the hill and no other sign of habitation. I thought some crazy hermit probably lives in that cave but as we drove further west the caves entrances became more common.
We eventually stopped and visited a Berber house dug into the soft sandstone cliffs to escape to soaring summer temperatures. The local tribes have been digging out their homes and living underground for over a thousand years.
We drove hundreds of kilometers past large date plantations, crossed the huge Chott el Djerid Salt Lake and skirted around two mountain ranges, travelling west to within a few kilometers of the Algerian border.
Before long I was once again in the Sahara Desert but this time only for one day.
On the way back east we drove through the mountains and stopped at an oasis fed by a mountain spring with accompanying palm grove. It was a welcome break from the travelling and heat.
No trip to Tunisia is complete without a visit to the ancient city of Carthage, which was one of the oldest, largest and most prosperous cities in the Mediterranean.
That was until the Roman Empire commanded by Scipio arrived in 146BC and subsequently captured the city, towed all the Phoenician ships into the harbour, burnt them, then went house-to-house and captured 50,000 inhabitants and sent them into slavery and as a final encore, burnt the entire city to the ground.
Our final stop in Tunisia was the coastal town of Sidi Bou Said, which sits atop a steep cliff overlooking the Med. The buildings are white-washed with blue doors and windows and the streets are cobble-stoned and fringed by Bougainvillea and Date Palms, reminiscent of Greece or Morocco.
Tomorrow I fly south to more adventures in the two small African nations of Lesotho and Swaziland or as its now called, ‘The Kingdom of eSwatini’.
Bye for now.
After three months in the Sahal, Sudan and Sahara I decided to finish this stint in Africa with an underwater week at Sharm El Sheikh on the southern tip of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsular.
I flew from Hargesia to Cairo and then onto Sharm via a one hour Nile Air flight. I booked into the Movenpick Resort, which I mainly chose as it has four private beaches, two of which have nice reef.
The area has an enormous list of spectacular dive sites ranging from some of the world’s best wrecks to drift dives and an endless list of reefs. I spent most of my dive time at Tiran Island and Ras Mohammad NP.
My routine was basically, rise early, eat too much at the breakfast buffet, jump on the dive boat, do three dives, go back to resort and eat too much at the dinner buffet …….. repeat X 4.
I could have flown home via Mauritius or Reunion and spent a week diving there but I wanted to visit Ras Mohammed National Park.
When I was a youngster I spent countless hours watching Jacques Cousteau documentaries and Ras Mohammed was one of the Calypso’s regular haunts. I’ve always wanted to dive there.
I’ll be flying home later today and have some planning to do for my next stint in Africa. Throughout the year my blog was viewed well over two thousand times and I hope you enjoyed following my travels. Merry Xmas and all the best wherever your journeys may take you to all those people I met in Africa this year still following and I’m looking forward to catching up with friends and relatives back home in coming weeks.
Bye for now.
I left my inner city hotel on the Chinese constructed road, past the Italian Army Base and the French Foreign Legion base, adjacent to the new $4 billion Chinese built railway, which is opposite the American Base, which is next-door to the new Chinese military base, just down the road from the new Chinese container terminal.
After all that, I eventually left Djibouti City on a new Chinese constructed highway to Ethiopia. Several miles down the road we turned right and headed into one of the world’s greatest geological sites.
Djibouti is the place where Africa’s Great Rift Valley meets the ocean and the area is known as the Afar Depression, with the far northern section known as the Danakil Depression.
The Afar Depression is one of two places on Earth where a mid-ocean ridge can be studied on land, the other being Iceland.
The area contains the hottest places (year-round average temperatures) of anywhere on Earth and is a barron, scorched and in-hospitable landscape of horizon to horizon black lava fields and precipitous weathered lava flows, many over hundreds of meters deep.
I stayed the night in a hut at a tourist camp in the mountains and spent the afternoon watching Djbouti’s only endemic bird Djibouti Francolin, as well as other species such as Lichtenstein’s Sandgrouse and Hemprich’s Hornbill.
I continued on past several Afar villages, eventfully descending into a huge culdara reaching the lowest point in Africa, Lake Asal, at 155 m (or 509 ft) below sea level.
The Rift Valley runs north from Mozambique for 6000km creating some of Africa’s most spectacular scenery and continues to widen about 2cm a year.
Some time in the next million or so years, as the rift continues to open and the depression continues to sink, the Red Sea will flood the valley in a prelude to when Africa eventually splits in two along the entire 6000km rift forming a new Ocean basin.
On my forth day in Djibouti I jumped in a taxi. “where to sir? ”
“Take me to Somalia.” and so he did.
I crossed into Somalia through typical corrupt African unorganized incompetence and eventually made my way to the customs official with my entry stamp. He took a bit of finding but I was eventually taken down to the beach where we found him relaxing on a daybed under a tree in the shade in his orange Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses.
It took a while to get him to move from his main office and walk to his secondary office in the immigration building where he kept his stamps. With a stamp in my passport I walked towards the road and happened to notice he’d given me an exit stamp instead of an entry stamp. By then, of course he was back under his tree in the shade, so we went through the process all over again.
From there we drove to the nearest service Station where it took forty minutes and eight people to fill our landcruiser with diesel.
I now had a my guide and a local Somali driver, what could possibly go wrong! Off into the desert we drove and after half an hour my local driver got us bogged. Some digging, moving sand mats around and we were off again. Ten minutes later, bogged again, more digging and then for something different, he got us lost. Somewhere along the way he took the wrong track and I spent my first night camped under the stars in the Somali desert being serenaded to sleep by the local pack of Golden Jackels.
We found a village, asked directions, drove across country for a while and found the right track and got bogged again.
The next day we drove twenty two kilometers down a picturesque dry river bed as we began to climb out of the flat coastal plain.
After a couple of river crossings and a stop for lunch I arrived in Hargeisa just after dark on day two.
After a night in Hargeisa we headed east to the coastal town of Berbera, where I had a great meal of local fish and freshly squeezed lemon juice drink, before climbing the escarpment during a thunderstorm.
Before venturing to Somalia I thought the entire country was flat uninspiring desert but was surprised to find Somaliland a state of rugged mountains and steep spectacular escarpments.
The temperature dropped rapidly as we approached the town of Sheikh where the British previously had a hill station and guest house to escape the coastal heat.
We continued east across vast dry open plains scattered with some of Africa’s scarcest wildlife such as Desert Warthog, Hamadryas Baboon, Klipspringer, Speke’s Pectinator, Salt’s Dikdik as well as Dorcas, Spekes and Soemmering’s Gazelle.
After a few days of camping on the plains I arrived in Eregavo and was promptly stopped by the local authorities and detained for four hours while we went through the Somali shake down from corrupt officials, which is the norm once you leave the tourist trail in Africa.
The immigration official started first.
“That’s not the correct visa.” “That’s not the correct stamp.” “If you get your visa in Addis, you have to fly in, you’ve entered illegally.” blah, blah, blah. Funniest thing was when he demanded to photograph my visa stamp. He took a photo of my Chad visa!
After four hours the local Police Commander told us we couldn’t travel any further east, so we went to plan B. We found the local clan cheif and explained where we wanted to go. He told the police it was OK with him for us to continue and off we went.
We drove higher eventually entering the Daallo Mountains where at over 2000m, the temperature plummeted and I found myself in an incredible moss covered forest of thousand year old Juniper and Cedar trees with spectacular views from the escarpment to Gulf of Aden. With alpine meadows and cool, crisp mountain air it was hard to believe I was in Somalia.
I spent two days exploring the forest and could have easily spent a week there but it was soon time to head back to Hargesia and my flight to Egypt.
For my ten days in the two countries I used Abdi Jama who owns Nature Somaliland, as my guide. He’s a local from Somaliland who has lived in the USA for twenty years, has a graduate degree from Colarodo State University and has returned home to run his guiding/tour business. When it comes to this part of the world, he’s the go-to guy.
Above: flying over the Sinai Mountains.
I’m now in Sharm el Sheikh on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsular where I’m diving for a week and hopefully will have mostly underwater photos in my next blog.
Bye for now.
My purpose of visiting Chad was to attend the Gerewol Festival held by the nomadic Wadaabe people each year at the end of the wet season.
Each year they migrate with their livestock in response to the seasons and rainfall, as they’ve done for thousands of years.
Their homeland was divided by national boundaries over a century ago and I could have stayed in Niger last week and seen the festival there but like other African tribes such as the Massai, Himba and tribes of the Omo Valley, they’ve become a tourist attraction, which is what I didn’t want to see.
So I flew to Chad and then drove two hundred kilometers into the Sahal to find the two clans I spent time with, the Sudosukai and the Njapto who have no written language and spend their days tending to their long horned Zebu cattle.
The only contact they have with tourists each year is for one week at the end of September. The festival and their culture has been maintained largely intact, and they makes no concessions to the outside world with their traditions unchanged for centuries.
The origins of the Wodaabe are shrouded in mystery but it is thought that they first arrived in the region from the north over a thousand years ago, moving south as the Sahara Desert expanded into their tribal territory.
After arriving at the festival I met the sultan and clan leaders and was welcomed as a guest amongst incredibly friendly people who were genuinely honoured that I had travelled from the other side of the world to meet them and see their festival.
The Gerewol is an elaborate mass courtship ritual and one of the most fascinating ceremonies you can see in all of Africa.
Their emphasis is on male beauty and the young Wodaabe men decorate themselves with extravagant and colourful make up, feathers and traditional jewellery to ‘display’ to young women in search of a partner.
The dancing involves the young men standing in a line, singing traditional rhythmic songs and chants while doing their best to show the whites of their eyes and baring their teeth, two symbols of male beauty.
After a day of dancing the women step forward from the crowd and choose a potential husband.
The older married men who have been through the ceremony previously are allowed to line up again and try for a second wife but most preferred to tend to their cattle, coach the younger men and race their horses.
The Wadaabe people’s homeland, like other nomadic tribes in Africa, is quickly diminishing. Their northern land is becoming drier and the expanding Chadian population and farmland encroaches from the south.
Their future is also not assured because in Chad they hold one of the lower rungs of society. Their nomadic lifestyle and ancient animistic believes are often fround upon in modern day Chad.
After an incredible week with the Wadaabe and ten days in Chad it was time to continue my travels. Both Chad and Niger are difficult countries to access and for my on ground logistics in Chad I used S.V.S an Italian based company who have been working in Chad for over twenty years and were excellent. In Niger I used Zenith Tours, a local Niamey based company who were also excellent.
From Chad I’ve flown to Addis in Ethiopia where I’m spending a couple of days getting my Somaliland and Djibouti visas, as well as finally taking some time to sort through thousands of photos.
After Somalia I’ll fly to Sharm el Sheikh and Dahab on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsular for a week of diving the Red Sea.
Bye for now.
I arrived in Niamey, the capital of Niger at 3am after perhaps the most amusing flight of my life.
The fun started at the airport when my flight was called and forty people, mostly women bolted for the entry gate and were pushing and jostling to get on the plane. I waited till last and casually wandered through, only to find a bus waiting on the runway. Last on the bus, first off and first on the plane, haha. Then I watched everyone else board the plane. No line at the bottom of the stairs, just a mass of pushing and shoving to get up the stairs into the plane.
Then they all sat in the wrong seats and it took half an hour for the flight attendants to move them to their correct seats.
Then they put a two year old in the exit row in charge of the emergency door!
Once we landed the same circus occurred in reverse.
The customs and immigration official searched through every page of my passport and eventually looked up and said, “where’s your Visa? ” I said, ” I don’t have one.”
Some other officials arrived wanting to know why I was in Niger. “Tourism”, I said! I could tell by the look on their faces they don’t get that answer very often.
So they confiscated my passport, gave me an address in the city and told me to be there at 9am to answer some more questions.
Passport-less I walked out to the car park and found the local fixer that I’d organised prior to leaving Morocco. That morning I slept in past 9am, had a long breakfast, enjoyed a swim in the motel pool and he returned with my passport and new Niger Visa just after lunch.
Niger is one of the World’s poorest countries, with an average YEARLY workers income of less than $2000. Eighty percent is covered by the Sahara Desert and it has very few resources, poor agricultural land and suffers from poor infrastructure, over population as well as a multitude of other challenges. I’ve been to several very poor countries in the last six months but the situation in Niger is obviously worse than in the others I’ve visited. Niamey is more like a large country town than a city and my first outing was to the markets where I bought a couple of things and then I headed to the museum, which was fairly ordinary.
I wandered around what is surely the saddest and most pathetic zoo on the planet for an hour and decided to head back to the motel.
Keen to see somewhere else, I jumped on a plane and flew to Zinder near the Nigerian border and then to the desert city of Agadez.
I hit the ground running in Agadez and was straight off to the Sunday afternoon animal market on the outskirts of town.
Not long after arriving the city was engulfed in an afternoon dust storm creating some amazing light for photography.
I spent the rest of the afternoon and the following day exploring the city. I’d only been in Agadez two days and it was already one of my favourite African towns.
Ten years ago, before Boko Haram, Agadez was a major tourist town with three direct flights from Paris every week. Today the British Foreign Office warns there is a risk of arrest and deportation for even enquiring about travel to Agadez, given the security situation in the region. Boko Haram have recently launched terrorist attacks in the city and the governor has banned travel outside the city without an army escort. As you can well imagine the tourist infrastructure has all but disapeared.
The World Heritage listed minaret of the Agadez Mosque built in 1515 is the tallest adobe structure in the World.
Being the only tourist in the city and probably the entire country, I was given permission to climb to the top of the minaret. Even my guide had never been inside.
We opened the door and crawled through a hole and into darkness. Luckily I had the light on my phone. Walking and crawling higher I came to the local bat roost and they all decided to depart in my direction. After being wacked in the face by at least a dozen bats, I continued upwards, wiggling through passageways that were not much more than crevices, eventually crawling through a hole into the sunlight. Below is the view from the top.
After three days in the city I decided I wanted to go for a drive north into the desert. I was promptly told it was too dangerous and to forgot it but after some negotiating, hiring three armed soldiers for the day and a Touareg guide, we set off.
We stopped in an area of desert north of town with about two thousand Touareg inhabitants and I was invited to meet the Chief.
The Touareg Chief was Mustapha and I went to his house and we walked around his farm for a while and then sat down in the shade, drank tea and chattered for a couple of hours escaping the afternoon heat.
After my time in Agadez I flew back to Niamey and the next day hired a car and driver. We drove north out of the city to a small riverside village where I hired a pirogue for the day and we spent the day on the Niger River.
The high light was finding an Egyptian Plover on the river bank. One of the world’s avian oddities, it’s the only member of its family in the World and only found in the area of Africa just south of the Sahara.
The boat driver, whose English wasn’t the best noticed I was photographing birds as we went along, so he parked the boat and wanted to take me to a spot where there were “thousands” of birds. “OK”, I said. We walked a kilometer across a swamp and stopped at a huge fruit bat colony! “C’est Bon” he said, “Oui, c’est bon”
After a week in Niger, this morning I flew to Casablanca, Morocco and am writing this while sitting in a street cafe drinking coffee and watching the ocean.
Tonight I’m flying to Chad for ten days, where I’ll head back into the desert and live with the intensely traditional, nomadic Wodaabe tribe for a week during their Gerewol Festival, which very few westerners are privileged to ever see.
My next post will be from N’Djamena in ten days from now.
I set off north from the border post into Western Sahara past countless sand dunes and through ever changing desert scenery. Most of the time the landscape was flat, sandy and devoid of life except for the odd clump of grass.
Occasionally lower areas had bushes and stunted trees and apart from camels the only things that moved in the inhospitable landscape were Crested and Thekla Larks.
Late in the afternoon on the second day the landscape changed to a flat rocky gibber terrain with high sandhills scattered to the horizon. We saw a large sandhill several kilometers from the road and drove across the plains for twenty minutes to camp at the base of the dune.
After a nice night tucked in behind the dune we continued our drive north. Conditions weren’t too bad, there was a breeze and the temperature was only about 40degrees. The week previously it was 47.
Hard to believe, but Wiki tells me Western Sahara is one of the most sparsely populated places in the world.
On the fourth day we made it to the Atlantic coast, where the desert meets the sea. With a cool sea breeze the temperatures dropped and we camped a night on the edge of the cliff near a small fishing village. Later that night one of the local fisherman bought three large fleshly caught fish up to our camp and gave them to us, welcoming us to the area. We wrapped them in foil and put them on the fire……sensational.
Further along the coast were two ship wrecks, so we stopped and walked down the cliffs for a closer look.
Western Sahara is unofficially part of Morocco and the next day we past two large white camels chewing on a palm tree and entered the official Morocco.
After four months of having the continent to ourselves it was a bit of a shock to see tourists. We drove into Agadir which was full of holidaying Europeans. Since leaving Tanzania I’ve only met a couple travelling around Africa in a Suzuki Vitara and two guys on motor bikes near the Congo Cameroon border. All the non-Africans we’ve met have been UN Peacekeepers or NGO workers.
From Agadir we headed inland through the mountains to Marrakesh.
For two days I became a tourist and explored the old city, visiting palaces, soukes, tanneries and of course the Jemaa el Fna square and markets.
I spent hours walking the narrow streets and alleys of the medina, stopping for lunch at a terrace cafe and continuing onto the Moroccan photography museum
During the day the square is full of snake charmers, henna tattoo artists and musicians.
At night the UNESCO World Heritage square fills with food stalls, traditional dances and acrobats.
From Marrakesh we continued north to the beach town of Asilah.
I walked down to the beach for an afternoon swim and from a distance my first impression was of a nice beach with good waves, life guards and lots of people on the beach. The reality is your typical Moroccan beach covered from the waters edge to the road in rubbish, nice body surfing sets coming in but no one in the water over their knees and three lifeguards in red and yellow lifeguard outfits siting behind the tent in the shade facing the road watching a game of beach soccer. In the two hours I was there, none of them looked at the water once. I was very tempted to run over and say, “someone’s drowning out there”, just for a laugh. They probably wouldn’t know what to do if I did.
After Asilah we hit the freeway and headed north to Tangier.
At Tangier I caught the ferry to Gibraltar for a day.
Photo above from Gibraltar with Europe on the right and Africa on the left.
After a day in Gib I said goodbye to my travel buddies and jumped back on the ferry to Ceuta and once back on the mainland headed down to the Rif Mountain town of Chefchaouen, famous for its striking blue washed buildings.
I booked into a small blue motel in the centre of the old town and once again spent three days exploring the back streets and lanes, managing to get lost a couple of times in the maze of alleys and narrow streets.
It was never a problem being lost as the old city is only a few hundred meters wide and you’re never far from a good cafe or helpful local.
I had lunch in the Uta el Hamman Square and visited the casbah and fifteenth century fort and accompanying dungeon.
After three days in bluetown I jumped on a local bus to Tangier.
Tangier is an old sea faring town on the Maghreb Coast of Northern Morocco at the western entrance to the Straits of Gibraltar. It has been the gateway to Africa for three thousand years and the spot were Hercules stood when he separated Europe from Africa. I would have liked to have seen that!
Today Tangier is a busy seaside city of three million people and where every building is painted white.
I’m not sure if that’s Spain on the horizon or Europe’s smog.
In Tangiers I hit the beach and spent a couple of days working on my tan and seeing the sites, like this sea cave in the shape of Africa. It even has it’s own Madagascar, although I reckon Madagascar was carved out by some bored Roman soldier back in the day.
Even more impressive is the grotto below. It might look like any other boring old grotto but it’s actually where Hercules put one of his feet when parting the continents.
I’ve now been in Western Sahara and Morocco for three weeks and tomorrow night I’m flying out to country number sixteen, Niger. I’ll wander around Niger for eight days and then fly by back into Casablanca for a day. My next post will either be from Casablanca or Niamey in just over a week.
Bye for now.
I crossed into Senegal on Friday the 25 August and drove to the nearest town Moussala, which looked more like a huge refugee camp than a local village. Hundreds of temporary shelters were sprawled across the countryside. We later heard that gold had been discovered in the area and they were mainly artisanal gold miners.
Senegal like Mali and Burkina before it is lush and green with hundreds of kilometers of green fields and totally opposite to every photo I’ve ever seen which show these countries as dry, dusty and hot. I now realise that all the tourists to these countries visit in the dry season and I’m still yet to work out why.
On our final morning the sun came out and we bypassed Dakar and drove through the outskirts of Saint Louis, heading to the river crossing at Rosso.
As I travelled north from Dakar the green pastures and lush forests of the last three months were replaced with sandy, arid terrain typical of the Sudan Region of North Africa.
The next phase of my African journey started when I crossed the Mauritanian border. I’ll spend the next two months in the deserts of North Africa, including crossing the Sahara in summer.
Before we could head north into the desert we had to negotiate the infamous border crossing from Senegal to Mauritania which is across the Senegal River and is notorious as the most corrupt border crossing in all of Africa.
Corrupt officials, hassles, problems, bribes and chaos on both sides of the river.
All up it took about six hours to wait for the ferry and make our way through the process with the help of a local fixer and a few dollars paid to the right people.
After having crossed into Nigeria by road and been stopped sixteen times in twenty kilometers by Nigerian border officials and also having crossed the border from Angola to the DRC by road where we enjoyed the added bonus of being interviewed in a small back room by the Agence Nationale de Renseignements (ANR) , aka the Congo National Intelligence Agency, the crossing to Mauritania was just another fun day in Africa that I got a few laughs out of.
It was difficult to fathom the suddenness of the change in landscape. In less than 100km we went from green fields and rice paddies to sandhills and camels.
The following afternoon, after a scenic desert drive north we reached the capital, Nouakchott – pronounced Nuwak-shut – where the Sahara meets the sea.
On my first afternoon we headed to the Port de Peche. The fish market is one of the busiest in West Africa and we arrived in time to watch the boats return.
Hundreds of colourful traditional wooden pirogues lined the beach with others returning from the ocean every few minutes with their catch. Once near the shore, they battle the shore break and twenty guys drag it up the beach on rollers.
We stopped at a cafe near the boats for local mint tea and watched the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean.
After our time in Nouakchott we headed into the desert, sand and heat, hugging the coast north towards Nouadibou. Pronounced No-waadi-boo.
We drove up the eastern side of Star Bay and found a beachfront hotel with resident Greater Flamingos feeding in the bay, where I had a long afternoon walk around the edge of the bay.
The following day we crossed out of Mauritania into no-man’s-land where there’s no road with a side order of land mines. The territory is disputed between two countries and two would-be-if-they-could-be countries. Mauritania, Western Sahara, The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and Morocco.
After exiting Mauritania and before the five day Sahara crossing we stopped at the border for a chicken tagine lunch and cold drinks. The photo below is just after leaving the border cafe.
I’ll spend a week in the Western Sahara and then a fortnight in Morocco visiting Agadir, Marrakesh, Tangier, Cueta, Casablanca and a few places in between. From Morocco I’m flying to Niger for a week and then Chad for ten days.
My next post will be from Tangier in a fortnight. Bye for now.
Burkina Faso – Country no 10, double figures!! In only four and a bit months.
Which I guess means I’m 20% along the way to fifty African countries.
I’ve planned my African trip around visiting in the wet season and non-tourist season and once again it’s paying dividends. The Burkina Faso countryside is lush and green.
The guy in the truck above was carrying fuel from Nigeria to Burkina Faso with a side business of 500 pineapples on top of the tank.
I travelled west towards the capital through more villages stopping at local markets to buy lunch which usually consists of street meat with chilli sauce on a baguette. I’ve been cautious to only buy goat and beef and to avoid bush meat. With the route I’ve taken through Africa so far and the huge number of local village markets I’ve visited, I’ve seen just about every type of African animal from giant bats and Pangolin to Antelope and monkey cooked and for sale.
Burkina Faso might be one of the World’s poorest countries but it’s No. 1 when it comes to cool names of capital cities. On the 17 August I arrived in the capital – Ouagadougou!! Pronounced Woga-do-goo with a French accent…..easy.
Three days prior to arriving in the capital there was a terrorist attack when four guys rode up to a restaurant visited by ex-pats and well to do locals and killed eighteen people with AK47s. Despite that, we spent a relaxing and productive three days in the city, visiting a few landmarks and finishing with a night at a local outdoor cafe with live music.
From Ouagadougou we headed west to Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina’s second largest city, which the locals just call Bobo.
We stayed in Bobo for just one night and continued on towards Mali and yet another “red zone”.
The crossing into Mali was quick and easy and with border formalities finished we drove the Trans Sahalian Highway north to the first large town, Sikasso.
We used our time in Sikasso to visit the Sunday markets and pick up Mali sim cards.
From Sikasso it was still 300km to Bamako, Mali’s capital city which sits on the banks of the Niger River. We drove through green countryside and at 5pm found a open plain which looked like a nice place to camp. We drove across the plain and pulled in behind some trees and camped the night on a Malian meadow which felt more like New Zealand or Scotland than North Africa.
After arriving in Bamako my first job was to organise a boat trip down the Niger River for half a day.
Unfortunately it rained for two days, so I occupied myself with a few mundane tasks like washing.
After three days in Bamako I decided to hire a car and driver and go in search of Mali’s only endemic bird, Mali Firefinch, which fortunately lives in the rocky escarpment country only forty minutes from my accommodation. We drove out to Kabalakoro Balancing Rocks and after a couple of hours of scrambling and jock jumping I found a few finches as well as some nice other birds.
Finally the rain stopped and I headed out on the river in a pirogue. The river was full and flowing fairly quickly, so we headed west for a couple of hours and then slowly drifted back through the city.
Similar to the Congo River in Kinshasa there were poor settlements with families living under tarps with riverfront mansions next door.
After four days in Bamako I headed north towards Senegal. It was our original goal to travel north from Mali into Eastern Mauritania perhaps near Ayoun el Atrous but everyone we spoke to advised us it was too dangerous to travel that way.
I could have taken the Route Nationale One but we found a much more interesting looking 350km back road via Kita and Dabia, which crosses the border in Southern Senegal near Koundame. The ‘back road’ isn’t on Google Maps or our road map but we heard from locals that it’s a good quality road. We drove across Mali all day, camping that night once again in the countryside. Within a few hours we were surrounded by lightning and later that night it rained heavily.
In the early morning light as the sun struggled to break through iron grey clouds we came across an area of magnificent jagged towering escarpment that accompanied us for twenty kilometers between Dabia and Kenieba, not far from the Senegal border.
Along the twenty kilometers of cliff five waterfalls plunged between 80-300m to the ground below. One waterfall cascaded down, another was tiered and others plunged off the escarpment in one long drop into the fertile valley below.
Clouds shrouded the plateau and in many places the cliff face was veiled in mist.
As we moved along the valley floor, a running battle ensued between my camera and tentacles of cloud which persisted in manoeuvering in front of the cliff face and then evaporating, only to re-appear reaching from the plateau down into the villages below.
It was easy to believe that the mud brick and thatched roofed villages at the base of the range had been there just as long as the ancient mountains that towered above.
Another spectacular and rarely visited part of Africa that sees virtually no international travellers.
After another hour of travel we quietly slipped into south eastern Senegal at the Koundame – Moussala crossing.
We’re planning on scooting across Senegal fairly quickly as I have a longer visit planned for another time. Hopefully after 3-4 days I’ll cross into Southern Mauritania.
Bye for now.
Countries number eight and nine – Nigeria and Benin.
Transiting north from Cameroon to Morocco.
After leaving Limbe/Buea we headed north through Kumba and Mamfe on surprisingly good quality Chinese constructed tar roads, which are a rarity in Cameroon outside the major cities.
In several countries so far I’ve encountered beautiful new roads where I was expecting days of four wheel driving. The trip from Limbe to the Nigerian border used to take seven days and was impassible in the wet season. It took us just 7hrs!!
Crossing the border into Nigeria was less painful than we anticipated and we were on the road again within an hour.
Between the border and Ikon, which is about 20km, we were stopped by Immigration, Customs, Police and the Army, sixteen times!! Welcome to Nigeria.
I would have liked to go into Cross River National Park to see the World’s rarest gorillas but the roads were impassible so we continued north leaving the rainforest clad mountains that I’ve been travelling through for the last month behind.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populated country and although the 550km road from the border to the capital is tar sealed it was riddled with pot holes and washed away in parts. The entire route is lined with houses and small communities, making it one continuous 500km village.
I arrived in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital city on the 10 August and spent three days exploring the relatively new purpose built city.
Abuja is a planned and purpose built city similar to Brasilia and Canberra and became the capital of Nigeria in 1991. After a few days of exploring what is probably the most character-lacking city in Africa I couldn’t find anything picturesque to photograph, not a single building or monument.
We departed Abuja and headed north towards Benin, unsure of where we are going to cross the border.
On the outskirts of Abuja we found the impressive Zuma Rock which at 2400ft is twice as high as Australia’s Ayers Rock. Not surprisingly there were no signs, places to stop and take photos or walking tracks, so we just slowed down, took a couple of quick pics and continued north west towards the border.
The road in parts was terrible and our progress was slow as we past through countless small villages and surprisingly lush farmland.
After a while we began to cross several rivers and areas of floodplain converted to rice fields .
Just up the road is the mighty Niger River, which is my fourth and final big African river of the year. It starts in Guinea only 240km from the coast and rather than flowing to the ocean it flows inland across the Sahara Desert and for an incredible 4180km before finally reaching the Atlantic Ocean in Nigeria.
Heading into Northern Nigeria we were now in Boko Haram territory and had to remain vigilant.
By late afternoon we turned north at Mokwa and headed for the Benin border crossing at Babana. After a while we could see a storm brewing ahead and pulled down a track next to a corn field and bush camped in the Nigerian countryside.
The following morning we crossed a muddy Niger River under dark and stormy skies and looking like a scene from deepest darkest wet tropical Africa. I’d always imagined I’d see the Niger River in some scorching hot, dry and dusty Saharan or Sahalian landcape but maybe that’s still to come.
Africa’s four big Rivers – I started with a cruise on the Ugandan Nile in April, then camped on the Zambezi floodplain in June and spent a few days on the Congo River in July. I’ll have to wait until Mali before I can get my feet wet in the Niger but that’s only two weeks away.
We continued on for another six hours to Babana and after clearing customs & immigration we were visited by a member of the Nigerian Intelligence Service whose first question was, “So what are you smuggling”? A bunch of humorous replies raced through my head but with the Benin border only meters in front of us I refrained and he eventually allowed us to depart Nigeria.
It was late afternoon when we crossed into my ninth African country Benin, which is one of the World’s smallest countries. We drove north for an hour without any sign of a customs or immigration outpost or anything much else, so we drove down a rough track into the forest, found a clearing and camped the night in the forest of Benin.
At 11am the next day, after four hours driving we found a small police station with a helpful policeman who stamped our passports and welcomed us to his country. We’d travelled 80km across Benin before officially arriving, which is a fair way considering the country is only 270km wide!
We continued north to the town of Djougou where I resupplied at a couple of the local stores before continuing on. With none of us having been to this remote part of Northern Benin previously we spent a day exploring some back roads seeing several small traditional villages.
After three days in Northern Benin I arrived at the Burkina Faso border which also happened to be only five kilometers from the Togo border. I could have crossed via Togo but I’m planning to visit Togo along the coast another time.
Benin is the fastest country so far in Africa for entering and exiting. It took them ten minutes to stamp us in and ten minutes to stamp us out. Why can’t every country be like Benin??
All up I only spent three days in Benin but it’s one of the world’s smallest countries and like Togo I’d like to come back and see the coastal strip sometime in the future.
Bye for now.
My first day in Yaounde was a Sunday and a day of rest. We sat around on the grass at our accommodation and talked to a couple of locals, played Bocce and occasionally wandered down to the local well stocked patisserie for croissants and gateau. We finished the night at The Bunker, a local restraraunt/bar where I had a nice fish dinner cooked in banana leaves on a sidewalk stove.
On Monday I went to the Burkina Faso embassy and they were able to issue my visa quickly and with that done I walked next door to the Chad embassy and they were able to do the same. Incredibly, I had two new visas in three days.
The high light of my time in Yaounde was the National Heritage Dance and Music Festival held in the grounds of the National Museum.
Drums, drums and more drums was the sound from the festival as various tribes from Cameroon’s Sudano-sahelian north to the rainforest south and east performed various traditional songs and rhythmic dances. I stayed until late watching all the displays and the concert. One of the best days I’ve had in Africa so far.
We departed Yaounde and drove to the coastal town of Limbe, a full days drive west. In wet season drizzle we booked into some beachside accommodation with accompanying twin oil rigs just offshore.
As picturesque as it was, I departed the following morning for a visit to Mount Cameroon, West Africa’s highest peak.
After Mt Cameroon we drove four hours inland to the remote mountain village of Nyasoso. My first night in the village I was invited to meet the Village Chief.
We walked to his house and talked for a while and then he performed a welcoming ceremony, welcoming me to his village and the local area. We fired questions back and forth and had a beer together. What was supposed to be ten minutes soon became two hours. It was a very special occasion.
I headed back to my humble village abode and prepared for two days of trekking in the nearby Hills.
I spent a couple of days exploring the mountains and local area, seeing some nice wildlife, lots of birds and a groovy immature Gabon Viper.
The area surrounding the village is mainly subsistence farmland growing Theobroma cacao, the cocoa tree and various tropical fruits.
Chocolate is extracted from the cocoa bean mainly grown by thousands of small producers, who have a few trees each. It takes 1200 of these pods to make a litre of chocolate.
We drove back to Limbe and after another early morning on Mt Cameroon it was time to head north towards the Nigerian Border.
Travel update: I’m beginning to finalise some future travel plans through to October. After Nigeria it looks like, at this stage I’ll disapointingly not make it to Niger. Instead I’ll head west and travel through Northern Benin. My route through Benin is through a rarely visited part of the county which should be interesting. From there I’ll travel across Burkina Faso and north into Mali. I’m planning to spent ten days or so in Mali prior to a remote border crossing into Eastern Mauritania. If that crossing’s too dangerous I’ll quickly travel through Senegal and then onto Western Sahara and north to Morocco. After a while in Morocco I plan to spend a week in Tunisia and then to Chad for 10 days and then another ten days in Djibouti and Somalia. I’m still deciding what comes after Somalia but at this stage I’m thinking of a week or so in nearby Eritrea.
Bye for now.