February 18, 2004

The Journey to Bamako (part 2)

And so it was, that the second day of the long voyage to Bamako began at 6.30am with breakfast. By 8am, I had found the transport garage. By 8.30am, I had a ticket, and was told the journey was 11 or 12 hours. Not only that, but I had paid extra and bagged the all important seat in the front.
The vehicle to be used, I would call a 'fortified monster truck bus conversion', or FMTBC for short (not that short really?!). The FMTBC had giant wheels, and a bunch of very small seats rammed in the back. The cab of the FMTBC, being a kind of truck, was pretty wide, and had 3 seats. One for the driver, one for the 'police checkpoint document giver', and one for me.
The distance to cover was 400 miles, and previously would take 2 days, but the European Union had very kindly financed a new road, which made the journey possible in a day. This is why the daily trains had stopped running. I didn't mind this, as I heard the train was awful.
We didn't set off until about 11.30am, which didn't bode well, and once underway I realised that there was pretty much 3 small towns in the whole of western Mali. I was glad I had come prepared with croissants.
At this point, I would like to urge the European Union to put their skates on, as they haven't finished the middle 200km of the road. The driver seemed to double his speed when we got to this part, which was exciting for about 3 minutes as we flew over the ruts in the FMTBC, but then became very scary when it was dark, and I admit to shutting my eyes in fear for a short period of time.
Once I had assesed that perhaps the driver wasn't about to go flying off the road, I quite enjoyed parts of the journey. I was very happy with my comfortable front seat, and felt only mild twinges of guilt about the old foreign lady who was scrunched in the back. My justification formed several levels - First of all, she hadn't even shown up till 11am, so I deserved the front seat for being early and buying it first. Second of all, she was part of a Catholic Mission, so she had God to help her through the journey. Finally, I figured that she had probably had plenty of time to rest because she lived here, whereas I had been through long and stressful journeys. My guilty feeling was vanquished.
So, to cut a long story short, as Spandau Ballet would say, we got nearer and nearer to Bamako, stopping only 3 times at small villages for food. It became pretty clear that '12 hours' was in fact a great work of fiction. We arrived at 4am.
So, I gave the name of a hotel to a taxi driver. He claimed he knew it, and then off we went. We arrived and rather than 'Tamana Hotel', it says 'Jamana Hotel'. 'What the hell', I thought, 'Maybe it's spelt wrong?'. As I get out of the taxi, I am set upon by a bunch of women offering me massages and other kinds of things which I am sure you can imagine. I explain that I am tired, and proceed to check in. Being very thirsty, I see if I can get a coke, and I am directed to a bar in the hotel. It's 4.30am and it's full of drunk Malians. I get my coke and leg it, finally sleeping at 5am. I sense this is not the 'small, friendly hotel' mentioned in the book. I am right, and the next day, I check out, and move to the real 'Tamana', which is a little island of paradise here in Bamako.
Now I feel kind of jet-lagged and I haven't even been on a plane...

Posted by paul at February 18, 2004 11:22 AM