'Hurry up and wait' had become somewhat of a mantra for us in our travels throughout West Africa. Anytime we went anywhere, we made sure to inquire about tickets in advance, just in case it mattered. So the morning we left Bamako for a town called Mopti, a jumping off point to visit the Dogon country, we felt confident and prepared. We had our tickets in hand and arrived 45 minutes early for a 10am departure. And a good thing we arrived early. It gave us even more time to wait around for the bus to leave. Ten hours, actually.
Of course whenever I inquired at the ticket counter about the 'actual' departure time, I just got a laugh in my face and some ridiculous excuse—"Soon, soon. It is the rain, people are running late getting here this morning because of the rain." In reality I knew no one could say when the bus was leaving because it was whenever it filled up. Resigned to our fate of waiting indefinitely, I headed back to the wooden benches, covered with flies, and continued reading my book.
Young street vendors began circling the waiting area with impressive loads upon their heads for sale. Their goods were neatly arranged on homemade racks, precariously balanced on their heads. They sold everything from food to clothes and all kinds of sundries—toothbrushes, mirrors, flashlights, even such a thing called an '8-shot plastic disc cup' (replacements for a cap gun). Throughout much of the rest of West Africa, the best way to do your shopping is to take public transport. I prefer these mobile human five-and-dime shops to strip malls, any day.
By noon we decided we risked nothing to venture away from the bus shelter for something to eat. The owner of the bus company (B.E.C., motto: "Rapid, Secure, Comfortable") was crashed out sleeping in the cargo hold while his staff sat idly by waiting to sign-up more passengers. After a filling meal of rice and sauce, we lingered a little longer with a cup of coffee (real! not Nescafe) before turning back towards the bus. Lonely Planet mentions a daily 4pm Bamako-Mopti bus. This was probably the one. We had three more hours to wait, if we were lucky.
4pm came and went, of course. There seemed to be more activity around the bus and at least the owner was done napping. The bus crew was actually beginning to pile luggage into the cargo hold. And this were not talking about ordinary rectangular suitcases or boxes, but of big stainless steel basins stacked waist-high and wrapped with a large cloth loosely tied at the top. We'd seen these typical basins all over Senegal as well; I remembered them from when I used them in China to soak my feet on cold days. Here, they were used for all kinds of purposes—washing, cooking and eating. I waited to see how they were going to load it all onto the bus without spilling the contents. Other items, like bicycles and mobilettes, were hoisted up onto the roof of the bus to be strapped down. There was a great deal of commotion amongst the bus staff over how exactly to load the bus—one would say it was their first time doing it.
It came to be our turn to pass over our luggage. Gregg and I had consolidated our things into one pack for lighter travel. Transport for baggage is charged separately on these buses—the price varying largely depending on whether you're a foreigner. I was told my pack would cost CFA2000 (a third of what it costs for a passenger). The guy I was dealing with was very inattentive, constantly distracted by the chaos of his peers. He demanded I hand over money, which I mistakenly did out of fear that our things would be left behind. Frankly, I had no idea what the real price should of been until I was told later by locals (CFA700 max), and was not yet savvy enough with the tactics bus operators used to rip you off. Acknowledging that I had lost, I asked that he at least not write on my bag with the giant permanent marker in his hand, as he was doing on other baggage.
15 minutes later Gregg went to check the bag and saw that it had "01 Mopti" marked on it. I was pissed. I started to raise my voice demanding money back from the guy I had paid. Though I was aware that I was sort of making a scene, I didn't care. After being lied to about departure, over-charged for our bag, then disregarded when I asked my bag not be written on, I just lost my cool. I know not to expect to be treated differently than locals, but this outright disregard for people and their possessions wasn't right either. A few locals seeing that I was justly angry were kind enough to try and help negotiate with the bus attendant, all to no avail, naturally.