A few kilometres later with darkness approaching .. and having endured more than our fair share of dust .. we were relieved to turn right off the larger route onto a smaller one.
checkpoint with a barrier blocked our path. All the passengers' papers were shown and OK'd and whilst waiting for our driver to emerge from a thatched hut where he had been "invited" to go .. we brushed
ourselves down and chatted with a bunch of friendly soldiers who welcomed us to escape from the sun and share their water in a similarly thatched shelter. A nice crowd who reassured us that the route we were now on
should be free from trucks and their accompanying dust storms. We waited .. and waited and waited .. 20 minutes later and we were still waiting !
Factfile 9: At such places, when confronted by authority
and the vagaries of just exactly who is holding who up and for what reason .. most Africans keep very quiet and wait until whatever the hold-up is .. is over. Rarely asking why .. possibly wisely not wanting to
draw attention to themselves by doing so .. the more you attract attention .. the more it might cost you !
Patience is a virtue which I possess .. usually .. unless it comes to probable shady dealings
which are impeding progress on a long journey. So, heeding the other's advice not to get too directly involved, I eventually found out that FrG 10,000 was being demanded from our driver, by a uniformed and amply
proportioned "lady," before she would give him his perfectly correct papers back and let us continue. The driver sat, we all sat .. the "lady".. obviously eating well on her "salary" .. was
not for turning !! 15 minutes later, the driver capitulated and paid up .. moaning that the cost went up every time he passed through there. With the other similar "expenses" en route .. a couple of extra
passengers on the roof rack would soon be needed just to cover his costs ! Official policy, or a blind eye turned by those at the top of the custom's hierarchy to their officer's perks, latent bribery or just
outright extortion ..
I hesitate to say .. but I know what our driver thought !!
With waves and sympathetic smiles from our soldier friends, we ventured forth on dry sandy roads and over occasional
rocky stretches .. that looked like dried-up river beds and had to be slowly and carefully negotiated. Occasionally catching glimpses of mice and civet cats crossing the road which every so often crossed bridges over
small rivers. Although as forecast, there were hardly any trucks .. we did find an enormous articulated one, slewed across a rocky riverbed. Its contents were completely unloaded and piled all around .. the driver,
waiting for assistance to tow him out. Evidently he had decided that he was too heavily loaded to risk crossing the bridge and had decided to attempt to ford the river alongside .. it was not to be !
Arriving at a small village around 10.00 pm .. our driver bought 10 or so litre bottles of petrol from a local supplier and we all piled out, some for prayers and me for a coffee break. As the village did not have
electricity, our torches were necessary to be able to see on this moonless night. Only then did I remember the dearth of petrol at the start of our journey .. our driver had obviously put Plan B into effect and all
would be well .. I naively thought !
Later, having resumed our journey, the road suddenly took a dive and we ground to a halt on a steep slope in pitch blackness. We all disembarked and walked down the
slope .. torches ablaze, to find quite a wide river. Evidently a 24 hour ferry was supposed to be operating .. but we could see absolutely nothing from the direction of the far bank. No lights, no sounds and seemingly
no people. Ten minutes of calling and shining torches .. even pretending to be a gendarme with my blue laser light and best "official French" .. had no effect until a car's headlights loomed up on the top of
the opposite bank. Voices were heard and after a short delay .. it drove onto an unseen ferry, which eventually rattled and clanked out of the gloom over to our side.
Hand-propelled, by a
team of happy young men hauling on a chain .. we clanked across the river entertaining them by taking digital pictures, which they could see for themselves on the camera's viewing screen. Some real characters here !!