Sun-Earther

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Ladies and gentlemen, I think, I sincerely hope, we have a winner

July 5, 2009

If my various journeys to and from and in and around Mali were no picnic, one can certainly say that the trip between Gabu in Guinea Bissau and Labe in Guinea was one. A picnic, that is, that took place in a thoroughly and freshly manured field, except for the spot where the rug has been spread, which is where the farmer's faithful yet unimaginably incontinent hound was sat for the duration of the muckspreading; and some fool at Fortnum and Masons has misread the order for the hamper and packed freshly laid dog eggs instead of the required hard boiled eggs.
At first things were not looking too bad. It only took a couple of hours for the vehicle to fill up and for a very large lady to be satisfied that all the baggage on the roof would be sufficiently insulated against the rain, for there was a very distinct possibility that it would piss it down in the very near future. The first problem arose when it was time to board. I had been feeling fairly content as the ticket man said I could have the front seat, which I had staked out with my bag. As I was about to climb in, another chap remarked "Ah, I see you have reseved that seat", and got in anyway, and I realised that what I had claimed was the doorside half of the passenger seat. Still, I suppose it was better than being one of four in the row behind, or three right at the back (discounting the two young children).
Progress to the frontier was fairly painless, and we were quickly cleared to proceed to the next bit of the frontier, and then the first bit on the Guinea side, where we had to a wait a while for the ferryman to be bothered to come and get us. It was at the top of the opposite riverbank that the first omen of trouble arrived, for we waited half an hour whilst the driver and his assistant tinkered with the radiator hoses, and refilled the radiator with river water. Half an hour after setting off again we got to the next two bits of the Guinean frontier, where we paid some money for the sake of paying some money, and waited a bit more for more radiator related tinkerings.
It became clear that the problem was not small when, another hour and a half down the road we pulled in, and within ten minutes the radiator had been removed and it and the driver had jumped on the back of a passing motorbike bound for the nearest town.
As luck would have it, we had stopped in the part of Guinea where all the flies live, the type of flies that like to walk across one's eyeball if given half a chance. They were accompanied by some charming little beasties that go by the name sweat bees, and as the name suggests these are very small bees that feed on sweat. I am not sure if Marks and Spencer have yet finalised the contract to sell their honey, for I imagine that it is no ordinary honey. They don't sting, but after the five minutes of entomological fascination have passed they do rather annoy.
After a couple of hours of lying in the woods by the roadside it began to get dark, and the flies and bees punched their time cards to make way for the night shift of mosquitos. For a while we all crowded into the car, but when the oxygen started to run out there was a mass decision to move back out to the roadside to sleep on a comfy bed of gravel and twigs.
When the sun had properly got going the following morning, some of the lads in the party decided to walk to the nearest village, shortly followed by the women and children, leaving me, the old bloke and another chap to sit and guard the vehicle, be harassed by winged beasties, and generally regret not having factored unexpected breakdowns in to the calculations for the water rations. Luckily two girls came cycling by with large numbers of mangoes for sale. As well as being the start of the rainy season, it is also the middle of the mango season, and everywhere one goes one can see small children with big sticks doing beastly things to mango trees. As well as buying a generously proportioned pile of mangoes, we also persuaded the girls to cycle back to their village and fill all the water bottles we could find.
At about 11am a taxi coming the other way stopped and informed us that the repairs were underway, and a while after another let us know that all was done, and the driver was waiting for a lift back. I the early afternoon, a good 20 hours after he had left, he finally reappeared, perched atop a taxi with the repaired radiator and a mechanic. It was not long before we were back on the road, and after a couple of hours we reached a town called Koumbia (my Lord) where we stopped to eat. It soon became apparent that we had not only stopped to eat, but that the mechanic had also decided that a couple of minor things needed to be done to the vehicle. The first job was to find some correctly shaped odds and ends on which to balance the jack, and some people to lean on the car once it had been jacked up. Then the real work of completely dismantling the transmission began.
After four hours and a couple of downpours, when night had once more decended, we were given the all clear and the car pulled out of the garage. It was then discovered that the boot would not shut properly, and after a quick argument about whether or not it was because of some chairs that were hanging off the back of the roof, we pulled back into the garage to fix it.
It is probably a good thing that it was too dark to see the length and incline of the slopes at the side of the road that wound through the darkness on the next part of the trip. Not long into this stretch, the driver's assistant decided that he had had enough of sitting on the roof, and so we became two passengers up front, with four in each row behind (again discounting infants). A small while later we switched to a more aggresive 3-4-3 formation, which I found to be very comfortable indeed. In the darkness I was not entirely sure, but I think one of the extra legs was on the passenger side, the other help the driver out with the pedals.
At 3am, after a hand operated ferry crossing in pitch blackness, we parked up in a small town and went off to find a piece of concrete in front of a restaurant on which to lie down for a few hours, before the final two hour stretch through the rolling hills to Labe, where we arrived a mere 47 hours after setting off.
Then I went to bed.

Posted by jamesb at July 5, 2009 4:15 PM