Trip To Bamako

Trip to Bamako

I have recently acquired the use of a vehicle, a '97 Toyota Landcruiser. It has a middle bench seat and a far back one so that it, etc. could seat seven people easily besides the driver. The engine is in good condition though some of the bells and whistles are no longer in tune or have fallen off completely. Notable the hand brake, back-up lights and most of the gauges on the instrument panel. The ignition switch or at least the key hole is worn so you sometimes have to do a fair bit of jiggling to get the key to turn all the way or to turn on and you don't have to turn the key to lock for it to come out so there is a risk of running down the battery. The electric window switches are finicky and the auto lock function on the drivers door panel unlocks but doesn't lock, fortunately the key in the drivers door usually does the job. In summary the usual sorts of things that an older vehicle in rough driving conditions suffers. I did have a nasty shock to have the power-steering reservoir mysteriously blow its cap, luckily it fell down and caught on the engine block and we had spare fluid in the car, at the same time the fuel injection got jammed on and I had to drive around town riding the brake while the engine roared like a drag racer at the starting line to get to a mechanic that could adjust it. (I had not a wrench in the car even if I had ever had experience fixing fuel injectors -- my last vehicle had a pump.)

Anyhow it seemed to be working well enough when we decided we needed to go to Bamako among other things my son's passport was going to expire in a couple months and needed to be renewed for which they want both parents and the child concerned to present themselves in person at the embassy with all the necessary documents photos , etc. We decided to take the car. After all it would be a lot cheaper than hiring a car since all we'd pay was the fuel and a lot more comfortable than taking public transport.

We took the car to a welder to get the knob for opening the spare tire rack so you could get at the back hatch put back on and Shindouk had a mechanic look everything over and drive it around a bit he pronounced it in great shape and fit to go anywhere no problem.

I vetoed the idea of taking one of the "boys" along to help out since the two of them were the only ones of the household who could speak French to any eventual tourists who might come along in our absence. And it seamed impractical to leave one single youth alone at the house to deal with everything. Besides which the last time we brought one of them along "to help out with Najim" Najim spent the entire time on my lap anyhow and the boy in question got sick; whether it was really malaria or just headaches brought on by massive withdrawal from nicotine and caffeine since he could not smoke or drink as much tea as he was used to I don't know but we ended up buying a bunch of medicine and sleeping four to a hotel room and tiptoeing around out of deference to his health. I had no desire to repeat the fiasco. Especially since Shindouk was sure his mechanic was sure that the car was good to go.

Day 1

We decided to take the trip in a relaxed manner rather than get up at 3 a.m. to try for the first ferry across the river. We got up at first light as usual and did the usual morning things. We loaded the car and at around 8 a.m. headed off ourselves with a guest who wanted to get to Mopti where he would catch a bus to Burkina Faso and the FESPACO film festival. The ride to the port included several stops to get fuel, water, breakfast things and bread, which turned out to be "real wheat" according to shindouk and not just flour. I explained that the flour used here was wheat. But I saw what he meant when I went to eat some: it was whole wheat, probably locally produced and coarser ground than the white flour in the shops. Excellent.

We arrived at the port around 8:30 to find that the ferry had not yet returned from its
first crossing. We had breakfast and waited about, chased Najim around the quay and fended off curious kids. Finally, there was the ferry making it's ponderous way around the last bend and into "dock" which is where it lowers its ramps as it butts into the space allotted it. The cars getting off squeezed past the string waiting to get on. There was one hairy moment when a big truck was pinched between the buildings on one side and the stuff sticking out of the back of a pick-up on the other. The owner of the pick-up was found and had to back up and go forward several times, stuck between the cars on either end of him trying to squeeze closer to the structures on his side of the passage so the truck could get passed.

Then we were loading. One after another the cars turned out of the narrow lane leading to the landing, pulled abruptly left up a car length to the top of the steep slope, then reversed down to mount the ferry. This was the big, twelve car ferry, six cars, two abreast with very little room between. It can all be rather nerve wracking since the angle up the ramp can be steep and sometime they have a foot or so of water to go through first so after a couple cars the steel is slippery too. you have to gun it, in reverse with barely room to manoeuvre and then slam on the brake so as not to hit the car behind you. I remembered last time how they required the driver of the car I was in to line up with the single side of the ramp which was barely wide enough for the car, so I gamely pulled up, reversed down, having to pull tightly to the right to line up with the ferry and following Shindouk's guidance, so tight the ladies standing next to the tree had to move out of the way, to get right in line with the ramp. I was rather proud of myself to get it lined up just right on the first go and then the ferry guys told me, "no, no, no, use both ramps." blah. Anyway no use doing a blow by blow of getting on the ferry. I backed into my spot about 4 inches away from the curb but was apparently too far out so we had to do some more maneuvering and I guess they were satisfied that time which was good because you might have been able to wedge a credit card between my tires and the deck but not much else. The next car squeezed in beside me and then a couple more on in from of us. We were eight cars only on the boat when we took off.

Roude to Douenza
By 10:30 we had docked on the other side and were the third car off the boat though two of those stopped just on the other side to load up the passengers again or some such. We headed out at a reasonable speed but nothing too fast; I knew that there were some tight bends on loose gravel before the causeway turned into dry land. Almost immediately one pick-up barrelled past. But we continued on another 50 km without anyone else catching us up. The road is rough with washboard and deeper pits. The washboard actually goes a lot smoother if you are at high speed where you can skim across the tops but you have to be ever vigilant for the big holes which can send you flying and cause serious damage to your vehicle if you hit them at speed. what's more the ground is not a uniform colour, pale sand mixes with red gravel to create false illusion of shadow and light that can trick you into slowing for a non-existent holes or make you miss a real one until you are in it.

I would like to think I did a decent job of keeping up speed and slowing for or dodging the holes. I missed (or rather hit) a few and had to slam the breaks on hard for a few times to keep from banging our heads on the ceiling but all in all it went as expected. It is about 200 km to the pavement and I usually calculate 4 hrs. to reach it. You can actually go much faster than 50 km/h on a lot of it but all the slowing to near stops ruins your average not to mention any necessary pit-stops and it is better to be pleasantly surprised by early arrival and frustrated by a late one.

We hit Bambara Maoudie the midway point in something less than two hours and as we crawled over the speed bump at the police stop I heard a noise and asked shindouk to just take a quick look at the tires and make sure they were in good shape. He said, "Okay lets just stop over by that garage." So I started up from the stop I had come to and killed the engine. I assumed I had just let off the clutch to fast or something, it happens. I turned the key and just got a grinding noise. I tried again, no luck. A third time still nothing. We looked under the hood and the cables seemed tight.

Shindouk hailed a guy from the garage and couple of fellows came over. They peered around and said one of the batteries was damaged and that was the problem, see how it is tipped down at an angle. They tried to get it straightened up and wedged a flip-flop in between it and the radiator where it was banging. Fair enough I am sure that needed to be done but it still didn't make the car start. Yeah they decided the battery was ruined and would have to be replaced. I let them talk since that couldn't be done there anyhow but in my head I thought if the battery is no good how come the charge gauge comes on strong when I turn the key on and the starter is trying to turn? If the battery or cables was the problem there wouldn't be any power getting to it.

Anyhow it wouldn't start so the thing to be done was push start it. I turned the key to on and pushed in the clutch and set the gearshift and the four or five guys there started pushing. They had barely started it moving when they started shouting, "Come on, start it, start it." I held off a bit because it was barely a crawl over rough ground and I knew it wasn't fast enough to make it go. But they yelled louder so I let them have it and of course it jerked to a halt without starting. One guy, probably the one who had been yelling loudest for me to start it already, started saying in Songai how I didn't know how to do it, it was obvious I hadn't turned the key on blah blah blah let him do it....

Fine. I got out but I told him that I wasn't stupid, I had indeed turned the key on, they hadn't been going fast enough. And was it because I was white or a woman that made them think I was incompetent. (it is a common notion amongst the people of this area that westerners have machines to do everything for us so we do not know how to sweep, wash, cook, etc. for ourselves). In any case the loud mouth got in and the others pushed and this time they were on smother ground and got up to running speed and what do you know it started right up. Of course it did. I told them it wasn't going fast enough the first time but it is always easy to blame somebody else for your own lack of judgement. They were lazy and didn't want to push anymore than they had to and made them selves have to push twice as much, nice to blame me for it. I was glad for their help but it stuck in my craw to thank them for it. She doesn't know how to do it, indeed! If they only knew last summer I drove around a car that died ever time you let your foot off the gas they'd know I could start a car without the key.

Anyhow enough grouching about that. We were on our way again and besides one really nasty pit just a few km on the other side of Bambara Maoudi the route was reasonably good. Still lots of washboard and slowing for the concrete concaves they have put in to prevent rainy season run off from washing out the road, but other than that not bad.

We got to Douenza and pavement around 2:30 and had a lunch and tea break that with one thing and another stretched into an hour. 178 km to Mopti. I calculate three hours. There is a lot of slowing for speed bumps of little villages and cattle crossing not to mention that bits of it, while paved, are still in poor condition.

We went along at what felt like a good clip, not having a working speedometer I am not sure just how fast we were going but the mileage markers set up ever 5 km seemed to come up with regularity. Shindouk asked me to roll up the window he was going to put the A/C back on. It worked but not spectacularly. Then about halfway there the engine died. No reason, no warning, just died. I don't recall the circumstances but we were stopped before I realized what happened and thought to let out the clutch and get it going again while we still had momentum. The key did the same thing as it had at Bambara even thought at Douenza I had shut it off and turned it on easily.

We sat there listening to the silence and realized it wasn't. There was a decided boiling sound. Open the hood, the radiator was boiling. Shindouk pulled the tube out of the overflow reservoir and steam spouted from it. I told him not on his life to open the radiator cap. He got our 20 L (5 gal) jug of water out of the back and poured water over everything and into the reservoir. The water coming out as overflow was rust red. It made me realize that it was not florescent green and I asked if when he had had the radiator replaced they had put coolant in or just water. Just water. Well, that would explain the over heating: in the middle of a hot day in the Sahel with the A/C going and no coolant.... We realized that the a/c had been on before it stalled in Bambara Moudie too and decided that the whole problem was probably due to that. Certainly the over heating but also the other it could be drawing too much power or shorting something out or who knows what. We would just leave it off from now on.

Shindouk went off to the village that fortunately we had stopped right next to and got a couple guys to help push. It started on the first try. And went without any troubles to Severe. We dropped off our passenger and by six were resting at a friend's house. Later that evening we took the car out on an errand and there was no trouble. We were more convinced than ever that it was the A/C.

Najim played wildly with our host's children of similar size and in the morning had a scab on his nose we don't know how it got there. We slept on the roof top and it was pleasantly cool with a breeze most of the time. When it died down there were mosquitoes.

Day 2

Manual gas pump
We rose at six and got ready to leave. 650 km to Bamako. 186 km to the intersection to San, the next major town. The first while was uneventful though I noticed that the gas gauge was getting lower and lower. The car is supposed to have a second reservoir and we had put a bit in that one in Timbuktu but never having used such a thing and not certain it worked on this car I was nervous. We kept tooling along and tooling along and the needle was near empty and I have no experience with this vehicle how long it can go on empty before it really is. There is a button on the dash with an icon of a gas pump but when you push it in the light doesn't come on. Does that mean that the switch over doesn't work or that the indicator light is broken? Then here is Téné, a small town more than a village a bustling way point on the road to Bamako. There was supposed to be a fuel station at the outskirts. It is not there.

But here is another little road side pump. That is literally all it is. Next to the road a single pump the front taken off to display a hand action pump that has replaced the original mechanism. One man holds the nozzle in the car while another works the pump handle side to side, side to side, the volume indicator wheels creeping around notching up one-tenth of a litre at a time. Right hand till it's tired then the left then right again. Then another guy takes over for a while right hand left hand back to the first man. We had been intending to get only 20 L or so plenty to get us safely to San where we could go to a "real" station but when he saw how hard those guys were working swinging that pump handle side to side several times for each tenth of a litre. Well, he asked for 40 L. In a way it seams contradictory you are just going to tire them out more but in his mind it was rewarding a willingness to work hard, patronize the small unnamed company where the owner himself takes a turn at the pump.

A little further into this same town we arrived at the traditional public transport pit stop with tables and benches where at ladies sell fried chicken, boiled potatoes in sauce, fries, beans, fish. Other ladies are frying rice and bean flour cakes and men have tables where you can get tea and coffee and eggs. Shindouk gets some stuff to go and then a dish of the fried rice cakes to hand out to the beggars before we head out. I used to get the omelette sandwiches when I was on the road but they cook the eggs in so much oil it drips out of the bread and here I have ordered them before they use the palm oil that has a very strong taste which I dislike and even when I have insisted no onions they put them anyway. I would be content with left overs from yesterdays breakfast. The bread wasn't too hard and the cheese spread was fine. I got a couple tomatoes from a lady with a basket full to round it out. We continued on a ways out of that town and stopped in the shade where we had a nice breakfast in the still cool morning air.

The roads are not very heavily travelled. Some buses and heavily laden trucks, minibuses full of people and baggage, putter along at what speed they can and often take up much more than their share of the road. Motorbikes and donkey carts stick to the edges. Pick-ups, and SUVs mostly belonging to NGOs, Government or UN projects, or big companies such as Orange cell phone service provider and the occasional small car whizz past these slower travellers. We played leap frog with a few of these passing them up only to stop somewhere and be passed in turn and then catch them up again.

We came to a village with a speed bump and slowed for it. The engine died and caught again when I let out the clutch before I had even realized what had happened. We came to a stop at a toll post and I was unable to catch it in time. The engine died and the key wouldn't start it. The toll booth guys helped Shindouk push and we were off again. It did it again when we slowed to go around a big truck that was stopped in our side of the road and an oncoming car didn't allow me to pass it immediately. That time I let out the clutch intentionally and just in time. Shindouk made a comment about the way I was breaking not understand that the jerk was the engine catching again and nothing to do with the breaks. We came upon a set of enormous speed bumps at an intersection with a cross roads that was otherwise in the middle of nowhere. I had to slow so much to go over them that I had lost to much momentum to catch the motor again when I got over. That time Shindouk had to push alone. Fortunately we were on flat smooth pavement near a bank that, while steep, was not too abrupt. After an initial effort to overcome inertia he didn't have to do much to get me to the bank and gravity did the rest.

I had a few other incidents where I caught it before it died and took a lot more care of giving it gas and slowing down gradually so I would be able to do that. We had just purchased some bananas from a woman in the last village we'd gone through and najim had stuffed down several. I presume that is the reason that all of a sudden he threw up. Needless to say I stopped the car immediately and it died immediately. I threw it in low and let out the clutch but too little to late. Shortly after a car came up behind us that we had leap frogged, him passing us each time we died, us passing him each time we got going again. We flagged him down and he looked under the hood wiggled the fuel injection dohicky and such and told Shindouk that that was the problem and we needed a new head on the thing which we could get in Segou.

Rest stop at Segou Koro
He helped push start it and we were on our way. I had been behind the wheel pumping the accelerator when he asked and keeping an eye on Najim who, after throwing up, seemed raring to stuff down more bananas if I let him so I didn't see what all the man did but he may have adjusted something a bit or maybe we were lucky because we had no more trouble with it dying or the key not starting it the rest of the way to Bamako. We had lunch in Segou and then stopped in Segou Koro, the ancient capital of the Bambara kingdom, just outside of the new Segou. Visited the chief and brought him kola nuts and asked if any of the tourists we sent his way actually stopped by. Then went to the outskirts of the village where another friend has a house near an enormous tree where we took tea read cowrie shell fortunes and waited for it to cool off a bit.

mushroom like termite mounds
At around three p.m. we continued on our way about 250 km left to Bamako and no significant towns in the way. maybe 100 km outside Bamako I was able to stop and get some good shots of the mushroom like termite mounds that sprout liberally in one area. I was groaning already about entering Bamako, which, it looked like we might do at rush hour no less. It is a mad house there at the best of times. We must have missed the very worst of the traffic but it is still a mad scramble of minibuses stopping and starting to pick up people all along the road; taxis weaving in and out and pulling across to the wrong side of the road to pick up someone; people signalling for the wrong reasons and failing to signal for the right ones; traffic lights not working, where they exist; motorbikes everywhere squeezing in and out wherever they can fit; incessant honking from every quarter; choking pollution from every tailpipe; trying to muscle a too big vehicle through narrow streets choked with vendors and bikes parked at cross purposes; people trying to left turn easing out farther and farther into oncoming traffic waiting for a chance to jump in or force the others to stop and let them in at which point the line of guys being nose to tail keeps coming until said oncoming traffic starts to force its nose back into what ever gap that presents. Oh the litany goes on and I was more exhausted by my excursions around Bamako than the 600 km of pavement that got me there.

Bamako Traffic
At one stop in traffic a guy stealth window washed me, jumping in and squirting water on the windshield and frantically scrubbing and squeeging. I didn’t mind because I had told myself on arriving of one the guys offered that I would accept after almost 1000 km, a window is bound to have picked up a few bugs. Traffic started forward again and Shindouk made to toss him a coin though he’d barely finished my half of the window. the man just waved us ahead joging along the curb. Sure enough after only a few car lengths we were stopped again and he finished up. We made it through to the hotel, a left U turn and than across the two lanes of traffic (I was fortunate in that the security for the grocery next door thought I was coming there and helped hold up traffic so I could get across ) to turn right into a narrow ally that couldn't hold our car and a motorbike abreast. Shindouk immediately turned on the tv in the room to see what was happening in Libya and I took najim out to get pizza from a nearby restaurant. We ploughed through our supper the little man eating as much as either of us and had an early night.

Day 3

We got breakfast and were planning to go get Najim's passport pictures taken which can only be done at one place in town since they are the only place capable of assuring the specs required by the government, when Shindouk announced that his meeting was in half an hour. There is no way at that time in the morning we could do both. In fact I got him to his meeting with just minutes to spare and then had to wait around since I didn't know how to get to the picture place from there. I did find a nearby internet place and got the application printed out. On the walk back I made a point of crossing the street where I had seen a couple of police officers hanging around; they were nice enough to stop traffic for me and Najim to go across. Back at the hotel where the meeting was I went into the restaurant and got Najim a juice. It was $3 for a glass! And then we used the washroom and found the water was off. Nice to take a toddler to the toilet and not have water. I told the lady at the bar and she said, "Oh yes, here" and got a tiny tea pot of water which she poured over our hands so we could wash up a bit. Meanwhile they charge $3 for a small glass of juice and have a fountain running in the yard.

I sat in the shade and filled in the form while najim ran around the yard until Shindouk was ready to go. It wasn't to long since I guess there would be more meetings the next day. We called a relation who was also a police officer and asked him to meet us at the picture place so he could sign the guarantor parts of the form. It took a long time to get down town then took a long time to get a good picture because Najim wouldn't sit still and look straight ahead. Well, he would but only until the man got behind the camera then he slouched and twisted and made faces. Finally got the bloody things, got the forms signed, and got back to the hotel to pick up the other documents and by then it was one o'clock and Najim was crying that he was hungry so since I know the embassy was open until four we decided to get lunch first.

Squeeze out of the hotel exit alley trying to turn sharp enough to miss the motorbikes of employees parked on one side and not scrape the corner of the building on the other. Left across two lanes of heavy traffic down the road to the embassy left back across two lanes of heavy traffic. Only to be denied access at the gate because they only deal with consular matters from 8:30 to noon. The website states that they only deal with visa those hours but apparently it is all consular matters. The most frustrating thing is I tried to contact by email twice and got no reply and the website very specifically specifies only visa services as having special hours. I was quite annoyed. Back to the hotel through the heat of 2 p.m. and the traffic and the crankiness of a boy who needs a nap. I did go to the restaurant close by and treated us to ice cream by way of making it up to ourselves. I then used the wi-fi connection to write a grouchy message to the embassy general inquiry's email provided on their site.

Day 4

To the embassy right after breakfast. All our papers were in order. The lady asked if we knew the guarantor who signed and if she could call him. I thought isn't that the point? Isn't it supposed to be someone we know whom you can contact to verify our claim? The person in question actually called us later to say that they had indeed contacted him. Besides that outing Najim and I took it easy that day. We had fun in the miniature bathtub najim spraying my head with water from the flexible shower head and scrubbing me with soap as I usually do with him then splashing himself. The little bars of hotel soap are just his size.

We had an evening outing to the post office to mail a registered letter to England. They wanted a phone number or a email address on the envelope as well as the address and we said we didn't know it but if we could get on the internet for two minutes we could get it. Well, of course they wouldn't let us get on their computer but they also wouldn't tell where a nearby internet place was. Then another fellow walked in and shindouk greeted him and it turned out that while that fellow was posted to the North 20 odd years ago he was part of the click Shindouk ran with, he explained the problem and the man put a word in to allow it. A second guy came in to start up the computer so we could use it and it turned out to be a guy who had done his training in Timbuktu a few years ago. Shindouk knew him as well, they reminisced about what became of others in his group. This apparently made us all friends and the person who originally was so closed was suddenly all smiles an oh really!s and we got the email address put it on the letter paid a horrendous rate and were off with thanks and smiles and cries of eh Coulibaly! eh Diekite!

When we got back to where we had been able to park the car we were blocked in by a huge truck that had stopped behind us. It bore the name of one of the shops nearby and we were able to find the driver and ask him to back up enough for us to get out. Then I had to squeeze out from between two cars that were not just tight but at odd angles to each other and to me so turning to the left would put me at risk of scraping one and to the right of bumping the other and no option of going straight back because there wasn't room. I made it out by folding my mirror in and one of the neighbouring cars who was also waiting to get out doing the same. I got past with centimetres to spare.

I must say that for all the tight corners, and space is at a premium in the city -- no one makes an alley, parking space (where there are such things), or gate any bigger than it has to be to squeeze in -- it is better to have a big SUV in Bamako than a little compact car. For one thing you are up high and can see better what is going on around you in traffic and for another thing you have a bigger argument on your side if you need to muscle into traffic

Day 5
It turned out that Shindouk had some more business to take care of and we could have checked out today done our business and left in the afternoon to spend the night in Segou but we decided that would be rough esp. on Najim who would have to sit around in the car or some public space until we were ready to leave. So we stayed an extra day.

After the business was over we went to visit a few people who would expect it of us notably the owner of the car we were using and the family of the person we asked to sign the papers for us. Since we were nearby we stopped in at a new hotel in Bamako which a number of our clients had mentioned as a good place to stay. We thought we’d see what it was like. With a name like the Sleeping Camel we were interested. Housed in the former Morrocan embassy, it is run by a British / Australian pair and offers decent accommodations at reasonable prices. As we walked in we encounter a woman who had left our place the week before and then stumbles on 3 or 4 other people who had stayed with us in recent times. There were happy greetings all around but we shortly took our leave.

We had lunch with the old aunties and Najim was having a great time seeing them again. When we went to leave he cried and called for Tantie Hapsa and Tantie Safia to come with us.

The proprietor of the car came by after he got off work and went to dinner with us where we met some other relatives of Shindouk's and made a party of it. Najim put away an entire plate of spaghetti and was orange from head to foot. I made an early night of it as we had a long drive ahead of us in the morning.

Day 6

We actually didn't get off to a very early start. We were not in a tearing hurry in any case and after breakfast at a reasonable hour we got some groceries for the road and then headed out of Bamako which in itself takes a long time. It is big and traffic is bad. When we at last got on the track heading out of town we noticed a lot of extra police officers along the streets and at intersections ushering traffic along. Move it on, hurry up, get out of the way. We got to the last post and stopped for bread and ice to put in the cooler. There were police ushering traffic along, no dawdling, sotrama buses to the other side of the road please, no stopping at the curb to let people on or off. We had been speculating that the president must be planing to come through. Was it to see the festival of masks in Mancala? If so maybe we could tag on to the tail end of the convoy and benefit from the position. Then we got out to the entrance to the public housing development and the police stopped; they also stopped us. They made us get off the road then they relented, go to the other side of the road and through the dusty red gravel till you get past the other entrance. So he must be coming to visit the housing thing but does it make sense to have us stir up a big cloud of dust that he can drive through so that we won't be on the road?

At the hotel that morning I had opened the hood to check the oil and water. I slammed it good and hard when I shut it but now it appeared to be bouncing open a little. I pulled over and Shindouk got out and checked sure enough it was not latched. He tried to slam it several times and found it wouldn’t latch. It would catch on the lever that you have to push to get it open but not fully latched so that you have to pull the tap under the dash. Well it was latched enough that it wouldn’t fly up so we continued on to a road side village where a a guy with a wrench made some adjustment and it latched again.

Anyhow past that and on the road again we whizzed along for a good ways and then the motor started acting up dragging like it wasn't getting enough gas then occasionally chugging and sputtering like not all cylinders were firing every time. It would go smooth and then drag and then go smooth again and the sputter a bit but discreetly. I told Shindouk when we get to Segou we need to get this looked at. The next town we went through there was a mechanic on the side of the road and Shindouk said pull in there. We did and the guy looked at it pumped on the manual pump on top of the fuel filter several times and told us that the injector thing needed to be changed but that could only be done in Segou they didn't have the stuff there.

Of course it wouldn't start and they had to push it backwards up to the top of the slope where asphalt was and hope I could get it started rolling down that short of a stretch since with the engine off the power steering also would not work and it took all my strength to turn it even a little bit. I did get it going on that short roll since it was steep enough to get up speed. We went onto Segou with nary another trouble. By the time we got there we were very hungry since it had been close to 11 by the time we got clear out of Bamako it was now around 2 p.m.

We had lunch and then got a room deciding to go see the mask festival in Mancala 35 km to the North and spend the night in Segou. Shindouk again turned on the tv immediately to see the state of the Libyan crisis and Najim and I got a shower. Shindouk ended up falling asleep and when he awoke there was a flurry of hurry hurry lets go its late. Well,. it was late for the masks. We passed the ministerial delegation going the other way and got out there in time for the last couple dances but they were interesting nonetheless. It ended at dusk and we headed back almost immediately.

mask danceds at MancalaHere I discovered another shortcoming. I knew my headlights were not very bright but it had never mattered in the few outings I had to take around the city of Timbuktu. In town you don't drive fast and there are quite a lot of lights about to show things up. The road between Mancala and Segou was another matter. Here the road stretched dark before me and my lights lit up only a few yards of it. The dims angling way too far to the left the brights marginally brighter but way to the right, clear off the pavement. The oncoming lights so bright in comparison that they were blinding to my eyes, accustomed to my own circle of dimness. I dared not go too fast as I couldn't see far enough ahead of me. Once I came upon a cycler without even reflectors on his bike, a car that didn't bother to dim its lights blinding me further and another time a big 18 wheeler stopped with everything off half in the lane. Once a car came up behind me Its headlights actually illuminated more in front of me than mine did. But it quickly passed and was out of sight.

Back to the hotel and no more night driving until something is done about the lights if I can help it.

Day 7

Today we left at around seven in the morning and headed out the car running smoothly. It is 80 km to Bla. We intended to stop in a nice place and breakfast by the side of the road. About half way there just when we were thinking of getting off the road it started dragging. I would pump the gas and it would go a bit and then slow and then sputter and worse and worse, much worse than the day before. I stopped the car, without killing the engine and asked Shindouk to pump the manual pump thing on top of the fuel filter which seemed to clear things up the day before. It seemed to clear things up now too.

We came to a place with some trees and Shindouk had be pull off the road but then decided it wasn't so good a place and we bumped along the cart track hoping for a better place. The road got more bumpy and then suddenly there was a nasty ditch eroded in front of me there was not way I could be sure to get through it, the bank up to the pavement was very steep and in fact at that point not there since there was a culvert. so I had to back up but by then in going around another bad hole I was one wheel down in a washout driver's side a foot lower. It was a bit of tricky business backing out of there enough to where the slope up to the road was doable. It was steep and I had to gun it, I was just about to the top when Shindouk yelled at me wait. Not a good time to stop I kept up to the top of the bank and shortly after a vehicle blew by blasting its horn. We got going again and the sputtering got worse again. Shindouk wanted me to stop at some tiny place we passed and I said look it is not so far to Bla now, that is a bigger place and will have a mechanic, lets get there without killing the engine if we can help it and get it looked at.

So we did but it was a long stressful way with it bogging down at more then 20 or 30 km/h and my having to pump the gas and all. In Bamako my left leg had gotten tired from holding in the clutch all the time now my right leg was getting a work out. we got to Bla and asked for a mechanic they pointed us one way we went that way and they pointed us back a little way the way we came he pointed us across the street they looked at it and said, "go out the other side of town to the world vision people and talk to their head mechanic Guindo he's the one who knows about this stuff." We went out there and they said he was as home today. And not surprising when we thought about it since it was Sunday. But we got directions more or less to his house. We followed them back into town and asked as instructed for his home from guys hanging around under a tree. One of them raised his hand. This turned out to be his son and he got in and directed us there not far away.

They looked at it and then took off the fuel filter and it was nasty. It was goop on the bottom thick as bearing grease. It turned out there was nothing between the cardboard filter and the place where the fuel sits. A cheap Chinese model, we were informed, get the real thing next time. He happened to have a spare filter and while we took breakfast in the shade of his house his son not only replaced the filter but took the exhaust pipe off and got it welded. There was a crack that when he got it off turned out to go almost all the way around. We were lucky the thing hadn't broken off on the road to Douenza. The man also gave us a spare filter of the good quality and another device that he said we should have on the car but wasn't there, the fuel is supposed to go through that before it even gets to the filter sort of like the trap in a sink drain if I understand it right to keep the worst crap from even getting to the filter.

We were very lucky to have found such a helpful man, and entertaining. He told us stories of when he had been head mechanic up in Gao during the rebellion. He had been kidnapped by the Tuareg rebels to come fix their truck and then took his vehicle because they needed it to get to theirs and then made him drive it because none of that group actually knew how to drive. In fact that asked him to teach a couple of them to drive while they were at it. Then they got to where they had left the vehicle only to find that some others had stolen it in the ten days they'd been out looking for a mechanic. And so on the story went one thing after another. Quite an adventure he had.

Shindouk and Najim at Teria Bougou
On the way again from Bla it was anything but blah. It was so refreshing to roll smoothly and so much more quietly along the road. We had discussed visiting a place called Teriya Bougou but with the car acting so bad we did not take the turn off that occurs between Segou and Bla but now we decided it was worth it to go see so when we came to the other turn of 40 km out of Bla we went ahead. It was 28 km but the road was pretty rough this being the one that gets seasonally impassible. We passed little villages with interesting mosques and termite mounds shaped like castles. Finally we came to the gates of the grounds and a forest of eucalyptus trees. The place was started by a catholic priest who died in 2003 but was there for over 50 years there is forestry, pisciculture, agriculture, solar energy projects and more that involve the local community as well as a hotel and all the things that go with it. We had lunch in the restaurant and wandered the grounds a bit before continuing on our way.

Termite Mound
We bumped back out to the main road and stopped for the night in San.

Day 8

We headed out for Mopti with plans to stop in the market and pick up a few things as gifts for the family before swinging by our friend there and saying a brief hello and moving on. We were later getting to Mopti than we thought partly because we didn't get started as early as we might and partly because I had us slowing to try and get photos of all the different road signs for my website. That and a leisurely breakfast under a large mango tree. After which the car did not want to start!!! Some random guy who I don't think was quite right in the head had been hanging around and we had given him some bread. Now we asked him to help push. With a piece of bread in each hand he leaned against the back of the car and pushed with his chest. I don't know how much help he was but the car started and off we went.

It was roasting hot when we got to Mopti and the streets were crowded and there was no place to park. We finally ended up parking in one empty place which it turned out when I went around to photograph the stop sign had a no parking sign next to it. Oh well. We went across the street to a beverage vendor and all chugged down sacks of cool water then we bought our things poked our head in a couple places to say hi to people we know and went back to the car. We did not get in trouble for parking in a no parking zone and lit out of there.

We had been intending to eat at a restaurant so as not to bother our friend in Severe who wasn't expecting us but it was so hot and all the restaurants in that area are dark and stuffy so we just went to the house where they have a spacious salon with fans. After lunch Shindouk decided that there was no way we could keep going in that heat and we should wait till it cooled off a little we would spend the night in Douenza and get and early start on that road.

Fine with me, so long as I don't want have to drive in the dark so we had better not leave too late. He said three then four. At four he just wanted to see the headline news and then had to pray then had to tear Najim away from his play then stop at a shop for dinner stuff and then,... It was close to five o' clock when we got out of town and somewhere along the way shindouk asked us to stop so Najim could pee. The car died as we stopped. The temperature gauge was up but not fearfully high but we opened the hood and steam was escaping around the cap so we decide we had better cool it down a bit and see if the cap didn't need to be put on better.

We were on a bit of an up-slope and pushing must not have been easy for Shindouk alone. I was going to help from the driver's door and then jump in but he would have none of it. Again I was able to aim off the road to the down the sloping bank. These delays, however, meant that dusk found us on the road and the last 30 or 40 km were done in the dark. Douenza has a nice little hotel near the Timbuktu turn off. We got an air conditioned room for a very decent rate and they brought us a table and chairs and plates to have our supper in the yard before retiring early.

Day 9
We got up at 4:30 and got on the road by five. It was not yet light and I don't know how much time we saved (on out arrival time) since I couldn't drive very fast with the poor visibility of my head lights on a road I knew to be pitted with pot holes and other dangers. It turned out to be a moot point as you will learn. When dawn came we paused for shindouk to pray and then continued at a better pace. We stopped for a guy by a broken down truck to fill his water bottles from our big jug someone else had already gotten a ride to get the part they needed. I stopped twice to take road sign photos the last two I was missing. Najim had woken up this time and we used the occasion for him to pee. We hit the massive bump just south of Bambara harder than I would have like but I had crammed on the brakes and we jolted through it without too much jarring. We got into town inside of the 2 hrs I allot to that half of the trip, so far so good. We should get to the ferry by around 9 or 9:30 if we have some pit stops.

We stopped at the town briefly to get some water and continued on a bit to have breakfast in peace. We turned out to have stopped near a camp and the kids came down and hung around we gave them some spare bread and then continued on a little further so that we could see to other necessities without an audience. The next stretch of road was pretty good if you got going fast enough to overcome the washboard. Shindouk was trying to egg me on, "Courage! C'est bon!" and waving his arm in a forward charge sort of way. I was staying cautious because I am the one who has to control the car if we come to a bump or a donkey in the middle of the road. We came to the top of a hill and I slowed to be sure there wasn't a bump on the other side, or rather I tried to slow, nothing happened. I pumped the break more nothing happened. I said uh oh I don't have any breaks and I don't know what is on the down slope of this hill. It turned out nothing was but I slowed to a stop any way and we looked under the hood and basically there was nothing we could do.

road signe exclamation point
Seventy kilometres from the river and no breaks. We all we could do was keep on at a slow but steady pace and see what happened. 5 km later we came to a couple guys at the side of the road. I rolled to a strop 100 yards further down the road and they ran up carrying a radiator. Our brakes are out, we'll be happy to take you on with us, can you have a look and see if there is anything we can do as a stop gap measure? They looked no you have a leak in cylinder there is nothing to be done. So on we went and learned their story: they'd been there for two days, nothing to eat. They had taken passengers from Douenza and hit that hole on the other side of Bambara Moudie so hard the back doors flew open and people had fallen out. Several were injured some other stuff was broken on the car he'd got the injured first aid in Bambara and then was continuing to take them to Timbuktu. I am not clear if the worst of the injured were evacuated to the hospital in Douenza or if he was taking them all on to Timbuktu. Anyhow not far along the radiator got a hole. They were on one of the many deviations that people take in the soft sand to avoid the washboard and so where not visible on the main road for help.

We were also taking deviations because without brakes it was too dangerous to try and go fast enough to be able to take the washboard ruts. It is a very challenging balance to go fast enough in the sand not to bog down yet go slow enough to be able to manage the twisty turns of the track without braking. I will say one advantage to the sand is that it is easier to slow without brakes than on a flat smooth road. Simple friction may be a formidable foe to inventing the perpetual motion machine but it doesn't do much as the outside force in Newton's third law; soft sand, however, sucks the momentum right out of a half ton of object in motion.

On one deviation we came upon a couple of guys trying to flag us down they were almost standing in the road which was worrisome I yelled out the window as I coasted past we haven't any brakes. When we came to a stop at the bottom of the incline Shindouk got out and went meet them. Their clutch was out they said and there was no cell signal there, if we got to signal could we call their colleagues in Mopti to come with parts and a mechanic.... Okay no problem we got the information and offered to take them with us to Timbuktu or did they need anything no no. They were fine they would just relax and wait. It was a catholic priest and his colleague or driver.

At 50 km from the ferry crossing, in a very sandy area is a village called Dar Salaam. Shindouk's maternal uncle founded it. We were just returning to the main road from a deviation there where I hit a bad patch of very soft sand on the up hill right where it joins the road. The gears are somewhat worn on this car and can be sticky on the downshift. I tried to down shift to make it the last stretch but it wouldn't go into gear fast enough. I lost momentum and the car died. And it wouldn't start. So we had to try to push it out of soft sand on an up-slope with no help from the motor. Fortunately we had three strong men and three or four more showed up from the village. With a lot of sweat and scooping hot sand out from under the tires we got it unstuck and onto a harder patch of the road where we easily push started it. Then everybody pilled in and we drove over to the uncle's tent. He wasn't there but we greeted his family and had some cool water and sour milk.

Back on the road at about 32 km from the ferry there is a little community with a tourist campement run by a friend of Shindouk's. We stopped there so the poor guys with us could get something to eat and we could all have some cool water. When I rolled up to it I down shifted to second and then first using the engine to slow. Then I coasted up, and kept on coasting. It didn't want to stop. I turned the wheel and coasted around in a figure eight. It still didn't stop, a second figure eight. The driver that was with us said take your foot off the clutch I said it's not on the clutch, well take it off the gas, it's not of that either, well put it in gear, it is in gear! It just won't stop. He hoped out and tried to set a rock under the wheel it just went right over. I aimed for a pile of mud for make mud bricks and it just rolled up over that to and kept going. Finally I just shut the key off and let it jerk to a stop when the engine died. The guy from the camp suggested putting motor oil in the break line as it was thicker than break fluid it might not leak out so fast if the leak was small, it could help get us there. But he looked at it and said no the plastic doohicky in the break cylinder is broken nothings going hold in that. So on we went again and at 11:30 or so I eased to a stop at the ferry landing. I said, "Look I don't want to be the one to drive this on the ferry. I can do it if I have to but I really don't want to, not with no breaks."

They guy with us said he would do it and he did. We put it on first so there were no cars to risk hitting. Back up to the ferry give it enough gas to get up the ramp and then kill the engine, then we'd push it back to the spot it should be and we'd block the tires. Easy right. When we got there and I saw the set up it looked easier than I had pictured as the water level has lowered and there was a wide flat sandy place and not just the causeway going down into the water. But I was still happy to let someone else do it. The driver pulled around on the sandy place and then backed up to the ferry ramp. Here I would have waited for someone to get behind me and make sure I was well lined up with the ramp before starting up and I actually yelled to the ferry guys to do that, they didn't hear or didn't listen. I had Najim just woken up and mussy headed I wasn't going to run in the way of a car that had no brakes but I could see he was at something of an angle and it was a risk. He kept going and sure enough there was a clunk as one of the back wheels went down in the gap between the two parts of the ramp. He was able to rev the engine and drive it back down on the three wheels still on the ramp and come out without parentally having damaged the car. I give him points for that but it was recklessness that got him there. Anyhow he got it on and did not kill the engine right away kept rolling back and back until Shindouk screamed at him to stop. He had some excuse that it is bad for the clutch to kill the motor like that. It is also bad for the clutch to be immerse in water as it would if it rolled off the back of the ferry!

There was one other car that arrived at the same time as us and we were waiting in the midday sun, hot and cranky. Najim was fussy, I was stressed, there was no where to sit in the shade. The ferry men were lounging in the little huts set up on the shore to cater to passengers waiting for the ferry. Shindouk told the ferry men come on what's the hold up lets go. They said you'll have to pay 14,000 he said fine lets go. What about the other car. They can pay what they want but there is no sense in leaving them there if we are going. So they got on too. And Shindouk ushered us up on the pilot's deck with it's little awning. After all if we were paying that much then we could bloody well sit in the shade.

All the other people from the other car took the cue and came crowding up too shoving me and najim in to the corner with the sun. It was crowded and stuffy and people were smoking and I took najim and we went down. Forget it. We had just started to pull out when a big truck showed up on the other side so we turned back around and took it and a pick up on as well. Now we had a load we only had to pay our part. The delay was costly in another sense, though. Najim was tired and thirsty already and we were out of water having given the last of it to one of the obnoxious guys from the other car and we were still no closer to the other shore. Someone offered cold water cold water, scooped a jug full out of the Niger. I said we are not that thirsty yet I am not going to give my son river water.

I had to do a lot of talking to keep him distracted by the cows and boats we were passing till we got to the other side. The driver got the car off the ferry while I ran to the nearest shop with Najim and got him some water. We got drinks all around and then got in and headed towards Timbuktu. The other guy was driving but he lived in Kabara and when we got to that intersection he got out and went to get his motorbike after which he would meet his apprentice in town where we were to drop him off to get the radiator fixed.

I went the seven km into town very slow and the few km through town even slower. A city is not like an empty track; there are pedestrians everywhere and all sorts of traffic, none of which follow any rules of the road to make it easier, plus lots of speed bumps , etc. I stopped near the stadium to drop off the apprentice and radiator, It didn't want to strop completely again as it hadn't done at the camp. I was afraid to kill the engine because I didn't know if it would start again. I finally got it stopped but It didn't help that the added passenger we'd picked up on the ferry, some cousin of Shindouk's, a youth who said he could drive (and I am sure he could) was trying to give me advice about how to stop it, while Shindouk was giving me other advice based on what the driver had been explaining how to make it stop. "Don't put in the clutch" "It is not in." "No, do put the clutch in, that will stop it now that you are almost stopped." It wasn't nice of me but I lost it and yelled at them both. I don't need someone who doesn't know how to drive nor someone who I have been driving for more years than he has been alive telling me what to do when I know what I am doing and that neither of the things that they tell me will work. Sometimes there is no quick fix and the car just needs to roll to a stop. I don't have any brakes and that is not easy and it is stressful.

Shindouk had suggested we go around the East side of town which was less busy than the West Street but I remarked that that street tops a rise and comes down a kind of steep slant to a stop sign and a hard left turn. That wasn't going to work for us.

We crawled home through streets thankfully fairly empty since it was midday and everyone was home for lunch and to rest from the heat. I had to gun the engine to get up the last sandy slope to our house then I crammed it in first and when it kept rolling towards the enclosure that protects the trees we'd planted I cut the engine and jerked to a halt with a foot to spare. I told the boy I was sorry for yelling at him which I was, I dislike the pestering advise bit from anyone but I should hold my temper regardless. All I can say in my defence is that I was tried and very stressed.

We were home it was done.

Today the mechanic came by and looked at it he said that it was not just the brake line but three of the break pads were missing! During all this time I did not really look at the problem because It was clear it was unfixable where we were and I didn't feel like crawling around on very hot read dirt under a hot car in the hot sun to peer behind the wheels and see what I could see without taking a tire off. We had friends of the catholic brother show up to thank us for passing on his message at the same time the mechanic arrived and Shindouk sent him off with the car while I was seeing to them so I never got a look or even a word with the mechanic. I would like to know what all went wrong that we lost three brake pads as well! Presumably the hooks on the springs slipped out of their holes on a bump and there you have it. It also turned out that the vertical bar of the frame that goes down the middle cab in front of the radiator had come loose and had to be welded on again (this is why the hood wouldn’t latch right.

Any how it is a rough road and vehicles new and old are gobbled up in it. We were relatively lucky. No one got hurt and we were able to limp home.