Day 49: Welcome to Bamako - fined big time.

Soutpiel Safari
John & Jenny
Fri 24 Dec 2010 15:08
Day 49: Thursday 23 December 2010. The Sleeping Camel, Bamako, Mali. N12 37.525 W007 59.278 Distance driven 436 km - too much!
Late start today as we relaxed after a hard day yesterday and de-dusted the LR.  It is still filthy on the outside but will have to wait to be cleaned.
After telephone consultation with our Oasis friends a day ahead of us, for the route, we crossed the bridge again - this time free!  The process involves driving one set of wheels over one of the lines so that they run between the two rails and the other pair run on the bridge decking to one side.  This, of course, after checking that a train is not due! All the time one is besieged by a small army of motor scooters, like locusts, in both directions.
Having successfully accomplished this we set off on another 200 km of hard piste to Manantali and Tambaga where the tarmac begins.  We had a break at the enormous (200 MW) hydro plant at Manantali, apparently run by Eskom, but saw no sign of South Africans or ice-cold Castle beers!
After Tambaga we looked for a camp site by the river but it seemed difficult to get away from villages so, being on 100 kph tarmac we opted to go right through to Bamako. This was a big mistake and we broke our No 1 Golden Rule of this trip which is "We will never drive in the dark in Africa".  It got dark 100 km from Bamako. Initially we found little traffic so we trimmed up our driving lamps for 200 m range and ploughed on, easily picking out the unlit donkey carts and trucks without rear lights.  All went well until we hit down-town Kita and confronted another vehicle driving across a bridge in the middle of the road.  I put full beams on him and flashed him several times to move over, at which point the pickup stopped, blocking our way and the driver got out and harangued me in forcible French for blinding him. I retaliated that he was driving on my side of the road and then realised that he was a gendarme!  Fortunately, he realised that his wrath was lost on the English and buggered off.
Then we reached Bamako - picture the scene, no street lights, thousands of motor scooters driving in all directions mostly on the wrong side of the road, no defined edge to the road, only a ragged line where the tarmac crumbles away to the dirt, smoke and dust blowing everywhere, people, donkeys, chickens in the road etc.  We haven't the slightest idea where we are, no map of Bamako, only the GPS co-ordinates of where we will be camping.  Then suddenly there is a motor scooter with two guys on it rushing up on my inside -  as the LR is RHD I can look out and almost touch the driver who is furiously blowing a whistle.  I was slowly edging him off into the dirt when I realised he was a cop!  We pulled over and he poked his head in the window and very, very aggressively accused me of not stopping at the Ministry of Information, which could have been true in the chaos but we denied it.  Then began a long French/English argument with the guy hanging on to my driving licence.  This time the fine was CFA 75,000 (£107).  It soon became clear that anything we paid would straight in his pocked with no receipt.  We were lost, confused, hot, exhausted and furious so we paid up when we really should have told the guy to get stuffed.
After that, the cold beer at the Sleeping Camel was very welcome.