I knew nothing was going to be easy or straightforward in West Africa.
The below are the details of how I travelled from Dakar to Bamako by land.

@ 2012/01/11 (Wed)

I left N'Gor island for dusty infra-crippled Dakar where I went to a bus-terminal called "Gare Routiere Pompiers" and I bought a bus-ticket to Bamako for XOF25,000 (about USD50.00) from Senegalese guy - Amadu Cham. The reason why I bought my bus-ticket at this bus-terminal was because Andy from the UK who I met at a hostel in Dakar bought his ticket for Bamako right here a couple of weeks ago.
In fact, when I went to the Gare Routiere Pompiers, it hardly looked like a bus-terminal, it looked more like a disposal centre to me. Amadu Cham spoke good English; no other people in this scrappy bus terminal seemed to be able to speak English and I never tried to speak to them in French either. I paid Amadu XOF10,000 as a deposit and he told me to come to the Gare Routiere Pompiers again at 18pm on Friday. I was a little skeptical about this whole thing.

@ 2012/01/13 (Fri) - Friday the 13th!!!!!

I packed up and left the hostel around 16:30pm. I was hoping to catch the public bus No.1, but it never showed up. So I had to take a taxi and went straight to the Gare Routiere Pompiers (hereafter GRP) which cost me XOF2,000 while the public bus would only cost XOF150. The taxi driver had no idea where the GRP was. I had to navigate him.
I arrived in the GRP before 18pm and Amadu Cham was waiting for me there, but there was no bus in sight..... Amadu explained to me: "The bus doesn't come here. The bus leaves from the football stadium. Don't worry! Don't worry! It's a nice comfortable bus." Then I thought: "Why didn't you tell me on Wednesday to meet you at the stadium? You idiot!" I started to worry now.

Amadu and I took a taxi to the stadium for which I had to pay XOF1,500. One more time: "I had to pay!" Not Amadu!
Nearby this stadium there was a bus which appeared to be capable of going on a long-distance, though it clearly needed some maintenance to be done sooner than later. The name of the bus-company was "Benso Transportation". Quite a few people were already gathering around the bus and patiently waiting to hop into it.


As soon as Amadu got me the actual bus-ticket, he turned into a beggar and started asking me for money so that he could go back to the GRP; he was quite insistent. I knew this was going to happen and I eventually gave him XOF1,000 for his taxi.


The bus left the stadium just after 20pm. It was nearly full and all the passengers were African people except me and Itoh-san - another Japanese who came to this part of Africa for her master-degree research and was planning to go up to Niger via Bamako all by land.
The bus was dirty and dusty inside. Moreover, all the seats weren't reclinable at all and no toilet inside either. Amadu was a liar (He had told me that the bus would be "VIP".) Needless to say, no air-con inside the bus and it was not possible for us to open windows. The only way for us to get fresh air was to leave the roof-top window open and it actually got freezing after midnight as the bus was running at relatively high speed on a pitch-black highway in the middle of nowhere in Senegal.


@ 2012/01/14 (Sat)

We reached the border between Senegal and Mali just before 7am which was earlier than expected.
The sun was gradually coming up over the horizon, but it was still quite cold outside.
Although the immigration process as well as the luggage-checking took us a very long time, I had no problem at all at both Senegalese and Malian immigration offices.


It was after 9am when we eventually left the Malian immigration office. Our bus kept going on a dusty bumpy gravel road to Kayes, the westernmost city of Mali. I was sleepy but awake. All I could see through the window was a vast dry bushland with lots of enigmatic Baobab trees.


It was just after 11am when we reached Kayes. The bus made a stop here and some passengers got off the bus and then new passengers got in. The bus was full.

I tried to take a nap, but it was so hot inside the bus and every time the bus hit a bump or a dent on the road, a striking shock came straight through the entire bus like a lightning and it woke me up.


As the bus kept on going, things that caught my eyes through the windows were more and more of enigmatic Baobab trees and occasionally a guy riding a donkey. We had to stop quite a few times for ID-checking conducted by Malian police/army. We also had to stop once due to a flat tyre....


The food we got on our way wasn't good at all. Every time we made a stop, there were a few street vendors along the road selling either grilled goat meat with raw onions or rice with some kind of sauce. I chose the goat meat for my breakfast and lunch because the rice with the sauce looked very dodgy to me, and I was telling myself that I should only stick to "grilled" ones.


The meat (as pictured below) was actually tasty with some artificial spices on it, but I didn't finish it all and always gave away the rest to some super-skinny children who came out of nowhere and were looking clearly starving.
Itoh-san (the other Japanese on the bus) tried both meat and rice. She was such a challenger! But she later had a stomach problem and we made a couple of stops for her as there was no toilet on our bus. Ahh....


The sunset was around 18:30pm. The bus still kept on going through the vast dry bushland and there was still no sign of reaching Bamako anytime soon.
Before I got into this bus, I had blindly thought that African people would be hardy enough and be very used to this kind of a long bus-journey and that they might even laugh at how exhausted I became on the bus. The reality was, however, that even African passengers were clearly looking exhausted. We are all the same - human beings.


The bus kept on going and going. All I did was taking a nap as much as possible, though I kept waking up constantly.
Long-distance buses in Latin America often had TVs showing some B-grade Hollywood movies. I never watched them then, but I wished that we'd had it on this bus in order to entertain us. We were on the bus for almost 24 hours now.

Everyone on the bus seemed to be getting along well, sharing food and drinks. One young African guy who sat over the other side from my seat even offered me some kind of snack by calling me Sir. I nicely declined his offer because I wasn't hungry at all then, but I truly appreciated his generosity and sincerely thanked him.

The bus STILL kept on going and going, and it was pitch-black outside.
I had almost started thinking that we might have to spend another night on this bus when we finally reached Bamako. My watch was saying 23:30pm then. Huh....


The bus dropped us off in the middle of nowhere in Bamako. I had no idea where we were. Itoh-san appeared to be just okay with a suspected food-poisoning still simmering in her belly, while my belly was completely fine, but I was painfully exhausted. Nonetheless, I was very relieved at the same time by the fact that we made it to Bamako without any major incidents. I was also very glad to find out that my backpack was still in the luggage room, though it completely changed its colour from navy-green to rusty-red because of all the dust and sand on our way.

@ 2012/01/15 (Sun)

A Senegalese guy called Shack who I got to know on this bus-journey and I waited outside for Itoh-san to finish "it": it means an emergency landing when you have a stomach problem.
As soon as she came out of a bush, three of us caught a taxi (XOF2,500) to go to a hotel/hostel called the Sleeping Camel owned by Australian guy Matt. When we checked in at the Sleeping Camel, it was already past midnight.

So good to have a hot-water shower!
And so good to have a bed to sleep in tonight!


After all, this is the longest journey on a single bus I've ever done in my life. It reminds me of my border-crossing from Bangkok, Thailand to Siem Riep, Cambodia in 2004 and that was very very hard and wild. However, this bus journey from Dakar to Bamako was even much harder and longer than that.
I'll be staying in Mali for two weeks from now on and I'll eventually go back to Dakar afterwards. This bus journey is definitely one great experience (?) to be had once in my life-time but not twice. No wonder I've just promised myself that I'm NOT going to go back to Dakar by bus again. Never Ever!


I expected this to happen to me.
I was so exhausted after that long long bus journey (Please refer to the previous article for more details). I was like a zombie all day yesterday and all I could do was to eat and rest as much as possible or surf on the Internet. Luckily, the Sleeping Camel (XOF5,000 per night for a dorm-bed) was quite cozy with fast Wi-Fi connections: yes, even in the middle of West Africa the Internet is already creeping in now!

Itoh-san seemed to get over her stomach problem today and she cooked Japanese curry with pork for lunch. She kindly gave some of it to me and it was such a long while since the last time I had Japanese curry. I really enjoyed it, but I wondered why pork was openly selling here in Mali where the majority of people are Muslim....

Late this afternoon I went to an office of a bus company called "Africa Tours Trans" and bought a ticket for tomorrow morning to go to Mopti.
Another bus company called "Bani" was also an option for me, but a bus operated by Africa Tours Trans looked 10 times better and newer than Bani's bus and also Africa Tours Trans had air-cons (Yes, "Air-con") and lunch included for the total fare of XOF9,000.


Up until now, despite the fact that Senegal was regarded as one of the Malaria-danger countries in West Africa, I didn't take any tablets for Malaria prevention. However, I've started taking Malarone since I left for Mali three days ago; I bought my Malarone tablets (12 tablets) in a pharmacy in Dakar for EUR50. This doesn't mean that Senegal is less Malaria-infested than Mali - a lot of people in Senegal still die of Malaria every year. I just personally believe that Dakar and N'Gor in Senegal should be Okay for me without taking the tablets. Whereas, the risk of getting Malaria may be higher for me in Bamako and all the rest of Mali (based on no scientific proof, though.)
Additionally, while I keep taking a Malarone tablet once a day, I also carry a few Mefloquine tablets in my bag just in case. This is because of my personal concern that if I ever start to have Malaria symptoms even though I keep taking Malarone: this is said to be a very rare case, Mefloquine can be used as temporary Malaria treatment then.
Why not Doxycycline?! I didn't choose it simply because it was developed in the 60's (quite old!) and could have stronger side-effects than the other two mentioned above.
Anyway, I can talk about this issue on and on, but I'm not a specialist in this respect. You should consult your doctor for more details.

Today's bus-journey from Bamako to Mopti was by Africa Tours Trans (hereafter ATT). It was cleaner, newer and better than the bus I took from Dakar to Bamako three days ago. It was still dark outside when the bus left Bamako just after 6am in the morning
Funnily enough, I thought that an air-conditioner inside a bus in Africa was an urban myth, but it really existed! Today's ATT bus did have an air-con and it was working! The only small problem I had with this ATT bus was that the seat arrangement was quite tight. I had a big African guy sitting next to me and one third of my seat was taken over by him....


Lunch was included in the fare (XOF9,000) and it was a piece of bread with chicken marinated in tomato sauce as well as a bottle of Coca Cola. Not such a delicious meal, but it was definitely better (and seemingly safer?) than the suspicious goat meat that I had on my way from Dakar to Bamako.


The bus was going through a vast dry bushland.
Agriculture is said to be one of the biggest industries in Mali, but I didn't see any farms or farmers at all on our way. The land looked too dry for farming to me.


The bus was supposed to arrive in Mopti around 15pm, but because we made a few stops and once we had a flat tyre (again!), it was almost 17pm when we finally arrived in Mopti.


Unlike Bamako which is the capital of Mali with lots of people and crazy traffic during the day, Mopti is seemingly a small town with calm Niger River running through.




I strolled around Mopti today and first went to see Niger River - the lifeline of West Africa - where quite a few Malian women were doing some washing in the river despite the murky water.


An interesting thing about this washing was that the women just put their washed clothes right on the ground to dry them because there was nowhere to hang them otherwise.


I also went to see a small market in town where fish, veggies, fruits, and very basic commodities were selling. Lots of women dressed in all kinds of colours and it looked to me that they spiced up Mopti's monotonous and dry atmosphere.




There is a mud-made mosque in Mopti. This mosque is quite small compared to the one in Djenne, about 3-hour south west of Mopti, but I was still enthralled to see a building entirely made of mud like this one for the very first time in my life (I'm going to Djenne next week.)



The design of this mosque was very unique and something that I'd never seen before anywhere else on my RTW trip. Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to go inside, though.



One more thing to be mentioned in this article:
I saw some things while strolling around Mopti and I wished that I hadn't seen them. Extreme poverty in combination with filthiness was clearly evident in this part of Africa. I have seen similar situations in a few countries in Latin America and South East Asia before, but not to this extent.




Local kids in Mali are very curious about a foreigner like me and I found them very energetic and innocent just like other kids in the rest of the world. However, these kids have absolutely nothing. Nothing at all.
Mali (also Senegal) urgently needs international support more than ever.


I waited for two days in Mopti, hoping to meet other travellers who were interested in going hiking to Dogon Country with me and I only met one traveller, a German guy in his 50s. The very reason why I waited for others to join me was to reduce the price of hiring a guide to Dogon - the more people I go on a hike with, the cheaper it will be for each participant.
Unfortunately, this German guy already made a contract for himself with a local guide for XOF30,000 per day (about USD60.00), which was waaaaaaay over my budget! Now there seems to be nobody else going hiking in Dogon....

Two British backpackers I had met at the hotel in Mopti a couple of days earlier told me about their hike in Dogon. They along with another American girl paid only XOF15,000 per day for each (about USD30.00), and they did it for three nights and four days. They highly recommended their guide Bebe for me. So I arranged a meeting with him late this evening in order to negotiate the price for my own hiking.

Bebe showed up just after 18pm at the roof-top restaurant of my hotel. He came from Bandiagara - a small town located between Mopti and Dogon. He wasn't tall but looked quite fit and appeared to be a bit younger than me. He spoke good English and told me that the price was XOF75,000 (XOF25,000 per day) for two nights and three days, which was a little too expensive for me.
After a few Yes-No-Yes-No discussions with him, I managed to put it down to XOF65,000 (about XOF21,650 per day) for which Bebe was saying " Ahhhhh, Ohhh kaaay...."
Before we fully agreed on this price, I double-checked with Bebe what would be included and NOT included in my contract. The below are what was written in my contract:

* Transportation between Bandiagara and Dogon is included
* Breakfast, lunch and dinner are included
* Taxes and entry-fees to all villages in Dogon are included
* Guide fees and accommodation are included
* What aren't included are; drinks such as mineral water and alcohol, souvenirs, and the transportation between Mopti and Bandiagara

The actual contract was all hand-written by me on a piece of paper. Bebe signed on it and I paid him XOF20,000 in cash as a deposit then.


So now the contract has been made. All I have to do is to get up early tomorrow morning to catch a bush taxi in Mopti around 7am for Bandiagara.
Although I'll be the only participant on this hike, I'm quite excited!

!!!!! Note !!!!!
A lot of Malian people told me that the tourism for this year was very quiet compared to the last few years, and most of them were blaming it on the recent news about a few murders and kidnappings of foreigners in the northern part of Mali. Even I as a short-term visitor easily notice that there are very few tourists in Mopti despite the fact that it's January - the busiest season of the year.