Nouara Travel Blog

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Waking up at the campsite

Daily Mileage 5

I woke early even though it was a very late night working on car 116. I could hear a lot of the other competitors leaving already and thought I had overslept.

As I opened my tent zip and stumbled out I was confronted by a group of dark faces and a collective chorus of, cadeax cadeax cadeax.  Ahhh, please at least let me get up and awake before asking for more gifts. From then on whatever I did I was followed by different kids and adults all asking for something. It turned out that our campsite was swamped with villagers that had walked 7km to get to us.

It was tough eating breakfast, (muesli bar and warm water). I had things to give away but it’s so hard to do when being hounded all the time. It really does test your patience and compassion.

Locals awaiting us at the campsite


The next thing was to try and have another go at fixing Krisztians car. Luckily we had the engine rebuild manual with us from when we built our engine. We set all the timing belts and pulleys to the correct position which was tricky and took a while. It didn’t work and the theory was air in the fuel system. I then disconnected the fuel injectors and bled the fuel system. Still no luck. We were running out of ideas. The engine was turning over but not firing. Then more bad luck. The starter motor failed. Great!.


By now, almost all other teams had left, which left the 3 cars the centre of attention of the locals.

Car starting to look rough now after the drive through the bush night before
I had given away all my biscuits to some kids and now for some clothes. I had a box of great girl’s clothes. I took it down from the roof of the jeep and was about to hand it out to the young girls when about ten elder women, many with babies tied on their backs, just dived into the box and literally ripped it apart. I was pushed against the car and all the young girls were pushed out of the way. Many were trampled and there was lots of shouting and crying. Then the women were arguing and grabbing the clothes off each other. It was awful and I felt so bad. I was trying to help and had created a scene like this. There was enough for everyone, but they were not to know that. I suppose when you are desperate, you have to grab at what you can. There was no way I could give any more, so decided to give the rest to the school in Bamako where it would be more controlled.


We heard there were some mechanics in the next village, so Big Hans towed Krisztian  there to see what we could do.

When we arrived it was not what we expected. It was a very poor place and the garage was just a dusty yard with a few old cars and some men just hanging around. It didn’t look promising. Somehow we managed to communicate in bad French. They removed the starter motor and drove off with it on a motor bike. We were also able to charge our two flat batteries. I wasn’t sure how they would do it as there was no power anywhere. Then we noticed a nice shiny communications tower and windmill generator. Totally out of place in this village but what a site. Apparently it is one of many projects paid for by the EU. Again another motorbike disappeared with our batteries.

By now there were so many kids swarming around watching this unusual activity. Ross and Andy then started a mass game of street football with them. I had lots of football shirts in our car but after this morning’s scene there was no way I could hand out 30 to 40 shirts when there was easily double that amount of kids around. Such a shame.


It was well over an hour before the starter motor turned up fixed.

I will continue to be amazed how they do it with apparently very little. The African way.

Even with the starter motor working it soon became apparent the engine would not start.


In the mean time myself and Steve went looking for the police station to get our passports stamped. It took a while and it was just one man in a small building on the edge of town.  All was going well until our return journey was interrupted by a big man at the customs building. A slightly larger building with an outside shelter where a few men in uniform where watching the Africa cup of nations.

He was really rude and our first encounter with a quite nasty corrupt official.

He told us we needed a permit for the car and if not we would not be going to Bamako. Basically he just wanted some cash. This could have been a big problem. If they stamp the passport with a car permit then you cant leave your car or sell it in Mali. Whilst Steve was filling out the forms, I told him to slowly pick up his passport and put it in his pocket. Thankfully the official didn’t understand what I was saying and we got away with it. We paid them about 20 euros which I’m sure went into his pocket. He wanted to buy our jeep and didn’t like it when I said no. He took a real dislike to me and was going off on one in French. I stayed calm but was a little nervous on the inside. Finally we managed to get away and back to the others. What a nightmare.


The engine was dead!!  When the cambelt had been pushed off its pulley the valves had gone crazy and hit the rocker shaft so hard it had stripped the thread holding it in place.

This meant the valves could not close and there was no compression. Hindsight is wonderful. If we had taken the rocker cover off earlier we could have seen this ourselves. As the engine was turning over and no bad noises we didn’t think it would be so bad.


By now, Big Hans had left to drive to Segou. We just wanted to go direct to Bamako. The only option was to tow the jeep. It was well over 300 km but what else could we do. We couldn’t fit the 3 other guys and all their gear into our jeep. We were so close and yet so far.

It was a crazy plan but we hitched up, said our goodbyes and were on our way out of town. It was now about 5pm and as we came to the main street we stumbled across another team that had only just arrived. We have met them a few times before and are 3 great Hungarian guys.

  Now we had 2 cars, I asked Krisztian to reconsider the towing option. We could now fit them and all the gear in between us. They made the correct decision and decided to sell their jeep in town. Amazingly there was a local fixer with the cash and after about an hour of crazy negotiations a deal was reached and we started moving their gear over.

It was all going well at last after a crazy day and then, yes, you guessed it. Chaos and madness.  Our old friend from the customs arrived. He was fuming. Shouting at everybody.  Us, krisztian, the buyers.

As I mentioned before, it is actually illegal to sell your car in Mali and he hadn’t had his back hander for the permit on this car.

He ordered Krisztian and the rest of us back to the customs building.

We asked what he wanted but he just smiled and told us we would find out in time. I asked him if there was some paperwork to do or anything else he wanted. He just stared and me and told me to wait and time would show.

Krisztian then offered him 100 euros to solve the situation. This was about money after all. We thought we were getting somewhere but nothing happened. After a while the jeep was towed back to customs and was surrounded by a group of men who removed every loose item they could find in it. It was like watching locusts attack a corn field.  Then the new owners arrived and went into the building. All hell broke loose and there was a huge argument between them and the customs man. Now we were getting nervous. Things were getting worse. One of the other Hungarians was helping with the negotiations and told Krisztian that he had to give the money back, but they would not give the jeep back or even the paperwork. They were really trying it on.  Then we remembered we had a letter from the Malian foreign minister explaining what we were doing and to be shown in emergencies.

Locals looking for gifts (cadeaux)
  Although he dismissed it at first I think it did work a bit.

It was now dark which added to the worry. Then a breakthrough after 2 hours.  Krisztian was told to pay 40 euros and we were all told to get out of there quick and don’t come back.

We jumped in our car as did the other team ready to leave, feeling totally relieved, when all of a sudden Mr happy called out that Krisztian was to stay and the rest of us had to leave. No way was this ever going to happen.  He told him he had broken the law selling a car and would have to stay over night in prison. Would this never end.

We all stood together and the guard was told Krisztian was coming with us or we all stayed. After more arguing and about 10 minutes later he just shouted at us all to go.

We didn’t need to be told again. Now we did get away and quick.

We were on our way and headed out of town feeling very relieved but also angry.  The guy was just on a power trip and was trying to make our life as hard as possible.


It was about 7pm and now we had a 4 to 5 hour drive to Bamako ahead of us. I just wanted to get there whatever the time and was looking forward to finally driving……. Or that’s what I thought.  You won’t believe it, but this crazy day still had one more surprise in store for us!!


We were about 2 miles out of town driving on a rough red dusty road and I could hear this clicking noise.

Some of the women who ripped the box of clothes apart
I joked about it being a new noise  but we would be ok. Not far now.

Then with no warning, the clutch peddle went straight to the floor and the gears made a horrendous noise.  NOW WHAT!! What have we done to deserve this.

I got under the car and could see some fluid dripping from somewhere. Then I noticed a large piece of fence wire or something wrapped around the drive shaft. We must have picked it up at the old yard where we were trying to fix the other car. It had been spinning so fast and the end had been chafing on the clutch selector hydraulic pipeline and made a hole in it. This was really bad luck.

What could we do. Think, think. I decided to try and place a rubber sleeve over the pipe and ty wrap and wire lock it on.

Andy and Ross playing football
I cut a piece of hose from the radiator expansion tank and managed to slide it over the pipe banjo fitting.

It was dark and isolated and I was working lying on my back under the car with a head torch for light. After securing the sleeve we bled the system and connected it up.  Steve tried the clutch and the pipe split again. Damn! It was too soft to hold the pressure. I had no choice but to try again. I was now covered in red dust and hydraulic fluid and was filthy dirty.

Second attempt, please, please work. Failed again. Now what. We had to give up on this method. Then Steve had the idea of changing gear by pulling on the selector with a peace of rope from inside the car. It was a long shot but worth a try. I tied it around the selector on the bottom of the gearbox, feeding the rope up over the bonnet and through the side window. We would try and start in 3rd gear. We all got in the car because if this worked we would not be able to stop or change gear.

Andy playing football.
  It didn’t work. Of course not. It was a long shot but really was never going to work.

We had a meeting and decided we would push the jeep off the road and into the bush and camp for the night. We could do no more and would be safer out of sight.

We  would go back into town in the morning and try and get something to fix the pipe. This was not ideal after our run in with the customs bully but we had no choice.

Finally everybody pitched their tents and went to bed.

I needed to be alone and unwind for a while. I had never been so dirty and fed up. 

Then I happened to look up at the sky and, wow, what a sight.

Our new friends
The stars were amazing. So bright and clear. It was like I could reach up and touch them. It was a really cool moment alone at the end of one crazy day and I felt really positive again.

It was now gone 11pm and I finally crawled into my tent determined to fix the car in the morning. J      



leblanc says:
WOW should have read all this a long time ago ... What a tale !
Posted on: Oct 24, 2009
leah151 says:
Ah yes, bribing officials is a frequent transaction that happens there! Looks like you managed though!
Posted on: Feb 28, 2008
TradewindsHD says:
What a dream vacation.
Thanks it made great reading!
Posted on: Feb 15, 2008
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Waking up at the campsite
Waking up at the campsite
Locals awaiting us at the campsite
Locals awaiting us at the campsite
Car starting to look rough now aft…
Car starting to look rough now af…
Locals looking for gifts (cadeaux)
Locals looking for gifts (cadeaux)
Some of the women who ripped the b…
Some of the women who ripped the …
Andy and Ross playing football
Andy and Ross playing football
Andy playing football.
Andy playing football.
Our new friends
Our new friends
Any chance for a picture. This guy…
Any chance for a picture. This gu…
Tough guy
Tough guy
Whatever their living conditions, …
Whatever their living conditions,…
All the kids hanging round while w…
All the kids hanging round while …
Im in there somewhere
Im in there somewhere
Little helpers
Little helpers
This is the yard where the mechani…
This is the yard where the mechan…
Gabor and Krisztian waiting for th…
Gabor and Krisztian waiting for t…
Negotiating the sale if their jeep
Negotiating the sale if their jeep
Waiting for them to sell their jee…
Waiting for them to sell their je…
Myself and steve under the bonnet …
Myself and steve under the bonnet…
Camping in the bush after failing …
Camping in the bush after failing…
Morning after where we camped when…
Morning after where we camped whe…
Where we pushed the jeeps to get o…
Where we pushed the jeeps to get …
photo by: johnyb66