Published: December 18th 2006December 18th 2006
Well I'm guessing this will be the last update before Christmas. I can't belive it's less than a week away. Here I am in the heat and the sun, with the bustling market stalls piled high with watermelons, and suddenly we see a man selling inflatable santas! It's the first festive sign I've seen in Africa, a far cry from Southampton shops playing jingle bells and the lights going up in October! I guess it's just another indication that we've moved south, crossed the border into Mali and left the influence of the Arab north increasingly behind us.
The change is unbelievable, and I'm already loving the look of Mali. Everyone is unbelievably friendly, waving and calling out bonjour as we pass through scattered villages of round mud huts. All the stereotyped images of Africa are here, but that's what makes this country so fascinating. It's all the things I longed to see, or dreaded, or could never expect, all rolled into one. The red dusty roads and dry yellow grass contrast with the bright colours of the dresses and headscarves the women wear, as they balance buckets of produce from the fields on their heads and babies in slings
Pushing the boat out
Kids from the village we visited on our boat trip on the River Niger, helping to get us on our way again. They played up to the camera so much and were great fun to meet.
across their backs. The piles of clothes being beaten on rocks at the water's edge as we drift past in a dugout canoe, which we are being ripped off for because we are tourists and therefore undeniably rich despite our strict budgeting for this trip. There are children with rags for clothes who will leap and wave and play games with you from a timid distance, but run away if you approach to give them an orange, and then there are the teenagers with mobile phones who demand un cadeaux each time you step off the truck. But I love it all!
Anyway, enough rambling! What have we done? To be honest not a lot...well loads, but mostly covering miles to get to Mali. What we did in Mauritania was eat a lot of food. It's our obsession, when you can't get all the food you're used to, whenever you feel like it, or chose what you're having for dinner, you start to crave everything. Thankfully there is lots of yummy local food to try, although the Africa diet is definitely not the healthiest anymore. In the Mauritanian capital we discovered takeaway alley and gorged on Shwarma and kebabs
and Fatayer. The best way to describe Fatayer is as a giant deep fried dougnut bread, filled with fried onions, chips and lashings of ketchup and mayonnaise, believe me it is probably the best hangover cure ever invented! Needless to say we felt like pigs after that, but still found room for pudding. If colonialism has done any good it is definitely to have left behind a legacy of patisseries throughout West Africa!!
Other than eating too much (well, it is Christmas!), we visited some oasis towns in northern Mauritania. A lot of them were dissapointing, I never was a big fan of historic crumbling buildings or Koranic libraries (sorry Mum!), and they were touristy and full of hassle. But the last village we visited was off the beaten track, tranquil, with friendly people and traditional huts, a pleasure to take an afternoon stroll through! We also slept out in a sand storm in the desert and woke up to sand in our mouths, eyes, ears, hair, sleeping bags, flip flops buried and pillows blown away! The fun continued as we tried to dig the truck out of it.
Now we are in Bamako for a few days, showering and catching up before we head to Timbuktu for Christmas! Last night we went to a club and saw a traditional Malian jamming session. It was great fun. I wish I knew what they were singing, they sounded so passionate. And the drumming was amazing, the guys hands were moving so fast they were a blur!
So all that's left to say is have a fantastic and Merry Christmas everyone, wherever you may be and I'll hopefully catch up in the New Year, wherever I will be then! Fxx