Blogblue – a reflection of the past
Mandiana to Niani –
Night in the Savanna of Mali
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 astonishment I find the road in much better condition than the ones I got used to since entering Guinea.
At 40-50 mph 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. People though can adapt to any condition that is forced 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, I guess.
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 never can, somehow, forget this scene, it is another milestone in a long road through Africa. In Niani I find a petroleum lit grass hut, a crooked set of timber serve as poles, a straw covered roof.
TRAVEL IN GUINEA
Gasoline is being filled from a number of beer bottles each containing 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 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.
I leave, with a everlasting 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 the scene would take another chapter, however this is an entry / exit point (Niani) and 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 cant 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 build up to 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. A premonition overcomes me I can’t explain , and 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 structures standing in the dark what was once a bridge – crossing a creek beneath. Now, the bridge has been washed away, and I am standing 6 meters above the creek that flows beneath.
In complete darkness, I maneuver the car back and find a which I passed minutes ago, leading to the creek’s shallow banks.
Any ‘normal’ vehicle would not be able to maneuver through the now half dried up river bed , yet I manage to cross the waters – surprisingly – climbing the other side to continue my journey.
The road turns to the left and leads into pure grassland, with road 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 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 ‘beg’ 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 ?… 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, 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.
God was gracious enough to let me come out to tell my story. At some stage I was not sure if I could make it back home.
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