Africa, the Outside Edge

Nov 19, 2007
Author: Kingsley Holgate

The expedition has reached Mali and Timbuktu, but it's also Rugby World Cup time. The story continues....

Blog 23 – Mali…. homesick for biltong

Kingsley Holgate’s Grindrod supported humanitarian expedition is continuing to do great malaria prevention work as they track the outside edge of Africa. But from this update one gets the impression that they’re missing home a tad. Best explained in Kingsley’s own words:

I realise that the journey is running into months when I start thinking of home and things South African. You know, like Marmite, a Nando’s take-away, ice in the Captain Morgan, sleeping in till late with the Sunday papers and the dogs curled up next to the bed, being called to dinner and knowing that its roast beef and Yorkshire pudding instead of bean stew over a smoky fire. This gets me thinking of biltong and the incredible bad luck we’ve had in getting sticks of our favourite wet and fatty. You can imagine our excitement when we heard that big Deon Schurmann, who used to play professional rugby in France, was flying into Pointe Noire as French interpreter and malaria prevention volunteer.

By satellite phone we get the good news. “I’m bringing 20 vacuum packed sticks, rolled up and hidden in my canvas bedroll,” says Deon. We can’t wait and the Leathermans are out, ready for the cutting ceremony. But then with a glum look, hands in the air, Deon drops a bombshell. “Got to Brazzaville to find that the bastards had nicked the whole bedroll.”

Our next visitor from ‘South’ was Adolf Waidelich, our Land Rover fitment sponsor from 4x4Megaworld. He knew about our plight and weeks before his arrival in Gabon had gone biltong hunting. Two big packets, one of impala dry wors, the other of sticks. We fetched him from Port Gentil by rubber duck and were now camped at an island at the mouth of the Ogooue River.

“Adolf, let’s take it easy,” I said, sitting around the fire with a Captain Morgan. “We’ll do a bit of the dry wors tonight and save the rest for when we get back to base camp.

We all slept on a tarpaulin under the stars, kept awake by the yapping of two dogs from the deserted fishing village alongside. Next morning to our shock and horror we found that the dogs had stolen into camp and guzzled the lot.

“You should have tied the packets up in a tree,” says Ross with a glum look – was I bloody popular!

Next man in was Hugh Roe from Cape Town who’d flown into Conakry on the coast of Guinea to join us for our inland journey down the Niger River to mystical Timbuktu. He’s a great lad and a wonderful adventurer, but the moment I saw his face I knew.

“The… the whole b-bloody lot was confiscated in Bamako – even bribes and negotiations did not work,” he stammers. I saw the look of shock and horror on the team’s face. The Rugby World Cup is coming up, and even the expedition is gripped with rugby fever. But it won’t be the same without biltong.

malaria is rife in the 20,000 sq kilometre inland delta of the Niger River

Blog 24 - Timbuktu and rugby fever

by expedition inflatable boat down the Niger River we reached remote villages far from any hospital

We break away from the outside edge of Africa in Conakry, Guinea and in the three expedition Land Rovers loaded with the expedition equipment, Gemini inflatable boats and Yamaha outboards, we make our way to the giant 20,000 square kilometre inland delta of West Africa’s greatest river, the Niger.

Water levels are the highest in over 20 years, many of the mud villages have been ‘swallowed’ and malaria is rife as, supported by Central African Gold who have an operation in Mali and our other sponsors, we distribute thousands of mosquito nets to pregnant mums and to children under the age of five.

Somewhat beaten by the sun and the intense heat we eventually arrive in the ancient trading city of Timbuktu. It’s a dream come true. I sit in the mud walled courtyard of the place where Major Gordon Alexander Laing, the first white man to enter Timbuktu, had stayed before joining a camel caravan to take him north across the Sahara. Two days later he was stopped by the Touareg and killed with a spear through the heart. Now in the same house an artist, using a quill pen, transcribes the words of an ancient scroll onto a page of the expedition Scroll of Peace and Goodwill.

Camels still carry trading salt to Timbuktu, the Touareg still wear robes and turbans and fight the desert heat by drinking daily cups of sweet Mali tea brewed in delicate handcrafted kettles. BUT in this ancient place we have a modern day dilemma. The Boks have made it into the Rugby World Cup final and we’re up against England – it’s Africa against Europe.

…and so we leave the dusty streets of mythical Timbuktu

And so we leave the dusty streets of Timbuktu – the inflatable boats rolled up on the Landies, we cross on the Niger ferry and race through the potholes and the scrub, dodging cattle, donkeys, camels and goats. The game starts at 7pm local time – we’d phoned ahead, there’s a hotel in Savare town that will tune in to the game for us.

Two minutes to 7, it’s a race against time. At the sight of our three Landies a policeman rushes forward, whistle blowing furiously, hand up to stop us. “Let’s go!” I shout over the radio, first making sure he’s not carrying an AK47. We wave and swerve, foot flat and acting stupid, then into the hotel grounds, a small TV with a bunny ear aerial is set out with chairs under a tree in the court yard. We all stand to attention, fists clasped to our chests for the South African National Anthem.

The game’s in French and the picture a bit snowy, but who gives a shit, South Africa is bringing home the cup. The local Malians are as excited as we are. We embrace and shake hands. In broken French accented English they shout. “We are happy, so happy, it’s a victory for Africa.”



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