We’ve made the trip between Maradi and Niamey, Niger over the last 15 years countless times. Literally. But I don’t believe I’ve ever dedicated a blog post specifically to the trip. So here goes.
Niamey, the capital of Niger, is located in the south-western part of the country. The majority of the population also lies on the southern border, known as the Sahel Region. Not many people live up in the north, because that’s the Sahara Desert. So this journey takes us about halfway through the country, from West to East, along the Southern border.
We once completed the 388 mile road trip in 6 hours 45 minutes. That was years ago. And I know that’s not going to win the Indy, but when compared to our longest time…. What was our longest time you ask? Well that’s up for debate. Do you count the trip with the 6 flat tires? Or the one where the front tire actually flew off the vehicle? Or what about the time the whole thing seized up and we had to leave our vehicle on the road and take public transport the rest of the way home? Or how about when the brakes went out and we had to completely turn around and go home to get them fixed and leave again the next day? I could go on. But I won’t.
This particular journey was just a couple of weeks ago. We went to Maradi to celebrate the New Year. Tanika was home visiting and hadn’t been in Maradi in a few years. Since she spent nearly 9 years of her life there, it was time for a visit. But I digress. This is about the actual road trip. Besides Neal and myself and Tanika in the vehicle, Tobi was of course with us, as well as Sukala and his new wife Rakkiya. So the 4 of them were pretty cozy in the back seat. But the fun made up for the squishiness. I think.
The road is always in various stages of repair and since we’ve lived here has never been completely good. By that I mean there has always been a significant section of road that is in bad shape. And I mean really bad shape. Right now it’s the portion between Guidan Roumdji and Birnin’ Konni, closer to Maradi. I can’t really say the actual distance, but it takes about 3 hours to get through it. It shouldn’t take that long. Fortunately, it is being worked on. I’m trying not to notice the part of the road that is starting to deteriorate which will soon become the next really bad section.
Most of the rest of this post will be photos, most taken on our return trip to Niamey from Maradi. But a few pics are actually from the trip to Maradi from Niamey. Like this one. This is the Niamey gate as we are leaving the city. The sun is coming up. We are driving toward the sunrise. Pretty, but makes for a couple of squinty hours, even with sunglasses.
And now here we are on the other end. Leaving Maradi, January 2nd, 2014 – the Maradi city gate. We left at the same time as we did in Niamey 4 days earlier, but sunrise here is earlier.
The sun is behind us this time.
The open road. Sort of.
All 6 of us, ready for the long journey. Again – sort of.
This is the 2 lane road that crosses the country.
Often turn into this…
No potholes! And fortunately these cows/carts were on the side. Often, we share the road with them.
Here’s one way to move your goods across the country.
Check out the camels on the left. Another mode of transportation.
There are countless small villages along the road. All with their own speed bumps – usually 4 or 6 of them!
No, we weren’t off-roading. This was a detour of sorts.
Hopeful signs of road construction.
On a journey like this, one does not like to hear unfamiliar noises coming from any part of the vehicle. A couple of hours in, we heard such a sound. And it wasn’t a good one. First thought – a blown tire? I can’t really describe the sound except to say it was loud and sounded like kind of a big deal. We slowed and stopped with no problems (except for the sound). Sukala jumped out and immediately saw the problem, which turned out not to be much of a problem at all. The bull guard came loose/off. Wonder how that happened?
It was a quick job to pick it up and pack it inside.
And to be on our way.
Lots and lots of trucks on the road today – both directions. A railroad system in this country would go a long way to saving the roads!
Beggars often stand (strategically I might add) near the potholes where one is forced to slow down.
These donkey carts are pulling water that has been pulled up from a well and poured into the yellow plastic containers.
And these donkey carts are pulling what we call zanna – fences made from millet stalks.
This is the time of year that dry season farming is done. There is no rainfall to speak of, but it is done in areas that can be irrigated. These are onions growing.
Getting close to a town. Various sized bags of onions being sold on the right.
Tight squeeze. The trucks really are road hogs. But check out the palm tree!
This is the town of Madaoua and the building on the right is the main mosque there.
More water being transported by the beast of burden.
Following trucks also causes this problem.
This little yellow sign is telling us that we get to do more off-roading ahead.
Time for a pit stop. Boys on the left side of the road, girls on the right. I’m guessing Tobi and Sukala didn’t know I took their picture! =)
The ladies bathroom.
The ladies exiting the bathroom.
And now that the bladders have been relieved, its snack time. Fried locusts!
I’m not kidding. These guys really love them. In fact it was a request Tanika had when she got here. Tobi looks like he’s enjoying these bugs way too much!
Yep, my handsome husband/chauffeur loves them too.
Not me. I’ll stick with fried fish. (Thanks to the last team that was here!)
When homes are made out of the ground they are built on, they can be pretty hard to spot. As can be seen (or not), by this village in the distance. The white structure that can be seen is the village Mosque and is located in the right, front part of the village.
Some sections of the road are quite nice. And what a view! You should see it during rainy season.
This hill is steeper than it looks, and not everyone can make it up – even if they think they can…
This appears to be a temporary cement mixing factory… We had to wait for the donkey cart to pass.
Another town, another mosque.
This is Galmi Hospital. A hospital that is run by SIM, a mission organization that has been working in Niger since the 1920’s. They have served thousands and thousands of people using medicine and the Gospel. I actually had surgery here when I was pregnant with Tobi.
One of countless cell towers erected in the middle of nowhere. What stood out to me was the dish covered in red dirt…Anyone got a hose?
This man is carrying a generator on his head. Good thing, cause there is no electricity in site!
Another generator – This one will be used to run a pump to irrigate this field.
More positive signs of road work.
Getting close to another town – there are even road signs here.
More onions for sale.
And it’s full service!
This is not Quick Trip, but there are lots of things that can be bargained for – Tanika and Tobi I think were buying bread. And check out the King Tat candy bars being held out for Tanika to consider.
Once again, thanks to our previous team, we also had M&M’s to snack on.
This camel really is owned by someone.
So are these cows.
We’re almost to the end of the bad road, but there are a few stray bad spots.
This man is carrying 20-gallon plastic containers – quite valuable they are.
The road smooths out some, and with full bellies…
This is what happens.
As long as the trip is, we can always be thankful that we’re not traveling like this!
Some villages put up speed bump signs to warn you of the impending obstacle. That’s what the sign on the right is.
This is a section of road that was repaired a couple of years ago. There’s water here most of the year, but I have no idea the source.
These little boys are just having fun in their cart.
Islam, the predominant religion in Niger, is required to have beggars because they have to ‘give alms’. So as sad as it is, seeing beggars of all shapes and sizes is part of the culture and landscape of this nation. This man is camped out at a speed bump, asking for those alms – or anything one wants to give him.
A church!! There aren’t many as you make your way across the land, but there are many more than there used to be. And they will continue to increase as we stand on God’s Word that He is giving us every place we put our feet!
This is a market place. But it’s not market day here so it’s empty.
Yet another overturned truck.
This is one of the many, many busses we pass that transport people between cities.
For some reason tractors always make me laugh when I see them tooling down the road.
The people you see walking are students. It’s noon, and the schools are out. They will go back at 3pm.
The mosques are usually the only thing in a village that gets a coat of paint.
I was kind of impressed by the artwork on this truck.
Dosso city gate!!
Yep – there are even traffic lights here!
This station looks pretty much like the first one. We typically have to make these 2 stops for fuel, which is about $6/gallon.
This station actually has a locked toilet that as far as I can tell is reserved for foreigners. It flushes and has running water. BYOT.P. Unless of course all you need is the plastic tea kettle conveniently located. As nice as it is, this isn’t always the best plan though, because as opposed to the ‘bush toilet’ where everyone can go at the same time, this is a one -umm, ‘seater’, so takes more time.
I took this picture because it’s the town of Birnin’ Gaoure, and we (Vie Abondante) have a church in this town.
This is a common way to carry babies, even on motorcycles. There are 3 people on this one. The little guy is tied to his Mom with a piece of cloth.
As we get closer to home, we have the option of getting fresh chicken at a ‘drive-through’. We turned down the opportunity though, as it was a bit too fresh for me.
This mosque is made of mud hasn’t been painted.
You know those transport busses I mentioned. These passengers got an unplanned break. They’re probably waiting for another bus to come and rescue them.
This one is a bit fancier.
Mango trees! And they’re starting to bud.
The area around the mosque is kept quite clean.
I don’t know what’s inside this truck, but the all those things hanging off the sides are plastic teapots – like the kind in the fancy bathroom. These are very common in this culture, because the Muslims pray 5 times a day, and they go through a ritualistic washing process before every prayer time. That’s one of the main things they use these little kettles for.
Firewood is being loaded onto this vehicle. It will likely be taken to Niamey and will be sold. So I guess you could say this is the warehouse.
Same thing here, and believe it or not, they are going to add the firewood to that load. There is always room for more stuff.
Getting close now. This is the entrance to the ‘giraffe reserve’. By entrance I mean the place you go and pay and pick up a guide. By reserve I mean that the giraffe are protected, but as far as I know not really followed that closely. We rely on the guides who rely on their good or not so good tracking skills. Some are definitely better than others. You drive your vehicle into the bush with the guide on the top, armed with a stick. We’ve done it tons of times and it really is a pretty cool experience. Not today though.
I like taking pictures of tractors.
The top of the van is loaded with goats.
Pretty impressive section of road. It’s all about perspective…
Village well in the foreground, but hard to see unless you’re looking for it.
Outskirts of Niamey.
This is called the Peage. This is where you pay your road tax. You know, to help pay for road repairs and stuff.
I snuck this picture a little closer. That’s one thing I didn’t get pictures of that are a major part of this journey. All the checkpoints. Not a good idea to have your camera out at these. A checkpoint is essentially a rope that crosses the road, that is often hard to see. But that’s ok, because you can pretty much expect them in every village. And there are 2 types. Sometimes they are together and sometimes separate. One is simply checking that you actually paid your road tax. The other one is a police checkpoint. More often than not they just wave you on, but sometimes they want to see your papers, and sometimes they just want to chat. Especially if they discover you speak Hausa. Over the years, I have found that almost always the people at these checkpoints are very friendly and they smile a lot.
Niamey city gate!!
The airport is off to the right.
Airport entrance. You can see the air traffic control tower on the left.
Construction is always going on in this growing capital city.
This young man is selling boxes of kleenex. The Grand Mosque is in the distance.
There it is as we drive by. This is the main mosque for Niamey.
Getting close to the new overpass.
Going under the new overpass. It’s really quite fancy.
I really like those carpets on the left. They’ve been displayed there for quite some time. I wish someone would buy them!
Some might find this sweet or productive, but for some reason it drives me crazy! There are several intersections in town where these little guys sneak up from behind with their squeegees and wash your windows, uninvited. They always startle me because they just appear, even when you’re looking for them! I think the thing that annoys me is that even if you tell them not to smear your windows, they never listen. (And to their credit, they actually do sometimes clean them).
A bike and a car meet unexpectedly. Unfortunately a common occurrence.
We have arrived at Sukala and Rakkiya’s house. Unloading their stuff. They are both from the Maradi area, and this was their first trip their since their wedding. So they are unloading gifts they were given. Well, that and the bull guard.
A carton of ramen noodles was one of the gifts.
Thanks for the memories.
Sukala heading into his home.
Continue on to our home.
Our road. Our gate is right after the big tree down on the right.
Home Sweet Home.
Guess she missed her pillow.
More stuff to unload!
Our Christmas stuff was still there to welcome us home, but that will come down in a few days. I think.
So, there you have it. A trip through the nation of Niger! It’s not for the faint-hearted. But much can be learned about the country and the culture as you journey across this vast and beautiful desert land – especially if you have a breakdown. Which thankfully, we did not. This time.