In chronological order this should appear before Louisa’s post on Mali(ville) to Senegal.
We had spent our couple of days in Labe catching up on email, Internet, eating, and washing; and we were ready for our trip to Mali-ville. We knew the routine–get to the taxi stand early. Even though it is only a four-hour trip, in general people arrive by 8 am to assure a place on the taxi. Later it takes a while to fill the taxi. The shared taxis only leave when full, even it means waiting hours.
A sept place is 30-year old Peugot station wagon with three rows of seats. The seven places are one passenger in the front, and three each in the next two rows. Children in laps don’t count. But in fact there are two or three passengers (plus driver) in the front. Yes, with bucket seats. Four in the second row and three in the back row for typically 11 total .
So we got up early enough for a quick breakfast and pack our bikes for the ride to the taxi stand (gare routier). Breakfast was the typical baguette with jelly; and Nescafe, sugar, and a artificial cream. However, we got involved talking Ruth, the poli sci student. and it was nine before we departed. But it’s only a four-hour trip and we have all day.
For some reason the taxi stand for heading north to Mali is 3km out of town in the next village, not at the main taxi stand. But we’re on bikes so it’s an easy journey. We arrived at the gare at about 9:30 found the ticket seller, negotiated the price for our bikes and luggage–the passenger fare is fixed. The fare was about $5 each and about the same for luggage. We asked how many places needed to be filled and were told three. So we found a comfortable place to sit, watched the coming and going including the apparently crazy guy who was listening the news and repeating it loudly for all to hear. Shortly after noon, we decided to give up and pay for the other three places at about $5 each (22,000GF). We were issued the additional tickets and final loading commenced. They had waited until ready to go since our bikes had to be on top of the other stuff on the roof which included other’s luggage (usually in plastic bags) as well as stuff being shipped. But then another passenger showed up and his father spent about ten minutes discussing buying the ticket with the ticket seller. Finally we handed over one of our extras and were handed his fare.
Baggage rearranged and the taxi heads off in the wrong direction without us; minor panic, but assumed just going to buy gas for the trip. He then came back and passed us by on the main road, but then parked a hundred feet up the road under a tree. Then the driver and ticket seller got into a discussion about the number of passengers. The arrangement at many gares is that the taxis are independent operators, and the ticket seller controls the taxis and gives the major portion of the fare to the driver (at least this seems to be the routine). They counted heads, looked at our tickets several times. It seemed the ticket seller had sold one extra place, but our two extra places were confusing the issue. He finally took one of our tickets and I asked about the money for it, but a well dressed passenger said don’t worry, you’ll get it. We were tired of waiting, and the Guineans had been very honest, so I kept quiet. So we’re all set to go and the driver announces time for Muslin prayers (it’s about 1 pm by now), so we get out and sit under a tree and eat our lunch. Which is our typical baguette with a Vache Qui Rit–a frequently available soft bland cheese and canned sardines, bananas, and cookies.
Half an later the driver and maybe one other passenger who went to prayers show up and we’re off. One advantage we had was that we had taken the larger middle row and had one extra seat, so not uncomfortable. About two hours into the trip the driver pulls off the road and says something needs to be fixed. Raises the hood and shows a cable and housing. I look at the throttle cables and they look OK, so assumed a clutch cable which apparently it was. Fortunately he stopped next to a bridge over a nice little river. Watched a few people hanging out at the stream&mdashprobably had bathed. A bit of local foot traffic; some who stopped to get a drink or wash up. The three women wandered off and gathered leaves which they said were medicinal and not available in their village. Two of them were dressed in Western clothes–coming from Labe or some other large city and heading back to their small village. I took pictures of the people and river; and kind of got into the mood of the trip. Reminded me of some movies where similar breakdowns happen and the well dressed Europeans retire under a tree and wait patiently or play games. Not quite as gentile, but it seemed we still had plenty of time to arrive at our destination well before dark. The road had been a good dirt road. We traveled at a reasonable speed–our driver seemed to enjoy living and wasn’t a speed demon–made the trip better. Not much traffic either.
All fixed after about an hour and we were off. But then the road deteriorated as we were climbing. We saw some road work earlier repair work, repairing the rain damaged section. The rainy season lasts about six months with rain just about every day in the middle two month–June and July. Stopped to let the two women off in their village which was right along the road. People came out to greet them and help them with their luggage. Of course this required removing the bikes and we supervised reloading as always to make sure the derailleurs weren’t crushed. Dropped a couple of other passenger along the way.
Arrived in Mali about an hour after dark. As we approached the town we told the driver the small hotel, Auberge Indigo, we wanted to stay at and he implied he would get us there. We assumed it would be close the center of the small town. Everyone unloaded and the driver talked to someone who came to pick up his package from the driver. He volunteered to get in and show the driver the way. After about three blocks, we were going about 1 mph picking our way uphill over a rocky washed out road. As it was late and we were hungry I figured we were getting the extra fare we were owed back. After about ten minutes we saw the sign and what appeared to be the hotel. The arrow pointed to the right but the volunteer said no to the left. The driver asked a couple of kids and they pointed back to the right. The driver and helper were insisting on going left. We finally convinced him to go back to the right. Upon arriving someone came out to open the gates and assist us in. The young receptionist showed us a room. We asked about food and he said there was none, but that he’d walk us to town to a restaurant–a good one.
We said good-bye to the taxi driver who was trying to get the taxi started. It had stalled, as it had several times on the trip, and significant fiddling was required to bring it to life again.
The restaurant turned out to be the local “sports bar.” A maybe 10-ft square room with benches and three small tables. Guys sitting around drinking coffee, smoking, and listening to hip-hop music; without much talking. The TV was off—no soccer games on presumably. Our host shooed some young boys off a bench. A menu of about two items. We picked omelets and tea. Then off the small markets that were still open to get bread and Vache qui rie for breakfast. No bananas or other fruit at the late hour. Back to the hotel. Our host saw we were comfortable and then hopped on his moto for a night on the town. Probably back to the sport bar. We washed our faces and hands in the bucket shower. Complete bucket shower would wait until tomorrow when it wasn’t so cold and late. Waiting was good as the auberge had a small kitchen where you could heat water for bathing.
Traveler’s note: Auberge Indigo was pleasant and quiet. We saw no signs of the new hotel that was supposed to be opening soon in town. The town seemed to maybe 2000 people.