Mali: Southern Mali Bushcamps & Bamako - December 2010


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Africa » Mali » District of Bamako » Bamako
December 20th 2010
Published: January 18th 2011
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We crossed into Mali at the Senegal border town of Kadira and first up had another three nights of bushcamps. The Boabab trees seem to be everywhere now, they’re such awesome looking trees! We stopped near a whole group of towering Boabab’s for lunch just after crossing through the border. However, a policeman from the border who had asked (and been refused) bribes from us drove up on his motorbike and decided to throw his weight around and tell us we couldn’t stop on this (albeit public) land. On we moved to the other side of a guard post... approximately 1km down the road..... which turned out to be outside of his ‘jurisdiction’ and therefore we could resume lunch without interruption :-).

That day we stopped at Keyes, reputed to be the ‘hottest town in Africa’ – we have to agree it was pretty hot! Ryan, Tim and I were on cookgroup and went to get meat from the market. After perusing what was on offer, picking the least fly infested and asking the price, we picked the pieces we wanted and asked the guy to cut it down to roughly 4kg. He did so, but then said he was a bit upset at chopping his best piece up. Then when we went to pay we were told that the price for the piece we had chosen was higher. A bit frustrated we tried to argue, and were quickly surrounded by guys all arguing with us. A little intimidating, I was all for just leaving and going to the next guy, but they eventually took our price. But Mali was only to get better, it hailed the start of Boabab Trees, and temperatures so hot that even in the back of the truck whilst moving the air blows so hot you can feel every drip of moisture leached from your body. Though we have to say it appears to be the end of yummy Mirinda (back to Fanta we go...).

Instantly, we loved Mali. We drove through countryside very infrequently driven by tourists (or anyone at all!!) and most of the time felt like we were forging our own roads through sand, rocks and being whipped in the back by stray branches and thorns. The roads appeared to be more-or-less non-existent. Everything (including ourselves!) was covered in a coat of thick red dust, the truck kicking up huge clouds of the stuff which floated through us all and gave everything a kind of red filter. However, the scenery was spectacular!

A memorable stop was by the Senegalese River. The water was cool and crystal clear. It was a baking 45 degrees or so and the water was like heaven. We found a spot where most people stripped and jumped in – it’s been a while since we had had showers - hence the desperation. Martin had been fiercely unwell (7+ power chucks) the night before and was having a pretty rough day so spent his time trying not to move if at all possible, the bumpy roads had been particularly trying for his fragile state! There were several children bathing and washing clothes in the river, they were astounded by us but super friendly, they wanted their photos taken but surprisingly didn’t ask for ‘cudo’ or gifts – instead they were super polite and thanked US for taking the photos and showing them – ahhh the wonders of digital cameras! It was one of our best stops yet, it was a really magical place to be.

In general, the villages we passed through were extremely friendly and to date not spoiled by tourists. They cheered and shouted as we drove through, smiling, dancing and waving their arms off. Africa is children. There are so many, and driving through the countryside we are often driving to the soundtrack of happy, playing children. They seem to be so much hardier and tougher than western children and they always seem so happy with their lot in life!

One day we stopped at a village where electricity was non-existent and they draw water from wells. The principal of the village school brought all the children out, who all looked clean and healthy and very happy. Michael donated his kite to them and they had a great time learning what it was and how it works up the dirt road. The children loved the novelty of our visit (and I guess a break from classes!) They all wanted their photos taken, you’d be aiming at one small child and suddenly others would notice and they’d all start adding themselves to the photo and so you had to keep stepping back and re-focusing as more and more crowded in! They loved seeing themselves on the screen after. We also took “flip” footage of them and showed them themselves on ”tv” which they were quite amazed by, we can only fathom how strange and ‘out of the world’ this seemed to them. The principal was very friendly and chatted away in French to Lee. We were sad to leave, it was a great stop and the kids raced alongside us waving furiously as we left. There was a genuine sense of being the only white people they had ever seen, shown by their genuine curiosity and interest, rather than them just begging for money, lollies or gifts like so many of the children we see. So innocent!

Mandy has a thermometer on her travel clock and we’ve been putting it in the sun to gauge the temperatures – one day it easily reached 46.5 degrees while we ate lunch. Even driving along the roads, the air is so hot you can barely breathe. But this is the Africa we love. The days of driving through endless isolated villages, stunning scenery and waving at all the happy kids. The scorched tall brown grass, the baked red earth, the searing heat, it is always so surreal to be here, in Africa, the cradle of civilisation.

Our first stop back in a city was Bamako, the capital of Mali, where we would be spending Christmas. We were granted fantastic tar-sealed roads that day – yes tar-seal, exciting stuff!!! Things were looking up... and even better, at Sleeping Camel we found we had showers, electricity, wi-fi and cold drinks – it’s the simple things in life! But these things have become luxury now and we were stoked to have them for Christmas! The first afternoon was spent basking in these luxuries. Took forever on the wi-fi clearing emails but eventually we got them a little more up to date! That night Martin and about 8 others headed off to a local bar before dinner, they then returned after dinner, when the ‘niteclub’ phase had started. They all got quite boozed and danced their feet off until about 2am the next morning, Martin spent his time teaching the prostitutes at the bar how to Rock n Roll dance ha ha – he had a small queue waiting at one point.

The following day the boys were pretty hungover so it was a slow start to the day but it was really nice just to be able to chill! Bunny got hold of her parents at Trin’s place on skype to say a “Happy Christmas Eve” and also talk to all our friends over there enjoying Trin’s cooking up a feast.

In the arvo we thought we better take in some of the city, so headed off to the Museum Nationale. - which was actually quite surprising! So many times in poor third world countries the museums are a bit uncared for and a hobbled together collection with little display skills. This museum was quite the opposite – it was a modern, attractive building that looked very new. In the surrounding pretty gardens there were scale models of Malian landmarks such as the famous mud mosque at Djenne. Inside, the displays were ingeniously done, they were well spread out, in attractive cases and displayed in creative ways. Eg, textiles wrapped around large silver metal pipes or the steps of tie-dye shown in terms of clothes on the walls. All the signage was in French but we had a feeling that they were very informative if you could speak French!! The dogon masks and statues and the scale models of Djenne had us very excited about our upcoming trip to the Dogon Country that we were currently trying to organise. The current exhibition, set out in a separate hall, was Malian 70’s music, so that was pretty cool seeing their musical influences at the time and the whole circular process of African slaves taking music to America and then that American blues music coming full circle decades later and influencing music in Mali. They had record covers from the era all over the walls and ‘sound stations’ where you could listen to popular Malian music, like the ‘Rail Band de Bamako’ founded by actual members of the Mali Railway Corporation and which went on to become exceedingly popular in Mali. Then it was back to the campsite for more chilling and Martin managed to get hold of his Mum to say a “Merry Christmas”. We booked in the Dogon Country trip for ourselves, Kirsten, Ian and Ryan with Matt at the campsite so we were very excited about that. The others are doing a river cruise up the Niger River, we would have loved to do both but time is of the essence. Also would have loved to do Timbuktu as originally planned but safety up even further was of a concern and also time again was a little restricted. Will have to make a return trip to Mali! :-).

On Christmas Eve, Bunny went with a few others to a music concert at the Exodus club, quite a well known music venue in the Hippodrome area of town. They headed out at 10pm and there were a few singers who warmed the stage up for the main act. My favourite was probably actually the singer from Senegal, but I missed his name. The main act was exceedingly popular with all the locals but I expected something a bit more upbeat and it was kind of slow..... a few of our group managed to doze off for a few moments :-) Probably great music for chilling out on a Sunday arvo or at a restaurant during dinner, but wasn’t the kind of hyped concert performance we’d all been expecting! I was highly amused to see everyone trying to dance to the music, but being kind of slow it forced everyone to dance in a weird slow motion type fashion on the dance floor! All the locals in attendance were dressed to the nines! Then some local guys behind us made Lindi Lou and I get up and go dancing which was ridiculous, we couldn’t figure out how you were supposed to dance to it so after trying to dance in slow motion and laughing our heads off we soon escaped ha ha.

Christmas Day in Bamako dawned again sunny and hot. Beers from the bar started... well with breakfast really! Soon it was time for the game we call “Kris Kringle” – not sure if it has a name here but where you can pick a present from the table or steal someone else’s gift. Many laughs were had at the creative, ingenious and souvenir gifts. Later in the afternoon we made a trip to the nearby French supermarket for stocking up on a few drinks and so on. We got back to see that one of the local guys at the campsite had managed to wrangle a goat and three local guys to come back to the campsite and cook it for us. This was quite interesting as they built the fireplace from brick and set about preparing the goat and stuffing it with couscous. It cooked for hours and afterwards there was sooooo much food! Andi had arranged the rest of the Christmas menu and we all feasted til we dropped on salads and vegetables roasted over the fire. Delicious!! One of the ‘Sleeping Camel’ owners brought us all chilled vodka shots later that night, and afterwards Martin and I moved into Kirsten and Ian’s room for the night for a night in a comfy bed and to pack up for the Dogon country the next day.


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