Welcome to the West Sahara Project. This is the dream of two adventure motorcyclists, to cross Sahara on two wheels!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The road to Mali and beyond.

En route to Nouakchott

Day 17

The decision was taken. We had to continue south via the tarmac in order to make it to Mali on time. The pistes through the desert partially served as a shortcut, but at this point we could not afford the time to give it another try. After doing some final work in the morning on the 690, we hit the road to Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania. Late at night and after a lot of wandering around the capital an auberge was found, much to our relief.

Day 18

Gearing up for the day.
Morning coffee at the auberge
Essence please
In the streets of the capital
An early start next day meant we had enough time to cover the 600 something kilometers to Kiffa, a small town midway to the Malian border. The streets of the capital were filled with all kinds of interesting everyday life scenes. We drove through a couple of busy markets and then did a stop at a gas station. It was becoming really hard at this point to locate stations which sold "essence", the local term for fuel (mostly leaded). The norm was diesel.

The fateful mini bus
Note the alignment of the lights.
While driving through Nouakchott I had noticed some really beaten up vans that served as public transport. They had their rear end shawn off so that people could get in and out at their ease. So I started following one to try and photograph it while driving at the same time (this is one of those dont try this at home things...). The van had no brake lights so when it stopped and I was messing around with the camera I had miliseconds of reaction time. The distance was a few meters. I managed to swerve the bike on its side and hit the van hard!!!! In an instant I was flying off the bike saddle and landed right inside the van at the feet of some very very surprised passengers! I stood up among them and realised that nothing was aching. It was a cinematographic like stunt. The lack of a rear door had saved me. I got out and gave the ok signal to Alex who was standing frozen a few meters back having witnessed the whole accident second by second. The 640 was lying on the street. I lifted it and with the help of Alex and some bypassers we pushed it on the side. I checked myself again and felt zero pain. It was a miracle. We immediatelly started evaluating the condition of the bike. All looked good with the exception of the fairing which was crooked. The side pannier had taken the first blast and saved the rest. A closer look revealed that the frame that holds the cockpit and the front lights was bent.

We had to remove the fairing and cockpit and we decided to do it right then and there on the side of the street. People, especially small kids were gathered all around us, finding it rather amusing to watch us working on the bike. Upon removal of the fairing we noticed the bent on the upper frame. It was impossible to straighten it, so we decided to take off the lights from there and attach them via wire and plastic tie wraps on other parts of the bike. While doing this we I found a small electrical circuit that was smashed from the crash. I traced the wires and guess what. It was the electric starter. It no longer functioned.

Striping down the cockpit.
The ever curious crowd of kids.
At least the 640 is such an old design that it features a kick starter as a back up!!! Well, kick starting a 640cc. bike is not exactly a walk in the park. And when you have to do it a dozen times daily in 40 degrees Centigrate, it is hell... We placed all the plastic covers back, and managed to keep the fairing as straight as possible. The old screws did not fit so again plastic tie wraps and wire did the job.

Having lost almost 3 hours we knew Kiffa was out of the question, but we hit the road anyway. The conditions of the highway had changed dramatically, it was no longer a highway in any sense. It featured a very narrow strip of asphalt with sand on either side, and many, many animals. Camels, cows and goats roamed the sides, hiding behind small trees and bushes. The roadkill we saw the next few days was into the hundreds of animals, literally!! So we had to pay attention. Driving was extremely tiring. At some point late in the evening while we were looking for a village to stay, a camel decided to cross the street. I slammed on the brakes hard trying to avoid it. Alex behind me had lost his attention for seconds, and that was all that was required. He tried to avoid both me and the camel by braking and passing between us, but the space was limited. He hit me with a high speed, his left side pannier smashing on my right one. I had never seen him coming so when I heard the loud bang at the same instant I felt the 640 doing figure eights on the road. I somehow managed to keep it up, while Alex's pannier got detached from the hit and was tumbling along me on the tarmac.

The 690 took most of the hit
We stopped a few meters down the road. Fuck, two accidents on a single day!!!! What else do we need? We were both speechless, as this one could have been fatal. Yet we were standing on our feet. Alive and unhurt, yet again.

Nothing to say at this point.
Alex's pannier messed up badly!
We gathered Alex's pannier which had transformed itself on an amorphous mass of metal. Any attempt to straighten it on the side of the road was in vain, so we decided to load things the best we could, and return to Bout, a village we had passed 10 kilometers ago and stay there for the night. Neither of us wanted to drive anymore that day. We ate a really bad dinner at the only place that served "food" in the village, and went straight to bed. It was Friday the 13th afterall...

A lovely place to have dinner at the end of a "lovely" day!

Day 19
The repair shop!
Alex got up early and found a local craftsman who did some miracles on the damaged pannier. He straightened it and then used the drilled holes from the repairs done at Rabat a while back, where he threaded nails and bent them so that he could keep the bottom in place. It did not exactly look like new, but it worked. We left and continued for Kiffa. The heat was exhausting, going as high as 43 degrees Centigrate that day. It was windy, and sandy, and full of camels and cows that wanted to cross the street. Some of the worst driving of the trip.

Looking for something to cool down.

Heat dried meat. Yeah!
Siesta time. Note the goat eating.
We had to reevaluate how many kilometers were possible daily on tarmac conditions like these. The border had to wait for yet another day. We were falling behind.

Refueling from our own reserves.
 Besides that we were striving to find a gas station that actually carried some regular fuel. Diesel was the norm once again, and it seemed like Kiffa was the only place we could get what we needed. This meant that by the time we got there we had ridden 685 kilometers without a refueling stop. Good thing these bikes can haul some gas!!  We reached Kiffa late in the evening exhausted, dehydrated and hungry.

That night we met at the auberge we were staying a German who lived in Togo and used to drive up to Germany on his car at least once a year. He shared some interesting stories and some really good info on what lies ahead. And one thing got our attention. The road from Kiffa to Ayoun el atrous that we had to cross tomorrow was horrible. How bad can it be, we thought just before Morpheus came over...

Day 20

Here you go, part of the national highway of southern Mauritania connecting Kiffa with Ayoun el Atrous. Yes really!!

Only 43 degrees Centigrade.
Main road closed indefinitely.
It is 6 am and it is already blasting hot. And overcast. And windy. We hit the road and once out of Kiffa we discovered what the German meant. The national road was a nightmare. Pot holes ready to swallow an entire car were everywhere. The sides were filled with sand, and cars and trucks were swerving all over the place trying to avoid the holes, and did not give a damn about us and our bikes.

And this is the in-between...
This is a paved section...
And to make things worst, at some sections the tarmac dissappeared altogether and it was only dirt, like a piste. It took us almost 4 hours to cover 200 kilometers to Ayoun, and imagine this is the national highway of southern Mauritania. There is no alternative. All the meanwhile we had to stop at police checkpoints to give our info. This was common in Mauritania, but the density of them down here was annoying. There was one every 20 kilometers or less. We had been prepared for this and had printed some fische's a document which had all our passport and bike info on it so we could simply hand this in and get going. We each had about 50 of them. Well guess what. We ran out. That meant we had to get off the bikes in 42 degrees heat and write down our info every time. And the cops were not so much in a hurry. They drank tea, ate and watched us sweat like pigs in our riding gear. Oh, the fun we were having. Plus I had to kick start the 640 every time! How much I missed my electric starter that day...

This is a  typical police checkpoint. We had to go through dozens!

At some point we made it to the border. It did not look like much, only a couple of huts and some really really bored officials. We cleared Mauritania fast and went to the Malian side. Thank god, no minefield this time!! At the Malian side we got visas, which was much simpler than we thought, cleared customs and we were ready!!! We were finally entering the real Africa!!!! Neither of us will miss Mauritania, that was for sure.
It is true what many travelers say. Borders are not just lines on a map. Things change once you cross one. The scenery around you changes. The people change. Everything in Mali was different. We had left the Sahara and entered the Sahel. We were both happy. Nioro was our next stop for the night. This little town was a nice surprise after all those hellish days. We found an auberge to stay, and hit the town roads for some dinner. Ate among other locals at a food stall, a small table with the food on it and some benches surrounding it. Next to us a small grill, where brochetes were sizzling and an open fire with a big pan for frying potatoes. We had missed some good food, and this one was superb. And it only costed a euro each. From there we sniffed out the local bar, more like three tables in an empty yard. We each got a cold beer and stared at the sky, while listening to some local Malian tunes. It was priceless that night!!!

Day 21
Today we decided to ride down to Bamako, the capital, and see if we could find a solution for the shipping of the bikes back to Europe, so that we dont have to run around for this on our last days. We had less than a week anyway. We arrived straight at the airport, late in the evening, after crossing the entire capital on some not so pleasant temperatures, and some serious traffic jams. By the time we located a cargo company they were closing for the day. We had to go there tomorrow morning. That did not make us happy, but TIA and you have to go along with it. We learned that the hard way the next few days... The night at Bamako was not exactly as we had fantasized it, but at least we ate well at a Lebanese fast food.

Day 22
We met the cargo agent late, and the bargain went on right away. His initial prices were close to some quotes we had gotten while researching all this from Greece. This did not make us very happy. The bikes had to go via Paris to arrive in Athens. So we went to another agent, and luckily for us he told us that the one and only cargo company that flew out of Bamako to Europe (air france) could only take the bikes as far as Paris. Beyond that we needed another agent! So back we went to the first one, who seemed to have skipped this detail. Indeed after a phone call he confirmed this. But he seemed to have someone in Paris to take care of the matter. Everything was happening with an African pace, and it was already late in the afternoon. The price quote we got went up considerably when compared with the first one. What was also odd was the fact that he was calculating everything based on the weight of the bikes, while most airlines care about volume. We asked him about it a number of times, but he insisted that weight it was. So we decided that we would load the bikes on four palettes, which we would somehow be connected together. With a last disappointing and expensive quote, we decided that there was not much to be done. We had to hit the road anyway, as it was already 5 in the evening. Our last attempt to reach the legendary town of Timbuktu had just gone down the drain. There was not enough time. It was late on Tuesday, and by Thursday we had to be back in Bamako, load the bikes on Friday, and Saturday depart ourselves. We though we would make the best of what we had left, and decided to head to Djenne. Djenne is a small town/village situated between the Niger river and one of its smaller side rivers. It is known mostly for its Mosque, which is made entirely out of clay, and it is considered the largest clay structure in the world.
The road to Djenne was a typical Malian road. Medium quality tarmac, narrow, no lines. But the scenery was what made everything beautiful. We had gotten tired of the emptiness of the desert, and now trees were all over the place. Among them small village with huts made out of mud with thatched roofs. And mangoes. A lot of mangoes. Everywhere you stopped there were baskets of juicy succulent tasty mangoes! It even smelled like mango on some of those villages. The heat on the other hand was excruciating. May is considered the hottest and most humid month in Mali. It is the month that the hamattan blows, a wind coming from the desert, making the atmosphere very heavy. And wearing our riding gear in 42 degrees of humid heat, was too much. At some point late in the evening, we stopped in a small village where we had noticed some clay ovens baking meat. Indeed they were roasting goat. We ordered two portions to go, since we were planning to eat it at our campsite later that day. The guy grabed a used sack of cement. He tore the outer leafs, and shook the cement dust of the inner ones. He then packed the cooked goat in IT!!! And that is how everyone did it, in all of those bakeries at the villages. In used cement sacks. So with our goat "take out" we left and took the first dirt road off the "highway" to find a campsite. Soon we noticed that the upper frame that held the left pannier of the 690 had snapped off!!! This meant we called it a day, right there and then. We would deal with it in the morning. By that point we were so oblivious to such damages after what we had gone through in Mauritania, that we did not even care. We lit a fire and reheated the goat, and ate off the cement bag wrap!!! It was amazing!!

Day 23
Even without the rain fly on, the tents were extremely hot during the night. Neither of us could rest properly, and by 6 am we were up. We did a wonderful job splinting the broken frame with a tent pole and some duct tape, and then reinforced the whole thing with some sling and wire. It was as good as new, maybe even stronger. We hit the road and headed for Djenne. It was decided not to go through tarmac, but to cross the river on boat, and from there take a 200 kilometer piste to Djenne. So at the town of S.... we headed north towards the river. What an experience it was this river crossing! We had two alternatives, a small metallic floating barge, that looked very hard to get on to, since we had to get the bikes into the river and then up a slippery metal ramp with wet tires and no friction. So we opted for the larger RO-RO (roll on roll off). A short ferry trip and we were at the opposite bank. But hey, they dropped the ramp and it went right into the water, not on dry land. I was first and I could not see through the murky water how deep it was. Or how stable. Ah, this trip is full of surprises I thought, and hit on the gas. Luckily it was neither deep nor slippery. We both got off, and headed into the Sahel, following beautiful dark red coloured dirt roads. And then it happened. Alex lost pressure on the rear tire. Luckily he discovered that it was not a flat, but a malfunctioning valve, which had no cover and got some dirt in it. We changed the valve mechanism and inflated the tire with our little electric pump. The heat was shearing at that point. Off we went again, or more like, off I went, because after 15 minutes I noticed that Alex was not behind me. I turned around and found him under the same tree he had changed the valve, this time with the rear tire off the 690. Apparently the valve had gotten stressed by driving the tire deflated that it had been cut off completely after only a few meters of riding. We changed the tube with a new one and again inflated the tire. All was good. We got it on the 690 and pushed on. Nothing was stopping us, we would make it to Djenne, that we knew. Luckily the riding was not hard. It was quite flat only with some occasional deep holes. We passed through many small villages. Our only tormentor was the heat. It is hard to describe it in this blog. The way we felt, was like being immobilized. You could only perform necessary functions and movements. Anything extra, meant sweat and heat exhaustion. Our water supplies were running low. But Djenne appeared in the horizon, and we went straight to a mini market for a cold bottle of water. Oh, we could do anything at that point for some beer. Really crispy cold beer. And frozen glasses to pour it in.... Ah, the simple things in life!!!
From there we drove around the town in search for a place to stay. Due to the continuous and extreme heat (42-43 degrees) and humidity, we had heard that many people opted to sleep on the roof tops of the buildings, only with a mosquito screen for protection (we were after all in a high alert malaria region at this point, so besides taking a daily pill we had to be as careful as possible). So we found this auberge that allowed us to set up on the roof, and they even provided us with mosquito screens. The night was cool enough up there, but the sun rises at 5.30 am so we were up for an early start.

Day 24
We toured around the town with a young Malian as a guide. He took us through narrow streets were we had glimpses of the everyday life. The standards of living were below anything imaginable. People were surviving only with the bare essentials. The sewers consisted of an open duct in the center of the street, and everything was built out of clay. Everybody worked, which included even young kids helping on all kinds of chores. We visited a local bogolan maker. Bogolan is a type of cloth made locally which is colored with the use of mud, leafs and other earthy materials. It is left to dry under the sun and then washed. Amazing patterns are created in this manner. We could not resist on a couple souvenirs, probably the only thing we bought on the entire trip. From there Alex visited the famous clay mosque and had a glimpse inside this amazing mud structure.
We had decided to return via a longer piste, that would save us some mileage, as the asphalt did a big loop at that part. Most of the road was easy driving on red African soil. But then suddenly and with no warning it became nasty. Sandy tracks among very sparse vegetation. The temperature rose significantly. We did not have a thermometer to properly measure it, but it would not be an exaggeration if we estimated it at close to 45 degrees. As a result we both had a heat stroke attack. Our inner body temperature rose fast, we basically had fever, as our system could not cool down, and we started shivering under our sweaty riding gear. We had to stop and cool off somehow, this was becoming an emergency. A large tree provided enough shade, so as to avoid the blazing sun. We stripped our riding gear and tried to regain normal body temperatures and stop shivering. This had happened really fast, we had gotten in this condition in something like an hour. After resting for a while we had to push on, although we both felt utterly destroyed. Luckily the piste changed into the red flat roads really fast, which let us bring up the speed on the bikes and thus cool off more efficiently. When we hit the asphalt it was late in the evening. We knew that driving back to Bamako meant that we would have to ride under night for an hour. And this is normally ok, that is if your bike has a functioning headlight, which was not the case for the 640 after the accident in Nouakchott. So Alex took the lead and I followed closely trying to memorize the route that I would see from his lights, and drive it in the dark. NOT a pleasant experience I might say, but slowly, really slowly, we made it to Bamako. The air conditioning and the shower at the hotel was a blessing!!!!!

Day 25
After splitting the things that we would carry on the plane with us, and getting rid of some other stuff that we no longer needed, we headed for the cargo agent to get the bikes ready for shipping. This involved a lengthy process of negotiations, followed by a break for afternoon prayer, then a break for lunch, and then some more bureaucracy. TIA after all, so we had to go with the flow. We were both surprised when the agent insisted that the volume of the bikes did not count, and that all we had to do was tie them as they were on two palettes each. Of course this took some time, because we had to find the palettes and then go at the cargo hangar, but at the end the bikes were ready. They were lifted by a Clark, weighted and ready to get loaded. Or so we thought.....
Back at the agents office late in the evening, he did some last calculations and then he hit us. He hit us hard with a price that we could not even fathom, let alone pay. All of a sudden the calculations were not done on the basis of weight but on the basis of volume. And the way the bikes were, they took a lot of space!!! We denied to pay accusing him that he had promised something else. It was getting late and it was Friday, and they all wanted to go home. But we were desperate, because this was way off our budget. Way off!!! So we managed to persuade them that we were going to repack the bikes. They were not happy but we got them to go back to the cargo hangar. We took the bikes off the palettes. The plan now was to pack both of them and the luggage only on two palettes. This was a loading surface of 241cm by 80cm only!!! We took off the front tires, the front fenders, the steering wheels, the mirrors, half the rear rack frame, and compressed the bikes on their suspensions in order to both stabilize them as well as to save some height. It took a tremendous amount of effort and ingenuity but after 3 very sweaty hours (it was baking hot inside that hangar) the two KTM's were miniaturized!!!! This resulted on the price going down by half from what the original was, which was well worth the effort. Still bitterly expensive, but there was no other option (besides selling the bikes in Mali). Back at the hotel bar, cold beer never felt so nourishing...

Day 26
One last time at the cargo agent in order to make the payment and deal with all the paperwork, as yesterday we had finished late at night and everybody wanted to go home. From there our new friend and driver Ali took us in the center of Bamako, for one last meal. His instructions were very clear, he had to take us to where the locals eat, not a tourist trap. In the middle of a busy market, on muddy and filthy streets, there was a wooden table with a couple of benches. On the table a number of pots with your options for topping the rice. Alex went for the tomato beef stew, while I opted for the gumbo. Both were fantastic, and the whole experience rather surreal (and it only cost something like a euro for each).
We strolled around the streets for a while and then went back to the hotel to relax and pack. That was it, we were gathering our things and our thoughts. Almost one month had gone by.

We had ridden 9.300 kilometers through 2 continents and 6 countries, while driving non-stop for 24 consecutive days without a rest. We had encountered temperatures ranging from the mid 40's down to snow and freezing weather. Rains, sandstorms, and scorching sun were all there. We had seen changes in scenery that your eyes cannot even fathom, from the high Atlas in Morocco, to the unimaginable emptiness of the Sahara desert, to the red soiled Sahel of Mali. And people. Peoples faces changed continuously along the way, so did their towns, their dresses and their food. This was a trip that we will both cherish for the rest of our lives. For all of you who might question why someone would undergo so much effort, stress, tiredness, danger but joy as well, we answer with a cliche.
When George Mallory attempted to first climb Mount Everest in 1924 (long before the first confirmed attempt by Edmund Hillary in 1953) he was asked why he would go and do such a thing. He said: "Because it's there..."
This was our own little Everest!

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Desert

Day 16

I am sitting on a chair drinking my evening coffe in Ali's campsite in Nouadhibou (second largest city in Mauritania). Across from me Alex is working on the 690. The bike is literally cut in half and we are trying to put it back together.  But hey, lets go back a few days.

Days 11, 12 and 13
Note the distances on the sign, just to get an idea of what we had to deal with.

We had to cross Western Sahara, there was no alternative for entering Mauritania. A boring strech of 1,300 kilometers in the desert, with only one thin lane of tarmac. Strong winds and high temperatures make riding really hard. The scenery is completely unsatisfying. All we can do is ride on.

Gasing up along the way.
If the meter doesn't work rest assured the Moroccans will find a way.

Our camp site at Tifnerdit with the hotel on the back.
It took us three days starting from Marrakech. On day one we spent the night in a wonderful camp in the desert, Tifnerdit. It happened that Hummer-France had an organized desert tour which stopped there too. So we parked the two KTM's between something like 50 Hummers. Crazy! We sat down to make dinner and discovered that our Coleman fuel stove would not light up, no matter what. This was a great dissapointment, as we had managed to obtain a bottle of wine (alcohol is hard to get here). So we opted for the cold meal version, hoping that a solution will show up regarding the stove issue.

Typical Western Sahara road.
With an occasional sandy bend...
Next day was equally boring in terms of riding. The scenery remained the same. Occasionally we got some glimpses of the Atlantic ocean, but for the most part it was open desert plains. The roads were in a mediocre condition, and our only agony was to pass a truck every now and then while getting sandblasted by the dust trail they picked up.

At some point in the afternoon we decided to take a lunch break in a small fishing village. Everything looked deserted, but we managed to find a tiny restaurant. Fried fish and chips was the norm, and the fish was indeed delicious!

The source of evil!
After our happy meal we continued riding, with an aim to stay at the first town we came across before nightfall. While passing a small gas station we decided to make yet another stop for coffee this time. As I got off the 640 I noticed my left pant leg and boot completely splattered in engine oil. This was not good at all! We looked at the engine and oil was splattered all over the place, but it was impossible to detect the leak. So I started the bike and revved it and soon we noticed an elastic hose squirting with the black stuff right where it connected with the carter. We took it off and realized that the metalic ring that held it in place had cut through the hose. Luckily for us the hose had enough slack so by removing a couple centimeters it could still fit at the connector to the carter. That was a close one, but we fixed it in a blast!

Late in the evening we arrived at Boujdour, a small desert town. This

The tire shop.
Alex doing an oil change on the 690
The 640 features a rather complicated oil change procedure.
was where we had to make certain repairs and modifications to the bikes. So early in the morning we located the local tire shop/shack.

 We got rid of our old tires and placed on our brand new knobblies (Michelin Deserts on the rear and T63 on the front). We are ready for the sand. We also did an oil change as our odometers had clocked 5000 kilometers since we left Athens. Late, late in the afternoon we left, trying to make our final push to the border. Our goal was to reach a brand new Motel 80 kilometers north of the Mauritanian border. And we did, although we had to ride late into the night in the pitch black of the desert. A sureal experience one might say.
Getting closer to the border.

Day 14

Passing blown up cars in the minefield.
Into no man's land.
This is it. We are entering Mauritania today and with it, the real Sahara. One minor obstacle in our way though. In order to cross from the Moroccan border into Mauritania one has to ride through 3,6 kilometers of no mans land that is loaded with mines... And there are no markers, nor a certain path to follow. It is all desert with a mixture of sand and packed dirt. All you have to do is to keep on the most used track between the two border posts. We let a truck pass us and followed it hesitantly from a safe distance. All around us there were wreckages of blown up cars, trucks, 4x4. This was crazy... We kept on moving slowly stopping every few meters and looking at each other. The agony on our faces was very clear. It must have been the longest 3.6 kilometers any of us had done. When we finally made it in one piece on the Mauritanian side we started smiling again, although cold sweat was running down our clothes.

Alex setting up camp just before sunset.

We had a few hours of light left, and thus we headed straight for the beginning of our first piste. This piste connects Nouadhibou with Atar. Atar is almost at the center of Mauritania, and this is where the pure Sahara is. The piste is over 500 kilometers in length. We were planning to do the crossing in two days. We had loaded up with enough fuel, food and water from Morocco and were ready to move on. Once we found our way through a small village soft sand greeted us right away. It took a while to figure out the handling of the bikes on such a difficult terrain, but we soon started to put the village far behind us. We only had an hour of sun left so after almost 40 kilometers of piste we picked a camp site. Two small bushes that sheltered the tents from the ceaseless wind was all we could find. We pitched the tents and were breathtaken by the scenery. Desert was all around us. Time to cook some dinner. Earlier that morning we had tried in vain to repair the Coleman fuel stove. We had to come up with an alternative in order to be able to eat some normal food. The solution came in the form of a tin can. We bought one of those tiny sweet corn cans, ate the contents and opened with a screw driver a number of holes on the perimeter of the upper part of the can. What you do next is simply fill the can with very little fuel and ignite it. Then you place your pot on top and simply cook. The holes help feeding the fire with enough oxygen, and it is as simple as that. Of course the first trial in the bathroom of the motel this morning nearly resulted on me igniting the whole place on fire, as I poured too much fuel. For ten minutes I was in the bathroom with a 1 meter high flame burning. Water did not do anything of course, and I had no other means but waiting for it to burn out. Luckily the bathroom had a window... No one noticed anything, and no damage was done.

The tin can trick works!
And dinner is served!!!
So back to the camp, we decided to see if we could cook some pasta with sauce on this little device. Believe me it worked wonders! Penne ala bolognese were for dinner, and two happy campers went in their tents for some much needed sleep. All was perfect.

Good morning!

Day 15

Breakfast time.
We made our morning brew (on the tin can of course) and hit the piste. Riding was hard. It consisted of a mixture of hard packed dirt, littered with small stones, sections with deep corrugations, and lots of sand. The sandy sections differed from hard and easy to ride sand, to soft ready to devour your bike sand. The temperatures started rising really fast, nearing 40 degrees by mid day. Morale was down, as the task at hand was tough. We kept pushing on.
Hitting the piste.
At times it was hard going. The heat was dissorienting, the need for water were high, and light headedness was ever present. We had to concentrate really hard to deal with the terrain. I was desperately searching for the shade of a tree, in order to break, but there was nothing in site.
Trying to repair the 690.
We were approximately 130 kilometers in the desert at this point when I noticed that Alex was not behind me. I turned back and found him some 500 meters down. He was sitting on the hot ground starring at his bike. I knew this was not good news. The two out of the four bolts holding the frame of the bike had broken in half. The entire 690 was separated into two parts. We were in the middle of the desert, 130 kilometers from the nearest village, with about 10 liters of water, and a searing heat of around 40 degrees Centigrate. Things were not looking good. We both hid under some miniscule shade created by our bikes, in order to calm down and think properly. We must have laid on the hot ground for something like an hour, occasionally drinking sips of water. We were beat. The desert had won (it always wins). We now had to find a way to return back. During the day we had spotted two 4x4's, probably local camel herders travelling down the piste. A truck like that would be a miracle right now, since we could load the bike there, but there was nothing in site. We had to get out of there on our own, and we had to act fast. We took off the two side panniers, and removed the seat of the 690 in order to have a better look at the problem.
Repair attempt no. 1.
Repair attempt no. 2.
We decided that we would use some slings that we had with us to try and keep the bike together as much as possible. We also bashed the panniers back into place, and I took some of the heavy load from Alex on my bike. It took us something like two hours to get things ready, although we were steadily loosing the sense of time. We were exhausted, both mentally and physically. It was decided that pushing on was out of the question. We had to turn back. After six months of preparation we were beat, and turning back was a tough call to make, but a sensible one as well. We kept on riding following our track on the GPS, stopping ever so often to check and retighten the slings. It was working. Alex had to ride standing on the foot pegs the entire time, thus taking more weight off the frame. The 690 was slowly falling apart.
Not looking good.

The desert has no mercy!
By nightfall we were 7 kilometers away from last nights camp. We found another similar bush and pitched our tents. There is not much to say about this, other than the fact that part of our dream was not coming true. We tried to look at the bright side, that the repairs made on the 690 were working, and that we only had to cover 40 something kilometers tomorrow until we get back on tarmac. At least we were alive and healthy, and we still had water left. We ate a couple tuna sandwiches and withdrew in our tents, each trying to fight their own daemons. The Saharan wind blew strong that night....

Day 16 (again)

Nouadhibou was the closest big city on the map. We decided that once we hit the tarmac we head straight for it in order to try and repair the damages on the 690. The 40 kilometers of piste went by with no issues coming up. From there it was a straight shot to Nouadhibou, located on a small cape that is abundant with fish on either side of the ocean.
The cell like room at Ali's

We found Ali's camp, a regular stop for overlanders, and each got a small cell like room. But we did not care. After two dusty nights in the desert this was like the Hilton. We took a much needed shower, and with a frappe on hand attacked the 690.

 Late at night we had managed to get to the two broken bolts. This had required lots of stripping of the bike. First we lifted the front tank, then released the rear. We had to fiddle around the air filter box. With a little bit of magic, and lots of work and patience we got to the two screws. We removed them and replaced them with two brand new that Alex had with him. We were satisfied that we had managed to do this only with the tools at hand. Performing this operation out in the desert would have been really hard, due to the heat, and the small amount of water that we had left. The rear frame had to wait until tomorrow, but the 690 was standing tall again.

The screws...

Ali and part of our dinner.

Working into the night.
 Dinner was 6 small live lobsters on the grill (only 12 euros per kilo due to their abundance) and some beer that I managed to buy from a local restaurant (the owner acted as if he was selling heavy drugs to me, initially refusing to let me take the liquor out on the street. I then presented him one of my bags, and under a table he slid 8 cans, while looking suspiciously all around him....).
Fiesta time!

We had to make some new plans. Atar was out of the question, and our departure date from Bamako, Mali, was approaching. An alternative route had to come up.