A few kilometres later with darkness approaching .. and having endured more than our fair share of dust .. we were relieved to turn right off the larger route onto a smaller one.
A checkpoint with a barrier
blocked our path. All the passengers' papers were shown and OK'd and whilst waiting for our driver to emerge from a thatched hut where he had been "invited" to go .. we brushed ourselves down and chatted with a bunch
of friendly soldiers who welcomed us to escape from the sun and share their water in a similarly thatched shelter. A nice crowd who reassured us that the route we were now on should be free from trucks and their accompanying
dust storms. We waited .. and waited and waited .. 20 minutes later and we were still waiting !
Factfile 9: At such places, when confronted by authority and the vagaries of
just exactly who is holding who up and for what reason .. most Africans keep very quiet and wait until whatever the hold-up is .. is over. Rarely asking why .. possibly wisely not wanting to draw attention to themselves by doing so .. the more you attract attention .. the more it might cost you !
Patience is a virtue which I possess .. usually .. unless it comes to probable shady dealings which are impeding progress on a long journey. So, heeding the other's advice not to get too directly involved, I
eventually found out that FrG 10,000 was being demanded from our driver, by a uniformed and amply proportioned "lady," before she would give him his perfectly correct papers back and let us continue. The driver sat,
we all sat .. the "lady".. obviously eating well on her "salary" .. was not for turning !! 15 minutes later, the driver capitulated and paid up .. moaning that the cost went up every time he passed through
there. With the other similar "expenses" en route .. a couple of extra passengers on the roof rack would soon be needed just to cover his costs ! Official policy, or a blind eye turned by those at
the top of the custom's hierarchy to their officer's perks, latent bribery or just outright extortion ..
I hesitate to say .. but I know what our driver thought !!
With waves and sympathetic smiles from our soldier friends, we ventured forth on dry sandy roads and over occasional rocky stretches .. that looked like dried-up river beds and had to be slowly and carefully
negotiated. Occasionally catching glimpses of mice and civet cats crossing the road which every so often crossed bridges over small rivers. Although as forecast, there were hardly any trucks .. we did find an enormous
articulated one, slewed across a rocky riverbed. Its contents were completely unloaded and piled all around .. the driver, waiting for assistance to tow him out. Evidently he had decided that he was too heavily loaded to risk
crossing the bridge and had decided to attempt to ford the river alongside .. it was not to be !
Arriving at a small village around 10.00 pm .. our driver bought 10 or so litre bottles of petrol from a local supplier and we all piled out, some for prayers and me for a coffee break. As the village did not have
electricity, our torches were necessary to be able to see on this moonless night. Only then did I remember the dearth of petrol at the start of our journey .. our driver had obviously put Plan B into effect and all would be
well .. I naively thought !
Later, having resumed our journey, the road suddenly took a dive and we ground to a halt on a steep slope in pitch blackness. We all disembarked and walked down the slope .. torches ablaze, to
find quite a wide river. Evidently a 24 hour ferry was supposed to be operating .. but we could see absolutely nothing from the direction of the far bank. No lights, no sounds and seemingly no people. Ten minutes
of calling and shining torches .. even pretending to be a gendarme with my blue laser light and best "official French" .. had no effect until a car's headlights
loomed up on the top of the opposite bank. Voices were heard and after a short delay .. it drove onto an unseen ferry, which eventually rattled and clanked out of the gloom over to our side.
Hand-propelled, by a team of happy young men hauling on a chain .. we
clanked across the river entertaining them by taking digital pictures, which they could see for themselves on the camera's viewing screen. Some real characters here !!
Another two hours or so and another village stop .. where we had enough time to eat a local omelette ( eggs, onions and swimming in oil ) and rest our aching limbs. Another few kilometres and we were
waved down by a uniformed soldier, who ran out of the darkness in front of our taxi to scrounge a free lift. There was no more room inside .. so he clambered up and perched on top of our baggage on the
roof rack .. surprisingly sitting bolt upright in the cool night air.
All was fine .. most were drifting off to sleep .. when the engine spluttered, coughed and died. After disconnecting and sucking on the petrol pipe to the carburettor .. it didn't take
the driver long to proudly announce we had run out of fuel !! 2am in pitch darkness .. miles from anywhere with not a light in sight .. apart from all the
stars in the firmament above .. Plan B had failed !!
Factfile 10: In most parts of West Africa there is no ambient light interference
from street lights and similar illumination .. one can see so many more stars that are "hidden from view" in Europe, most times the effect is simply breathtaking.
A wait under the stars of around 2 hours ensued, whilst our driver and the soldier walked off into the
night to find some assistance. Alaghi merely curled up in the dust on the side of the road .. and despite my hiss-assisted teasing of "I am sure I heard a snake".. went to sleep !!
Eventually a car arrived with our driver .. the soldier having continued his onward journey ..and we were refuelled with just enough petrol to reach the nearest village. There we sat, slept or wandered
around until 6.00am outside a petrol station .. waiting for it to open. Our driver had just disappeared .. it wasn't until I took a photo of the taxi, that I found out to where !
With no sign of anything opening, we eventually set off and found another open garage and fuelled up. Whilst the driver wandered off .. petrol can in hand, to
repay his benefactor .. we all had a wash and brush-up in the garage's limited facilities and downed a "hearty breakfast" of tea / coffee, bread and hard boiled eggs .. whilst dawn rose over the local mosque.