Published: November 16th 2010October 29th 2010
Wakey, Wakey, Rise and Shine!!!
Waking up at the Senegal and Malian border.
Some people say:
Some people say:
The last part is the hardest part
Relating the first phrase I think indeed came close here in Mali. Agi thinks the second phrase is also true... Going to Mali was for me always something like a dream. In 2002 I came close, but lacked the time and money. Now I could spare both. So when the option arose, I took it with 2 hands. Agi came along, happy to complete our trip. The African continent could not be missed. Senegal was just a stop-over. Mali is the core destination. We've spent the most of our 'african' time here, knowing that the clock is ticking and the people at home are getting more and more eager to see us again. So there we went and took off to Mali: country of the Dogon, Timbuktu and the Niger river. I loved it. Agi loved it and hated it at the same time....
Fresh and happy, while still being in Bamako
From Tambacounda in Senegal we took a public bus to Mali's capital, Bamako. This was an overnight bus and we had to sleep at the border waiting for the immigration office to open next morning. Sleeping here means
sleeping on rented plastic mats on the ground among the buses and trucks. It was all right: a nice starry sky and actually no hassle with mosquitos...
The following day: Bamako. We spent the night at the Maison des Jeunes (a local government youth house). There is nothing to mention about the rooms, but let's just say the management calls these rooms boxes and they are quite right to do so. But what the hell: a low price can compensate a lot. The best part about this place was for free. When you go there and you're lucky, then in the evening hours you can see a lot of good stuff. Apparently the field around the house is used by the youngsters for practicing sports and music in the evenings. A traditional Malian music and dance group was rehearsing there for hours, so we got really lucky. Okay, they did not let us take photos but we managed to record a short sneaky video with their music. During the day we arranged some logistics , like arranging the visa for Mauritania, but Bamako is in itself not a beautiful city, so we spent here the minimum time. Once the
visa was done we moved further north-east to Segou.
Local Cuisine: Rice with Pebbles
A laid back port town on the Niger river with good atmosphere and rich colonial history. We got lucky with our accommodation here, nice new double room, so Agi was extremely happy. She longed for long for sleeping in a decent room and here she got it. Besides we found a lovely small restaurant with tasty quality food. Being so comfy, we decided to spend here 2 nights and enjoy the facilities. During the day we walked to the old part of the town to see the colonial buildings. Most of them are used now as government offices but some of them are inhabited by local poor families with no money to maintain them. So they are kinda crumbling... On the way back to town we bought a watermelon and decided to have it for lunch on the river bank. We found a nice shady spot in the 35C heat, feet in the water, not bad. Apparently the melon was unripe, to our disappointment. Then again, just can't be lucky all the time and who can claim to have eaten loads of good, juicy
The Niger River
The Niger river at Bamako
watermelon in November and October??? Here it's the season for it and we do abuse it a lot :-) But we decided to go back to the vendor lady to change it but in the meantime some local boys came up to us for a chat and they said for the locals the light pink melon is all right. As they were pretty nice boys we decided to give them the melon. You can't imagine the joy they had running around with the melon with huge smiles on their faces.
As we were still hungry we went back to town to look for some street food near the port. We found some girls selling there freshly made dege (mix of millet grains with yoghurt and sugar), it was delicious. We topped this up with some rice and sauce that was sold by a lady nearby. Well, this latter meal was a mistake. After a few bites we realised that she probably used river water for cooking the meal as we were chewing on small pebbles and sand. Yukk! So you may guess we did not finish the plate, but no problem, there were enough hungry people around volunteering for
Pont des Martyrs
The main bridge in Bamako.
our plate. Apparently the food was not too bad for our stomach as we survived without illness, but to be sure Agi volunteerly cleared her stomach right after getting back to the hotel. Just to be sure nothing goes terribly wrong. In the afternoon we decided to discover the local millet beer brewery which is located near the Catholic mission. Wonder why it's not next to the mosque... And it did not take too much time to find the little courtyard where the ladies were cooking the dark brown millet beer in huge coldrons. Of course the men were sitting around drinking the lightly alcoholic nectar from calabas bowls. We had some haggle with wanna-be guides but after a while they let us alone and we could drink and chat with the locals. In the evening there was a huge storm which refreshed the streets and the trees, it was nice watching it from a terrasse, drinking beer.
Djenné or Sévaré???
Next morning we left early to the main road in order to catch a bus to the crossing for Djenné. Djenné is not on the main road, but approx 30km west of it. The taxi driver
The local Karate and Judo clubs
Practicing on the field in front of the Maison des Jeunes. No pics from the music group though....
took us to one of the bus companies, so we bought our ticket. Got cheated on the price, but we had no options. And we started waiting. From 9 am till something like 1 pm... The transportation fun had just started. The bus dropped us at the crossing and we arranged 2 seats in the shared bush-taxi towards Djenné. After 5 minutes of waiting the driver comes up to us and informs us that we'll have to pay for 4 more seats, or otherwise he won't go. Nice. We haggle and we offer to pay 2 seats extra, as it's getting dark. Nope, 4 seats extra. We're pissed off, but decided to hail the next bus on the main road going east. We got one, settle a price and start picking up our bags. Then suddenly the taxi-driver figures his easy money is disappearing, so he suddenly offers with a nice smily gesture "only 2 seats is ok and we'll go". So ok, apparently we're still going to Djenné this night, good. The bus which we had stopped left without us, and immediately the price goes up again to 4 seats and not a single incentive to start driving to
And the wind picked up...
Suddenly the skies were dusted and blocked everything.
Djenné. But just to let you know, the other passengers who were also waiting for the taxi to be filled up were not haggled, were not asked for more money. They just were squatting on the ground and watching..... Agi and I got by this time really irritated. So luckily we still found an other bus going east, got on and headed to Sévaré. Djenné, and its famous mud mosque (the largest mud brick building in the world), were passed and we're hoping that maybe on the way back we might have another chance.... We ended up in Sévaré, and actually it worked out pretty ok.
Guess in case you go to Mali and you can either have a nice local contact/friend traveling alongside you or in case you arrange your own transport, like renting a 4x4, then Mali can be enjoyed much, much more. Right now the tourist season is just starting. November - January is the
season, and the French are by far bulk of them. However just recently there have been some Al Qaida threats in Mali, some French have been kidnapped in Niger and are supposedly brought to the most northern part of Mali. So
they are (being made?)
afraid, and therefore they don't come here any more and cancelled their trips. So the tourists who still do come here are the sole chances for making a quick, easy buck and the locals know it. Pretty annoying at times, but then again we also met loads of nice, friendly and helpful people here. Still it's a lovely country with loads of nice people, but the opportunistic haggling.....
There are more photos below