I depart from Mandiana customs checkpoint in the afternoon, leaving the now familiar surroundings behind. The road leads to Niani at the Malian frontier.
To my surprise, I find the road in much better condition than the ones I got used to since entering Guinea.
At 40-50 mph speed, it seems like a highway. A few checkpoints on the way, nothing spectacular, the usual ‘pay-drive’ method works well here.
The scenery has changed into Savanna now. Grasslands and scrubs, scarce Baobab trees, no more the dense tropical jungle.
Life in these areas is dreadful, no running water, no electricity, as in dark ages. It is almost unimaginable how people can adapt to life in such remote regions.
We reach Niani at night close to 7 P.M., and my fuel is close to nil. Of course Niani, the border town should have fuel.
Finally, I find what is not the usual filling station. After crossing the town, which is not a significant settlement some villagers direct me to the filling ‘station.’
I never will forget this scene; it is another milestone on a long road through Africa. In Niani I find a petroleum lit grass hut, a crooked set of timber logs serve as poles, a straw-covered roof.
Gasoline is filled in beer bottles of 0.7 l, lined up in a row on the front of the ‘gas station’. If it were not for the acute shortage, I would burst out in laughter, but now I realize I have no choice, for after Niani there are a 100-200 miles nothing except bush and unknown territory.
I fill 50 bottles of ‘beer’ gas, its price almost double inflated to the standard rate. I do not even want to look for food, for I know I have to continue to Mali tonight.
When I leave, I carry with me memory lasting a lifetime. The evening brings some fresh air; I sense the mighty river nearby. And when I reach a bonfire near the main road, I recognize the Guinean border guards who camp here.
To describe the whole scene would require another chapter; however, this is an entry/exit point (Niani). I must say the guards are the friendliest I ever found in Guinea.
I receive an Exit stamp in my passport, after which I carry on, the dark road passing through the middle of the bush, beside the river. Driving carefully in the dark, against my mentor’s advice, I focus my full attention on the rough road ahead of me. The Sankarani river, the tributary to the mighty Niger.
I am unable to see clearly; all is dark around me, but to me, it seems it is more a lake than a river.
Floating gently, yet powerful. A massive build-up of the mighty dam that feeds three-quarters of Mali with electricity, the ‘Barrages de Selingui’.
A gigantic project as I am to see later on. Suddenly a strange feeling overcomes me that I can’t explain. I slow down my vehicle to a mere 5-10 mph. I cannot see the road ahead of me, and the high beams are not helping much either.
Soon after I notice the concrete structure that stands in the dark was once a bridge crossing a creek beneath. Now, the bridge has been washed away, as I am standing 10 meters over the riverbed.
In total darkness, I reverse the car bit by bit until I find a diversion which leads to the creek’s bottom.
A regular vehicle would not be able to maneuver through the half-empty river bed – makeshift road, yet I manage to cross the waters – which aren’t deep, surprisingly – climbing the other side to continue my journey.
Then 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 – my head grew heavy, and my sight grew dimmer. I knew I had to stop for the night.
A line decorated with used plastic carrier bags in all colors indicate a further checkpoint.
No one in sight, in the middle of the Savanna. I blow my horn. It is 8 p.m., and I still have to make headway. After a few minutes, a customs guy appears and tells me to come tomorrow morning, since the border had already shut.
From his uniform, I can see we have reached the Malian customs. I begged him, a standard way of getting things done in these parts, to let me pass, as I have pressing business in Bamako.
After consultation with his superior 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 built from grass, roots, and pieces of logs.
‘Where are our car papers, other documents ?’ 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 yellow vaccination card’.
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They go through my Yellow International vaccination card over and over. I am beginning to get frustrated. Finally, the officials inform me my MENINGITIS vaccination was not valid. To protest is useless, I am tired and want to continue.
5000 CFA change hands and I carry on through the night.
By God ‘s grace, I am here to tell my story. At some stage, I was not sure if I could make it back home.
It was like an endless green hell hole one never wishes to enter, for no laws are protecting your rights, only your intuition and experience will help.
To be continued