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!


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