Monday, May 8, 2017

Bamako bound

I didn't sleep well, at around 2am someone was crawling around Franki.  I woke up and realised there was a shadow in the dark in this supposedly guarded car park at Relais de Kedougou.  I crept into the front seat, started her up and made a few manoeuvres, eventually parking in front of the main gate to the hotel in the hope that the sleeping watchman would wake up and move me.  It never happened, I went back to sleep waking at around 0630.  I got dressed and went out to carry out the morning checks, the oil and water were ok, but the passenger side front tyre looked a little flat.  I drove into town to a petrol station to get air into the tyre and to refuel.  A few minutes later a minibus driver arrived and had a look for me, declaring I had a puncture.  He jumped in with me and we drove across town to someone he used to get the puncture fixed.  About 15minutes later, 1,000CFA of work I was able to set off east.  Bamako was my goal today!

First flat tyre

The culprit
I drove east for 112km to the border just east of Saraya, the majority of the road was in good shape.  The Senegalese immigration post was very interested by my passport with an array of old West African entry and exit stamps, they were very friendly and one asked if he could continue the journey to Cote d'Ivoire with me.  I continued on initially to Senegalese customs solo, then to the Malian border at Moussala.  The Malian border post was very friendly and sent me up the road to customs, no money had exchanged hands.  I got to customs and the officer declared I was his third wife ... then went into a meeting with his boss leaving me in his office waiting, when I would have rather been on the road to Bamako.

Brilliant synopsis of mileage at the Seneglese border post!
Franki at the Malian border post
After waiting 30 minutes I went off to find my new 'husband' with his boss.  They both apologised and he came back with me to finish off my paperwork and the official 5,000CFA transit payment with a receipt.  I was free to go BUT I had to return to the border post 5km away to get this paperwork stamped by the police who had stamped my passport.  I set off from the border for a second time without any dramas and started to look for a coffee stop!  After several kilometres I reached Kenieba and pulled up outside a big sign proclaiming to be an 'Orange' shop.  I jumped out ready to find a SIM card for Mali and ordered a coffee with Amadou, the coffee barista that my friend in Bamako Phil had met a few weeks later.  The Orange shop hadn't yet been completely furnished so I sent some boys into the market to find me a SIM card whilst I looked for change to buy Amadou's coffee.

I didn't have any small change ...

This was a disaster ...

I couldn't buy coffee ...

The man next to me on the bench was selling jewellery, he realised my predicament and told Amadou in Bambara, a local language, to serve me a coffee.  Suddenly there was a cup in front of me, I looked at Amadou in amazement, my new friend next to me said 'on est ensemble' an expression I heard 18 months earlier when in Bamako; essentially meaning 'we're all in this together' against AQIM.  It cost next to nothing in western terms but meant so much to me, plus this new friend's friendliness wanting to help a complete stranger who was desperate for coffee.  I will be forever grateful.

Around Kenieba
Somewhere a few kilometres outside Kenieba
Scenery before Kita

Somewhere along this route I'd called a friend, Cheik and then Phil, my American friend who runs the Sleeping Camel in Bamako I'd asked him if he'd seen Oleg, the Russian biker, he wasn't sure if Oleg had arrived. By the time I got to Kita, I was hungry and exhausted it had been a long but relatively straightforward road.  Unfortunately it was after 2pm when I reached Kita so after stopping at a maquis, I discovered there wasn't anything left to eat.  I had a drink and got back on the road.  By the time we reached Kati on the edge of Bamako, Franki's radio speakers seemed to be exhausted; suddenly only one speaker was working.  Kati was also an area the Malian branch of AQIM had carried out an attack a few weeks earlier.  I wanted to get on into Bamako so carried on regardless getting fuzzy sounds out of the remaining one!

Driving down the hairpin bends from Kati into Bamako I went past a police post.  Suddenly I heard a whistle and had to pull up.  The young police officer wasn't amused he had to chase after me down the hill but I refused to reverse Franki in the onslaught of traffic that was descending.  He realised that I'd just crossed the border earlier that day so let me go, I wasn't amused, I needed to be at Phil's by nightfall.
Kita outside the maquis

Finally I got into central Bamako 567km completed but I had to contend with the jakartas (49cc scooters) which were abundant in the traffic and it was dangerous negotiating a path around them.  Whilst in the midst of all this traffic at dusk, Phil called me to find out where I was, I couldn't exactly tell him but he was happy I was somewhere in town.  I managed to find my way to the bridge based on old knowledge of the city and drove over it unsure where exactly the Sleeping Camel was, but knowing it was close to the River Niger.  At the lights I turned left into a road that was heavily guarded.  Eventually I found myself outside the unmarked gates and called Phil declaring that I thought I was on his doorstep.  Sure enough I was, I drove in, Franki took out one of his young trees with her roofrack but I parked squarely against the wall.  Jumping out I got a massive welcome from Phil and Oleg, the Russian biker who indeed had made it to Bamako for his Nigerian visa!  I was imagining that Christophe would have been annoyed that I'd made it so quickly, he could have come with me and flown home from Bamako!

It was a long night, between catching up with Phil, Oleg's travels and Jeff, an aviation consultant from the Netherlands before I finally found my bed in the back of Franki again!

Mugshot of the famous Phil, aka Sleeping Camel partner!

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