Balancing bananas in Bamako
Dakar was big and crowded. On leaving my hotel the friendly neighbourhood prostitutes would grab my arm, all the while smiling a coy smile. I’d have to politely shake them off, only to be confronted by a whole host of con artists. From the crude "cadeau, cadeau pour moi?" (a gift for me?) to the more sophisticated scams, stories, and entireties to friendship.
The streets are crowded with goods and produce. People were selling sunglasses, nuts, cakes, anything that can be carried and the ever present chancers. This all forming a seething mass that is squeezed into uneven pavements by less than road worthy taxis, colourful truck busses and mopeds that intern is all squeezed into uninspiring blocks of commerce and city sprawl. In short not pretty but colourful and full to bursting with life.
After a few days of trying to be alert on the tiring city streets I was ready for a change. So when I discovered a bus was leaving for Bamako Mali, right now! I jumped at the chance despite, dodgy circumstances.
The bus I was to catch was half full of mattresses the other half given over to only 5 passengers including me. This looked dodgy but when an English speaking guy from Ghana (Ghana was a British colony hence the English) said to me I wasn’t to tell anyone where I was going as it was secret…well alarm bells started ringing. But here was a lift to Bamako leaving now, I didnt want to stay in Dakar, so I took a chance.
Bamako's green buses
Father and son fishing on the Niger, tranquillity a stone’s throw from Bamako’s mad streets
It took a bumpy two days of bus travel to reach Bamako during which there was a confusing return of half my money as the bus decided to go only as far as the border. At the border the bus left impatiently while myself and several others were eating. My bag was on this bus and I had a minor heart attack at the thought of losing the film I’d worked hard to capture that was stored within. A mad dash to courier one by one the stranded passengers ensued and I marvelled at the chaotic nature of this journey.
This second bus stopped and started, we were all ushered off the bus onto another one, (several times!) and back again for what purpose I don’t know, all the while I wearily watched my bags. Such is the joy of African travel.
We eventually headed of, many hot hours since I had arrived at the border (the border town Kayes supposedly being the hottest town in Africa!) into yet more bush though dryer here than the Senegalese bush. Scrub and various exotic trees including the iconic boababs which are often described as upside-down trees as there trunks are swollen and the stubby branches look like roots reaching for the sky, drifted by. Then just before dark we drove through the striking Mandinke Highlands, which were soon engulfed by the deep star filled blackness of the African night.
All the while I was confused hot and tiered trying to keep an eye on my bag and my circumstances. I did however to much relief reach Bamako at 3.30 in the morning more than a little tired but in one piece and amazingly having lost nothing.