844 days, 20,256 hours, 1,215,360 minutes, or 72,921,600 seconds. That is the approximate duration of my world tour. I never wanted it to end and now, in a manner of speaking, I suppose it never has to. If you wish to go by country do so by clicking on one above. They are numbered in the order I visited them, more or less. If you enjoy reading about it even a tenth as much as I enjoyed living it then you will not have wasted your time. Grab a refreshing beverage, settle in a comfortable chair, and make a journey across the world, experiencing it as I did. Then get off your ass and check it out for yourself. You're not getting any younger.

The Bag of Life (Nouakchott to Bamako)

Jan 5th, 2011 - (Dec. 5th-6th, 2010) We definitely hit a low point. A claustrophobic bus tour has a way of taking it out of you. A few sluggish days of feeling poopy followed. Ahhhh the vicissitudes of long term travel. Nobody is immune. Some may the claim to be but I will be the first to call bullshit. I should know. I'm full of it.

It really all began when we left Nouakchott on a bus trip that would span no less than 40 hours. Bamako or bust. We came close to busting. Nothing about what we learned relating to this journey prior to leaving inspired us. For one we could not even determine whether or not safety was an issue. Just like Mauritania, caution levels ranged somewhere between 'no problem' and 'you'd have to be out of your f***ing mind'. I suppose if you cannot determine whether safety is an issue then it is probably safe to assume that safety is an issue. At that point it boils down to effective rationalizing and reality dodging.

Of course, we had the option to fly but decided against this for two reasons. For one it felt like cheating and we could not justify spending an additional $300 to avoid the inconvenience of a shitty bus ride. And, more importantly, the safety record of local airlines is less than stellar. In fact Mauritanian Airlines has been blacklisted by the USA and European Union. So our choices were to either risk getting kidnapped or crashing into dirt at 500 mph. Potatoe. Potato.

We went with kidnapping. Were we really that worried about this? No. We'd spoken with some folks that had made the trip and others that told us that on a bus full of passengers no one was likely to have the balls to abscond with two foreigners.....probably. In the end we had no problem, at least with religious radicals or kidnappers.

We bought our tickets for the Magical Mystery Tour the previous day. The gentleman at the ticket counter told us to be there at 5 am for a 5:30 am departure. Our taxi driver picked us up at 4 am but as there was no sign of traffic (or life for that matter) we arrived at 4:30 am and began waiting. We sat in silence and stared at the bus. Then each other. Then the bus again. People finally started to show up and we got underway close to 7 am.

Like most buses we've encountered in this region ours appeared to be built with air conditioning in mind. Perhaps at one time in the bus's long, long history it actually possessed it. Perhaps not. The windows do not open leaving only two roof slits for ventilation, unless you count the doors or the driver's window (which never seemed to be open). If you enjoy feeling like you are constantly on the edge of suffocation then I highly recommend this journey. In one respect we were lucky. It could have been summer. I cannot even begin to imagine the kind of hell this ride must be during July or August. 'Hell' would probably be a refreshing diversion in that scenario. Hell for locals? It appears not to be the case. I am inclined to think many in the region even find November temperatures 'chilly'.

Although the journey took 40 hours 11 of those were spent sitting at the border (Mauirtania/Mali) with our thumbs securely up our asses. We arrived around 1 am in the morning and before I knew what was happening I'd handed someone my passport and was shuffled off the bus into the darkness. When I finally regained my senses I realized that we were standing on the Mauritanian side of the border with nary a clue. Not two minutes after kicking us off the bus the doors were closed and the lights were out. Apparently allowing passengers to sleep on the bus (as opposed to in the dirt) is simply out of the question. Before me was a long line of folks sleeping on the ground in anticipation of the border opening. Not only did the group include those on our bus but there was a group that had come from Mali that had been waiting since 4 pm. I guess we were all in it together. Misery loves company. We had a lot of company.

Some guy skulking in the darkness asked us if we wished to change ouguyias (Mauritania) to CFAs (Mali). At 1 am in the morning? Seriously? I was in no mood. Our larger sacks (mine containing my sleeping bag) were beneath the bus. We had the clothes we were wearing and our smaller packs with valuables. Nada mas. So we stood there in disbelief and pondered our lot. Mr. Currency Exchange told us there was an auberge close by but it was not immediately identifiable. When I did manage to locate it in the distance it did not appear to be all that salubrious. I figured it would be better to stick with the group. It included a small gaggle of young local men with nowhere to sleep, no mats, no blankets, no nothing. They congregated around a small fire for warmth. I thought maybe it was overkill (fire in the desert?) but was happy to have a source of light. And then it got a bit brisk. The desert has a way of going from zero to nippy in the course of minutes. We'd noticed this during our stint in the Mauritanian desert. It's just downright kooky.

So Leslie and I huddled in the dirt with nothing but light clothing, a Tuareg scarf I'd purchased in Mauritania, and a towel a kind older gentleman loaned us when he noticed Leslie shivering. Not exactly like sleeping on a Sealy Posturepedic mattress. I may have nodded off for 15 minutes or so. Maybe.

The gentleman that kicked us off the bus told us the border would open at 6 am. Nuh-uh. We arose in the morning light, fantasized about finding a chiropractor, and began waiting…again. We passed time by watching an eccentric Ghanaian engage in bizarre acts of Tom Foolery. He approached carrying a plastic bowl filled with live puppies, presumably the offspring of the two canines following him around. He deposited them on the ground and walked off to conduct some kind of important business involving a plastic bowl. At one point he tore up some small shrubs and tried to feed a few goats meandering about. The owner (at least I think it was the owner) was none too pleased and let Mr. Ghana know. He then removed the bushes from the hungry goats. Junk food?

Mr. Ghana Man spent some time attempting to communicate with us but met with limited success. I handed him a few coins I had left over from Mauritania. I don't normally do that but they were useless to me. I'm fairly certain the ills of mass tourism have little chance of infecting the border region between Mali and Mauritania. He was so pleased he implored Leslie to take a picture of me giving him the coins.

Where's Waldo?

Nice ass.

Who likes sleeping in the dirt?

I appear to be on the verge of snarling

At around 10 am we finally crossed the border (via taxi) to the Malian side. Buses do not actually cross the border. Instead you dismount, cross the border, and mount a bus waiting on the other side. This process takes eleven hours. On the other side we waited for everyone else to cross through immigration and customs. The customs 'procedure' is nothing more than barely audible grunts and a cursory luggage inspection. At noon we were finally off.

More sweltering. More dehydration. Oh, the simple pleasures. At one of the many, many stops along the way we purchased water from one of the ubiquitous vendors that frequently entered the bus for a sales call. Water in a sealed pouch. Cold water in a sealed pouch. Our dearth of local coin forced us to avoid the rich man's bottled water. So bourgeois. First I placed the soothing bag of life gently across my brow for a moment of refreshment and then I tore the corner with my teeth and tasted the sweet elixir of the gods. I had water in my bottle but it was room temperature (i.e. 2 million degrees). This was pure divinity. I could not possibly exaggerate the pleasure derived from sipping this delicious H2O in a bag. And I had to sip, as opposed swallowing the bag hole. A full bladder on a bus with an erratic time table for rest stops is almost as bad as dehydration. Sipping required a Herculean caliber of restraint. It was just so fucking yummy!

We had a flat tire to break up the monotony. Actually, it was not so much a flat as a catastrophic tire failure. It was shredded. I suppose this is a sure fire way to guarantee you get the most out of your tires. As we sat by the side of the road waiting for the repair operation to be completed a smiling man approached me and handed over a small bird, a live bird. He put it in my hand and seemed sure I would: (a) know exactly what to do with it and; (b) be really excited by my new travel pal. Of course I set it free. I wonder how you say 'Thank you sir for the bird' or 'No thank you, I already have two Mocking birds and a Morning Dove living in my backpack' in local dialect?

Others used the delay to knock out a few prayers. Lay mat on road. Stand, kneel, bow, repeat. While they praised Allah we sat in the dirt and watched an episode of Dexter. Different strokes. We arrived in Bamako in the evening, found a place to sleep and passed out. Character building exercise completed.

Enough to make the Michelin Man shit himself.

With insufficient Malian CFAs I was forced to ignore the irresistible call of fresh watermelon.

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'Love me or hate me, but spare me your indifference.' -- Libbie Fudim