According to Google Maps it should take me seven hours and twenty-nine minutes to get from Sikasso, in Mali, to Bouake, in Cote d’Ivoire. That seemed pretty optimistic after a twenty-six hour bus ride. I suppose they can’t be expected to factor in the dozen army bribe-points, car sized potholes, and the complete shutdown of the city of Bouake by the rebel army. It all began when I woke up on a bench at the Sikasso bus terminal and realized some Godless bastard had stole my Snickers bar.
I had been laying on the bus bench since I arrived from Bamako. It was going to be a long night since my bus wasn’t due for another four hours. I was set for the journey armed with a copy of The Congo, two bottles of water, and my first Snickers bar in six months. I opened my book and immediately passed out. A man shook me awake and tried to sell me a mosquito net, that clearly stated, “Do not sell for aid purposes only.” My book, water, and Snickers bar were nowhere to be found. Luckily my backpack was still secure under my head. A man wandered out of his office and directed me towards my bus. We walked by his office, where I could see a half eaten Snickers bar and a copy of The Congo sitting on his desk.
I was happy to have a window seat. It was nice and breezy for the first two hours, until a woman four rows up began puking out the window. The three rows in front of me were quick to close their windows sending her puke particles straight into my face. I managed to close the window before round two. Staring at a vomit covered window wasn’t much of an improvement.
As with most African busses I have taken, they didn’t spare an inch. Each seat was filled by sweaty Africans and their crying babies. Stools were placed down the aisle removing any chance of an evacuation in the likely event of a crash. A pile of goats strapped to the roof complained the whole trip.
We had a young driver. He made good time speeding past bus after bus on the narrow road just missing oncoming traffic. We past another cocky bus driver who passed us right back as we sped down a two way highway, surrounded by overgrown vegetation that made every corner a blind corner. We hit a sharp curve and the world turned to slow motion. Most of the passengers yelled and pleaded with the driver to slow down. The bus rocked from side to side to side, before leveling out, barely avoiding the death of all of us onboard.
I made it into Cote d’Ivoire after three hours of fighting through immigration. Lunch was an egg sandwich and condensed milk, mixed with a packet of Nes Cafe, to give myself that energetically nauseous sensation. We still had a seven hour bus ride through Ferkessedougou, down to Bouake. The ride went about as smooth as a ride down a waterless riverbed would. Every couple of hours we had to pile off the bus and show our papers, then pay an imaginary fine to sixteen year old kids with AK-47’s. We passed the final town before Bouake, when I heard a text coming in.
“Don’t come into Bouake the rebels shut down the city.” My phone conveniently died before I could write back. Ten minutes from my bed we pulled up to the miles and miles of stalled traffic. The rebel army decided that they were not paid enough that month and shut off the main highway, that runs through Bouake. Everyone piled out of the bus and set up shop on the road. A make shift market quickly sprung up selling basic rice meals and ice-cream, so it wasn’t all bad. In fact laying in the street, under the stars, as rebel soldiers sped by on their heavily armed scooters, was kind of nice.
At one o’clock we heard car engines in the distance getting closer so we all piled onto the bus. Our bus driver drove incredibly fast for a stand still traffic jam. We bumped and grinded our way through the traffic that had clogged both lanes from either side of town. Two hours of fighting through traffic and I was finally on a motorbike heading for bed.