I depart from Mandiana customs check point 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 this seems like a highway. A few checkpoints on the way, nothing spectacular, the usual ‘pay ‘n drive’ method works well here.
The scenery has changed into Savanna now. Grasslands and scrubs, solitary 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 areas.
We reach Niani at night close to 7 P.M. and my fuel is close to nil. Of course Niani, the border town should be having fuel.
Finally I find is not the usual filling station After crossing the town, which is not a large settlement, I am directed 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 from beer bottles of 0.7 ltrs, 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 is a 100-200 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.
When I leave, I carry with me a memory for life. 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 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.
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 Sankarani river, tributary to the mighty Niger.
I am unable see clearly; all is dark around me, but to me it seems it is more a lake than a river.
Floating gently, but mightily. 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.
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 creek that floats beneath under it.
In darkness, I reverse the car bit by bit until I find a diversion which leads to the creek’s bottom.
Any normal 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 dim, I had to stop for the night. ( Like it or not it appeared to me like ‘ Hotel California ‘.
A line decorated with obsolete plastic carrier bags in all colors indicate a further check point.
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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 the border is closed for tonight.
From his uniform I can see we have reached the Malian customs. I begged him, a common 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 build 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’.
I am asked if all my vaccinations are in order. They go through my Yellow vaccination card over and over. I am beginning to get frustrated. Finally they inform me I don’t have a valid vaccination against MENINGITIS. To protest is useless, I am tired and want to continue.
5000 CFA change their hands and I carry on through the night.