Archive for December, 2011

Dakar – Dalaba (Monday evening)

December 30, 2011

The sun is setting for the third time and I’m clocking up my 58th hour on the road when we leave the mountains behind and drive into a green valley. In the distance I can see houses and mosques and buildings. Life! People! Civilization! Shops! Food! Drinks! Restaurants and bars! Nice things!!!!

It’s a glorified crossroads, a kind of Manda in the Mountains, with the charming name of Popodara. So how far to Labé, then, first stop on the way to Dalaba? ‘Oh, that’s further up the hill. I’m going to eat first,’ announces the driver. That’s fine, my good friend, but first you are going to get my luggage off the roof because you and I are parting company.

He tells one of the boys to get the mesh off, untie the ropes, find my bag and give it to me. With that, he saunters unceremoniously off. To dinner. I’m not having dinner here.

Some hawk-eyed touts have been keenly watching the scene and waste no time descending on me.

‘Labé?’ How did you guess?

The Gate have guessed right. Pic by Foutapedia.

There is a car leaving now. How many places? Nine. How many are already in? Three. OK, so that means six more, right? How much for one? Fifteen thousand. I’m beyond caring. Nine – or twelve or fifteen – euros later me, three booked passengers plus another one I am paying for (he’s a schoolboy from the taxi we’re leaving behind) and my luggage are on our way for the last stretch to Labé, which I imagine on a mountain. It is on a mountain. We clang and clunk and clatter our way up. This is another carcass. Who cares? It’s getting me there.

The road climbs through a gorgeously lush landscape, onwards and upwards. Speaking of which, I turn my gaze to the sky and see that a menacing posse of thick anthracite clouds has gathered over our heads. I thank the stars for my – for once – sound judgement. We would have been stuck with our grinning driver until…I don’t want to know.

Yes, this is a typical scene in this spectacular land. Pic: me.

The rain pours down, enters the car. I couldn’t care less until someone ever so politely asks me if I could please close the window because he is getting awfully wet. I curse myself for my un-Guinean selfishness and apologize. He gracefully accepts and we begin a conversation about where I’m from and what I am looking for here. I mention something about wanting to see the Fouta Djalon…

‘You do realise that Cellou (Dalein Diallo, the opposition politician who is from here) won the presidential elections last year?’ For some strange reason I am not quite ready for a profound discussion on Guinean politics, so the conversation ambles along somewhat aimlessly. But as I will find out later this week, resentment about the victory of ruling president Alpha Condé runs deep in these parts.

But that’s for another story. For now, I am content to pay the young and fast driver another 5000 Guinea Francs for the privilege of not being dumped at Labé bus station but being delivered right on the doorstep of the Hotel Provincial, where the rooms, I am told, are 8 euros a night, where there is tepid beer “because of electricity problems”, which nevertheless tastes like the gods have personally brewed it for me, where there is heavenly steak and angelic frites served by candlelight in a room where there is a television that (thank the stars) does not work. “Electricity problems”.

And I can finally show you this!

I go back to the terrace beer in hand. Next to me at another table an elderly man in a leather jacket sits opposite a much younger man who, it turns out, is being accused of having an affair with a married woman. ‘For once, try not to lie,’ the older man says. He looks like a Russian secret agent from an old James Bond movie. ‘The lady in question is of no interest to me. But you – it’s you I am after,’ he adds menacingly. And then the interrogation begins. I switch off. This is not exactly what one need, over a second tepid beer in three days.

It’s eight in the evening and after precisely sixty hours on the road I get into my dimly-lit room (“electricity problems”) and crash in the general direction of bed. Not even the pots and pans in the kitchen outside my window disturb my peace. They can do so, tomorrow.

[Dalaba was indeed my next stop, just an hour’s drive down the road. I covered that wonderful place here. And will certainly be going back there…]

Dakar – Dalaba (Monday)

December 30, 2011

The music has been off for a long time now. We’re on a mountain road. A bad mountain road. With deep holes, as if the taxi with all those in it is prepared to sink into the bowels of the earth. I can make out trees and shrubs flitting past to my right. Behind them… a gaping black void. Fortunately, we can’t go very fast.

Headlights come towards us. They are attached to a massive tanker. How the heck do these guys do that? Much later, in a bar in another part of the country with equally devilish roads, a driver explains that they do, in fact, receive special training to negotiate these and other hazards. But how can two vehicles pass on a road barely wide enough for one of them? That’s easy. The taxi backs up into a place where the road widens out. Just a little. One mistake and it’s….

Except a lot less gracious.

So no-one thinks about that.

Least of all our unflappable driver.

Who remains unperturbed when I ask him whether it’s just me or is the car having difficulties going uphill…?

‘Yes, he’s got a little tired. So when we get to Labé, I’ll drive it straight to Conakry (the capital, 400 kilometres down the road) and sort it out.’ You have to admire his casual if somewhat reckless courage. Here’s a man who has been at the wheel pretty much non-stop for – what, 10 hours? – passed a border, negotiated bad roads, clouds of mist, bribed a soldier, more bad roads, found his way around oncoming mastodonts on a dangerous mountain road (we can thank the stars it isn’t raining) and has his eyes on…


We pull up in a small market town in a symphony of cockcrows. I have literally not the faintest idea of where I am. Well, roughly: Guinea, Fouta Djalon, somewhere between Koundara and Labé. On a very nice terrace, with tables and chairs and bowls to wash your hands in.

We eat in early morning silence. And boy – do we need that extra energy! Because as we depart in the earliest morning lights, there seems to be nothing amiss when we hurtle downhill but then we round a corner and look at the top of the next hill looming above us. And we get the first of an endless series of this:

driver changes gears

car slows down

driver changes gears again

car slows down some more

car stalls

we get out (at least, the men do; the women stay nicely parked inside)

car backs down the hill

we follow

car turns around and attempts to get up the slope

if needed we help push it further up

we all arrive at the top

get back in

and hurtle down until

elsewhere in Guinea but you get the idea (pic by Wollersheimtime).

This is fine and even fun one time, especially when it isn’t too hot. But after number seventeen in the blistering heat (and by the way: where’s Labé?) and being absolutely eaten alive by clouds of insects that have decided to zoom buzz whizz towards us and settle on heads, arms, faces, feet, legs…yes, we are all truly and thoroughly fed up. I shoot a glace at the driver who grins his wide and innocent grin back at me. I’m sorry my friend but this has now officially ceased to be funny.

Does Labé actually exist? And what about Dalaba?

Dakar – Dalaba (very early Monday morning)

December 29, 2011

Past the neatly organised but otherwise non-exceptional town of Koundara, we are standing still, in the middle of the same endless forest. We have been driving through some kind of gigantic road-building project. Spaces have been opened up among the trees for lorries, cranes, piles of steel tubes…There they are, shimmering in the stadium-style lights that have been set up around them.

But now: stagnation. Deep silence. No other traffic. What’s the problem?

The driver has left the vehicle but I can see him standing a little away, still in his car’s headlights. With him – a soldier. Ah, so this is a reminder of how things were. President Alpha Condé has ordered this plague of armed roadblocks (similar to this one from another country) off the highways and byways of his land. But here, in the dead of night, with no-one else in sight and who knows how many hiding in the undergrowth (I spot an occasional moving torchlight), you are on your own.

And sure enough, from somewhere the driver produces green banknotes. We’re in Guinea, so these are 10,000 Guinea franc notes that come in bundles of tens. What’s 100,000 Guinea francs? About €10. I try to follow the number of bundles that leave the driver’s hands and glide into those of the soldier. Four? Seven? More? That would seem an unlikely hefty price for passage. After all, total value of tickets sitting in this taxi: less than €200. But I haven’t slept for almost two days and vision is a bit blurred. One thing is unreassuringly clear, though, and that is that the old ways have yet to be fully stamped out.

A bit further down the same (and surprisingly long) tarred two-lane road, another reminder of the old ways. We stop at a hamlet, where a rope has been spanned across the road. We are summarily ordered into a dimly-lit room that is part of a slightly larger shack.

Gendarmerie. Passport check. And it’s the usual plethora of scraps of paper, laissez-passers, ID cards, regional passports and one from the European Union. I’m the first one in and out (prerogative of being alone in the front). I’m also very thirsty. ‘Just wake up the owner of this shop here – she’s got water for sale,’ says a passenger. I hesitatingly walk into an unlit room next to the Gendarmerie and find an already awake young mother with a baby. No – it’s no trouble at all she assures me.

Bottle in hand, I walk up this asphalt miracle called “Dadis’ Road” and watch the contours of what must be a truly stunning mountainscape. Calm, serene, beautiful.

Until the engine starts up again. It’s beginning to sound a bit rough around the edges but the driver assures me it’s all perfectly fine. Until…


Iron bridge. Followed by…


End of tar.

I turn to the driver and ask him if the road will stay bad like this.

‘Yep. All the way.’

I don’t have the heart to ask him how long that will be.

Dakar – Dalaba (Sunday night, Monday morning)

December 28, 2011

[I know – two tin cans short of genius………]

‘Driving at night is better. You can see the other traffic better.’ Impeccable logic from le taxi maitre as he steers his smooth 505 along the dirt road to the border. However, his assertion is based on one important assumption: everyone’s lights are working. Case in point: for some reason we are continuously driving on the wrong side of the road, only swerving to the other side (perfectly driveable as far as I can see) when there is oncoming traffic.

A motorbike.

No: another taxi with only one headlight working. We get out of his way just in time and luckily for all of us the road is so bad that nobody can go really fast. The passengers behind me have gone quiet as we negotiate our way through a beautiful, slightly eerie, dreamscape.

A forest. An endless forest, lit up by our headlights and the other occupants of this stretch of dirt road. We could be skirting the Niokolo Koba National Park, which reportedly is in a bad shape: neglect, infested with poachers, not making any money. The Park is located in a corner of the country that absolutely nobody in Dakar cares about.

The forest opens up a little and lo and behold: a village. With restaurants and drinking spots and I even spot a terrace… Should have dumped me here for a day instead of that Dive called Manda! Anyway – it’s the border, announced by a bunch of young men wanting to change CFA francs for the Guinean currency. One to ten, the rate is good but I have a brick of banknotes with me from the last time.

It is 1am and the folks on duty at this awful morning hour seem to be more concerned with rushing everybody through. My passport is stamped and I’m summarily sent on my way.

‘You have to walk through customs and then we’ll be there on the other side,’ the driver says helpfully and so I wander past the lively terraces on my way to the customs people.

‘Hey! Bram!’

Now who the hell could know my name in the middle of absolutely bloody nowhere in the middle of a forest while I am walking on a sand road to a border post? Moussa sits beaming behind a glass of Coke at a table.

‘All is going well. We’ll get to Labé before you!’ Bold claim, I say, as I wish him luck.

We drive through the same densely forested no man’s land. Time aplenty to ready myself for reminders of one of the former Guinean regimes. There have been four: the tyranny of Ahmed Sékou Touré (1958 to 1984), the inept military dictatorship of Lansana Conté (1984 to 2008), the chaos of captain Moussa Dadis Camara (2008-2009) and a transitional government until the election of professor Alpha Condé in November 2010. Yes, the country has been dealt a dreadful crop of leaders over the years. Among the vestiges of these former regimes were: violence, corruption, harassment – especially of travellers.

Well here’s the first surprise: the border crossing into Guinea is entirely uneventful. Closely followed by a second: we are still driving through that neverending forest, but now add swirling fogbanks and…a perfect two-lane tar road! ‘Dadis’ road,’ remarks one passenger, after the erratic captain who manhandled his country during the year he was in power. Interesting, because like all the leaders before him he has been taking very good care of himself. Here’s the house he had built in N’zérékoré, the capital of the region where he was born.

(photo by yours truly)

Occasionally we divert onto a sandy side-road. That’s where they are still building the bridges but other than that I cannot believe how smooth the ride has suddenly become.

Can this last?

Dakar – Dalaba (same Sunday)

December 27, 2011

[Naaa. Still not bothering with another map…]

Moussa has finally located his nephew. ‘He’s on his way here now. Says he  was in a hotel,’ Moussa says, ‘after drinking. He says his phone was out and he had to recharge it. You know what we call a mobile phone, right? La boîte à mentir (the lying box)…’

The young fellow turns out exactly how I imagined him to be. Smartly dressed, sunglasses perched in hair above forehead (yes, that incomprehensible fashion statement has made its way here too), mobile phone with music plugged in. He swaggers towards the petrol station, which has become one of my five ports of call – eatery across the street, market, toilet and of course the taxi (How many to go? ‘Four.’). And he really, honestly, truly does not understand why his uncle is making such a fuss about a night out and a switched off phone. ‘I was enjoying myself!’ And to me: ‘Next time, you should come too.’

Moussa’s double mission is complete. He has found his wayward nephew and is busy reporting this to a few key members (all female, naturally) of his extended family. He then bids farewell; he’ll take his precious lorries across the border now.

Ah, yes, the border. We were going to Guinea, after all.

‘How many to go, my dear friends?’

‘Only one.’

Well, progress has certainly been made and so has the day. The heat has subsided somewhat but that last passenger takes his time to somehow emerge from among the Sept Places and buses that have been pouring into Manda from all directions in the course of this long, long Sunday.

Late afternoon and all the right signs are there. That is, a two storey high pile of luggage on the roof of the Neuf Places (well, eight this time – I bought two seats, remember…), the driver and his helpers are securing ropes around the bags, trolleys, sacks and boxes and then adding that great Guinean innovation: a large and stubborn net. Mesh meets possessions.

And leaves said possessions. Something needs to be re-arranged. But by the time the sun is setting we all pile into the Peugeot. Music on, and with a flourish the driver takes his leave of the parking space. Round the roundabout and it’s bye bye Manda!

Two hundred metres down the road – we haven’t even reached the toilet yet – and we stop. Then I notice we have a missing passenger. ‘He’s left something in the house,’ someone says. And he takes his sweet time coming back with whatever it is he’s forgotten. Let’s hope it is not a big bag – otherwise the net will come off and the whole re-arranging ballet will begin again.

It is big.

It is pitch dark when we leave this particular end of the arse of the end of the world behind. Next stop…Labé??

Dakar – Dalaba (Sunday)

December 26, 2011

Sorry – not bothering with a map today. Same as yesterday’s map anyway. Why would that be? Read on….


Manda is about 100 kilometres from Tambacounda. And as we rattle along in clouds of dust along the bone dry dirt roads towards Mythical Manda, I realise for the first time that it’s hot. Very Hot. Hopefully they have some shade there in Manda.

We hit a tar road. A few shops here and there. Suddenly Moussa sits up – he’s been sleeping most of the time, yet another example of how people can simply ignore the most hellish din on earth – and relax… Admittedly, I’m not very good at this.

‘I’ve seen one truck.’ He gets off as quick as he can and hobbles towards a large lorry. His men sit in the shade. ‘Need to sort this out. And the other one too. See you later.’

Which turns out to be dead easy because Manda is essentially one sun-drenched roundabout with four roads branching out in each direction.

And next to that roundabout, the glorious sight of brightly-coloured, yellow-black-red-green pimped up and remarkably sturdy Neuf Places. Guinean taxis. Yes, they stuff two more people in the same car: two on the front seat, four in the middle, and three at the back. There is no transport to Dalaba directly but I can take one to Labé, which is nearby and the capital of the Fouta Djalon, home to the region’s cattle experts, the Peulh. It’s ten in the morning, I am the first passenger. And have the right of choice.

I take the two seats at the front for the princely sum of 28,000 francs. €40,00. Seven to go. One man tosses my luggage on the roof. Hope it doesn’t melt.

And I go walkabout.

For an international transit point (The Gambia is nearby too), Mythical Manda is decidedly underwhelming. You can walk along a few open air eateries on either side of the roundabout (follow the roads to the left and the right and the place peters out quickly). There’s tea, cold Coke at the petrol station, some fruit stalls at a small market just across from the taxis, a remarkably clean toilet at the back of another eatery – and remarkably little shade for a place where the sun now beats down on my uncovered head without the tiniest shred of mercy.

No hats for sale here either. Time to get back to the taxi. How many more to go?


Alright. Back to the market for a little “brochette”. A taste of things to come because if there is one thing I adore about Guinea it’s the meat sandwich. Small pieces of well-cooked meat, spices, bits of tomato and paprika all wrapped up in a freshly-baked “baguette”. Now for a beer! Ah well…forget it.

As I’m eating my sandwich, an unusual creature bounces through the market. Youngish white guy, bicycle, slippers, shorts, multicolour shirt, happy, speaking the local language, cracking in-family jokes and totally ignoring me.

Which I can understand. I’m not part of the occidental flotsam and jetsam deposited in these vast and welcoming lands. Up and down the continent, you can feast your eyes on near-naturalised Westerners happily floating about in this, the lovely warm baths of their large hospitable and demanding adopted families. I’m looking at him and imagine him forever bouncing about in Mythical Manda – and get an urgent impulse to run like hell…

Well at least I’ve got a ticket, as I tell Moussa when we meet in the shade of the petrol station and talk about his troubles with the trucks. ‘Oh those, no, they’re fine. It’s that nephew I’m worried about. His phone is still off. What the heck is he up to?’

I wander off to check on the taxi. How many more to go?


Dakar – Dalaba (Sunday morning)

December 25, 2011

Damn! I’m good….

And there it is! (i.e. the cockerel)

It’s not yet light but the first passengers come trickling in. And with them the shopkeepers. Water on pavement, the swish swish swish of broom across stone. Amazing that even the most worn down pavement will still be kept meticulously clean by the owner of the adjacent shop.

Enter also: a contingent of begging children. It’s an industry in Senegal and a national shame. It is also condoned, if not maintained by all manner of authorities in the land, first of all religious but also by the state. It merits much more attention but it does take a lot of time and effort to really get your head around. There will be more on this in 2012.

These children are among the more visible legacies of ten years of nominally liberal government: closed down core economic activity like commercial agriculture and industry and a once proud nation turned into a collection of  beggars.

As we walk around the – by now thoroughly depressing – bus station a couple of Sept Places rattle into place. Could ours be one of them? Time to ask around.

We end up in a small corner of the Gare routière next to a carcass on wheels. The taxi – to Manda? Yes, someone casually answers. The door is open. Good! Get the luggage! We get in; Moussa does the sensible thing and goes to sleep. There’s no floor to speak of. The upholstery left the chairs ages ago and luggage is planted on top of some unidentifiable clunky metal objects.

Ten minutes later, we’re ordered out by an exceedingly grumpy piece of work wearing a woolly hat.

‘But this is the taxi to Manda, right?’

‘You need a ticket.’

‘I understand that. Who’s selling tickets?’

‘He’s not here.’

‘Is he coming? Do you know?’

He scampers away. We sit on a dirty concrete ledge, in view of the carcass.

Around 7.30 in the morning a fellow drags an old small wooden table across the terminus floor and posts himself behind it. Ticket seller? No reply. Nice bunch around here….

Meanwhile, we have been spotted by a bevy of begging boys and immediately surrounded. It’s been a while since I’ve been more eager to get the flippin’ heck out of a place…

It’s an atmosphere that becomes more unpleasant by the minute but we are finally sold our tickets. Mr Woolly Hat, who runs the carcass passengers and luggage system and Mr Say Nothing behind the ticket table have clearly decided that they will make our life as uncomfortable as possible. So yes, we have our tickets but no, you cannot enter the car.

Bloody hell.

But then, the carcass starts filling up remarkably quickly and contains, besides us, a nice little mixed crowd, including a stylish young guy who is in possession of an iPod. From Dakar? Absolutely, student at Uni there and he insists on speaking English.

The driver is a genial old man from the rural areas. This is his daily run; as we’ll soon find out he knows absolutely everyone en route – the policemen waving him through the roadblocks, the store owners saying hello on one of his numerous stops, his fellow taxi drivers…

It’s still early when he rattles from his resting place at the station on to the petrol station across for fuel and a tyre check. In many parts of Africa, drivers prefer to do these important checks with the passenger inside the bus/van/car/Sept Places. Doesn’t matter. I experience a surge of pure joy – we’re leaving!

Oh – where’s Manda?

Dakar – Dalaba (Saturday night, Sunday morning)

December 24, 2011

See? I’m getting better at it!

On with the story then…

* * *


We’ve been deposited at the Tambacounda terminus. It is still warm and dry. And dark. We’re sitting on the pavement close to a small shop that keeps a steady supply of spicy coffee (known here as “café Touba”), cigarettes and bottled water going. No food – the customers have left. The taxi touts gather in a building opposite to smoke; the distinct smell of local weed wafts through the air. And we have seven hours to kill before the first taxi departs to that magical place called Manda.

Soon enough, we are the last customers sitting outside. Apart from the young men smoking and walking about the place, no-one is there. The two Mauritanian guys who ran the shop have called it a day. A giant padlock is secured over the metal door they have clanged shut. It’s about the last sound we are going to hear for a while. Hold on to your luggage – and talk.

About football, Mali, Holland, Senegalese women (who, Moussa rather boldly claims, “don’t work”) and his other mission. Apart from rescuing his trucks, he must also locate his wayward nephew, who is supposedly having a great time in a locality not far from Manda. ‘I have been trying to get him on the phone for hours but he’s switched it off. I have no idea what he’s been up to…’

So there we stay, on our hard wooden bench, eyes on our luggage. And talk some more. Take a walk to the nearby toilet. Come back. Have another smoke. Hotels? Moussa confirms that there aren’t any that he would even consider in this part of town. The taxi boys have gone to sleep somewhere in the bowels of the building we face; we can only see the dimly lit entrance.

There is hardy any light to speak of in the entire place. A few streetlights are standing sentry and that is it. Which is just as well because you really don’t want to find out that the rest of the grandiosely names Gare routière has the exact same lack of redeeming features. In that one memorable phrase: we have arrived at the arse of the end of the world and there is only one thing you want: for the night to hurry along, so we can get out.

To Manda!

3am. Time crawls. 3.30am. Still no sign of anyone coming or going, except for a lone taxi that drives in, turns around, and leaves. 4am. No daylight yet. Just us, on that bench on a worn out pavement, our luggage, jealously guarded, water, smokes and dwindling conversation. 4.30am. You get tired of your own voice after so many hours. 5am. Stand and stretch, sit down again. Waiting for that sure sign that a new day has begun, the ubiquitous African alarm clock: the cockerel.

Dakar – Dalaba (same Saturday)

December 23, 2011

See? Making progress here. All you need is Google Maps, a printer, a felt-tip pen, a steady hand, a camera, a cable from your camera to your laptop – done!

On with the journey!


When I feel like it, I walk from the airport to my house. Takes all of 40 minutes. As of 2013 (or 14 or 15) that will no longer be possible. Reason: a new airport, past Patte d’Oye (traffic jam), past Pikine (traffic jam), past Thiaroye (traffic jam), past Rufisque (monstrous traffic jam), on to Damniadio (traffic jam). Turn right, as we are doing this Saturday afternoon, and you’re on the way to the seaside resort of Mbour – neon, crass airport art, loud bars, touts and obnoxious Europeans on holiday.

On the way, you see the large building site, to your left. This will be the new Blaise Diagne International Airport, one of the more sensible new projects of The One Above God, who, as we all know, runs this country, at least until February 26 next year. Yoff Airport may be convenient for me but it also sits in the middle of a densely populated built-up area. Also, moving it will free up a huge area, which, after clean-up, can be redeveloped to alleviate Dakar’s groaning housing shortage.

In other words, expect land speculation, colossal rows and endless litigation.

In parallel with the new airport, the state is also building a toll road across all the areas between my flat and the new airport. The question now is: which one will be finished first? The airport – or the road? From the Sept Places, it is difficult to see which one is winning. One thing is certain: if the airport wins, my transfer time will expand from a whistling 40 minutes walk to – well that depends on how bad the traffic is.

This Saturday turns out not too bad. Two hours after departure we are out on the road past the airport and on our way to Mbour.

Not so fast.

A policeman has spotted that the luggage on the roof may exceed the maximum height by 0.3 centimetres. In Senegal, so far, harassment of travelling citizens by uniforms is definitely less in-your-face as it is in, say Côte d’Ivoire, but it is there all the same. Except that here the target is mostly the driver. It is the one thing these “syndicats” (the taxi drivers associations) can do nothing about.

In the glow of the late afternoon sun, two policemen and the driver argue, point. Papers are checked. All in order but that is of course not the issue. The matter is settled with payment of some (as far as I can see) 2000 francs, about 3 euros. One more of these and any thought of making some profit out if this trip goes straight out of the window.

As it happens, it is the only check and the rest of the trip to Tambacounda is remarkably uneventful, partly because the road I remember from a previous trip as a pot-holed hell on earth has transformed itself into a more than decent two-laner.  Excellent!

Er…on second thoughts: not so excellent.


‘Moussa, welcome back, how are you?’

‘Fine, I was just sleeping.’

The savannah outside has receded, just shadows of trees flitting past, as we now positively hurtle towards one of the few major towns in Senegal’s interior.

‘You’ve done this trip before?’

‘Sure. Number of times now.’

‘When are the taxis to Guinea leaving?’

In Guinea, they drive these things days and night and I was under the impression that there may be one of them parked at Tamba’s bus station. Ready for departure. With us inside.

‘Oh – they don’t leave until tomorrow and you have to go to Manda first.’

‘Manda?’ First time I hear that name. ‘Where’s that?’

‘Towards the border.’

‘And the taxi to Manda…’

‘…leaves tomorrow morning. Around seven.’

Right. That’s settled then. We have a night at Tambacounda’s bus station ahead of us. Bring coffee. And conversation.

Onwards! (Dakar – Dalaba)

December 22, 2011

I promise I am trying to get myself educated enough so I can put a MAP here. As in: I was planning to go THERE – but I am still HERE…


‘Tamba!’ ‘Tamba!’ ‘Tamba.’

‘Biscuit!’ ‘Biscuit!’ ‘Biscuit!’

The first speaker is the man scouting for passengers to my first stop: Tambacounda. The second speaker is a woman who absolutely refuses to understand that someone sitting in a bush taxi in the middle of what has now become a stiflingly hot day…has no need for biscuits. ‘You must eat biscuits.’

The taxi station is not just there for transport. It’s also a giant open air supermarket. So while I spend my first hour waiting for Passenger Number Two to come in, I can admire the sheer variety of goods that are carried about from one end of the station to the other: biscuits, newspapers, pocket knives, carpets, copies of the Holy Koran, water, cool drinks, bananas, plastic “leather” covers for passports and wallets and mobile phones…. For some reason the women selling biscuits and the men selling wallets are the most persistent. One of them drops a wallet in my lap and then expects me to pay for it. Luckily, I have bought a ream of newspapers and so I steadfastly concentrate on the Saturday crop of what Politician X said yesterday about politician Z during some meeting or other while steadfastly ignoring our persistent wallet dropping friend. After a full ten minutes of a very silent standoff, he asks it back.

Another passenger arrives. It’s a middle aged man from Mali who is on his way to Guinea to prevent his two trucks from getting caught up in the clutches of Guinean customs officials. We get on fine from the beginning, which is good because this is going to be a long day – and night. ‘We’ll not get there before dark,’ he assures me. We might as well introduce ourselves, then. ‘Bram,’ I say. ‘Moussa,’ he returns. He will be a most entertaining travel companion for the next 24 hours.

‘Do you want to hear about my accident?’ he asks. And then launches into a long tale about how he was in a convoy with a bunch of trucks (‘overloaded, of course, they always are’) and trying to get these monsters up a slope. This is Guinea of course, there are no flat roads there – it either uphill or downhill. ‘And then one of them couldn’t make it. Started rolling back – that’s where I was! What do you do…you’ve got one of those thing heading for you cabin, you’re stuck between that guy and the one coming up behind you…. So the only thing I could do was hit the steering wheel, turn off the road and then hope I could block him and then just how I could get out. If I did nothing I was going to get hit. I ended up on my side. Lost the truck and hurt my leg really badly. I had to go to the hospital to have it fixed. I’ll never walk properly again. And I’ll never drive again: I cannot push my foot down on the gas; it hurts terribly. But I stopped that truck from destroying the entire convoy….’

During our conversations and more hair-raising tales from near death experiences (mainly on the road and in the air) the Sept Places has slowly started filling up. And indeed, after a seven hour wait (’Tamba! Tamba! Tamba! Deux places! … Tamba! ‘Tamba!’ Une place!’) – we are finally on our way.

Bye Bye Pompiers Gare Routière. On to the murderous six-lane Autoroute, past Dakar’s very own traffic spaghetti bowl known as the Patte d’Oye and straight into the inevitable traffic jam on the single way out of town. It is the reason I may contemplate moving to another part of town. More about that later. For now, just enjoy the thick fumes coming from the cars, lorries, buses, minibuses, vans, mopeds, scooters, taxis and Sept Places that run on diesel, petrol and in some instances, I suspect, cooking oil.