The real thing
With our forthcoming 80th issue looking at the changing face of African travel over the last 20 years, Phil Clisby has been reflecting on his travels across the continent in the ’90s. Here he continues the tale of his adventure from Mali to Burkina Faso, in search of the Africa of his imagination
As we cross the border from Mauritania into Mali, I notice a dramatic change almost immediately. We are in real Africa. The Africa I had imagined. There seems to be a more relaxed attitude here, a feeling of warmth (not just from the sun, but from the people as well).
In Mauritania, and to some extent Morocco, I had felt like an uninvited guest. Tolerated rather than welcomed. But here, I feel like I can unpack my bag and hang my clothes in the wardrobe.
We play football with some local kids in the border town. Everyone on our overland truck feels good – like the trip is really beginning – now that the harshness of the desert is behind us.
But not all greetings are met so fondly. We are now in the mosquito zone – these annoying, buzzing insects are dive-bombing me at every opportunity. Tents are discarded, sleeping out under the stars abandoned – it’s mozzie nets all the way from here on in.
What a palaver they are to put up that first night. Trying to find trees a suitable distance apart and with branches at a convenient height on which to tie the net proves tricky. In the end, I trap one rope in a vice on the front of our truck and tie another to a 25-litre water bottle – a set-up that was to serve me well over the next five months.
After a less than restful night – I might have been safe from biting things, but I was not yet immune to their incessant whine – we set off towards Bamako, Mali’s capital.
Simon, Dennis and I are sitting on the roof seat above the truck’s cab as we drive along a corrugated dirt road, when our intrepid driver turns too late into a bend, wrenching the wheel suddenly. We skid in the soft sand, sliding at right angles to the road, straight (or rather sideways) towards a tree.
I grip the handrail tightly – though what good that will do if we go over I have no idea – thinking: “I’m going to have to jump… Oh [swear word], we’re going to hit the [swear word] tree.”