Bus journeys the Malian way…

‘I am no more going to travel on a Bittar bus!’, I firmly stated again to Ibrahim. And he finally agreed that indeed they were no more the best busses on the road.

It’s not that they don’t have good busses; it’s just that they do not (yet) use the good ones. There’s a nice line-up of bright & shining busses at the new Bittar bus station in Bamako. On the road you’ll find the old ones. Broken shock absorbers, axles that long ago past their best-before-date and so on. Break downs or arriving covered by little black pieces of dirt that have fallen down from the roof along the journey were amongst the sources of irritation.
Add the complaints of visiting friends as well as Malian bus passengers and an agreement with Ibrahim was reached: no more Bittar when traveling with friends from the occident, clients or me.

Following up on it, I hopped on a Somatra-bus traveling from Ségou to Bamako recently. In a pleasant 3.5 hours we reached Bamako, for once not arriving physically exhausted; the state of shock absorbers does make a difference.

I did not have to think twice on what company to take for the homeward journey: Somatra!
Confidently I bought my ticket. Seeing the bus – maybe the one and only very old one they still have on the road – that was parked in front of the waiting area, I felt some doubt arising. Of course I told myself that it was just being parked there. Soon they would start one of those new ones at the other side of the courtyard…

Vain hope, the old one was started, the sound of the motor seemed okay though and we left Bamako. A stop was made after an unusual sound all in a sudden woke up everybody, some quick work was done and we continued. The speed not what it was before, but I still had good hopes that we would reach Ségou with it.

Vain hope again. About 30k before Ségou the bus came to a standstill at the road side. The driver and mechanic left the bus, soon followed by most of the passengers. No work was being done, no driver and mechanic were to be seen in the vicinity of the bus, no information was given to the passengers…
It didn’t take me long to realize that it was going to be a long wait there. Many of the others had also understood. Bags were gathered and we were on full alert for approaching head lights.
Soon a bus passed. Full.
Another one arrived and miracle of miracles it had plenty of places available for all of us.

Asking some passengers what company we were now traveling with, I was informed it was Bittar. It made me laugh in silence that out of all companies it turned out to be the one I did no more want to travel on being the one coming to the rescue.

We arrived in Ségou and many left the bus on the road side. No worries, we are still going to the bus station in town, I was assured by several passengers. So I sat down, trying hard to figure out where we were exactly, feeling very surprised when the bus went right at the roundabout, whereas Ségou’s town center and the bus station were to the left…
‘No, sit down, the bus station is still coming’, they kept on telling me.

Get out as soon as possible, the bus is leaving town, my inner voice told me.
They let me out, just before we left town.

‘Amadou, I am so sorry, it was not at all a Bittar bus. I will not arrive at the bus station, I am actually at the other end of town. Can you please come and find me here? I will start walking back towards the town centre.’
I heard a slight sigh at the other and of the line, followed by a short ‘okay’.

In the dark night I started walking the long way back, after a more than five hour bus journey, knowing that soon Amadou would arrive. I kindly thanked the men stopping their motorbikes, offering me a ride – with or without other intentions than helping me out.
How lucky I felt to know Ségou well enough to get off the bus in time.

Amadou managed to laugh about my adventures. Just until we ran out of fuel, only a couple of hundred meters before arriving at my house, finding that most corner shops had closed down for the night. Hopefully he didn’t have to walk all the way back to his new home.

Next time I might actually check on the bus, carefully listening to my inner voice, before buying a ticket, regardless of the bus company!

About MoInMali

Monique is the founder of Papillon Reizen, a Mali based travel agency specialized in inspiring journeys in Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo and Benin. Fair-trade and with a heart for people, environment and culture. Small-scale group journeys as well as family trips and journeys tailored to your wishes. We love to share West Africa's beauty with you and take you on a journey to experience rather than to see. Monique lives in Mali with her Malian partner and shares some of her daily life experiences with you through this blog. For information on Papillon Reizen: www.papillonreizen.com
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