February 06, 2012
by Stephen Jan in Nioro, Mali
We came across an English van at the Mauritania-Mali border. The driver was a young man sporting a colorful shirt and heavy dreadlocks heading home. We asked him about the unrest in Bamako. His response was “What riots?” Even though he was in Bamako during the protests, he didn’t notice any of the disturbance.
His account combined with assurances from our charities operating out of Bamako convinced us that the road to Bamako was clear and safe. With no more border crossings, no more difficult roads, and no more looming threats of revolution, we were feeling confident that we’re going to cross the finish line soon. A mile into the country we stopped to take a team photograph. A Malian truck driver stopped, hopped out of his truck and jumped in our photograph. From here on out, it’s nothing but smooth Malian tarmac, tail winds, and smiling Malians rooting for us to the finish line, Bamako.
The stretch of road between Nioro and the border gave us a first glimpse into Mali. The climate was neither hot nor dry, but it was very dusty. We saw farm fields and green crops. It was pretty cold. Villages seemed be as “basic” as Mauritanian villages but didn’t look as desperate and poverty stricken. In fact, the mud huts looked pretty cool.
We came up upon a fork in the road between Bamako and Nioro at 5PM. The checkpoint blocking the way to Bamako asked us for papers. We produced the papers that we had collected at the border including insurance, registration, and other bits. The guard directed us to a station across the road telling us that we were missing a customs form.
We weren’t sure what we were missing but the customs agent said that we couldn’t pass. We told them at the ambulance was a donation to Mali but he didn’t seem to care. He also didn’t speak any English at all. He told us to get in touch with our people to get in touch with his people. We told him we didn’t have a phone. He shrugged his shoulders.
The Timbuktu Challenge Guide book says nothing about any special procedure at the customs desk for vehicles so we were pretty confused. We asked a guy to borrow his phone and call some numbers but weren’t able to get though to anyone from the receiving foundation.
As if things weren’t complicated enough, on our way out of Nioro, our accelerator cable snapped. We limped the ambulance back to the customs station and spent the night in their parking lot. So much for smooth sailing and tailwinds to Bamako.