Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas In Mali

Christmas toys. Bush in a tank, Bin Laden on a skateboard.
First time I had goat for Christmas





Gary cooking the potatoes and gravy.


GWB and Bin Laden action figures.
Obama hat

Friday, December 24, 2010

Getting Arrested in Bamako, Mali

When traveling through any third world country as a westerner, you have to expect shit to happen. Just last night I was talking to a older couple from England and South Africa who have been traveling to Cape Town as well. On their way into Bamako they were pulled over by police and ordered to pay 75,000 Central African Francs for failing to stop at some tourist information center entering town. The officer pulled them over by riding a motorbike up next to them and blowing a whistle. In a world where people are dangerous and you can't trust anyone they thought at first they were going to be robbed so didn't pull over.
Traffic ticket!

Earlier in the trip they were ordered to pay money for not stopping at a rail road crossing, which hadn't had a train cross it in years, the sign all rusted, the tracks overgrown with vegitation. Our driver in Morocco was pulled over by a police check, who told him he was speeding. When he asked for the officers to show him the speed limit sign, they refused and said you pay 200 Dirham. Our driver said show me the sign of the speed limit then. The other officer then said, "ok just pay 100 then." Our driver having experience with Africa, kept negotiating till they said,"ok you can go, have a nice day."

My experience didn't cost me any money, but it could have gone south quick. It happened with me walking around town with a few people. The town of Bamako is probably the largest and craziest town we have visted yet. So luckily, I decided not to take my professional camera with me, hearing about people being mugged. Capital cities are very dangerous. I had a friend mugged twice in five minutes, while our group was in Nairobi,Kenya two years ago. The only camera I had with me was my point and shoot, that I use to take photos for my blog. I figured if there was anything to take a photo of, I at least had that with me. Doesn't really take very good pics anyways, so not too worried about it being taken. We wondered around town for a while checking out different markets, nothing was interesting enough to actually take a photo of. I did shoot some video of the traffic.


While walking town a street I had this huge guy in street clothes walk up behind me and grab my camera and try and rip it from my hand. Being a commercial fisherman my hands are super strong, so my hand locked around it like a vice grip. To his fail and all his might he couldn't get the camera out of my hand. Thinking he was a guy trying to rip me off, I pulled my camera away and continued walking. Pissing him off more he grabbed my arm and pulled me around, I got into his face and pulled away again, thinking now this guy was getting violent. He continued to grab my camera, this time with both hands trying to tear it from my grip. A crowd started to gather around us, as he yelled at me in French, which I don't know. More and more people gathered till we had a large crowd and traffic stopped. He then pulled out his wallet and showed me and the others, a fake looking card that said Police. Still not believing him that he was an actuall police officer, I tried to walk away, knowing it's common to fake being a Police officer, to rip off tourists. He continued holding me back and I kept acting like I would if someone was trying to rip me off.

I asked the locals who this guy was and they said, he was an actual police officer. So I backed down. The locals all started arguing with the officer on my behalf and things began to become heated. Wanting to get away from the mob, the officer then orderd me up the street to the police station, where I was happy to go, because I wasn't still 100 percent sure he was an officer, since he was in street clothes. One of the locals who was drawn to the argument, knew enough English, to tell me the some people complained that you took a picture of some people, without asking permission, and now he wants to arrest you.

Inside the police station, the officer argued something to the main officer in charge about what I did. The local who spoke English staying with me, like a lawyer and translator, argued on my behalf. At this point I still didn't know what was really going on, because I never took a picture of anyone. but they kept telling me that I broke some rule about taking pictures of people without permission. Which I have done a thousand times in Africa, except this day.
I tried to tell them to turn my camera on to prove it, but the officer refused.

African's love to argue, so this went on for a long time. Not sure what they were talking about. Eventually my camera battery died, since they didn't turn it off. At the time we all thought it had gotten broken. Which I think helped in my behalf, because I have thousands of photos on it. Many pics of African's I didn't ask permission to photograph because they always demand money when you do. I'm sure every tourist is guilty of this. So I just sat their while they explained how it was against the law to photograph people in Mali without them knowing. I agreed, made my arguement but knew it didn't matter. They just yelled back and fourth. Not knowing what was going to happen.

Eventually they let me go. Shook my hand. I got the hell out of there. The nice guy who backed me up, said he wanted tourists to have a good time in Mali. He loved his country. I gave him a hand shake. He didn't even ask for money. When I got home I charged my battery hoping my camera wasn't broken. To my luck it wasn't. I didn't have pictures of anyone in the market. Only a video of traffic. While writing this another guy on the trip, came up to me with a beer and said sorry I think it was me who took the pic.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Road Less Traveled




After a month in a half of traveling across some of the most rugged country I have ever seen, it was nice to relax on a beach in Senegal, drink some cold beers, and do some washing. The beach wasn't the spotless beach that you experience in resort towns, where someone cleans the sand of all drift wood and trash everyday. This beach was as natural as it gets. Everything that had washed up on the beach over the years, was still there. But the waves were great to body surf and noone else on the beach. Just had to watch out and not get tangled in the fishing nets, that were laid out in the surf.

We didn't get much time to spend in Senegal, the result of officials choosing to fill their own pockets with money, rather than look out for the best for the country. Once you drive into the country you buy a 48 hour permit, which only gives you enough time to race to the nearest city to renew it. If you don't renew it within that time, your vehicle gets impounded. Paying the official to hand it back. Since we had to renew our permit we headed to St. Louis. We camped on the beach for a few days, while our driver went into the city to get an extension. Getting news that the officals had impounded another truck of tourists traveling through the country, who failed to renew their permit fast enough and having to pay to get the truck back, we were nervous that our truck would get impounded as well. Luckily, we got a few days extension , just to leave Senegal and make a run for the Mali border. Not sure I would ever travel back to Senegal.
In Mali, we left the paved roads behind and headed off into the back country. A spontaneous decision from the driver who loves, exploring off the beaten path. Our driver Grant, born in New Zealand has driven all over Africa. He's done the Morocco, to Cape Town, to Cairo 6 times. Has had malaria 18 times and can entertain you with stories of his travels through Africa, night after night. It's great having a driver who loves pushing the truck to it's limits.

Road went from this............


to this.............
to this...........

Finally to this.

The route we took, wasn't much of a road. Rather a path through southern Mali, that I would only travel over back home, in a four wheeler. The speed at times was no more than a snails pace, but getting off the beaten path took us away from the Africa you grow to hate and into the Africa that you fall in love with. The villages we passed rarely ever see tourists, let alone white people. The look on their faces as we drove into town or passed them walking the road, wasn't that of someone excited that they might get handouts, but rather that of amazement. It was refreshing to see such hard working people, so self reliant, and tough. They didnt surround our truck and beg like everyone does in larger cities, I'm sure they could have used some extra money, but they never even asked for anything. They just waved and soaked in the alien vehicle driving past.
The small villages were so much fun to visit. When ever we came across one, the kids stopped what ever they were doing and ran along the truck cheering. Some would follow us forever down the road, coughing from the dust we kicked up. Not wanting to corrupt the people, we didn't hand out any money or give out any gifts, rather spent time playing with them and acting like a kids ourselves. I taught them some crazy dance moves that they just laughed at, but were seen copying as we drove away. So if you come across a village doing disco moves ,in southern Mali, you can blame me.

Everywhere you go in Africa, the kids love their pictures taken. But in these villages they were so amazed that they could see themselves on the screen, that they went complete bonkers. I would take a picture of them, show them the picture on my camera and it would send them laughing, playing, jumping, and cartwhelling down the road, like a looney toon character. The simple flash of my camera going off, was better then heroin.
In one village a passanger on the trip pulled out a kite and handed it to the kids to play with. Not knowing what it was, they just grabbed and pulled on the package like a group of hyenas trying to rip apart a kill. Surprisingly the kite wasn't ripped to pieces. After calming them down, we pulled the kite out of the bag, to the ooooooh and awwwwwww of the kids. We attached the string and even with no wind, showed them how to fly it. Even though it took to the sky for only seconds, it was still enough to send the crowd into cheer, followed by the disappointment as it crashed back into the bushes. The mob of kids would then run and fight over who would get to fly it, next. It was complete madness but some how the kite survived to be flown again. Everytime it took to the sky it, it was not doubt their first UFO experience.

Baobabs, known to locals as the upside down tree, grow everywhere.
We had to cross a ferry. First asking 25,000 Central African Francs, we made a them a deal. Cut it in half and not give us a receipt. They accepted immediately.
One of the villages as we passed.


Kids playing in the river.

Line at the border to Mali from Senegal





video


touris

Friday, December 17, 2010

Mauritania




View Link for photos of Mauritania


From the moment I entered Mauritania, I could tell I was crossing into central Africa. Islam is still the most popular religion, but you started to see a change in the clothing style, as well as a change from Arabs dominating the population to black Africans. Nouahdibou was the first town we ducked into. Didn't see much of it, just spent the night, before getting up early to make the dash to Nouakchott. Nouahdibou a port town on the west coat near the border, extending out into a cape. I didn't get time to photograph them, but I was excited to learn that 100 extremely rare monk seals are protected at the tip of the cape.

We originally were going to be forced to fly from Nouahdibou to Nouakchatt, because of the stretch of road leading to Nouakchatt was too dangerous, but our flights were canecelled so were left no option, then to make the dash,which I was stoked about, since I didn't want to have to fly any sections of the trans-Africa trip. The drive wasn't the most stunning, some interesting villages spotted along the road. Other than than just mile after mile of more sand. I did get some cool shots of sand blowing over the road that looked like a snow blizard back home.

Nouakchatt is a town originally built for 50,000 people, but now has grown to a million. It is the capital of Mauritania, lying along the coast. If you vist there, there are two things you have to visit, Ali Baba Burger, Mauritania's version of fastfood and the fish market. Ali Baba Burger puts to shame a big mac. Two beef patties, egg, fries, all stuffed into a fresh bun. Yum! People just drive up and yell into the shop,just like a fast foot restaurant back home.

The other interesting part of Nouakchatt was the fish market. So much was going on at the market, that I actually had to just put my camera down and watch for a while to get a sense of what I was photographing. Everywhere I looked was an amazing photographic to be taken, but so much action was going on I was over whelmed, at where I should point my lens. Like a Navy, fishermen returned, after five days at sea, in small wood boats, beautifully decorated and colored, to deliver their catch. So many were returning at once, it could only be discribed as a actual navy trying to make a beach landing, before invated inland. Once they rammed their way up on the beach, they used teamwork to haul their heavy boats, away from the crashing surf. Then the locals ran up to buy the catch.

The market was overflowing with the days catch, fish of all sizes and types were being sold. Some I have never seen before. Locals crowded around yelling and demanding what they wanted. Fish being kicked from the back of trucks, shoveled into baskets, thrown across to waiting arms. It made Pike's Market in downtown Seattle, Washington, (famous for their fish throwing) look like a fun game of catch in the back yard,compared to a big league baseball game. It was the most photographic place, since I wondered the streets of the Medina in Fes, Morocco. And without doubt a place you must visit if you ever travel to Nouakchatt. I would have loved to have spent a few days photographing it, since so much was going on. Be prepared to get alot of attention when you bring your camera out. You learn to be secret taking pics, because if any see you taking pics they turn their back, yell at you, or demand money. It's a frustrating game, but after a while you just laugh and play along with them.

After two nights In Nouakchott, we headed south to Senegal, bush camping near the border and having armed guards protect us while we camped. Good thing we had them because when ever we stop, we draw lots of attention. Since this was a border town we couldn't find a place to tuck away from view. Instead of crossing the border at the main border crossing we heading along the Senegal River and crossed into Senegal from a much less used border crossing. Bribary is a way of life on this continent so by going to a less used border crossing we got across much faster. A secret learned from our driver. It allowed us to pass through Diawling National park as well, known for it's bird life and Worthogs. It was good to finally see some wild animals after only seeing a few monkeys along the first month of the trip. I have never before seen people more excited to see a worthog From there we drove to the beach and now am spending the next three days camping on the beach. It's nice to finally spend some time swimming and bodysurfing in the Ocean. The beaches aren't the most photogenic, littered with junk and wood, but noone else is around for miles. I am currently sitttng, in some building in St.Louis.

View Link for photos of Mauritania

Road to Nouakchott, Mauritania





View from our Taxi. Fun part of traveling is experiencing the local transportation. It's like a game Russian Roulette. Cram as many as they can into one vehicle then race down the street, like some mad man. While very entertaining, their vehicles display just how hard they ride them.



Town of St. Louis, Senegal.


v
View Link for photos of Mauritania

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Across the Mighty Sahara.







The past week has been a long drive, through Western Sahara to the Mauratania border, from Morocco. We got up at sunrise every morning and drove until just before sunset, pulling off the road to find a sand dune to disappear behind and camp for the night. We have crossed some of the harshest, most sparsely populated, and dangerous landscapes, in the world. The Western Sahara isn't a place you want to hang around too long, get lost in, or break down in. It's dotted with landmines, shipwrecks along the beaches, and at the moment very unstable. At the last check point in Morocco the police seem confused why we would want to travel through this area, giving us a look of insanity.
There isn't much to see in Western Sahara, except the western edge of the grand Sahara Desert, meeting the blue Atlantic. The ocean cuts into the jagged sandstone and dunes of sand, forming steep cliff edges and sandy beaches. Only about 500,000 people live in Western Sahara, and most of them in the biggest town Laayoune, just south of the Moroccan border.

The path south, took us along and across small parts of the route the former world famous Paris to Dakar, rally race went along. It was an annual event that took place until 2009 when security became too much of a issue and they moved it to Argentina. This is the route that was supposed to happen in 2009.


Traveling though this country, you get that sense that this is a place dreams come to die. Nothing but sand as far as the eye can see. The wind seems to never stop blowing, sandblasting your body through the day. After just one day, I couldn't tell if i was getting tan or just dirty.

Since most of the days were spent driving, it allowed me to catch up on some reading. When the scenery became a bit monotanous, I tucked my head down from the roof and got lost in some other world or adventure. Then when something caught my eye, like a herd of camels or change in scenery, I would poke my head back out the sunroof, like a praire dog, and snap some pictures.

Since, I'm traveling with a group of others passengers, we have had to work together to keep things organized. When ever we stop for the night we search for firewood. Which was easy in Morocco but difficult in the desert. Most of the wood we brought with us, or found along the beach. We cook every meal over a fire, the group broken into 7 groups of 3, cooking all the meals of that day. When we arrive in a city, the cook group takes off to buy what they can from local markets. If it's not possible to find food, because we are away from any cities, we have lots of reserves tucked away in the truck. Mostly canned food, which we call dog food, so we try and get fresh stuff when ever possible.

Saftey is always on our minds. Everything that can open has a pad lock on it. When we stop in cities we rotate who will guard the truck. We have to always be alert. People always try to make there way into the truck. At night everything is locked up and someone always has to sleep on the truck, the rest of our tents, put up on the same side of the truck, close by, so we can keep an eye on them. We don't even put our sleeping bag in the tent till we are ready to go to sleep. As the driver stated. "This is Africa, anything that can be stolen, will be stolen if you don't keep an eye on it."

The instablity of Western Sahara and the countries we are heading to, has made the other passengers a bit on edge. But it has also brought us together, to look out for eachother. I have always been the type where when things get dicey, I get more excited, I'm loving every minute.
My favorite spot in the truck is a place called the beach. It's like the bunk in a camper, but you can open up the roof like a convertable, and allows you the best views with your head out the top, as you travel down the road. Luckily most of the passengers hate the front because it's windy. I on the other hand love driving down the road, with the wind in my face. It's amazing for photography and you don't miss anything that you pass. Everytime we come across a police check point or military post, I just duck down.

The first month has seemed to fly by. The longer the trip goes the more hardend I become to life on the move. I can sleep pretty much anywhere right now. My thermorest has so many holes in it, I don't bother to try and patch them. Just sleep with my sleeping bag on what ever surface we have to sleep on, with what ever criters that deside to cuddle up with me. My stomach could probably eat just about anything now. Have had no problem with the water or local food in the markets. After a week I have even started preferring the hole in the ground over the western toilets.

The craziest part of the last week was crossing from Western Sahara into Mauratania. Not only does it take all day, patrol officers searching through our truck, checking our passports, making us wait for no reason, and even having our truck go through a giant xray machine. We offered to sell off a Canadian girl for a few camels just to speed up the process.

After finally proceeding out of Moroccan control, our jaws dropped, one after the other repeated, "what the Fuck" The area betwen exiting Morocco control and entering Maurantania control was like entering noman's land. The 1-3 miles to the Mauratania border control, is the most abandoned places on earth I have ever seen. It's like time itself seems to have been forgotten. Abandoned cars litter the area like junk yards,mostly cars that were discoverd stolen by border guards. There is no road to the Mauratania border, just a path most commonly used to drive aross a landscape straight from a horror book. No country controls the area between so pretty much anything goes on. People stuck between borders try to jump on the truck, begging for help. Trash covers the ground. This definetly set the tone for entering western Africa. As we entered Mauratania, we were not only excited to enter another country, but anxious for what was ahead. What ever danger presents itself we are preparred for it with an amazing truck.
The trip so far has been a dream to photograph. I've been kept busy documenting the culture and lifestyles, along the trip. Though there hasn't been much wildlife to photograph along the trip, the experience it self has been unreal. I eagerly look forward to the next four months and where it takes us.


Tucked in behind a long sanddune.



Signs warn you along southern Western Sahara, of dangerous land mines. You don't venture far from the truck.


When ever we could find firewood, we made sure to take it along with us.




The past week has been a long drive, through Western Sahara to the Mauratania border, from Morocco. We got up at sunrise every morning and drove until just before sunset, pulling off the road to find a sand dune to disappear behind and camp for the night. We have crossed some of the harshest, most sparsely populated, and dangerous landscapes, in the world. The Western Sahara isn't a place you want to hang around too long, get lost in, or break down in. It's dotted with landmines, shipwrecks along the beaches, and at the moment very unstable. At the last check point in Morocco the police seem confused why we would want to travel through this area, giving us a look of insanity.
There isn't much to see in Western Sahara, except the western edge of the grand Sahara Desert, meeting the blue Atlantic. The ocean cuts into the jagged sandstone and dunes of sand, forming steep cliff edges and sandy beaches. Only about 500,000 people live in Western Sahara, and most of them in the biggest town Laayoune, just south of the Moroccan border.

The path south, took us along and across small parts of the route the former world famous Paris to Dakar, rally race went along. It was an annual event that took place until 2009 when security became too much of a issue and they moved it to Argentina. This is the route that was supposed to happen in 2009.


Traveling though this country, you get that sense that this is a place dreams come to die. Nothing but sand as far as the eye can see. The wind seems to never stop blowing, sandblasting your body through the day. After just one day, I couldn't tell if i was getting tan or just dirty.

Since most of the days were spent driving, it allowed me to catch up on some reading. When the scenery became a bit monotanous, I tucked my head down from the roof and got lost in some other world or adventure. Then when something caught my eye, like a herd of camels or change in scenery, I would poke my head back out the sunroof, like a praire dog, and snap some pictures.


Since, I'm traveling with a group of others passengers, we have had to work together to keep things organized. When ever we stop for the night we search for firewood. Which was easy in Morocco but difficult in the desert. Most of the wood we brought with us, or found along the beach. We cook every meal over a fire, the group broken into 7 groups of 3, cooking all the meals of that day. When we arrive in a city, the cook group takes off to buy what they can from local markets. If it's not possible to find food, because we are away from any cities, we have lots of reserves tucked away in the truck. Mostly canned food, which we call dog food, so we try and get fresh stuff when ever possible.

Saftey is always on our minds. Everything that can open has a pad lock on it. When we stop in cities we rotate who will guard the truck. We have to always be alert. People always try to make there way into the truck. At night everything is locked up and someone always has to sleep on the truck, the rest of our tents, put up on the same side of the truck, close by, so we can keep an eye on them. We don't even put our sleeping bag in the tent till we are ready to go to sleep. As the driver stated. "This is Africa, anything that can be stolen, will be stolen if you don't keep an eye on it."

The instablity of Western Sahara and the countries we are heading to, has made the other passengers a bit on edge. But it has also brought us together, to look out for eachother. I have always been the type where when things get dicey, I get more excited, I'm loving every minute.
My favorite spot in the truck is a place called the beach. It's like the bunk in a camper, but you can open up the roof like a convertable, and allows you the best views with your head out the top, as you travel down the road. Luckily most of the passengers hate the front because it's windy. I on the other hand love driving down the road, with the wind in my face. It's amazing for photography and you don't miss anything that you pass. Everytime we come across a police check point or military post, I just duck down.
The first month has seemed to fly by. The longer the trip goes the more hardend I become to life on the move. I can sleep pretty much anywhere right now. My thermorest has so many holes in it, I don't bother to try and patch them. Just sleep with my sleeping bag on what ever surface we have to sleep on, with what ever criters that deside to cuddle up with me. My stomach could probably eat just about anything now. Have had no problem with the water or local food in the markets. After a week I have even started preferring the hole in the ground over the western toilets.

The craziest part of the last week was crossing from Western Sahara into Mauratania. Not only does it take all day, patrol officers searching through our truck, checking our passports, making us wait for no reason, and even having our truck go through a giant xray machine. We offered to sell off a Canadian girl for a few camels just to speed up the process.

After finally proceeding out of Moroccan control, our jaws dropped, one after the other repeated, "what the Fuck" The area betwen exiting Morocco control and entering Maurantania control was like entering noman's land. The 1-3 miles to the Mauratania border control, is the most abandoned places on earth I have ever seen. It's like time itself seems to have been forgotten. Abandoned cars litter the area like junk yards,mostly cars that were discoverd stolen by border guards. There is no road to the Mauratania border, just a path most commonly used to drive aross a landscape straight from a horror book. No country controls the area between so pretty much anything goes on. People stuck between borders try to jump on the truck, begging for help. Trash covers the ground. This definetly set the tone for entering western Africa. As we entered Mauratania, we were not only excited to enter another country, but anxious for what was ahead. What ever danger presents itself we are preparred for it with an amazing truck.
The trip so far has been a dream to photograph. I've been kept busy documenting the culture and lifestyles, along the trip. Though there hasn't been much wildlife to photograph along the trip, the experience it self has been unreal. I eagerly look forward to the next four months and where it takes us.


Tucked in behind a long sanddune.



Signs warn you along southern Western Sahara, of dangerous land mines. You don't venture far from the truck.


When ever we could find firewood, we made sure to take it along with us.



Click to see photos of Western Sahara