May 02, 1998

Mali: Cafe Sport, Bamako

The omnipresent Bob Marley in the background, in a cool little cafe festooned with African art + sculpture. Run by a Senegalese guy who travels a lot and can get by in six languages.

Bamako: not much to see, lots of hassle from would-be guides, but a nice laid-back change of pace from the social petri dish of le camion.

The hyperintensity of travelling on your own still appeals to me, but I think I headed out with Nick + Tim for the last few days just to get a break from the truck. It's fascinating to watch heat, isolation, hard roads, lack of privacy, and sheer dirty making tempers fray and shrinking our world to a 100' radius from the truck.

Spent our last day in Mauritania and our first in Mali being ambushed by trees, very Wizard-of-Oz. Drove on a tiny dirt track sandwiched tightly between trees so thorny you could have sold them to Vlad the Impaler. Branches reached their long arms into the side and clawed at us as we huddled in the middle.

To the last town in Mauritania, hot as blazes, where we embarked on a futile and highly comical quest for a cold drink while Gavin did his act outside the truck to distract the kids. Spent the rest of our ougouya on cobwebbed Fanta, there being nothing else we wanted.

Stopped in a little town for well water and had to sand-mat out, something we're becoming quite expert at. Finally made it to Mali border and chatted with a curious lot: policeman who wouldn't stop shaking hands, a used-car import-exporter (who told us Congo- Brazzaville was open and stable.)

Oh, yeah, night before, had to tent up because there were beaucoup de scorpions around the campsite.

Anyhow, made our way to Kayes - this would, I guess, have been the 26th - and there was mass exodus, as Jo + Jorge went off to Timbuktu and the rest of us left for a couple of cold beers and a night in a hotel. Utter chaos ensued, of course. After the (mmmgood) first couple rounds of beers, we were led by a self-appointed guide named Bruno to a night karate class, a concrete terrace, and then out into nowhere, when all we wanted was a hotel. We gave up and taxied to a hotel - which had rooms, but no keys to the rooms, and no way of finding the man with the keys. We gave up and went off to eat chicken-flavoured rice around the corner. It took a half-hour's heated argument to discover that both sides actually agreed on the price.

Back to the hotel-with-no-keys, where Mathias set out with a fellow Frenchman to find the keys, and promptly lost his passport. Regained it eventually. The girls showered as Chong + I waited for Nick + Tim, who had gone off with the leechlike Bruno to buy drinks. Mike + Matt + the girls taxied back to the expensive Hotel du Rail, where we'd begun the evening. Nick + Tim arrived with beers, and we ditched Bruno with difficulty and took a barely-stumbling cab to Hotel du Rail, where we'd begun the evening, irritated only by Pebbles'n'Sam's drunken shrieks and the appearance of the ever-present Bruno, demanding beer bottles.

A fairly restful sleep and supercooled water/ cafe-au-lait later, we waited for the truck. And waited. At length we learned that it wouldn't be back 'til midafternoon because the suspension needed fixing. Bored, and stupid, we sent for a long walk under the blazing midday sun of the hottest city in Africa, walking zombielike a very long way before finally arriving at a market with food & cold drinks.

Back to HQ, where the truck turned up, and had to wait for another insurance tax. Half an hour to a campsite by an old power station where nearly everyone went swimming in allegedly bilharzia-laden water: I, on cook duty, didn't have the option. Decided to head off w/ Nick + Tim and meet up in Bamako.

Next day, back to Kayes: train left at 8 PM, so we drank & played cards all afternoon before embarking. 16-hour overnight journey from Kayes to Bamako. Thank God, in this heat, we didn't go by day. Got a surprising amount of sleep in the jostling seats. At every stop, even 3 AM, the platform outside was a seething crowd of passengers and mango vendors and the just curious. In the morning, incredible numbers of people started wedging themselves into the little space between the seats, carrying sacks of rice + flour, live chickens, baskets of produce, vats of oil, babies slung in backpacks, you name it.

Finally got to Bamako and ate, famished, at the Ali Baba Cafe, before traipsing to the Hammer House Of Horrors Hotel Lac Debo. Actually not a bad place, but with its 20' ceilings, shadowy interior, and odd nooks & crannies, a very "The Shining"esque hotel. Nick crashed and Tim & I gatecrashed the 4-star Hotel de l'Amitie, sipping G+T's by the poolside and gloating about it. Out for a few beers and then to sleep.

Next day - 30th, day before yesterday - met Jo & Jorge, not yet out for Timbuktu, changed money, ordered but couldn't eat colossal burger at La Phoenicia, had some Cokes at Ali Baba, early night. Got laundry done too.

Yesterday, had to leave Hotel Lac Debo because money was getting tight. Tried to head for Mission Libonais, but they jacked the price up at the last minute, so spent the day at Phoenicia & Ali Baba, surrounded by a hostile gaggle of "guides" who claimed we owed them money because they had followed us. Played cards, read (finished LONG WALK TO FREEDOM).

Eventually made our way to the pleasant Catholic mission here, which feels a bit like a sanctuary, and has dorm rooms. Spent last night there and here (Cafe Sport, across the road.) Slept OK, though in this heat you just ooze sweat. Planning to wander down to the river now, post office at 2 for rendezvous, US Embassy reading room, vantage point.

Attempts to fix fridge & light. Sleeping under the stars and waking naturally at dawn (!). Jorge forget to pay, and we have to deal with it. The search for Marlboro Lights. "No small money?" Random power outages. Rows of empty water bottles. "Bohemian Rhapsody" as we charge into Mali.

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