Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Mandiana - Niani - Mali border

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.I depart from Mandiana customs check point in the afternoon and hit the road towards Niani.Without a proper map (as there is none) the road is not clearly marked, especially its condition. To my astonishment I find it in much better condition than the ones I got used to since entering Guinea.

At 40-50 mph this seems a real highway to me. A few checkpoints on the way, nothing spectacular, the usual 'pay 'n drive' method works well here.

The scenery has changed into complete Savannah now. Grasslands and scrubs, solitary Baobab trees, but no more the dense tropical jungle.
Life in these areas is dreadful, no running water, no electricity, as in dark ages. People though can adapt to any condition that is put upon them.
We reach Niani at night close to 19 hours P.M. and my fuel is close to nil. Of course Niani, the border town must be having fuel, or so I think. What I finally find is not the usual filling station.After crossing the town, which is not much of a settlement, I am directed to the 'station'. I can not somehow forget this scene, it is another milestone on a long road through Africa.I find a petroleum lit grass hut, crooked stems serve as poles, a straw covered roof. The fuel is all filled in beer bottles of 0.7 ltrs, lined up in a row on front of the 'gas station'. If it were not for the acute shortage, I would laugh at this, but now I realize I have no choice, for after Niani there is a 100 miles nothing except bush and unknown territory.So I fill a 50 bottles of 'beer' gas, its price almost double inflated to the normal rate. I do not even want to look for food, for I know I have to continue to Mali tonight. So I leave, with a unforgettable memory in place.The evening brings some cool air, I sense the mighty river nearby. And when I reach the bonfire that is lit near the main road I recognize the Guinean border guards who camp here.To describe this would take another chapter, however this is an entry / exit point and I must say the guards are the friendliest I ever found in Guinea. The exit stamp in my passport, i carry on, the dark road passing through the middle of the bush, beside the river. Driving carefully in the dark, against my mentors advice, I focus my full attention on the rough road ahead of me.  The river Sankarani I cant see, as it is dark, but to me it is more a lake than a river. Floating gently, but mightily. A build up to the mighty dam that feeds three quarters of Mali with electricity, the Barrage de Selingui. A gigantic project as I am to see later on. A premonition overcomes me I can't explain why, but I slow down my vehicle to a mere 10 mph. I cannot see the road ahead of me, and the high beams are not helping much either. I notice the concrete structure that stands in the dark was once a bride crossing a creek beneath. Now, the bridge has been washed away, and I am standing 6 meters over the creek that floats beneath under it. In the darkness I maneuver the car back and find a diversion I passed minutes ago, leading to the creek's bottom. The normal type of vehicle would not be able to drive through this makeshift road, but I manage to cross the waters which aren't deep surprisingly and climb up the other side to continue my journey.The road turns to the left and leads into pure grassland, with bumps shaking us to the brink. In the distance a see a shimmering light, a line decorated with obsolete plastic carrier bags in all colors indicate a further check point. No one in sight, in the middle of the Savannah. I blow my horn. It is now 20 hours and I still have to make headway, I force myself. After a few minutes a customs guy appears and tells me the border is closed for tonight, from his uniform I can see we have reached the Malian customs.I beg, a common way of getting things done in these parts, to let me pass, as I have pressing business in Bamako. After consultation for which he disappears back into the dark, he reappears and removes the rope that serves as a barrier. We cross the line and follow him, guiding us to a shelter build from grass, roots and pieces of logs. The papers I am asked to submit. He disappears into the hut, and I wait. 5 minutes, 10 minutes pass. After 15 minutes I follow him and see three customs officials inspecting my 'international vaccination card'.I am asked if all my vaccinations are in order, which I confirm. Something they must find, and in my case they ask me for a valid 'Vaccination contre Meningitis' as you guess right the vaccination against Meningitis is what delays my departure. 5000 CFA change their hands and I carry on through the night. next episode : night in the bush




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