After a boiling hot day, the cool of the evening came as a surprise. Both of us were wearing light clothes .. Alaghi was in a cotton European-style suit, I wore my confuse the pickpockets multi-pocketed waistcoat and a short sleeved shirt. Sweating in the heat a few hours previously, we had seen our bags safely packed on top of the truck, covered with many others under a large net .. all tied down, totally secure and inaccessible .. and had not thought anything of it.
As we pulled out of Bamako and into the suburbs, the sun was setting and unusually, there was a definite chill in the misty air, despite every other night in Mali having been pleasantly warm.
We stopped at a garage and filled up with a massive 265 litres of diesel for CFA 975,000 ..
a time-consuming business from a pump seemingly just about on its last legs .. and then headed
out on the Kayes road, passing a large taxi garage where hundreds of yellow taxis were parked. It became progressively colder, my nice
warm coat, previously only needed on the night trip from Kolda to Bamako, was securely tucked away in my bag on the roof. Alaghi was also ruing the fact that his warmer clothes were out of reach. When we stopped at a police
checkpoint, the driver and his assistant lowered the right-hand side tarpaulin to cover the open windows and we snuggled down as best we could, now in a slightly smaller draft of cold air. Memories came flooding back of a
previous incident in the Mauritanian Sahara, where I had seen and similarly disregarded blankets
being offered for sale, prior to making an overnight desert trip.
Some people never learn !
Soon we were shivering with the cold .. not just Alaghi and I, but all of the 40 or so passengers, even some Mauritanians who were fully swathed in robes and head-dresses. One side of the coach being covered
helped, but the other open side .. with its glass-less windows .. sucked in both the cold air and a considerable amount of dust, making it almost impossible to see across the cabin or be able to breathe easily. At the first
village police stop, I dashed out to see if I could buy a blanket .. no one had one. At the second stop for drinks .. we enlisted the help of a young lad to scour the village, in pitch darkness, for something .. anything .. I
could wear that had long sleeves. A thin cotton shirt was all that was on offer, albeit two sizes too small and three times the normal price, but I was glad of anything that would cover my bare arms.
The first and last sections of the journey were on good roads, the middle part showed just why a truck was necessary, with horrendously ribbed and potholed stretches of loose and dusty laterite pebbles. In the
middle of one of the roughest parts we stopped to assist another
truck that had broken down. Walking around trying to get warm, I blundered into a tiny thorn bush in the darkness .. which left me with blood streaming down my legs. Alaghi bravely quelled a small riot, when one of the passengers from the stranded truck insisted on joining our transport and occupied someone else's seat .. stubbornly and loudly refusing to move. Just before things got totally out of hand, Alaghi calmly explained in the guy's own language, that he wasn't being ordered off the truck, but was just being asked to move to another unoccupied seat.
As so often happens in Africa, people who had been almost on the verge of assaulting each other, stopped shouting, smiled and became instant friends .. and we continued our journey.
As dawn was breaking, approximately halfway on our journey we stopped for a meal break, where everyone clustered around the wood fires of the local kitchens .. eating meat snacks and thankfully warming up. We
arrived at Kayes some 14 hours after leaving Bamako .. trying to acclimatise from the cold of the night to the midday heat of the hottest town in Africa ..
sleepless because of the cold, bleary-eyed, covered in red dust and totally exhausted.
A quick drink at a local shop and straight into a comfortable taxi to the Diboli taxi garage
(CFA 3500 ), to find some transport to the Sénégal border. Surprisingly quickly, despite an argument I had with the local village character who insisted I was taking his seat, even though, as the taxi manager whispered to me, he had no intention of travelling anywhere and was a little unbalanced .. we were ushered into a waiting Peugeot 540 taxi, which soon left on the 50 km journey to Diboli. Although not overladen with baggage - Guinea-style - we did seem to be riding quite low to the ground .. with every bump on the laterite track giving a juddering shock of seemingly metal to metal contact .. without any springing in between.
With 20 km to go we drove over a small rock, there was a grinding crunch and the fuel tank was ripped from its mountings under the car. Lurching to a halt, the driver started wrestling with the
tank, in an effort to completely remove it and save his precious fuel.
All the African passengers instantly became expert auto-mechanics* .. advising on how best to proceed, with some of them diving under the car to help with tugging on the fuel tank.
This resulted in all the diesel fuel getting lost, either on the road or soaked into their clothing !