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December 1, 2012 / samwilson60

Through Mali

The only stumbling block of the morning was a Guinean gendarme who threatened to impound our car 300m from Mali, after we’d already had the all-clear from the police and customs (all very proper and friendly). This last guy was clearly determined to get something out of us – we were probably one of very few European passers-by and he wasn’t going to let the opportunity slip. His line of argument was that our insurance was invalid and we’d therefore been driving illegally throughout our time in Guinea and possibly even Senegal too. This was rubbish and we knew it, but we couldn’t prove it and were too hung up on the passage through Mali to sit this stalemate out. The result was a ludicrous “fine” and some grumpy goodbyes to Guinea. Thankfully, on the Mali side it was all above board again and we were speeding to Bamako in no time.

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We were quieter than usual, sad to be dashing through such a beautiful country we both know and love, but the checkpoints were less than reassuring and we knew the only thing that would make either of us relax was getting to our safe haven in Bamako. That safe haven – the Sleeping Camel auberge – was all we’d hoped for and so much more. We found it effortlessly and were ushered in through the gates, to be greeted by more Europeans than we’ve seen on the whole trip so far and the brochettes we’d been dreaming of since Morocco! With wi-fi, shade, clean showers and comfy sofas, we both knew without consulting the other that this might turn into more than a one-night stopover.

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We inevitably stayed another day at the Sleeping Camel, painstakingly uploading one photo at a time throughout the day, while chatting with the other guests and staff. It was a very welcome, unexpected experience – almost everyone else was working in the country in one way or another, making us feel like slight layabouts but giving us all lots to talk about.

After this morale-boosting break in Bamako, we sped down to Sikasso, just a short hop from the Burkina border. It was the longest distance we’d done in a day since Europe but thankfully the tarmac was intact and the speed created the breeze necessary to keep us sane and relatively comfortable. We trawled three hotels in Sikasso before finding one that would put up with us sleeping in our tent outside – we were pretty smug before we even realised they also had wi-fi. If anything it was better than in Bamako and we spend the evening uploading yet more photos (hope you like them!) and chatting with a local law student back from Bamako for the holidays.

There was only one thing to do the following day – however well we’d done to make ourselves feel at ease crossing Mali, it was but a crossing and the aim was to get out the other side. With just under 200km to Bobo, and all the unpredictable border jazz in between, we set off early. After thinking we’d got to the ‘border’ a couple of times (actually some fairly laid-back customs posts and/or toll booths), we eventually arrived at the tell-tale rope across the road. It was incredible – the Malian customs guy was already filling in the carnet correctly before we’d had a chance to do our usual explanatory spiel, and the police wanted nothing more than to teach us a few phrases in Bambara. We could have been in an out in minutes if we hadn’t been such willing pupils. Yet again, no mention of money and lots of smiles and well-wishing.

There was a long enough stretch of no-man’s land to score a couple of cokes and convince ourselves that the whole day could not possibly be this pleasant. At the Burkina side, however, they processed us as professionally as we’ve ever experienced, and still with a laugh and a smile. Particularly at the customs post, where they were laughing fit to burst at every answer we gave. Possibly the best was the colour of the truck – after looking out the window straight at it for a good few minutes, the guy asked what colour she was. “Officially she’s grey,” we said. “And unofficially?” We replied a mix of muddy, rusty, who the hell can tell? They nearly fell on the floor with laughter at that one and seemed genuinely sad to wave us on.

Before leaving we picked up a bulk load of cashew nuts and nearly lost a passport (thank you to the lady who chased us down). We then stopped at a nearby watering hole for elevenses, or near enough – we were out of one country and into the next before 10am. Result!

Our first watering hole in Burkina!

Our first watering hole in Burkina!

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One Comment

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  1. Clare / Dec 6 2012 9:15 pm

    I love the pictures, well worth the hard work. Your trip sounds amazzzzinnnnng!! xx

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