Work took me to Niger Monday morning, a trip I usually make by road from Burkina Faso. Its 490km to Niamey from Ouagadougou, 45mts by air, 6hrs by road. There is a $300 reason for opting to travel by car, the difference between the cost of a ticket and how much I spend on fuel.
Left home at 04:30 and I was soon up to speed, bowling along at the customary 120km plus which should get me to Niger around 11 local time.
That's if all goes according to plan.
The drive is a pleasant one, I love to watch the sun come up when I'm on the road. The noise of the wind, the sound of the rolling tires.
My route takes me from Ouaga to Koupella from there on to Fada, then Kantchari which is the border with Niger.
The stretch between Fada and Kantchari is one better not traveled at night, armed bandits are reported to operate here, and judging by the number of army patrols I've seen, there seems to be some truth to it. I have one rule, never travel at night; leave early but avoid deserted stretches after dusk.
Travel by road in Africa, especially when crossing borders requires various checks. The first on the road to Niger is at the Police Post about 1okm this side of Kantchari where its obligatory to show the car's documents. There is no recording of this information, just a cursory glance at the papers by the Police there.
At Kantchari there are two points, one a customs point and the other the Immigration/ Emigration point, two km apart. Remember, this road is a life line to Niger for it is along this that the bulk of the imports come by, be it fr0m the sea ports of Tema (Ghana), Lome (Togo) or Cotonou (Benin), so it is a well traveled road with much traffic.
Which reminds me of the car convoys - second hand cars from Europe, landed at one of those ports are driven in convoy, signals flashing, 10, 20 to convoy speeding along either to Ouaga or the other direction to Niamey.
This is also the route for long distance buses, to Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Niger and even Chad.
At the customs point, depending on the mood of the man in charge, your particulars will be logged or not. Either way, its generally a five minute stop.
Pop back in the car and on to the Police post to get an exit stamp on the passport.
The Frontier as it's called is another 5km from that point, and Niger's counterpart to Kantchari, Makalondi a further 15hm - a buffer zone between the two countries.
Makalondi is a small community that has grown around the Police and Custom's office. As soon as you stop one or two customs officers will amble up to check your vehicle, after which in a most lordly manner they will direct you to the shack across the parade ground where a usually scruffy looking official will painfully note down all the details pertaining to your vehicle and you.
Then its to I/E where after again noting your passport details you get stamped in.
Now, after the visa stamp the singular most important piece of paper you need if traveling in your own vehicle is the Laissez-passer - French for "Let Pass". This paper allows you to temporary import the vehicle into an adjoining country and gives me the freedom to travel.
Now considering that every non Niger registered vehicle requires one of these the least you would expect is that there would be enough of them right? Wrong. I'm told that they have run out of the permits, the books are finished!
I'm told that I can get one 25km further on, at Torodi. So I drive on, reaching Toradi at 10:00hrs. Its started raining by now, but hey, I'm on schedule, or so I thought.
Lots of people around in uniform, little work going on, all of the sitting around chatting. And the guy who handles the permits? He's out back in his quarters asleep, why, cos its raining!
A Lexus SUV drives up, a senior office, I expect things to happen. He gets out,uniform, rubber slippers, walks across to the chatters and joins in.
A mercedes next, another officer, sandals this time, same outcome.
Eventually, 11:30 the combined efforts of three people gets me my paper.
In Niamey I get pulled over - Laissez-passer, s'il vous plaît, permis de conduire.
I am so glad I stayed to get it.
Work done I left Niamey at 4am... this usually means I'll wake up the guys at Makalondi and since they don't have power it means fumbling around with a torch getting the entry record canceled, passport stamped.
Dawn breaks and the sky is beautiful. I'm at peace
One thing about these roads, accidents are frequent and usually fatal. On this trip I came across a container truck that had run off the road at night, driver fell a sleep I suppose. The other accident was a toppled bus, goods strewn all across the road.
Sleep is a killer, which is why i do at times pull over, lock the doors and catch a few winks...
I'm back home, another 1200km on the clock...