Wednesday, December 2, 2009

West African Travels Overland

Last week I went to Ghana for a 2-day workshop. The voyage itself ended up lasting 3 times longer than the workshop. Here I am providing a synopsis of my 6-day travel adventure, which is sadly very telling of the extreme exploitation, inefficiency, and lack of organization that characterizes West Africa’s transport system.

Day 1 and 2 of Travel: Bamako, Mali to Accra, Ghana

Total bus time: 40 hours
Total time waiting in bus station: 3 hours


- Bus leaves Bamako station more than 3 hours late.
- During overnight segment of travel, bus kept stopping to either sell fabric, or pay bribes in fabric, I’m not sure which.
- At some point during the night bus backtracks 15 minutes for some unknown reason—at 1 am in the morning it was best not to ask why.
- At Ghana border we’re detained 2 hours. A group of about a dozen Malians had been recruited by Saudi Arabians to go be truck drivers in their country, but their VISAS were expired 2 weeks ago and they had no idea who to contact. After long discussions in a closed room with Ghanian border officials, somehow that Visa problem got cleaned up, minus 2.000 CFA from the pockets of each Malian. I will assume these were official administrative fees.

Day 3 & 4 of Travel: Accra, Ghana to Ougadougou, Burkina Faso

Total Bus Time: 16 hours
Total time waiting in stations: 4 hours


- In Accra I discover that all the direct buses to Bamako are canceled due to the Tobaski Festival (the biggest holiday in the Muslim holiday), and if I don’t leave immediately it’s likely that I’ll be stuck in Accra until next week.
- Thanksgiving day/night spent on a bus. (Dinner: rice and chicken).
- In Ouga I immediately begin looking for a transfer to Bamako, but nothing: this is Burkina’s national day to celebrate Tobaski.
- I’m promised a direct ride to Bamako the next morning, and for now I’m stranded in Ouga.

Day 5 of Travel: Ougadougou to Bobo, Burkina Faso

Total bus time: 4 hours
Total time waiting in stations: 5.5 hours


- Nice try: my direct bus to Bamako got no further than Bobo, Burkina Faso. Why? Burkina’s Tobaski was over, but today is Mali’s turn to celebrate its Tobaski, and nothings going in or out of Mali. (Why the West African Umma couldn’t get together and coordinate holidays is beyond me).
- After trying to negotiate with about 10 bus companies and travel options, I concede defeat, and am again promised a direct trip to Bamako the next day.
- I had never heard of Bobo before today, but somehow manage to find a place to spend the night with the family of the sister-in-law of one of the Mali Peace Corps staff members. Thanks Justine.
- Meanwhile throughout the day I hear many other horror studies about TSR, the bus line in question. Turns out they have a company policy of lying/misrepresenting information, leaving people stations for hours/days at a time, selling worthless tickets, and on and on.

Day 6 of Travel: Bobo to Bamako, Mali

Total time: 13 hours
Total time in station: 2.5 hours


- Turns out there was a whole busload of us who had been lied to/abandoned in Bobo the previous night, each by his or her respective bus line. The next day the bus lines pull together and put us all in one bus for Bamako (nice of them).
- Bus breaks down 3.5 hours from Bamako…I flag down another, pay the remaining fare again to get myself home.