The Sévaré bus garage was at the end of a side street in the middle of Bamako .. no special facilities .. just a large bus with its roof rack partially loaded, sitting in the middle of the road.
Tickets at CFA 6,000 each were bought and we sat in the shade, eating oranges and drinking cold bottled water .. not anticipating a long wait, as we had bought the last tickets available.
Numerous large and heavy boxes, sacks of goods, our baggage and 5 or 6 new motorcycles were loaded on top of the bus .. covered in nets and securely tied down, whilst we waited.
Ever-ready to snap an action picture, I
noticed with alarm that my camera batteries were running low. No problem to get some more, with the amount of small boys selling batteries by the hundred .. so I bought some which looked like genuine Duracells, but had
slightly different ends. CFA 600 for 4 .. a bargain ! My bargain buys didn't last long enough to open the camera properly .. and turned out to be Duracons or some such copy, with the same colours but a slightly different name. Of course, the young scamp who had sold them to me was long gone .. and the sudden realisation dawned that I was not in an area of the city likely to stock genuine brands of batteries and was heading into the countryside, where they would be even more scarce. With the fabled delights of Djenné and Mopti to record for posterity .. panic ensued !
My saviours arrived in the shape of two small boys, who had been watching events from a distance. Knowing full-well the predicament I was in, they offered me some different
batteries from their selection and stood by as I tested them .. by taking their photograph. Just CFA 500 for 4 this time .. a better price and better batteries .. as
a reward I bought two of their African fans and gave them the dud batteries .. no doubt to be recharged and resold at a later date.
At last we were given the signal to get aboard and as our names were called we scrambled aboard to try to find a seat. As usual .. the outside temperatures were well over 40 degrees
C .. whatever the inside of the bus's temperature was, I dread to think. As we tried to find two unoccupied and adjoining seats, I remembered some wise words of advice I had once read:
Beware of older-style buses that have non-opening windows and air-conditioning that ceased working
a long time ago. Guess what we were sitting in ?
Everybody was literally dripping with perspiration .. some of us frantically waving African fans to try to keep cool .. but to no avail. We just sat and the sweat poured out of us. The engine started, we moved
forward one metre .. there was a loud crunch and we stopped. Confusion reigned until we were all ordered to pick up our hand-luggage and get off again. This time I didn't need to ask what the problem
was .. it was perfectly obvious. Our transport was leaning at a peculiar angle to the perpendicular, one side of the rear suspension had collapsed !!
After half an hour a replacement bus arrived .. reversed close to the front of the original one and all the
baggage was laboriously transferred from one roof to another. Noticing, with some relief, that this bus had opening windows .. we finally got on board about an hour later.
Apart from having a cracked exhaust manifold directly beneath our seats, which made a noise like a jet engine through a large hole in the floor where a panel
was missing ( thankfully not emitting noxious fumes into the cabin), it was somewhat noisier but cooler than being in its predecessor as we made our way out through the suburbs and onto the main road toward Sévaré.
The usual amount of stops by police at road blocks were further lengthened by them catching sight of
the new motorcycles on the roof. At each stop, their owners were made to report to the authorities and have their papers checked. Rarely did the rest of us have to show our papers .. but we took the chance
to dismount and stretch our legs. Always we were met by local children selling fruit, plastic bags of water and sweets, or just looking for handouts of money and
any empty plastic water bottles that we had finished with .. a precious commodity to them.
At one stop, after night had fallen and we had been drinking coffee and tea by the light of our torches as usual .. the waiting seemed to go on and on. Asking
Alaghi to find out what the hold-up was this time .. especially as one of the motorcycles had been taken down from the roof of the bus .. we found out that the motorcycle's owner had actually been arrested
and marched off to a local police station some distance away. An hour later he was back, the motorcycle was reloaded and we departed .. I wonder how he convinced them of his innocence ?
We were sitting next to the bus's rear exit door, on fold-up seats which leant back at an alarming angle. Smothered in the dust that was whipped up off the road and into the cabin through the hole in the floor
and getting both deafened and roasted by the exhaust manifold, through said hole. But it was rather like sitting in deck chairs and we did manage to get some sleep in relative comfort .. stretching back with more than our fair share of leg room.
It is surprising what you can get used to !
Travelling over good road surfaces, we eventually arrived at Sévaré's bus
station at 8 am.