Friday, September 25, 2009

Slummin’ it back to Bamako

After three days trekking in Dogon Country, our guide Ibrahim brought us back to the gateway town of Bandiagara, from where we had to get ourselves 800km back to Bamako. First, we had to get to Sévaré to the main Bamako-Gao highway. The issue is that there’s no fixed bus schedule in Bandiagara; buses depart only when there are enough passengers to fill them. And when there aren’t enough people to fill the 24-passenger minibus, the “bus” is actually a busted, rusted station wagon that must have been manufactured before we were born. Astonishingly, even the station wagon wouldn’t leave until it was full to capacity with NINE PASSENGERS, plus the driver. Ibrahim said if our luck is good there will be seven other passengers waiting at the bus stand when we arrive. Insha’Allah. When we got to the “bus stand” in Bandiagara, there was only one other passenger waiting. So much for God’s will.

Soon two women arrived with two kids, but the two kids were going to sit in the women’s laps so they didn’t count. An hour later another man arrived with five chickens. After waiting almost two hours we paid for the open seats and everyone loaded into the station wagon. The chicken man tied three of his birds to one side of the baggage rack on the roof and two birds to the other. So there we were: six adult passengers, two crying kids, one driver, five chickens flapping in the wind, and two more guys riding on the roof rack (apparently that’s free). We picked up one more passenger on the way before a guy on a motorcycle started yelling at us that we had a flat tire. A flat tire?!?!?!?!? You’ve got to be kidding me. It was 2pm and as we stood there roasting under the blazing Mali sun with less than half a liter of water left and one bar on my mobile phone, I thought, “We’re completely unprepared for this.”

I tried to meditate and just be in the present moment rather than worry about what may happen. Not so easy. Fourteen hours later, after stops in countless villages along the way and a protracted lightning storm, we finally rolled into our little Bamako B&B at 4am, completely exhausted but smiling as we thought about our crazy journey home.

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