Soon after we entered Niger there was a general security check, in the middle of absolutely nowhere. No let up on dust and lack of visibility!
Immigration and customs are completed at Nguigmi ~ 55km after the border. The formalities were completed with a minimum of fuss. Again, no request for bribes etc. The chap at the customs office was super nice; he changed our CFA into the west African equivalent at the proper exchange rate. Then another chap took us to the PADL compound where we camped (unused NGO place, but secure compound) and refused and money for petrol.
Ngigumi seems like a decent place. It has all the services including electricity, fuel, shops, phone etc. Our initial impressions of Niger are positive.
The more observant readers will note that Avril is driving again; this is because she refuses to learn the GPS navigation, meaning Ray has to concentrate on this.
Avril driving. 10 hours. 266 km. N 140 15’ 33.0’’ E 0130 07’ 02.1’’
Day 2 – 26/2/12
After a relatively late start to the day, we left Nguigmi, unfortunately we did not spot the police stop & road toll station. N worries, they came after us on a motor bike, checked our passports and collected the toll. They then went back to the toll point to get our receipts. All done in the best of spirits.
The road immediately after Nguigmi is awful. If fact you drive on a track at the side. Some sections on the way to Diffa are OK, but in the main we drove on the track at the side.
After Diffa the road improves.
After Nguigmi we noticed an increase in agricultural activity, some crops being grown etc. We also noticed an increase in commercial activity, with small road side markets and stores.
The country side could almost be savannah, there was a light, yellow grass ground cover giving an overall impression of fertility, it is only when you inspect closely you can see that the grass is far part and very short. There are lots of thorn trees. Still no hills. The wind was not as bad today, but visibility was still only ~ 300 m.
We stayed the night with Tim, Barbie & their daughter Hannah missionaries in Maine Soroa.
We had a wonderful time chatting and getting some local information. We enjoyed a very nice dinner with them.
Ray driving. 6 hours. 306 km. N 130 12’ 56.2’’ E 0120 01’ 21.5’’
Day 3 – 27/2/12
Unfortunately the poor visibility continued, probably we now probably had an element of heat haze as well as dust. What we saw of the country side was red sand with occasional large sand dunes, a bit like inland Oz. At times the sand covered the road, a clear indication of the ongoing desertification. Vegetation continued to low bushes (like salt bush) with thorn trees and occasional palms. At Goure we finally saw some hills, through the thick haze.
The road was OK until about 100 km west of Zinder and then it deteriorated badly. The tyre management system gave us an alarm. Mmm, unfortunately we had fractured a rear aluminium tyre rim on one of the bumps. Bugger. Still, we changed to the spare and continued. Hopefully we can get a new one in Niamey.
When we reached Zinder we telephoned Kevin Cartwright, a missionary based there to get some info (the guide book said that the camp ground may double as a brothel!). Kevin asked us back to camp in his & Jessica’s back yard. We had a great evening with them & their 3 kids; Christopher, Hope & Sahara. Christopher had been looking at the Romans during his home school lessons, so we ate Roman style – reclining.
Avril driving. 8 hours. 394 km. N 130 48’ 51.2’’ E 0080 58’ 17.4’’
Day 4 – 28/2/12
After a wonderful breakfast of freshly baked scones (thanks Jessica), we refuelled and headed off. After Zinder there were a few kopies and some larger trees. Then, back to a flat sandy vista for the rest of the day.
There was quite an amount of agriculture along the way, plus a village every ~ 3km. The villages have speed humps and reasonably frequently there are police stops. The police, gendarme’s etc are all very polite and almost all try and communicate in English, which is all very nice. Still this slows us down.
The conversation of the day: Avril; “it’s hot today”. Ray; “it’s not too bad”. Avril; no, I think it hot”. Thermometer = 39.6oC
We stayed at the SIM guest house in Galmi.
Ray driving. 7.5 hours. 432 km. N 130 58’ 16.1’’ E 0050 39’ 50.3’’
Day 5 – 29/2/12
A driving day, our aim is to get to Niamey. There were a few hills (yeah) and occasional green parches along the way. We both agreed that it was hot today!
The towns and villages still impress us with the level of commerce & the diversity of goods available. A disagreeable aspect of the villages is the amount of rubbish, mainly plastic bags that surround them.
There are a large number of road blocks, however the officers are invariably polite and make every attempt to speak English. There has not (yet) been a request for a bribe.
After a few potholes east of Galmi, the road was good all the way Niamey.Avril driving. 7 hours. 487 km. N 130 30’ 04.5’’ E 0020 06’ 07.5’’
Day 6 – 1/3/12
A day of chores. First to the French Embassy to get a visa for Burkina Faso, after some charades and discussion, it turns out that BF now has a consul in Niamey. So, we went off to BF consul to fill out the forms. They said to come back at 16:00, however unfortunately the main man was out all day, so when we returned the visa was not stamped. We need to return on the morrow.
We then went to CFAO to get e new tyre rim. They did not have an aluminium rim but did have a suitable steel rim, so we bought that. Then to the main hotel where they have a hairdresser and Ray got a hair cut.
In the hotel a chap approached us and said he could get our tyres rim and the tyre that was messed up in Rhumsiki repaired. So we gave him the tyre and rim – and hoped!
We decided to change accommodation to the Auberge Dragon, it has internet & a pool (Ray had a swim).
We had dinner at an Italain restaurant with Hazel (South African) and Jennie (American). They are in the SIM organisation.
Auberge Dragon: N 130 30’ 23.7’’ E 0020 06’ 42.3’’
Day 7 – 2/3/12
As promised our passports were ready at 09:00 and we set off for the Mali Embassy. The Waypoint we had was for the old address, but after a few questions we found the new location. We were shown into the appropriate office and the chap there assisted us in filling out the forms. We collected the visa at 13:00. It is great to deal with African embassies rather than the European!
Avril had her hair “done”. The colour was right, but the experience was traumatic due to the lack of hygiene & professionalism. As promised the damaged aluminium tyre rim had been welded (not sure about the balancing!). After some discussion we decided to put the damaged Michelin tyre with a tube on the new steel rim and the new Bridgestone on the repaired Al rim – can you follow all that?? At least now we will have 3 spares.
We had a look at the national museum and zoo, all in the one complex. The guide books said it was OK. The museum was good at a basic level, but the zoo was distressing. The cages were very, very small and the animals exposed to the sun.
Avril enjoyed the artisans market and bought a few things – including some custom made leather thongs (flip flops for the non aussies) to be collected on Monday. Ray went with the chap who “helping” us to the grand market to exchange some money at a supposedly favourable exchange rate at what could be described as part of the informal economy.
Day 8 – 3/3/12
After breakfast at Anamadine (the local Lebanese café & patisserie), we drove to National Park W (pronounced in the French mode; double V). It was a straight forward drive, with good road signs. The road was tar to Say and then high quality gravel to the park. The ~ 150 km took 2.5 hours.
The folks at the entrance were very happy to see us and after paying the entrance fee (CFA 10,000/pp for the 1st day and 4,000 for subsequent days, no vehicle entrance fee and no camera fee) we set off into the park.
The obligatory guide had to sit on the roof; it is way too hot for Ray. On the drive in we saw some Cob du Buffon/Puku and Water buck. In addition, on our evening drive we say some elephants and warthogs. There does not seem to be a lot of game.
The Nigercar camp ground is on the river and is well appointed with showers and a sit down dunny. The staff collected some wood for us and we had a BBQ for dinner for the 1st time in a long time.
The park has well maintained roads and good signs. They seem to have Cul de Sacs rather than loops.
Avril driving. N 120 30’ 01.7’’ E 0020 32’ 52.4’’
Day 9 – 4/3/12
In the morning we went for a pirogue trip on the river. Again, not a lot of game; we got a glimpse of a buck and watched some elephants at the water’s edge for a bit. We also went for a bit of a walk through a small village.
The park has quite dense vegetation and long grass, so it is hard to see much except at the water holes.
After the river trip we went and had some lunch at a hide on a dam and passed away a pleasant few hours before heading back to camp in the late afternoon. For our endeavours we saw some buffalo, hartebeest, roan antelope, bushbuck, elephants, crocodiles and reed buck. At one point there were 12 elephants playing in the water, bathing etc in front of us. The haze was such that we did not get any good pics.
BBQ again for dinner.
Day 10 – 5/3/12
More tyre problems; we fixed 2 small punctures prior to leaving the campground. At least this was achieved without taking the tyre off the axel. Then we drove back to Niamey – 150 km.
We woke up to an unusual haze, we are not sure what it was but it made the sun look a bit eerie and reduced visibility a lot. However, there was an advantage to this of a much lower than normal temperature.
Once back, we quickly organised to get a Benin visa. This was done in a couple of hours but cost CFA 40,000 = A$ 80 each. Our Mr know Niamey aka Amadou showed us the way to the Benin embassy. It is currently under construction and we would never have found it with out him. He later went back to fetch the passports without us needing to go. Great service. Then, Avril picked up her custom made thongs/flip flops.
Whilst Avril dined, Ray went with Amadou to get the damaged tyre fixed properly. It was fascinating to see how the repair was carried out with a minimum of tools. The mechanic stuffed the puncture hole with a rubber mastic, using a pair of scissors. The actual patch was a piece of old tyre tube. Both the tyre and the patch were roughed up with a piece of broken hack saw blade, then glue applied to both surfaces and the patch attached. Then; a piece of hot metal was taken from an open fire and placed on the patch and pressure applied (via an ancient clamp) to mould the rubber. An important element in this was to have a piece of paper between the hot metal and the patch and for a small amount of water to be applied. All this at the side of a city street, no work shop here. Incredible what can be achieved with a little know how and endeavour.
Then we went back to the Auberg Dragon. Unfortunately they let the better rooms go early so we had not such a nice room and the internet was down – again. TIA.
We had sundowners at the Grand hotel, with a great vista over the Niger River. The traffic on the Kennedy bridge was halted, apparently the President was on the move! Avril ordered a hamburger, chicken or beef, but for the 1st time in any “international” hotel, they had run out of Hamburgers. Unbeknown to us, their custom is for each waiter to make a separate bill. For us this meant 3 bills; drinks, brochettes & dinner. We paid 2, but had to be chased by a waiter to get the money for the 3rd. Interesting concept!
Day 11 – 6/3/12
We went for a day trip to Tillaberi. This is marked green on the Michelin map which denotes an area of outstanding natural beauty. It was a pleasant drive, though the visibility was poor again, ~ 400m. We are not sure why this bit of desert road is more outstanding than the rest? Maybe the Michelin chap who makes the decision on “green” thought it was more deserving than the 10,000s kms of other desert road. At times there is a glimpse of the river, but you do not drive beside it. Anyway, we had a nice time, watched the construction of a large pirogue on the Niger River bank and had a picnic on the levy bank near to Tillaberi.
When we got back to Niamey we did some chores, filled the fuel & water tanks, procured some diet coke (are we getting addicted or just dependent on this stuff??).
Avril driving. 5 hours. 245. Auberg Dragon
Day 12 – 7/3/12
We were on the road by 07:30, but there was some delay… the roads were closed off for an executive convey. Lots of black mercs.
It was a good run on tar road all the way to the border. We completed Immigration, Police & Customs formalities at Makalondi ~ 20 km before the border. All done politely, quickly and no suggestion of a bribe.
The general topography remained as before, flat. However there was an increase in vegetation as we approached the border.
Then, there was a Burkina Faso flag and we knew we had left Niger.
Some Niger observations:
One down side of Niamey is the number of beggars, mainly young boys or people with disabilities. They are quite persistent and the sheer number is disturbing. They use the places where the more affluent go e.g. supermarkets or restaurants as ambush zones and you have to run a small gauntlet to get to your destination. We have not experienced this elsewhere.
On the positive side, we have noticed that the drivers here seem to be a little more polite – particularly outside of Niamey. They do not overload the vehicles to the same extent as other countries and you do not see the large number of people hanging off vehicles, getting a lift.
The level of litter generally in Africa is appalling. However, we have noticed a huge amount of litter in Niger. This seems to extend for miles beyond villages, again mainly plastic in its various forms. It seems that plastic bags can be blown kms!
It maybe getting a bit boring, but we liked Niger. Apart from the beggars in Niamey, the folks are very polite and helpful. We experienced no security issues even walking around the streets.
The main attraction in Niger is the north and the A’ir mountains. It is very unfortunate that they are out of bounds at the moment. It is a real pity that such a minute number of people can cause such misery for so many. The tourism industry is suffering terribly because of this. Hopefully we will get the opportunity to visit this area one day in the future. Park W has the makings of a good attraction; it probably needs a few more animals. Otherwise, the scenery is not that special.
We rate the Lonely Planet guide = 5/10 and the Rough Guide the same. However they are both very out of date e.g. on Embassies, ATMs etc. The IGN map was OK. T4A continues to assist. Garmap is very useful for Niger; it has full maps.