Sévaré to Bamako

Currency = CFA
£1 = CFA 1000
US $1 = CFA 520
1 Euro = CFA 656
at that time

Next morning, having coerced Mac into providing an earlier-than-normal breakfast, we were still eating as Banya arrived. Such was his excellent level of service on the previous evening, that he had offered (without prepayment of the CFA 6000 each .. the same as on the journey out) to buy our tickets for us as he passed the bus station .. nice one Banya !
 Although not really believing him or Mac when they said we must not be later than 7.20 to catch the 7.30 bus .. as African timing is usually flexible by at least an hour .. we gobbled down as much of Mac's excellent food and coffee as possible and were rushed to the Bittar-Trans Terminal at the bus station, with minutes to spare. Most surprisingly, they were correct .. all was hustle and bustle as we were hurried aboard the bus which left exactly at 7.30am.

Unlike our transport from Bamako, this bus was quite new, clean, quiet, comfortable and fast.
Bittar-Trans must be one of the best set-up transport companies in Mali. It has its own depots along the route .. complete with clearly displayed timetables and prices, very reasonably priced restaurants and drinks bars with comfortable seating .. and in one place .. even a television !
As the journey progressed .. and by now being accustomed to lengthy halts and breakdowns ..
it was difficult to come to terms with the efficient organisation which we met in all respects.

After passing the turnoff to Djenné, for the first time we could see the sights that we had missed during the night-time travel out from Bamako, four days earlier. A large market, seemingly selling nothing but Calabash
Gourds .. small boys on carts* travelling alongside the road on laterite tracks .. across rivers **.. past animals*** .. villages and the ever-picturesque trees, standing proudly over the bare landscapes. Occasionally we would stop at villages for people to join us .. when the bus would be besieged by local fruit-sellers and entrepreneurs.*

I was happily taking pictures through the large window alongside me .. not realising until later, that not only was the bus window smeared with oil from peoples' hair resting against it .. but I had also let the camera lens get smeary too, giving smudges on some pictures, not apparent on its monitor screen. With the help of a little photo-imaging computer-wizardry, most are now  acceptable, but some excellent pictures were ruined. It has been a reminder to constantly and carefully check these things when taking photographs in hot and sweaty conditions.

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On and on we travelled .. stopping for a quick 15 minute break in Bla for drinks, but not given enough time to have a snack. Here, we did find some excellent thirst-quenchers to take with us ..  half litre sealed bags of frozen orange juice .. commercially produced and really tasty.

En route, we had our first sighting of a giraffe in West Africa and a very unusual advertising sign, which could possibly have been an advert for McDonalds, but it wasn't until we arrived at Ségou** that we were allowed sufficient time to have a meal. Chicken and chips were on the menu in the Bittar-Trans restaurant .. so we both indulged in tasty platefuls.

Our driver must have been ahead of schedule and perceptibly slowed down for the journey from Ségou .. making it seem even longer, on what were almost motorway driving conditions.
We eventually arrived at the Bittar-Trans bus station on the outskirts of Bamako at 6.00pm and having at last found a decent mode of transport .. fought our way through the pack of taxi drivers trying to deprive us of our bags to get to their ticket office, to see if they ran a similar service to Kayes, for our journey back towards Sénégal on the following day. No such luck .. their smiles and comments about the state of the roads we would encounter not being suitable for buses, didn't fill us with much confidence.

Returning to the taxi driver fray .. and after a considerable amount of arguing from Alaghi over what the normal price should be .. we were taken to the Kayes garage on the other side of Bamako, to check out what was available. The sun was setting as we crossed the River Niger into Bamako*** City and the mist .. which would eventually blanket the city .. was forming.

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We had carefully discussed which route we should use to return to The Gambia and did have a number of choices. To return via Guinea and cutting the corner, going via Labé instead of Conakry City .. but this involved getting another Guinea visa, the expensive ordeal of the Guinea Customs .. and another tortuous 11 hour journey from Basse to Serrekunda .. no way !
If we had had plenty of time, we could have taken the train which runs from Bamako to Dakar in Sénégal. Although I did not need a visa for Sénégal, the train ran infrequently .. I think twice a week at the time we were there .. evidently crawled at snail's pace along the journey and breakdowns were very common. So, as we had to return fairly quickly to keep to prior arrangements ..
we discounted this as well.
Flying to  Dakar was also an option .. but we would have missed whatever there was to see and any new experiences yet to be enjoyed .. as we weren't in that much of a hurry and Alaghi was a tad dubious about flying .. this was also ruled out.
Our only option left was to get transport to Kayes .. which has the honour of being Africa's hottest town .. and then make our way, via Tambacounda and Kaolak, to Banjul in The Gambia.
With a long journey to make .. we decided to try to travel all the way without overnight stops.
Through no fault of our own or the route .. we later had cause to regret this decision.

Kayes garage was a hive of people, rubbish and confusion. But eventually we found where the Kayes buses left from and had a quick word with the transport manager, who told us that 1.00pm was the time to arrive next day to organise our transport. Needing a place to stay for the night, we got back in our taxi and .. as it was on the same side of the city and Eric had asked us to pop in if possible, to tell him of our Dogon trip .. we headed for the Hotel Mande.

Sharing a beer with Eric, whilst recounting our adventures, was very pleasant .. as was the indulgence of staying at the Hotel Mande ( CFA 38,000 for the night + 3900 for breakfast ) .. the most expensive and luxurious of the trip, in an Hotel of 4* international standards. Mosquitoes apart, which the management sprayed before I checked in .. it was a very comfortable room with lovely views across the lawns to the Niger River. Again, Alaghi preferred to stay with his friends in the city and disappeared into the misty night, to return at 10.00am the next morning.

I fell asleep watching a UK film on colour television in air-conditioned comfort, luxury indeed !