Darkness was falling when we arrived in Siguiri .. for our papers to be checked and for more than the usual amounts of tea, coffee and soft drinks to soothe our red-raw throats. Boiled eggs
( Fula bread ) sandwiches made a tasty snack and we headed to the edge of town for refuelling at a modern-looking petrol station. Our driver hopped out and stood next to the pump attendant, chatting happily as our petrol tank was filled to the brim with diesel.
Just past the Bamako 218 km sign, 2 kilometres out of town .. the engine coughed, spluttered and died .. and we ground to a halt. Another small problem !
Factfile 19: It really doesn't matter whether you are in Africa or anywhere else in the world ..
if you fill a petrol engine's tank with diesel fuel .. this is the inevitable result !!
wandered around the bush, enjoying being in fresh air for a change .. some praying, others chatting .. the apprentis hitched a lift on a passing motorcycle and reappeared half an hour later with a litre bottle of
petrol. Meanwhile the driver had been stripping the carburettor to pieces and cleaning it. The bottle was wedged on top of the engine and connected directly to the carburettor so we could drive back to the petrol
station .. which of course had since closed for the night. Luckily for us and perhaps unluckily for them .. the staff had not yet gone home .. we had just made it with seconds to spare. A heated argument developed
between our driver and the pump attendant as to just who was the biggest idiot .. the pump attendant for putting diesel into a petrol car, or our driver who had watched him do it .. and who was going to pay !!
Who won and who paid for what is not certain, but eventually the station's generator was cranked into life and under the lights of the pumps, the fuel system was drained, washed through and refilled with
petrol. We sat at a safe distance in the darkness, sharing cigarettes and tepid soft drinks from their drinks' cooler some unexpected after-hours profits for them.
This small problem
had added some two and a half hours to the journey time and our driver
.. previously not the slowest in the world .. took out his frustrations on the road ahead !
Severely ribbed surfaces that made your teeth
chatter, hairpin bends, chicanes through road works and the occasional village with its associated livestock, all flashed past at indecent speed in the darkness. The only thing to slow our progress were areas of talcum
powder-like fine sand that evidently could only be driven through at walking pace. He almost missed seeing one of these areas and before slowing down enough, the dust immediately billowed up .. completely engulfing our
car from end to end. The reason for his caution was duly noted.
Before reaching Kangaba we stopped .. the driver got out clutching his papers and .. motioning us to stay put .. disappeared into the
darkness. Assuming it was just another police check that thankfully didn't involve us .. and by now suffering from both extreme tiredness and the advanced stages of carbon monoxide poisoning .. we stayed put and
tried to sleep.
Twenty minutes passed and unable to breath easily or sleep .. I went to find out where he was.
Evidently so fed-up that he wanted some time on his own .. there he was, merrily chatting to some
friends in a roadside restaurant .. candlelit and hidden from our view .. enjoying drinks and a plate of food. "Goodness me, you appear to be enjoying yourself my good man. Is it possible that we might be
continuing our executive-style journey to Bamako at any point in the near future, perchance ?" ( or words to that effect !! ) stirred him into motion and we continued.
All that feasting must have
tired him out .. for after a few kilometres he abruptly stopped the car, jumped out, woke up the apprentis and changed places with him. With a grinding of gears, we lurched forward and carried on .. twisting this way
and that .. taking many non sign-posted diversions off the pretty bad road surfaces, presumably to miss worse sections. I was just marvelling at his knowledge and skills in direction finding when we started careering
around many great piles of stones. The exhaust completely shattered and dropped off from the manifold and we shuddered to a halt at a complete dead-end .. in the middle of a gravel pit !
the associated racket woke our driver from his slumbers, curled up on top of our luggage in the back. It didn't make him any happier than his previous mood either !! The exhaust was tied up somewhere underneath with
string .. in no way stopping any of the noise or fumes .. and we headed back out of the gravel pit and back onto the proper road. The engine popping and banging in the still night air .. with the apprentis, following a
( chastisement of a somewhat serious nature ! ) .. consigned to his former place in the rear.
At 11.30pm the border crossing point at Kangaba were expecting us .. indeed they must have heard
us coming for some considerable time. Papers were once again produced and stamped on the Guinea exit side. On to the baggage check .. nothing amiss .. but just as we were about
to get back into the taxi .. we were approached by a couple of guys .. Chinese 0. 5
candlepower torches in hand, asking for payment. Not in uniform and with the blackness of the night so intense we could hardly see their faces .. they made the near fatal mistake of demanding payment from an over-tired, sore-throated Toubab with his legally stamped passport
securely in his pocket.
To avoid your blushes, dear reader, I won't repeat what I said .. but they didn't get any !!
The Mali entry side was not much better. It always seems that when it is dark .. and
these places never have sufficient lighting .. more liberties are taken. First the customs baggage inspection .. all our bags had to be laboriously untied from the roof rack by the lights of any of us who had
power left in our torch batteries .. then we had to stand beside our own possessions.
Absolutely nothing was checked and they all had to be re-packed .. an episode which took 20 minutes or so and was of
absolutely no benefit to anyone. Next the immigration office. My passport was stamped without problem .. but again payment was unfairly demanded from all the Africans, including the Malian citizens .. despite all
having correct papers. After the usual minor arguments and petitions, all paid up meekly .. but by this time, Alaghi had had enough as well.
Having passed through this border crossing on numerous occasions .. always with his correct
papers and usually receiving a similar welcome to that which we enjoyed on our entry to Guinea
.. this Malian welcome
from a different night shift of border guards .. was the last straw !!
After arguing his case for a good 15 minutes .. he stubbornly refused to pay them anything and sat down at the side of the road in a
one-man protest against corruption.
If I hadn't given him the money and coerced him into giving way and paying up .. he or we would still be there to this day. These so-called officials
would have been quite willing to let him stay there indefinitely, whilst they lounged on their beds in the shadows, watching a colour TV.
No payment .. no papers returned .. no travel .. regardless of any inconvenience to others !!
The noisy interior of our transport became even noisier and more heated with the combined derogatory comments
aimed at corrupt officials in general and these in particular. We literally roared into the ever more sparse bush of the Mali countryside .. over considerably rougher roads with what seemed to be needle-pointed rocks,
just below the surface of the thick dust.
Our entry into Guinea had been marked by the appearance of Guinea Fowl .. here we were welcomed by Malian mice scurrying over the road .. and a galloping hare .. lit by our
The intervening hours, between the border and Bamako itself, were lost in a semi-conscious nightmare of noise, dust and fumes, until eventually we could make out the ambient lighting as we neared the
city outskirts. An enormous and very brightly lit power station was our first sight of Bamako as we banged, popped and clattered through the sprawling outskirts to arrive ..
barely alive, with raw throats and throbbing headaches .. at the taxi-garage at around 4am.
Only one café was open .. so we staggered over a large rubbish-filled storm drain to gorge ourselves on drinks,
whilst watching the metre-long rats scavenging in the rubbish near our feet. We listened to the UK football results on the BBC World Service .. which, by coincidence,
were being played at full volume on the café owner's radio .. at long last we had made it to Mali.