February 17, 2004

The Journey to Bamako (part 1)

The Journey to Bamako started very well, and then rapidly descended into what could only be called a 'long, strange journey'. Actually, it could probably be called all sorts of other things, but I'll stick with my current definition.
I managed to find the Peugot Taxi to the Mali border at Kidira, and I purchased place number 5, meaning that we only needed to wait for 2 more people. These were slow in coming, and a bloke came up to me and asked me in English if I wanted to chip in to get the taxi going. Sounded good to me, so I agreed. He then went on to ask me to explain to the other passengers in French, what we were doing. It dawned on me that he was not local, and he turned out to be Nigerian. He also turned out to speak not a single word of French at all, and to also be going to Bamako. I ended up spending the next 24 hours with him, and being the fool that I am, I can't remember his name. This means that for the purpose of this entry, he will be referred to as MNF (My Nigerian Friend).
Anyway, getting to the Mali border was the proverbial 'piece of piss' (easy). Three hours later, we had arrived. The first problem was finding the immigration people. They seemed to have hidden their sheds down random side steets. We got ourselves stamped out of Senegal, and then found the bridge to Mali, and over we went. MNF was asking me why they don't have the immigration posts at the actual border. He had actually come this way 8 years before from Nigeria to The Gambia. Now, for the first time, he was going back. He said it was 3 days from Bamako to Lagos, but once he got to Burkina Faso, people would be able to understand his native language, and it would be easier for him. For the time being he was speaking to everyone in English, which I found quite funny to watch, because everyone just stared blankly at him.
Anyway, we found the Mali hut, and while I filled out a giant form, the immigration officer was extracting a bribe from MNF, as his paperwork was not quite in order.
'Why are you giving me a hard time, I'm going home to see my family', said MNF.
He was met with blank stares, some mutterings about people not speaking French, and a request for five quid.
'When they see a Nigerian, they always want money', said MNF.
Meanwhile, back on my side of the desk, the officer was asking me for a photo.
He looked rather surprised when I produced one, and I sensed he had lost his opportunity to extract a bribe.
As we were on our way, Tunisia won the final of the Cup of African Nations football. All we had to do now was get to Kayes, which was allegedly 2 hours away. The journey, starting at 3pm, fell into several distinct stages...

Stage 1 - Waiting
We found the guy with the vehicle, which was in fact an old French water van. We paid our money, plus extra for the front seat, which was quite wide, and then we waited for 2 hours. More people came. Off we went.

Stage 2 - The False Start
We drove for 2km, then the van conked out. MNF said he knew about cars, and it was the spark plugs. He said the driver was 'no mechanic'. The driver walked back to get some spark plugs. MNF said the driver was 'not too clever'.

Stage 3 - Slow Driving
By 7pm we were on our way again, albeit at a very slow pace on a dirt track. MNF said the car was 'no good'. We talked about tourism in The Gambia. Darkness fell.

Stage 4 - Very Slow Driving
We were now proceeding at a criminally slow pace. We got a flat tyre. The jack didn't work very well. It took a while to change the tyre. We carried on. I noticed the headlights weren't very bright. MNF said the battery was 'no good'. The engine kept cutting out. The battery was so flat, we had to push start the van every time it conked out. 'We will not make it', said MNF.

Stage 5 - Incredibly Slow Driving with no Lights
Finally, the battery refused to power the headlights. The solution was a guy on the roof holding one torch, and me holding another torch out of the passenger window. It didn't exactly illuminate the road. We were crawling along. It was getting towards 11pm.

Stage 6 - Walking
Yes, finally the van gave up entirely. 'This car is going nowhere', MNF said. I enquired as to the distance from Kayes. It was about 3km. I told MNF.
'Shall we trek?', he said. So, trek we did. Us and about 7 others, finally arriving in Kayes at 1am.

We checked into a hotel, and MNF said he was leaving the next morning on the 12 hour trip to Bamako. I said that I had reserved that day for sleeping, so the next morning we parted company, leaving me with a whole day in Kayes to imagine the horror of the 12 hours to Bamako still to come...

Posted by paul at February 17, 2004 09:28 PM


Hey Paul, hurry up and finish writing I want to read it all, i got me aniMac today, the nu-writing desk.

Posted by: Kev at February 17, 2004 09:50 PM

A new Imac? very nice! I've finished now. That took me ages, nearly as long as the journey itself..

Posted by: Angry Beaton at February 17, 2004 10:15 PM