Guinea

  Currency = FrG  
1 = FrG 4200  
US $1 = FrG 2400
1 Euro = FrG 2900
March 2004

Kankan to Bamako

Click to enlarge

Mali

Currency = CFA
1 = CFA 1000
US $1 = CFA 520
1 Euro = CFA 656
March 2004

Arriving at the Kankan / Bamako taxi garage and trying to sort out just who was who in the managerial stakes, was more difficult than normal. Unusually .. and an early taste of what we would experience more of in Mali .. questions as to actual details of some importance, to us anyway .. had to be asked three or more times in order to get some sort of vague information.
Perhaps it is because everyone was still half asleep at this unearthly hour, we thought.

A tiny kiosk was evidently the nerve centre of operations .. not that anyone in there seemed to know much  about anything .. but at least it was the correct venue to await developments.
Await we did, all morning and all afternoon, as the temperatures soared well over 'phew' levels !

We ate, we drank, we chatted with fellow travellers waiting for their taxis to fill .. sheltering as best we could from the blazing sun whilst keeping a close eye on the proceedings around the kiosk. Ladies with babies strapped to their backs in typical West African fashion .. another pretty young thing sporting what, at a distance, looked like a hat* more suitable for Lady's Day at Ascot (UK horse races). Alaghi bought some of the contents of the hat ( see pic ) demonstrating how to peel them with his finger nails. If the stories are true about eating these to enhance your night vision, no doubt most of the residents of Kankan are able to see very well in the dark.
Somewhat of a necessity with the lack of street lighting .. many were on sale and they sold well !

Eventually we commandeered another lady with a tray full of large and juicy papaya, to find us a plate, peel and prepare  the fruit. Subsequently she had to wait for us to finish .. dribbling juice everywhere .. because she needed her plate back. As usual the camera was on the go.
I snapped a sneaky
picture** of her preparing the papaya. Ooops, wrong !!  Jeez, did I get a telling-off. I didn't understand a word of it, but she was obviously not best pleased !!!

Cowering before her verbal onslaught, I quickly showed her the picture on the camera's
viewing screen .. hopefully as a peace offering. Thankfully the onslaught stopped in mid flow.

Factfile 16: Photographs are very important possessions for most Africans .. visit any friend and the photo album is soon brought out. Rarely any panoramic shots, but always of themselves, friends or family, dressed in their best attire and trying to look as serious as possible .. in the 'African way'. To be able to see the instant results of a digital picture is a miracle to most.

Pushing my luck to the limit, after she had regained her composure .. and by way of some small compensation for the liberty I had taken .. I suggested taking a picture of her, this time with her looking at the camera. A frowning refusal resulted .. oh well, can't win them all, I thought !
However, as I was putting the offending camera away, she took off her apron, adjusted her hair wrap, put some jewellery on, smiled at last and said: "OK .. no problem, I am
ready now" !!

We took it in turns to go for short walks to see the sights. Just around the corner was a large expanse of ground .. with open air mechanics workshops .. trucks, cars and associated rubbish littered all over the ground in various stages of repair. It would be quite a task to pick my way over the ground without tripping over these obstacles, I wondered whether to venture further.

Luckily I did .. for just over a rise on the other side of all this scruffy mayhem, was such a stunning and beautiful sight .. it  almost took my breath away. The River Milo*** in all its glory.
Having been through mostly brown and yellow dusty bush with sparse  vegetation for most of the day .. the River Milo was a refreshing sight and full of action. It is the local bath house, car wash and laundry .. irrigating crops and providing fresh fish .. a well-used tributary of the Niger.

To see these pictures in conjunction with reading their appropriate text ..
Read on until you come to a
Link * then click on the thumbnail with the same number of *s

Babies

 The 'Ascot Hat'*

 Papaya**

  The River Milo***

On and on we waited, more and more became the confusion, up and up went the temperatures.
The Rough Guide suggests: At the height of the dry season, Kankan is so unbearably hot that you may decide to abandon visiting the region altogether. The reference to heat, I can confirm !

First, this was our car .. excitement and queues forming for tickets .. then it wasn't. Then it went away and another one arrived .. tickets were issued (FrG 33,000 each) and baggage started being assembled for loading. Great .. 3pm had been and gone and we were really fed up by now,
sadly contemplating a repeat of our Mamou experience and another night amongst the students.

Our baggage was loaded into the car which, leaving us standing there, was turned around and driven 20 metres up the street where it was unloaded again for an enormous amount of bags to be carried out of a house and piled high on its roof rack. Sprinting over to reclaim our bags, we at last received an accurate and real explanation that yesterday's car had had a small problem and had not travelled. These bags were already booked on board, with no room for us, or ours !!

Factfile 17: It is commonly quoted that 'patience is a virtue'. Without it, whilst travelling in West Africa, you are likely to be tearing your hair out, grinding your teeth down to stumps
and with the heat .. be in severe danger of a having a heart attack within the first few hours.
I, we, they have, or it has, a 'small problem' .. are the words one dreads to hear.
A 'small problem' can encompass many things:  It's the usual prequel to a bumpster asking for a handout of money, the vehicle you are travelling in is terminally ill, or thousands of dollars have mysteriously 'evaporated' from the accounts of some project or government department.
Just occasionally it really is a small problem .. easily fixed .. with sufficient time !

Eventually another car arrived .. this time definitely for us ........ but with one small problem:
too many passengers .. not enough car ! More confusion, more arguing .. if I could have spoken the language or even managed to get a word in edgewise, I would have joined in. But such was the vehemence of others whose tempers were similarly frayed .. it would have had little effect.
Asking Alaghi for the occasional translation, we let them get on with it and awaited the outcome.

Evidently with the overbooking, choices were being offered to us to go in another car by a different route. This sounded OK to me until Alaghi whispered that the village we would arrive at was right in the centre of nowhere and it would probably take at least 3 or 4 days to get an onward connection. So we politely but firmly declined .. as, I thought, did all the others. However, with one of those strange and sudden African reversals in fortune .. from a total impossibility to a viable solution being worked out .. quite unexpectedly it was done and finished.

With our bags loaded once more .. the taxi promptly drove off around the corner and out of sight. Going for petrol, we assumed, funny he didn't take us with him ! Half an hour later .. and not a little anxious .. we eventually found out that the driver needed to get his travel papers signed by the local authority .. obviously costing money and not worth doing before his trip was actually going to take place. On his return we all piled in, settled down and finally departed.

Only then did we notice for the first time something we had missed, due to the constant dusty pandemonium of the area; not only was the engine blowing clouds of blue smoke from its exhaust, but these choking carbon monoxide fumes were swirling straight back into the interior !

With little choice but to accept it, or spend another night and day going through the same time-wasting procedure, we stayed in our seats. But I can truthfully say that I have never ever been on such an excruciatingly unhealthy and uncomfortable journey in my life ..
and this was just the start of our problems over the long hours to come on the road to Bamako !

RECT