Unlike travel in other areas of the world, African bush travel is a law unto itself.
Enquiries as to how far it was and how long would it take us were answered with smiles and
guesstimates of quite a long way and probably sometime tomorrow afternoon. Even my friend, who often travels this route, could not give a definitive answer. I was soon to learn why .. but at the time was content to sit
back ( well, squash up ! ) trust in fate and the driver .. and find out.
The road got progressively dustier
.. any vehicles we were following, especially trucks, were kicking up so much of it, it was almost impossible to see to overtake. Although our driver was careful .. we had a few near misses. Only a few kilometres down the road .. we came across
taxi # 1, broken down on the side of the road, awaiting assistance to arrive from Kolda ..
its passengers sheltering under the nearby bushes and understandably not looking at all happy.
Thanking our lucky stars we had been too late to get a seat in it, we carried on. By this time our masks were in full use .. everything and everyone covered in a fine layer of red dust.
through tiny villages .. most of whose compounds were surrounded by enormous piles of locally grown cotton*
.. I was hanging out of the open side window of the lurching and
swaying taxi, practising taking photos .. hopefully without the door mirror in view !
Arriving at the Sénégalese exit border,
everyone's papers were checked and my passport was duly stamped without problem. A mile or so up the road, we drove into the small village that houses the Customs and Immigration post at the
Factfile 8: When a bush taxi arrives at the border between two countries in West Africa ..
the procedure is to dismount at the first police / immigration office .. have your papers checked and stamped and then walk to the customs office to declare anything in your baggage which
may be "taxable". Whereupon the same expressions of total innocence are adopted by all
( the same as going through the green channel at European airports ) and unless the baggage on top of the vehicle
contains quantities of obvious trade goods .. there should be no problem.
Everyone then jumps back into the taxi for the drive, sometimes up to 3 miles through a
"no-man's land" to the entry border post of the next country, for the same procedures.
The Rough Guide to West Africa advises that: Guinea, one of the poorest countries in the region and a
military state, is prone to having more than its fair share of checkpoints across the country. These are staffed by a mix of military, police, anti-gang units, customs and gendarmerie, solely existing for the purpose of
maintaining the officials who operate them. Some will try anything to find fault with your passport or visa .. or if nothing else works ..
your vaccination papers.
So, whilst I had double checked with the consul in Banjul that everything was in order ..
it was with a little trepidation that we approached these border formalities.
As the bush route we were taking is
rarely frequented by Toubabs ( white people ) especially riding in bush taxis .. there were both advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantage .. according to the policeman in the immigration office .. was that he did
not recognise my visa .. or so he said ! Here we go, I thought .. but after some firm explaining that my good friend the consul had issued the appropriate visa and I HAD already paid enough .. all was OK'd.
Although his papers were similarly in order, Alaghi also had to fight his corner .. successfully ..
but others in our party of mixed West Africans were not so lucky .. more of this later.
Customs office for the advantage of being a lone Toubab in a bush taxi. Any Toubab who was willingly suffering those conditions must be as poor as a church mouse and could not possibly have anything worth looking at !!
I didn't have anything, but any advantage in time saving is beyond question. Every halt, official or otherwise, took at least 20 minutes .. and often a lot longer. Demands from officials that passengers should pay for
supposed discrepancies in their papers .. with the resulting explanations, excuses and arguments from each of the totally innocent passengers as to why they shouldn't, wouldn't or couldn't pay .. wasted a lot of