Or – maybe not.
After a long over-night flight, we arrived at the town of Lukla, which marks the starting point of the Everest Base Camp trek. The journey to this small village involves a change of planes, as well as a short walk from the International to the Domstic terminal in the capital city of Kathmandu. We achieved this transit within one hour, which was absolutely perfect.
“Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success” Sir Ernest Shackleton (polar explorer)
Avid readers of my blog know that I am an Antarctica enthusiast. Ever since I read the story of Shackleton’s last expedition as a young man, I wanted to see and explore the continent of endless ice. Despite being still somewhat expensive, over the last few years prices of Antarctic expedition cruises have dropped. Therefore, I felt it was now time to turn this dream into reality and visit the Antarctic continent. My Russian friend Evgeny joined, eager as well to discover this distant land.
Bamako felt considerably different than Guinea, from where we just arrived by road. Everything felt bigger and more touristic. We chose the Hotel Jamana – a small hotel downtown Bamako – to settle for the night. Within walking distance was a local food store and – of utmost importance for my travel pal, Evgeny – a Chinese restaurant.
The flight on an “Royal Air Maroc” plane from Banjul to Conakry was short and comfortable. Well, as comfortable as it gets, leaving in the middle of the night and arriving in the wee hours at Conakry airport. Yes, we had our visas, didn’t have any duty-free items over the limit. So, our expectation was to clear the administrative wall swiftly upon arrival. Well, almost… Just before exit to the luggage belt, we spotted a lady in a nurse uniform, who checked the yellow-fever certificate of all arriving passengers. This was fine with me, since I had the required document. But Evgeny whispered to me that he had no such certificate.
Most of the people know The Gambia due to its funny shape on the map. Located on the West-African coast, with only one neighbouring country – Senegal, that encompasses The Gambia in the North, East and South. In fact, the country is basically a beautiful stretch of land about 10km wide on each side at the shores of the Gambia river. While being in the capital city of Banjul, Evgeny and I knew that we needed to organize a few things before we could move on to the next country.
Armed with a couple of visas, Evgeny and I decided to do a small West-Africa trip around the Year End holiday season. The planning and organisation of the trip came with a few challenges and we knew in advance that quite some flexibility is required in Africa as things never go as planned. Our plane ticket set the start and end point for our trip in the town of Dakar, Senegal. Consequently, this defined our itinerary: Driving overland in clockwise direction from Senegal to Mali to Nigeria and along the West-African coast back to Senegal. We knew that this was an ambitious plan, but we kept an open mind in terms of changing the route, as long as we could manage to visit Mali – our main focus for this trip.
After a six hour drive coming from Pärnu (Estonia), I arrived in the middle of a traffic jam in the old town of Vilnius (Lithuania). What a change of culture! Yes, I liked Riga in Latvia – and I enjoyed Tallinn in Estonia. But Vilnius in Lithuania felt quite different. It’s a whole world apart from the other places I visited earlier during my Baltic road trip. Actually, I am quite happy to have visited the cities in the present order.
The first stop in Estonia was the small city of Tartu where I stayed overnight. Distances are small in the Baltic states, which is a key advantage since this leaves plenty of room to cover many places and still have enough time to visit and relax. Tartu was one such place. Being the second largest city of Estonia, there are plenty of cafes, book stores – and students. In fact, the national University of Estonia is located here. Founded back in 1632, it is considered to be one of the oldest universities in Northern Europe. No wonder, Tartu is being considered the intellectual center of Estonia.