Well, the good news is that Clare and I finally arrived in Bamako this morning….
Was traveling 1400 kilometers across Senegal and Mali an experience and an adventure? Yes, but as Clare and I concluded last night as we were lying on the side of the road, only a dumb person would make this trip twice.
The first part of the trip was a 12 hour bush taxi ride from Dakar to Kidira. It was a pleasant experience as far as squeezing 7 adults and 2 crying children into an old station wagon can be. It was also sadly the high point in comfort and speed for our trip. We arrived in Kidira which is a literal stone’s throw away from the Senegal-Mali border. We stayed the night with a Tostan supervisor and 2 volunteers.
At 5 AM on Friday we hiked across the border and into Mali. I won’t say that we crossed the border illegally, but it was very early in the morning and the Senegalese guards were still sleepings, so we just walked on by into the town of Diboli. From there we waited in truck stop for a couple of hours before getting another bush taxi (like sept-places in Senegal except that in Mali they manage to squeeze 9) to Kayes. This part of the trip was great. Our driver was quick. Our car sounded like a pop-corn machine and Clare and I got to share the front seat.
In Kayes we took a taxi across the river to the the bus/car garage. We arrived at about 9 in the morning and inquired about the next transport leaving for Bamako. No problem they said; there was a bus leaving today. We bought our tickets, I grabbed some breakfast from a food stall in the yard and we waited….and waited…and waited.
Six hours later, they managed to sell the rest of the tickets. We had to wait another hour while 3 good Muslims finished their Friday prayers and they strapped down the luggage on top of the bus (which included 2 large bags of rotting fish and a motorcycle). We got our seats and assumed that we would be on our way, but then we had to wait for our armed escort to get on the bus!
Two men with large automatic guns and mismatched uniforms boarded the bus and sat down. Clare asked the man in front why we needed an armed escort. He informed us that there were often bandits that attacked the bus. Apparently we were supposed to feel relieved that the armed guards with us.
After calming down and settling into our seats so ergonomically incorrect that we had shooting back pain after only 30 minutes we had a chance to enjoy the scenery, which was beautiful. We thought it would take about 10 hours to get to Bamako, putting us into the city around midnight or 1 am. Instead at 7 pm our armed escorts got off much to our alarm. We hoped that it was because we had safetly left the bandit country. At 9pm we stopped at a road block and told we would be staying the night as it was unsafe to proceed….hmmmm
Clare and I tried to keep our spirits up by cursing the Malian transport system and resigning ourselves that there was nothing we could do. We wandered around looking like helpless toubabs until we found some space on someone’s mat and crashed. We woke up at 5AM completely flithy, exhausted and still far from Bamako. We loaded back into the bus and drove the remaining 5 hours into the capital of Mali.
After surviving the Senegal-Mali trip from hell we have a place to stay sent from heaven. Clare and I are bunking at the Mission Catholique. For 6 dollars we have bunks in a beautiful little mission run by the nicest nuns. The bathroom even has toilet paper and running water! Thank God for the Catholics.
Tomorrow we will be heading to Mopti and then on to Djenne. Monday is the big market day and there will be plenty to see including the beautiful mudd mosque.
I hope that tomorrow’s bus ride is better than yesterday’s.