ON A recent afternoon deep in rural Guinea, Baobab asked the fellow passengers of his Citroën Xantia bush taxi whether the large tree by the side of the road was in fact his namesake. They confirmed that it was, and inquired whether the Baobab could be found in Baobab’s native land.
This helpful attitude was symptomatic of the assistance
bequeathed by strangers on Baobab’s overland trip from his base in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, to the Malian capital, Bamako. The reason for the mission was a political story on Mali after the March coup d’etat; the means of transport a response to the expense and complication of airline connections.
As the crow flies the distance is a paltry 457 miles (735 kilometres). The trip though took four days. Baobab left home at lunchtime on Saturday, traversing Freetown traffic on one motorbike taxi, his luggage strapped to another. An umbrella was tied to the luggage; it is still wet season.
In the east end of Freetown a seat, or rather two seats, were procured in a vehicle bound for the Guinean border. Bush-taxi operators believe the front passenger seat is fit for multiple occupancy. Baobab disagrees, but is willing to pay twice the fare to carry the day.
At the frontier a Guinean customs official made himself a nuisance but eventually retreated when a bribe was not forthcoming. Arrival in Conakry, Guinea’s capital, came after nightfall, but a fellow passenger kindly accompanied Baobab to a hotel and took no offence when Baobab said he was not interested in buying gold.
The following day we travelled towards Kankan in eastern Guinea. After eight hours on the road the second puncture brought progress to a halt. That night Baobab slept in the car in the bush. Early the next day the driver took the tyre to the nearest town for repairs. Progress continued.
After 17 hours on the road over two days, we arrived in Kankan, where the hotel’s resident insects devoured Baobab. The next morning brought another bush taxi on the excellent new road that leads towards Bamako.
Slightly farcical scenes ensued at the Malian border when Baobab suggested that the visa in his passport exempted him from having to pay cash to enter the country. We reached Bamako at 6pm on Tuesday, 78 hours after leaving Freetown. Google Maps suggests the journey can be done in 17 hours 9 minutes, which suggests to Baobab that Google‘s cartographer has not been to west Africa.