Five days ago I left the tranquillity of Abene, a beach and tropical paradise village in Senegal’s southwest coast in the Casamance region and headed to Ziguinchor, the capital of that region. After a night there in hot dry weather, I began the long journey by sept-place (seven seat) taxi to Tambacounda, in Senegal’s eastern region and near the border with north-west Mali. It was a long journey. I went to the sept-place garage around 6 am and waited an hour for the car to fill up. Some 10 hours later and several bumpy unpaved roads in extreme heat, I arrived in the small busy town of Tambacounda, known as Tamba by locals. I had no accommodation booked as the internet only suggested expensive hotels. At the garage in Tamba, a man from Liberia directed me to a lodge named block Dadec. A cheap place to spend a night. I relaxed for an hour before going in search of dinner. Fish and rice with local Yasa source, delicious.
I rose early the next morning and again headed to the sept-place garage to take a car to the border with Mali. This is where the fun began. I found a car that left around 7.30 am. However, after thirty minutes slow driving, the car broke down. I was transferred to another vehicle to begin again. However, a journey that I was informed would take around 3 hours took over 6 hours. At the border, I took a taxi to both the Senegal immigration and then over no mans land to Mali. At the Mali side, I had to show my passport to two guys I took to be police and was allowed to continue – they spoke to me in French and I didn’t understand a word, I said I was from UK and went back to the taxi. Next I had to wait several hours before sharing the front seat with a large Mali guy from the border to Kayes, the first real town inside north-west Mali. I managed to get my visa on the border for only 13,000 CFA Francs. This is about £20 or so.
Once in Kayes, I took a taxi to the bus station, it was about 5 pm by then, and bought a ticket for a night bus to Bamako in the south. Unfortunately, even though the bus left on time, after only an hour on the road, we were forced to return to the Kayes bus station by the police as it was deemed too dangerous to travel. This is what I guessed as everything was spoken in French and local language. I spent my first night in Mali on a concrete bench next to a loud music centre in the bus depot. Next morning around 6.00 am we finally departed. The journey was long, bumpy, hot and dusty. At times, the roads were in very to extremely poor condition. I was able to get omelette and coffee at several stops with help and water frequently. We stopped often, seemingly for food and also for the occasional damage to the bus.
After some 14 hours of bumping about at various speeds, we came to our final halt for the night, not Bamako, but Katu, some 10 km from Bamako apparently. I was forced to spend another night sleeping rough. This time inside the bus, which was slightly more comfortable.
I reached Bamako early Saturday morning to discover the country is in the midst of a civil war/revolution, the president in hiding and the borders for the present are all closed.