Just one hour in Mali, and arrested again, faut le faire
I knew it was going to be some long days of driving, but the sting was in the end. Because my visa and laisser passez was running out, I left my friends Steban and Abdul in Nouakchott, Steban's bike was almost fixed anyway, so I left with a good feeling. I was going to see them in a few days in Bamako, and I like being on the road on my own.
First day was 600 km to Kiffa, only stopping for a break In the desert watching the dromedary go by, where I stayed in 'Le Phare du Desert', which every year, gets a little more crappy. It doesn't bother me, as I am parked outside and only need the toilet.
I must say that I'm pretty happy with the whole camper setup. So far it has been perfect, the days in Laayoune when it rained, we cooked and watched movies inside with 3 people, on my own I have all the living space I need and the dog has its place in the front on the floor. So I was happy just being safely parked and by just after six I was on the road heading for the border. Just a half hour later the first incident occurred, which would set the pace of the day. In the dark, I didn’t see the stop sign for the first checkpoint of the day. The sleepy officer came out and his first word was ‘infraction’, I talked my way out of that one. Driving along I noticed that the asphalt was brand new so I thought they finally repaired the badly potholed stretch after Kiffa. But new asphalt in Africa always means road works a bit further on. And so it was this time, for 50 km you had to use a side road that varied from soft sand to rocky corrugated and even mud. It was a test case for the interior, which stood up to the 2 hours of almost rattling apart. As I passed Ayoun around midday I came to some tires laying on the road, strange, is this a checkpoint? The police came out and his first word was ‘infraction’. I had failed to notice the stop signs…again. After explaining I had no money, he was very happy when I said I might have a ‘cadeaux’ instead. He is now the proud owner of a new watch. After even more checkpoints, where every time they would phone the next one a tourist was coming trough I made it to the border, and after signing a paper that said ‘ I’m aware that I’m crossing into a country where it’s almost certain bad things will happen’ I found myself on the Mali side of the border, Sogui. I was happy to be here again, but that happiness didn’t last very long, one hour to be precise. After stamping in and ignoring the guy at the barrier trying to sell me a ticket (which is a scam) I got to the gerdarmerie. It started out nice, all laughs and all the officers amused with the little dog, that I bring in to every office just for that purpose. A couple of days before, I read on the HUBB, that tourists where now escorted up to Bamako, and that this was kind of a scam, so with that in mind, I was determined not to play by their rules. They explained that they had their orders and that I had no choice but to pay for the escort. I said, yes, escort me but, no, I don’t pay. I parked my van in front of their office and waited for an hour. They asked me to park somewhere else, I refused (mistake 1). I said I would call the consul of Belgium (mistake 2). Wanting to get to going I asked how much it was for an escort to Niorro, 10000 Cfa, around 15 euro. I shouted that that was theft (mistake 3). To this point I had failed to notice just how annoyed they where getting. So when I came back from the money changer, with the same arrogant attitude saying this was a scam, to my surprise, they arrested me.
They started filling out a report with all my infractions, disobeying an order of an officer in uniform, driving without insurance (500 m), calling the gerdarmerie thieves and some other. By then it already had sunk in, but when they then read you your rights (the right to remain silent, the right to a lawyer..) I thought, oh no, not again (for those who do not know my history in Mali, read the Round Africa blog).
One of them was so angry with me he didn’t even want to speak to me again, but luckily the chief kept talking, for an hour he gave me a lecture ,with me after every pause apologising myself profusely. When after the 3rd time I asked if another solution is possible like a fine to be paid, he said there was indeed a fine for these situations. This was music to my ears, as from then on I knew I was going to get out of this pickle. I ended up paying a 20 euro fine, which I preferred over going to jail, and paying for the escort to the brigade in Nioro, where I slept in the car park. Next morning they escorted me to Bamako, with a big smile I paid the rather outrageous amount of 31000 CFA (46 euro) and was happy to arrive at the Sleeping Camel to have a cold beer. Lesson learned, respect the gendarmerie, it’s not the police!
Footnote: With only yesterday 19 islamists being killed in Timbuktu, the goverments concern with tourist coming in via Nioro is real and the escort is no scam. Just a shame it has to be so expensive.