Friday, November 25, 2011

Hand of Fatima

Almost one year since this epic trip.......

On Christmas Day 2010 I woke up feeling awful. I blamed myself for drinking too much in the local pub the night before. I even stumbled all the way home in just a tee shirt in the snow. I was at home with my family. Through breakfast mum was complaining about how she could still smell the alcohol from me. I felt so weak and could hardly keep my eyes open. Dad was already drinking a glass of champagne and it was only like 10am. The smell wasn’t helping. This was definitely not a hangover; for once in my life I felt dying. Everyone was opening their presents till mine was placed on my chest as I was lying down on the sofa. It was the size of a shoe box. I get the same shoe box every Christmas, of course, what else would I ask for? Nothing beats a new pair of Five Tennies. My family realised something was serious if I couldn’t open the Five Tens. It turned out that I had a temperature of 103F. It was Swine Flu. God I couldn’t let this ruin my upcoming climbing expedition to Mali, West Africa that I was to leave in 2 days time. I had to get better. 

Mum did everything she could to stop dad and I from going but we were too stubborn. The arguments continued. Mum sat beside me, “you don’t want to go to Africa in this state do you? Remember that tropical disease you caught from Ghana 3 years ago? Your low immunity will absorb every African disease no doubt”. Dad was looking out the window with serious thoughts whether to call off the trip or not as mum kept persuading him. He looked as if he had to make the decision of a multi million-dollar deal. I promised mum and dad I would be better tomorrow although the choice wasn’t mine.

Boxing day; one day to go. Am I dead yet? God, I was suffering as if I was having a cold turkey. All night, not a single sleep. I put on the brave fake face that I was feeling better but I wasn’t. I was still burning at 103F. Dad was still packing. Haul bag, cams, ropes, clothes and the list goes on forever. 

Hand of Fatima, a secret sandstone cliff hidden in the Sahara desert of Mali in West Africa. It’s about 600 meters high. There was tiny information on the Internet about the secret and only a few climbers in the world have been there. Todd Skinner who made the first free assent of Salathe wall in Yosemite had been to Fatima’s Hand. As I tried to find a way to contact him for more information, I realized he passed away in a climbing accident later on the Half Dome in Yosetmite.

Frenchman Arnaud Petit does countless amazing First Assents all over the world on all kinds of rock was the next dude to find, but my French is kind of poor and the communicating will be pointless. I think it’s silly for schools to teach deaf kids another language. At primary school I sometimes had to listen to French through tapes. It was all total silence in class and I thought we had to pray or something.

Petit wrote a book called ‘legendary cliffs’, which contains the world’s best routes. Dad calls it the bible. I can agree with that. 'Black mamba' was one of his routes, a multi pitch of several grade 7a+'s having a mixture of trad and bolts.

With such luck i was getting better as we crossed Europe. too bad, dad caught the Flu off me and his eyes filled with redness like the infected in the movie '28 days later'.

I have been to Africa before and I forgot how slow the everything is, TIA huh. The airport in Bamako was the worst airport ever. It was smaller than Tesco's express, in fact just slightly bigger than a local petrol station. As there was only one plane, ours from Europe it still look the local Malian's 3 hours to get the language off the plane. Dad and I were the only white people at the airport. There were no seats for waiting, so dad lay down on the floor as the locals kept walking over him. His fever was getting worse. In the end, the bags came. A crappy night in the city and off we went travelling hundreds of miles over 2 days to Fatima's Hand in the rusted old Land Cruiser. 

So much happened, so many stories to be told. But what I can tell you, is the beauty of Hombori. Fatima's Hand from the bottom and summit simply took my breath away. 

2 weeks of climbing, we both got better during the end. I thought dad and I were going to be the only climbers in Mali. But there was some of the coolest Spanish guys also out there. Alberto, Alex, Fernando, Ramon. There was also a Venezuelan dude who had cycled from Thailand to West Africa in the last 10 years called 'wild man Rom'

When the Spanish left, Leo Houlding and his wife Jess came out and they kept the fun going. 

Some pictures bellow which tells story better.

 The local villagers

 Another village, 5 miles away from the road.

 Desert life
 River Niger
 High life
Mind blowing
 Dad and Rom found a ledge on pitch 3! already miles off the ground!
 The shadow is me....
 Dad is nearly 60, he is still hardcore.
 Ramon trying to free 7b+
 Wild man Rom
 Wash time
 Rest days
 When I grow up, I wanna be a rock star.
 Dad fell asleep in the back of the car, the window was left open!!!!
 Sweet kids
 Bolton against liverpool. I wonder if the premiership players know that people in the desert of Timbuktu are supporting the game!

 Always giving lifts to the locals
 Alberto on Petit's Black Mamba
 pitch 2!

 Leo Houlding on sighting a single pitch 7b+ climb
 At the summit
 Gearing up
 Sport climbing!
 Dad and I
 avoiding Malaria

Alberto in space

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