Pre dawn wake up, retraced last nights death march, and was at the gare voiture by seven. Found a taxi going as far as the border and was on my way by 7:30. Both guide books said not to check at immigration in Siguiri because you'll be given the option of paying a huge fine or going back to Conakry for a non-existent exit stamp. So I didn't go, however the books don't mention the police check point just outside of Siguiri who are also aware of this scam. They wanted 10,000 GF otherwise I'd have to go back to Siguiri and pay 30,000 GF. I refused and said I'd go back and suddenly they were willing to take 2,000 (~$1.60). I think that it wouldn't have cost me anything except I had a very annoying man who was in my taxi trying to help me (actually he just wanted to get going and didn't want to have to return to Siguiri), but he was trying to get me to pay the en thousand. Anyway it was all very annoying but given the time I've spent in Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe it's pretty amazing that this was the first time I can remember having to bribe someone. On the plus side there were four police and / or border checks and everyone else (i.e. the locals) had to pay at each one whereas my passport let me breeze through.
At the border the Guinean officials took my baggage apart and looked at everything, I think they were more bored than anything else. I guess they were looking for antiquities, I can't think of anything else they wouldn't want me to take out of the country. On the Malian side of the border two separate sets of Malian border guards went through my passport inspecting each page and stamp but didn't seem to mind (or notice?) that there was no Malian visa! So I got into the country without a visa or a bribe. Tomorrow in Bamako I'll see about getting a visa since I don't really want to risk traveling around Mali without one.
From the Malian side of the border the only transportation was a bâché - a small pickup truck with wooden seats and a roof for luggage. They squeezed 27 people on it (it was a small Toyota) and it was the most uncomfortable experience in my life. The hard wooden bench, the very rough road, so many people that you literally can't even move your feet, much less your butt, and not enough head clearance so I have to hunch over and bang my head a lot. I can never remember being in so much pain for so long. Even now five hours after getting off the truck I'm limping and my neck and back are really starting to stiffen up. I feel as though I've been in a car accident (and I can't seem to find the Jacuzzi). Anyway the ride was more than five hours (I was thinking it would be an hour or two since it's only about 90km). The total time from Siguiri to Bamako was just under nine hours - not too bad from what I've heard, but still unpleasant enough to where I was very thankful I decided to head to Siguiri yesterday.
Once in Bamako I thought I knew where I wanted to stay and the guide book said it was only a few minutes from the Gare Routi´re so I started walking (or hobbling would be more accurate). I walked for nearly an hour before digging out the guide book again, it was a few minutes drive from the station, it was an 8 km walk. I found a taxi and while he was driving realized that either the gare has moved, or there was a second one, because I wasn't even on the side of the river I thought I was. Anyway got to my hotel (a nicer one with A/C and all - I felt I deserved the splurge) settled in and set in for town. I'm hoping to meet Andrea (ex-PCV Nepal, I hung out with her in Basse in The Gambia) so I was looking for the Peace Corps office. It was quite a bit further than I was counting on and I ended up walking an hour then enlisting the aid of a local guy to guide me and walking another half hour. At the office there was only the guard by this point, but he gave me directions to the volunteer house. While heading towards the house I ran in to a group of PCVs and they told me they hadn't seen Andrea yet, but invited me for a beer. I had a couple beers and diner with them (there was about 20 of them at the bar - their Stage - training for the new volunteers - was just finishing so everyone was in town). I hadn't eaten all day (except water and one soda) and the pizza wasn't that large but I just couldn't eat it all - I think my stomach has shrunk. I was invited to stay at the house so I'll probably move over tomorrow (a much better location than my hotel) I was also told where there was an internet cafe so maybe I can get all this (my journal, about a month's worth) uploaded tomorrow.
I could barely stay awake on the taxi ride back to the hotel. I am so exhausted, so sore, I better get a good nights sleep tonight...