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NoFear Travel in Africa (6) | Overlanding in Mali

We (Cor and Grietje van NoFear Travel), travel with our Toyota Hilux 4×4 camper by Africa. The African continent is the Mecca for 'overlanding' with many challenging routes and beautiful destinations. The first African country we visited during our trip to South Africa is Morocco, followed by Mauritania, Senegal en Gambia. In this article we tell you more about the progress of this journey, the overlanding Mali.

As always: start by watching the video first!

Border crossing Senegal – Mali

Our travelogues usually start at the border, so this time too. We crossed the border into Mali from Senegal at diboli (Location here). We don't really know anything about this border, so we'll see what awaits us. First we see an incessant row of trucks that want to enter Mali. The drivers are waiting in the shade under the cars, when they can go a little further. Luckily we can drive past it.

Stamping out on the Senegalese side is going smoothly. A little further on we cross the border river and find ourselves on Malian territory. In the immigration office the officer can't find our visa, little shock. But flipping through the passport again and again offers solace. The stamp is set and we can continue to the customs office for a stamp in our car passport (CPD).

The friendly employees let us wait quite a long time here. Then someone comes and beckons us to another office. Here we are introduced to the head of customs. A stately man with a nice suit, an office with air conditioning, a few good chairs, a TV and a refrigerator.

After he has reported again that he is the head, he puts a can of coke in front of us with a big smile. He starts to tell about his country and asks about our travel route. We explain to him where to put the stamp and after some fiddling we succeed. When we can go, he hands us another can of coke and wishes us a good trip. 

It is clear to us; a warm welcome and no corruption!

Spend the night just before the border | Overlanding in Mali
Spend the night just before the border | Overlanding in Mali

We continue our way for about 90 kilometers towards Kayes (Location here). We are driving on an asphalted road that was once perfectly fine, but has now been completely destroyed by the many freight traffic. Along the way we see the consequences of this: Three recent accidents of which the trucks are completely destroyed on the side of the road. And so we also have to be alert and slalom around the huge holes.

About Mali

Mali is one of the poorest countries in the world. The country is being torn apart by various groups that are (violently) seizing power. Changes in power and coups d'etat determine the history of the last decades. As a result, violence against white Westerners occurs regularly. The west of the country is the best off with this. The republic has no maritime border and French is spoken as a second language. The huge area covers about two times France.

The 20 million Malians are for the most part Muslim. About 80% of the population is employed in agriculture, with the cotton industry being the major part. Gold mines managed by foreign companies are also a source of income for the country.

Our adventure through Mali

Cool Camp Mali 

Our first goal is campsite Cool Camp (Location here). A site run by a Dutchman, right next to the Baying River and the huge one Manantili dam.

Owner Casper – himself an ex-overlander – bought the site over 10 years ago. He built some houses and sanitary facilities for campers. Unfortunately, there have been hardly any guests in recent years. The unstable security situation in the country made people wary. Corona came over that again.

Casper seems to be having a good time in his private life, lives frugally and is quite integrated into Malian society. Sometimes he even helps with the repair of water pumps in the region. The campsite is a safe haven for overlanders. You can swim in the clean river water and Casper likes to tell you about Malian life.

Cross the Sengal River
Cross the Sengal River
Cool camp | Overlanding in Mali
Cool camp | Overlanding in Mali

Memorable bus trip to Bamako

Mali is not the country where you can enjoy freedom carefree. You have to think about safety in everything you do. Some parts of the country are simply inaccessible and in other parts you should not go anyway.

Also read: Worldly | What are the safest and most dangerous countries in Africa?

Unfortunately, we have to put an end to the plan Timbuktu (Location here) to visit. A journey to Bamako (Location here), the Malian capital, we consider sufficiently safe. To go here with our own transport would be too flashy and that's why we decide to take the bus Manantali (Location here) to Bamako.

A bus journey of about 325 kilometers that can easily take 10 to 15 hours due to the appalling quality of the roads. The bus company drives daily to Bamako in an old, rusty and welded Mercedes bus, which can transport 22 people after adding some seats in the aisle. Really nothing in the bus is still whole or undamaged. The roof is used to carry goods.

The Mercedes bus in Mali, just before departure
The Mercedes bus in Mali, just before departure

With an hour and a half delay, we start at a quarter past eight on a journey that will stay with us for a long time. The first hundred kilometers consists of only dirt roads full of holes. The bus produces large clouds of dust and dirty diesel fumes, which penetrate the bus through the many holes in the bottom. Most passengers understandably wear a face mask. But touring through the beautiful landscape, with dozens of small villages with round mud houses along the way, is a unique experience. It feels like quite an adventure and we enjoy it.

Manantali | The first 100 km is over.. still 225 to go
Manantali | The first 100 km is over.. still 225 to go
Take a break with the Mercedes bus
Take a break with the Mercedes bus

The Sleeping Camel Hotel in Bamako

After 11 hours in the bus, and now dark, we were happy to get off in the center of Bamako. Immediately a number of taxi drivers gathered around us, of which we selected one to take us to our reserved hotel. Unfortunately none of the drivers knew the location of the hotel, but Google maps got us to the The Sleeping Camel (Location here and website make).

The Sleeping Camel is a typical place (restaurant with 6 hotel rooms) where white people (expats) hang out. But the atmosphere is unique. Between the noise of the city you can drink a cold beer in peace and even take a dip in the small swimming pool. During our stay the world football championships were going on, so it was a lot of fun every night. The Sleeping Camel therefore has more of a hostel atmosphere.

The Sleeping Camel in Bamako | Overlanding in Mali
The Sleeping Camel in Bamako | Overlanding in Mali
Football at The Sleeping Camel, Bamako
Football at The Sleeping Camel, Bamako
Welcome to The Sleeping Camel, Bamako
Welcome to The Sleeping Camel, Bamako

Bamako

From the Sleeping Camel we will explore the city on foot. We cross a bridge over the Niger River which is very wide here. The huge numbers of mopeds that drive around here are striking. They are mainly of one brand and more or less drive through the city in traffic jams. In the city, as in many other westernAfrican cities, the air is heavily polluted with dust and exhaust fumes and roadsides have become rubbish dumps.

We stroll through the busy streets between the many stalls with merchandise. In addition to food, we see many fabrics in cheerful colors. Bamako therefore has a vibrant textile industry.

Shopping street in Bamako | Overlanding in Mali
Shopping street in Bamako | Overlanding in Mali

The number of whites in the city is very limited and some people look at us with extra interest. Others are eager to sell us something, but stop their actions when we hold off. Because there are actually no tourists walking around, we get a good picture of real life in the Malian capital. In short, there is a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere. 

Just another street in Bamako
Just another street in Bamako

We have heard about the zoo, which would be very nice, so we pay a visit. The zoo apparently suffers greatly from the few tourists that Bamako attracts. We estimate the number of visitors at less than 50.

Some animal shelters are empty. It is clear to see that they are struggling to keep their heads above the water. Still we enjoy fish, dangerous pythons and cobras. These are snakes that we may encounter on the continuation of our journey. We can now recognize them and know about the dangers. After a look at the lions and hyenas, we realize that we prefer to meet these animals in the wild at a suitable distance, rather than these caged enclosures.

After all that sauntering we take a taxi back to the Sleeping Camel and enjoy the atmosphere in the restaurant.

Here we have a meeting with Gerbert van der Aa, Dutchman, and journalist for this Africa, for various Dutch newspapers and magazines. He is interested in our way of traveling and would like to write an article for the NKC which will be published in early 2023.

Bridge over the Niger in Bamako
Bridge over the Niger in Bamako
Gasoline seller in Bamako, Mali
Gasoline seller in Bamako, Mali

Boat trip Niger River

At the invitation of the owners of The Sleeping Camel we take a boat trip on the Niger River. We need to pick someone up on the other side. And this is faster via the calm river than via traffic in the evening rush hour.

There are still a few people. Together with a drink and the sunset we have a fantastic view from the water over Bamako.

Boat trip in Bamako | Overlanding in Mali
Boat trip in Bamako | Overlanding in Mali
Sunset on the Niger
Sunset on the Niger

Cotton harvest and bad roads

On the way back from Manantali to the Senegalese border we pass through an area with a lot of cotton production. We stop along the road at a field where people are picking cotton. They still do that by hand here, while in other places in the world they pick mechanically. 

Immediately a few men and women enthusiastically approach us. They take us to the plants and show them how they work. Ball by ball in a big bag. Very labour-intensive. We take some pictures and tip them.

Proud Malian cotton farmer
Proud Malian cotton farmer

Later we see some boys filling a large container with cotton. No machines here either, but manual work. They carefully tamp the container, so that as much as possible can be used. 

Load cotton
Load cotton

The roads in this part of Mali are terrible. We were aware of the first part, 100 kilometers of bad off-road conditions. But after that, according to the map, we would arrive at a main road with asphalt. Well, we knew that… 200 kilometers of asphalt with holes up to half a meter deep. Many trucks with flat tires and crashed trucks that are rusting in a roadside. What a mess.

Because we don't just want to camp here in the wild, we are looking for a safe place. Fortunately, we reach a spot in a village next to a police check about 50 kilometers before the border. It is already dark but the friendly gendarme shows us a place behind a parked truck.

Conclusion | Overlanding in Mali

While sand and asphalt visibly fly through the holes in the bottom of the bus below us, we have a good time to contemplate Mali.

Unfortunately, we have to conclude that with everything you do, a risk assessment must be made. We never felt unsafe for a moment and the vast majority of people are friendly. The average Malian does not live in fear, but is busy getting their mouths filled again day in, day out. Whether that is by working on the land or selling the most diverse things on the street. Children who do not go to school are taught early on to hold up their hand.

In the capital, cars and the untold amount of mopeds betray that there is also something of prosperity. But if you see a little later how some people dress and what their living conditions are, you know that that prosperity is very limited.

Malians are friendly people, you are not invited for tea or a visit to their village like in other countries, but you are often waving along the road.

We are glad that we were able to spend about 13 days in this immense country, but we still do not have a complete picture of the country. If the opportunity arises we will return for a visit to Timbuktu and Mopti. Now we go back to Senegal where we first visited the Casamance to affect.

NoFear travel

NoFear Travel

A Drent and a Frisian have caught the travel bug and travel the world with their 4×4 camper. We are Cor and Grietje from NoFear Reizen and we will take you on roadtrip adventure.

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