On the Buses
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Mali MoptiThat evening we go for a good walk along the River Niger. We watch the pirogues ferrying people back to their villages and we enjoy what would be a pretty sunset if la poussière wasn't in the way. By the time we get back to town it's quite dark. We go to a pleasant outdoor restaurant and order pepper steaks and cold beers.

Later we check out the travel options for Timbuktu. Of course there are always lorries on a "maybe today, maybe tomorrow" basis, but there are also "kat-kats" (Malian term for four-wheel-drive). The journey in the back of an open Land Rover or box Toyota can take 12-24 hours; there's no road. Travellers are advised to bring their own water, food and sun protection.

For my part I have decided to forgo a second trip to Timbuktu. I've taken too long to get this far, and the river is low which makes me less confident of getting a boat ride from there to Gao. I opt for an efficient bus ride up the tarmac road to Gao.

Sat 13 Mar
We're both up and ready to check-out by 6:30am. Stefan's confident he'll get a "kat-kat" around 7:00am. We bid each other farewell and I get a shared taxi down to Sévaré bus station.

Mali bus, terms and conditions:

  1. Your name only goes on the list once you’ve paid (you get a ticket)
  2. You can have your money back at anytime (you give back the ticket and your name is removed from the list)
  3. Passengers will be called to board the bus in the order their names appear on the list
  4. The bus will not leave until it's full
  5. The bus will go today, absolutely definitely, but can’t say when
  6. The bus may be replaced by a smaller (ie more cramped one) if they cannot fill the original
  7. The bus can be cancelled at any time (money back, no problem)
  8. The bus will only fill up with fuel after setting off, ie with all the passengers on board
  9. The bus will stop for Muslim prayers (potentially up to 5x a day)
  10. Marabous (Muslim holy men) don’t have to queue
It takes me all day to leave Sévaré, after a 7:00am start, and experiencing a “day in the life of a bus station”, I finally depart Sévaré in a "half bus" (Mercedes 20 seater) at 6:00pm. What I had hoped would be a scenic tour past dramatic rocky outcrops and happy friendly villages inevitably becomes a night drive, though not as dangerous as the guidebooks suggest.

After nine hours, the last-minute Marabou finally gets out and I am able to breathe again. Half-an-hour later we reach the ferry crossing for Gao. It’s about 3:30am and everyone tries to get some sleep.

On the Buses
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