Friday, May 12, 2017

Final border

Franki at The Sleeping Camel

A restful night at The Sleeping Camel I got up to have a warm shower and coffee.  Phil was already working and hoping to finally introduce me to his wife and new son. Sitting, sipping endless cups of coffee with him and Jeff, a UN aviation consultant, we chatted for what seemed like hours.  I was getting more than aware that time was marching on and I should be hitting the road south.

The aim was to get into Cote d'Ivoire today, it was Friday 30th December 2016 and I could see my goal of spending New Years Eve in Yamoussoukro with friends being accomplished!  I had to unfortunately bid goodbye though, but not before Phil refused to let me pay my bill, too kind of him!  I had missed meeting Bintou and Andre who I hope I'll meet in the near future.  I drove back out onto the main road to find someone to check the tyre pressure.

Getting out of Bamako was straightforward, I knew the road well as far south as Ouelessebougou and once out of the chaos of Bamako and nearby dormitory towns, the road was smooth sailing. In  Ouelessebougou it was obviously market day, driving through teems of people along the road selling their wares.  After Bougouni the road was quieter until eventually I pulled into Sikasso without stopping, covering 368km by around 1.30pm, I was happy with our progress. I had ideally wanted to go to the bus station and talk to people there about children being trafficked southbound, but as Sikasso had witnessed a fairly recent AQIM attack, I needed to find a bed tonight during daylight hours so dropped the idea.  Found a lovely service station in Sikasso, bought a few bits to eat, had a coffee and refuelled Franki.  

The road from Sikasso to the border was in relatively good shape but the relentless re-surfacing caused a few problems and it had to be treated with a little more respect than the one from Bougouni.  I sent a text to my friend PC in Yamoussoukro to ask him for some Ivorian phone credit on one of my Ivorian numbers just to be ready.  Reaching the border at about 4pm, it was a painless and straightforward process to exit Mali apart from dodging around trucks to find the correct offices.  I was out of Mali, I was finally heading into Cote d'Ivoire, I surprised myself by finding tears running down my face.  I was back in the most beautiful country after 4 months away, a country I seem to have adopted over the years!!!

The Ivorian border started with the police.  I had a grumpy officer who sent me back to Franki to get her documents too; desperate to find something out of place he finally grunted and stamped my passport! The rope barrier was raised as the passenger door was suddenly opened, another officer jumped into the passenger seat, I asked him what he was doing and was told that he was coming to Abengourou with me!  I managed to extract myself from that situation and drove onto customs at Pogo which was a kilometre or so ahead, which is where the trouble started.  

Heading into the customs office they told me I could have a 'vignette touristique' as I didn't have a carnet but this would cost 32,000CFA or 50€.  I laughed at him and told him that I knew they were free, he wasn't laughing, I knew I had a battle on my hands.  I flatly refused to pay, told him it was just a corrupt way of getting cash out of 'la blanche' and a real shame for tourism for Cote d'Ivoire.  He still wasn't budging, so I offered to call a senior police officer and friend ... he thought I was bluffing, I wasn't!  Slightly bemused he took the phone from me and my friend told him that he wanted to speak to his chief, he disappeared into the chief's office for a few minutes, returned and handed me the phone.  I thanked my friend profusely and watched my vignette touristique being typed up!  Grinning from ear to ear, I jumped back into Franki and headed as quickly as possible at about 5.45pm towards Ouangolodougou, known as just Ouangolo (/wangolo/)

The road for the first 86km in Cote d'Ivoire was horrendous.  Pot-holed and difficult; I wasn't happy about being near the border in the dark and know that this road is often ambushed by 'coupeurs de route' at night.  I pressed on as fast as was safe to do so before finally reaching Ouangolo about 2hours after leaving Pogo.  Getting into town 557km after leaving Bamako, there wasn't anywhere obvious to sleep, I found a young couple getting on a jakarta and stopped to ask for ideas of where to stay.  Stephane told me to follow him, he took me to what seemed to be a nice hotel but I wouldn't be able to park Franki inside and the rooms were out of my budget, I asked him if he knew of another.  He told me he would drop his girlfriend who ran a fish stall at a maquis then take me across town.  We finally ended up at a great little place with rooms at 4,000CFA, I then asked him about a nearby maquis to go and eat at; there wasn't anything but he offered to go and get me some fish from his girlfriend.  Very happily esconced near the hotel with a drink, he came back with the fish which is when I got the news that my friend's father had died, someone I held in very high esteem.  Tears poured down my face, poor Stephane really didn't understand what had gone wrong ... I managed to explain, apologise and pull myself together, we finished the fish together, he headed home to his gendarme father and I had a sound night's sleep!
Ouangolodougou - Arrived from Bamako, destination: Yamoussoukro 

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