, with its open sewer system constantly clogged, its dirt roads in the city centre and its profusion of beggars - only outnumbered by the innumerable flies that stir up the heavy fumes - is on sanitary par with New Delhi in India.
Spent five days roaming the crowded market, paying a visit to the national museum and obtaining another expensive visa.
Had our first encounter with the disreputable guides of Mali. You'll find them (actually, they'll find you) in any city/town/village/junction/road or footpath in Mali. Initially they are a pester, but after you've met a few, you know how the story goes, as they pull all the tricks in the book.
We left Bamako for Djenne
, in what looked like a high standard bus, but after the third breakdown it was just to pull out our sleeping bags and spread them out on the rocky ground next to the road. A light drizzle fell as we eventually fell asleep to a high frequency lullaby from the cicadas.
The next morning a bypassing minibus picked us up and eventually delivered us in Djenne in the middle of the hectic Monday market.
The mosque - the most
famous building in West Africa - is the worlds biggest mud building and reminds more of a termite mound than anything manmade. The village is very beautiful, but getting lost and found in the small narrow maze that comprise the village, would be more romantic if it wasn't for the presence of a horde of beggars, the ubiquitous guides and free spending French package tourists.
But as the commerce settled down, the beggars went home to their families and the guides had hooked the package tourists and left, the streets got very tranquil to walk. At dusk - silhouettes of crouching women sweeping the streets, stirred up salmon orange dust as the last tuareg nomads left with their pots, poultry and characteristic pointy hats.
Had some really savoury pancakes and went to Mopti
- the core of Malis tourism industry - with an undeserved bad reputation. Spent a day to haggle over the price for a boat ride along the Niger river
, but the price was just as outrageous as the guides scams are predictable.
Walking the old town felt like being back in Morocco, the streetfood was excellent and the pinhole photographers friendly,
even as they laughed at me as I lost my voice.
Aili arranged a 4x4 to carry us to Timbuktu and we took off over the monotonous sahel landscape, every now and again spotting a sapphire blue Abyssinian roller bird, a well appreciated dash of colour and life, in this otherwise barren semi-desert.
And then: the legendary Timbuktu.
A small town bordering the great Sahara desert. 150 year ago this was just as veiled in mystique as Eldorado, Shangri-La or Atlantis. Many were the explorers who tried but failed to find it, or found it but left it in a coffin.
The dry dusty heat made all the guides lethargic but it also made it hard for me to find my lost voice. Had a look for it in the northern parts of the strictly segregated town, among the tuareg quarters and then further north where the dwellings are nomadic encampments turning into makeshift shelters as you shuffle upon the fringe of the dune desert.
Watched a game of desert football as the sunset and eventually found my voice as we fell into a slumber under the starlit sky, making up new
rooftop in Djenne
constellations. The Timbuktu rooftops are excellent for spotting constellations of stars, look out especially for:
The peglegged leprechaun, the hurdler with IBS (irritable bowel syndromes), the electric boogie flying squirrel or the rare; "Drunk santa ruins Christmas for a Christian family" - which actually is a combination of three other; the rent-a-claus (a rented santa), the misled kids, and the prude priests spouse.
The next morning I found my innkeeper tearing a picture of Muammar al-Qaddafi ( the current dictator of Libya) into pieces. I asked him why and he explained to me how al-Qaddafi during his visit to Mali last month, made a detour from his planned itinerary, and went into the desert north of Timbuktu.
There he remained for three nights, gathering the tuareg nomads and officially distributing medicine. But instead brought the no:1 thing this region really don't need; more heavy weapons and someone to incite a new rebellion. If it's true or a skein of rumours, I really don't know, but our host expected an uprising among the tuaregs within a year or two. Time will tell.
The next day we went back south to Sevaré
, when asking the
driver about the time of arrival, I got the answer: - Neuf heures!
Pronounced: which was true since the car broke down and we had to hitch the last part of the journey to Sevaré were we spent the evening deceiving hopeful guides in a bar, to the blues tunes of Ali Farka Tourè.
Had a stop at Bandiagara
- the gateway into the Dogon country
- on the weekly market before we went to the Dogon village Djiguibombo
, situated on the plateau. From there we trekked down the escarpment to Kani- Kombole
where we spent a night - very troubled by the heat - awaiting the morning.
Walked to the village Telli
with its dramatic cliffside dwellings. The trademark (along with the pointy fairytale looking granaries ) of the 150 km long escarpment, that is home to the Dogon people.
Saw a couple of more villages before we arrived exhausted in Bankass
at dusk, and by luck we immediately found a car bound for Koro.
I can't emphasize enough how little you would need a guide, for going trekking in the Dogon country. All the talk about villagers being hostile if one
show up without a guide is just hot air and we were greeted with smiles and handshakes by everyone we met. Since May is as much low season it gets in Mali, we were the only foreigners out trekking and people were happy to get the extra income we provided, while buying food and water.
It was nice to spend a night in the hustle free town Koro, so that we at least had one really good town to look back on in Mali.
An uneventful journey along the dry and flat landscape led us to the border with Burkina Faso.
Watching small tornados evolve, sweep through the thorntrees - and then, in the next moment - with a vague twitch; dissolve.
There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don't know.
Secretary of Defense: Donald Rumsfeld elaborating: "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." Before going to war with Iraq.
Tot: 2.089s; Tpl: 0.075s; cc: 24; qc: 199; dbt: 0.1279s; 1; m:saturn w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.9mb