My next Journey to Africa lasted for a year.... in the days of no internet or mobile phones this was a long time to be from home with little contact - I left my family a list of poste restante addresses - post offices in major cities I was planning on stopping at a long the way - so that they could write to me if they wanted to - I would also try and call home from these places too - often it was a couple of months between phone calls..... Life has changed so much since then. That was 1992.
I flew out to Gambia and travelled across the Banjul river and into Senegal. The first night in Banjul everything felt a bit worrying - with no real plan of where to stay - I ended up renting a room of a local family for the evening. They were very friendly and intrigued by travellers as they didn't get many coming through.
I stayed in a square concrete room - with no furniture and no glass in the window - they were still building it - but it had a roof to keep the rain off and so that was all that mattered really.... next morning I jumped on a local bus and headed off to cross the Senegal border.
African borders were always interesting places - mostly because i was never sure how much I would have to bribe the guards to let me through.... I had been advised to buy cheap watches and things to "aid" the speed of crossing and also dollars in small notes helped tremendously....
West Africa is French speaking, and although a few words differ - it's quite easy to get by when you manage to recall your French form school.
West Africa wasn't the friendliest place I have ever been I have to confess, it may have changed now of course, but 25 years ago I had stones thrown at me and all sorts, it wasn't a welcoming environment back then.
In Senegal I visited Dakar, then travelled inland to Tambacounda and headed for the border to Mali - across another river and on to Kayes, from Kayes I followed the river by road - south towards Bamako - the capital of Mali. The clothes that the women in Mali wore were fabulous, really brightly coloured fabrics with big bold patterns that just leapt out at you demanding their attention.
Things that really stick n my mind about Mali - as well as the brightly coloured clothing of course was the red of the earth, and so many of the buildings there are made from mud, the colour of the thatched mud huts was incredible. As I travelled through even tiny villages in the middle of nowhere you would see signs for Coca Cola and Guiness - it seemed to be the one part of the western world that had reached them.
Whilst I was there Mali was just coming out of 23years of being in a military dictatorship and was having a democratic election, so there were lots of hand signals that it took me a while to work out what they meant - they were simply to show how they were voting to passers by I discovered.....
Mali is of course also home to the famous Timbuktu - which if ever you get the chance to visit you should go.
There are lots of rivers to cross as you travel through West Africa and their condition is variable - but mainly they are not good, some have many planks of wood missing and so if you are in a car, bus or the back of a truck you need to help find replacement wood so that the vehicle can get across - life was never dull....
Bamako was my first contact with home from the post office in the capital city - at this point I had been gone around 4 weeks. it was nice to find some post waiting for me at the post office too.
From Bamako I travelled to Mopti, which used to be a small fishing village, I'm sure it has changed dramatically over the last 25 years, back then it was all mud built buildings, lots of small wooden boats on the rivers and lots of horse drawn carts taking goods around town.
From Mopti, I travelled through Bandiagara and Koro and crossed the border in Burkina Faso.
West Africa is also home to voodoo - they are believers and in the next chapter when I get to The Ivory Coast, Togo and Benin I will share a couple of very different experiences that I had with some local families off the beaten track.
From a photography point of view, I carried 3 cameras all film cameras - this was way before digital came along - and at every border crossing they charged me a camera fee - 5 dollars per camera and a couple of cheap watches from the local market seemed to be the fee......
The rules were the same then as now - no photography at borders - border guards even in small outposts have guns and aren't worried about using them.... mostly they carry AK47'S always pay any toll charges that you need to pay and always always check that they stamp your passport correctly..... i have too many horror stories to share really - that my family still don't know about, but being careful in West Africa is vital, i can't imagine that rural Africa has changed too dramatically.... when you travel stay safe and enjoy the journey.