Monday, November 02, 2009

Bamako At Last!

The most popular form of transport in Bamako,
all without crash helmets

We were told to be ready at 5.30am the next morning. To our horror we got a call at 4.50am to ask us where we were! We threw our things into our cases like two crazy people and hurried down, me with wet hair and no make-up. Upon arrival at the airport at 5.30 there was no-one to see to us, so we all decided to line our cases up, and while everyone was waiting I found a plug and dried my hair, to the wonderment of the airport staff who were already there. I also decided to fold some of the clothes properly that we’d just thrown into our cases, but gave that up as a bad idea when I saw how interested everyone in the queue was.

All told we waited for 4 hours at the airport and, after all the drama, the last we saw of our harassed official from Air Ivoire, was his smiling face greeting us all and shaking hands with us at the bottom of the stairs as we boarded the plane. The people who’d complained the most were the ones who slapped him on the back and shook his hand the most vigorously. We learnt from an Australian at Abidjan airport who was on the same plane as we were, that he’d had his flight cancelled the previous afternoon as well (ours had been cancelled in the morning). This means that our poor harassed official must have had a truly horrible day! Poor man!

By this time we’d discovered that we were now going the long way round via Abidjan and Conakry (Guinea - where all the shootings took place at the stadium recently). This meant that we spent most of the day travelling and only reached Bamako at 4pm. Abidjan has such an efficient and nice airport, but they did overdo it a bit by searching us on the way in (we were only transit passengers) and twice on the way out! A real time-waster! The coastline was so pretty with lagoons that I’m sorry it’s not safe to go there anymore. The coastline at Conakry was quite spectacular! Swampy areas, lagoons, and an amazing river that breaks up into many islands.

Bamako has quite won my heart! It’s exotic! The company guesthouse, like all the other houses in the street, has a high-walled, small paved garden front and back and every street is lined with trees (another surprise). Only the main roads and arteries are tarred, so we bumped along some really badly rutted roads to get there. The driver took us across town, which means across the Niger river, to Blabla for supper. The Niger river is massive! At a guess even bigger than the Zambezi – at least a kilometer across, spanned by two bridges. At peak rush hours the one bridge becomes a one way. This river provides most of Mali’s power.

Thousands of people ride small motor bikes here and we only saw three riders wearing crash helmets and they have many accidents – we saw a dead body in the road, hit by a car (at least Ian and the driver saw it – I was too cowardly to look). We also saw someone fall off his bike, unhurt. Apparently the government is going to enforce the wearing of helmets by December.

At Bla Bla, where the food was delicious, we met the Australian we’d spoken to on the plane and whom we’d invited to join us for supper. He is an engineer on one of the gold mines here and had just finished a month’s leave travelling around West Africa. He was full of interesting stories, from seeing the sacred pythons at Benin, to seeing a voodoo ceremony where they slaughtered a chicken in Togo. You really do get some intrepid people!

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