One of the most harrowing travel experiences that I have ever had took place in Mali in January 1996. Leading up to this, I had to deal with a rogue taxi at the Bamako airport who tried to hijack me (and gave me a good scare), and during my stay in Bamako I had to shake off some very persistent touts who were trying to attach themselves to me. Read on for my riveting story…..
From Bamako, the next stop on my itinerary was Mopti, an important port town and tourist center located on the upper Niger River delta. Upon the recommendation of the man who owned a crafts concession at the hotel, I decided to make this trip by minibus rather than the large motorcoach. It was a decision that I lived to regret. After being dropped off at the transportation center in Bamako, I boarded a large minibus with a capacity of 25 passengers. The bus delayed its departure for about 1 1/2 hours until it had a full load. Fortunately I arrived early enough to get a seat towards the front of the bus; as we left the terminal at approximately 11:30AM, I braced myself for the long 12 hour journey to Mopti. Hallelujah, at last I was on my way! Keep in mind, I was the only tourist on the bus - the rest of the passengers were Malians. Even though the official language in Mali is French, most of the passengers talked in their native African tongue which was completely incomprehensible to me
About 4 hours into the trip, we pulled into another large town where I had to board another minibus. Continuing the journey, the day soon became night and gazing out the window, the stark desert landscape of the African Sahel appeared very surreal in the darkness. The ride was somewhat uncomfortable but bearable, and throughout the journey the bus’s engine was making some unusual noises. At about 9:30PM, the driver made an announcement in French that I didn’t quite understand, but from all the commotion and groaning from the other passengers, I surmised that there was something wrong with the bus. Sure enough, the driver pulled the bus over to the side of the road and had all the passengers get off into the darkness of the warm desert night. As far as I could tell, we were in the middle of nowhere. To be continued….