In the morning, we caught a taxi into Niamey (which cost 100 CFA francs each which is about 13 pence) where we had a culture shock changing moneyin the bank after the couple of months in the desert. We obtained our visas for Burkina Faso at the French Consulate and picked up our post at the Hotel des Postes.
The post office was a nightmare. We could not get all of our post in one go. Each time I attempted to get all of our letters, the postmaster refused to believe that the post was for us. I could see a large envelope from Dad in a section of the post counter which the man had not even looked at. I tried three times to get the visible but elusive letters, each time getting some more letters of ours but not all of it.
It was frustrating and I was starting to lose my cool. We decided to find a nearby café, have a coffee and calm down. Later, we tried again and were given all of our post.
Niamey was full of contrasts. There were beggars and cripples outside the SCORE supermarket which stocked French food flown in especially for the expats in the country and which was incredibly expensive.
Across the road from the supermarket was the 'Petit Marche', a collection of stalls selling anything from meat to soap powder. Some of the stalls had come across naïve tourists before and asked outrageous prices from us for foods we had bought for pennies on our way towards Niamey, and they refused to budge their prices. The further into the market we walked, the cheaper it became.
We decided to go to the cinema to experience a movie in African style. We went into the 'Cinema Vox' and it was lived up to our expectations. We paid £1 each and went into the building where the floor was so contorted that it looked like the inside of a boat. The dubbed to French American film came on. The voices were out of sync with the film and the projector kept cutting out half of the picture. The film was scratched and distorted, people were jostling about constantly which made it all very amusing. We tired of it and left after about ten minutes. It was an action film.
We, also, came across a French patisserie which had some delicious cakes to which we treated ourselves to one particularly big, sticky one each. Once outside, the kids came up begging for a piece of our cakes which was not so nice. Our consciences, however, did not get the better of us. Those cakes were too good and we had been living off tinned fish and rice for weeks.
We had a guide book (Africa on a Shoestring) which was crap. It had recommendations for places to eat which we walked about for ages trying to find but didn't. We found a small place to eat lunch but it was not worth all of our efforts.
We did meet two Americans and a Frenchman in the restaurant. They were staying at the Hotel Moustache (yes, seriously!) across the road. They recounted to us stories about the place; its prostitutes and illegal immigrants. One, Scott Evans, was a 20 year old who'd dropped out of university in Ghana and decided to to go travelling. He was a slow speaking Californian who moved to the campsite soon after and whom we got to know better.
The other American was a 42 year old (his name I forgot) who had been travelling around Africa for a while. He seemed to be screwing his way around the continent and was proud of the fact that he had always used a condom. (Scott told us that he was sleeping on this blokes' floor for the time being amongst some of the used johnnies!). He continued to tell us that he got his money for travelling from conning people out of their money by sending children around to people's houses collecting money for 'charity'. He was clearly nuts.
We left and bumped into Clive (who had had his Land Rover stolen) and got a taxi back to the campsite (for another 13 pence).
At the campsite, we spent a lot of time talking with Eddie, Harriet, Clive, Aroha, Scott and two Canadian cyclists we had met, Gordon and Kirsten. Much time was passed over a couple of days just sitting about in the shade talking, eating papaya and coconuts, bread, butter and peanut butter.
We had meant to do so much but Dan and I were so relieved to be eating some decent food and resting that we had no inclination to fix our bikes or to do cultural tours.
There was another Canadian cyclist who had been cycling around the world for four years. He had come down from Mali and had been in the middle of a gun fight where a man was killed right next to him. He had been in his sleeping bag at the time and had blood from the shot man all over it. He recommended that we did not go into Mali at that time so we changed our plans.
Travelling through Niger had left some striking memories in my head. The tall Tauregs in their blue robes, riding camels and carrying huge swords. The tribal scars on many of the people's faces, some of which were grotesque and some ornate. The salesmen selling trinkets (or trying to sell them) to us all of the time, whether that was in the campsite, the streets or in restaurants. The Harmattan wind blowing us all the way from Arlit. The wattle and daub houses in clusters with children rushing out of them shouting 'cadeaux'. At one point, I had knocked a boy over with my bike who misjudged my speed and stepped out towards me, after which I heard his machete clattering along the road after me. The number of termites and ants everywhere. The Frenchmen selling Peugeots or lorries to the locals. The 'riz sauce' dish which was our staple diet for lunch and supper for several weeks.
Will Hawkins lives in Lincolnshire with his family, works in a technology company in London and does as many micro-adventures as he can.
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