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Published: February 22nd 2011
1/1/2011 - day in Mopti
On arrival in Mopti we were met by our tour organiser - who would accompany us on the river and festival sections of the tour. This was a good opportunity for some down time and washing. Four of us decided to take a walk around the town before dinner and while it is a major town in Mali - it didn't really hold anything special for us.
The main area of interest was the Mosque, and we were invited up onto people's roofs to get a better view of the Mosque. "No charge" they say, but, you don't get anything for free and on the way up the stairs onto one roof we passed a little area set aside for making local handicrafts. So you know that you are going to be hit on to buy something on the way down - even with a lot of bargaining it probably would have been cheaper to pay to get onto the roof in the first place. But I am getting better at bargaining and particularly on this trip I have made a point to shake hands once the deal is made, smile and make sure
both parties are happy.
It was also good to walk along the port area and watch all the activity....lots of dried, smoked and fresh fish being traded and the usual washing 'hanging' out on the banks of the river.
I was pleased to see in one area near the market, that there was a rubbish tip and a sign to encourage people to put their rubbish in one place - small start to a big problem. On the same note - some people were digging out a large area on the river bank here and you could see the remains of plastic rubbish bags down several metres.....land fill in your back yard.
Mopti is, apparently, the most important urban centre in the Niger Inland Delta and is the capital of Mali's fifth largest region. It's commercial importance and ideal river location mean that life is dominated around the busy port area. Around the Mopti area we saw several new fish processing plants under construction - I think with funds from the Japanese -but these plants will be of great help to the local fisherman as they will not have to travel soo far to sell their catch.
Our host took us all our to dinner that night. We went down dark alleys to a street stall - the food was really good. We were invited into the family's sitting cum bedroom to eat our meal and keep an eye on the baby asleep on the bed...how trusting they were.
Prior to the meal we had a drink in a bar in the same alley - I think we were the only three white women who had ever been in there. The bar was in the end room - a motor bike was parked in another room and the whole place had an unusual smell - but we were past the point of no return. The men in the bar were very gracious and welcomning and stared a little and had a little difficulty finding glasses for us to drink out of. We were shown into the 'lounge' area and if you can imagine the worst Uni-type pub in Australia (broken couches and all) - this was our special area. The bar's "chief" sat himself down in the middle of us all - he was beautifully dressed in local clothing - and commented on how beautiful
white women were - what a sweetie. We managed to draw a crowd looking in through the slatted windows.
2/1/2011 - first day on the Niger River
We were very excited to start our trip up the Niger River to Timbuktu - three days on the river and two night camping out on the way up toTimbuktu. We travelled in a 'pinasse' - a small boat - these boats travel up and down the river taking passengers all over Mali via the river system.
Instead of leaving directly from Mopti we travelled about an hour upstream to meet our pinasse - this way we would save about 2 hours on the river on that day - and just as well as we needed every minute of that time.
The pinasse was loaded with our luggage, food, drinks, etc and we pushed off - we managed to go about 500 metres and the boat began to fill up with water - very quickly we were up to our ankles in water. A quick retreat to the bank of the river and unload everything. We were slightly anxious about our safety but were told that the boat will
Pottery in Mopti.
The pots are fired and glazed first and then the artists etch out the pattern.
be fixed or we would get another boat for the trip.
After some "African" repairs were done (they found the hole, soaked a rag in oil and stuffed it in the hole, found some plastic and nailed it over the hole) and we were off again. We understood that the boat owners would not risk loosing their boat under any circumstances as that boat was their livelihood - so that gave us the confidence to get back into the boat.
The floodplain of the River Niger extends almost as far as the fringes of the Sahara. It is a hugh river and flows for 4,200 km through four West African countries before emptying ito the Gulf of Guinea on the Nigerian coast. The river traverses Mali for about 1,700 km, literally bringing life to a coutry with no coastline and a negligible amount of rainfall. All along the banks of the river fruit and vegetables are grown, and in certain areas rice is cultivated, and the 20,000 square km Niger Inland Delta is the largest reservior of freshwater fish in West Africa.
We passed over Lake Debo today which is one of the best known lakes in
Built in a similar design to the mud mosque in Djenne.
the inland delta region. It is about 30kms across, shallow and can be difficult to cross when it is windy. Our captain was anxious to get across the lake before night fall - which we did manage to do and finally set up camp in the early evening.
We were running late when, early afternoon, we stopped at a small village to stretch our legs and have a look at the Mosque. When the boat arrives you are immediately overrun with children - they follow you around the village (asking for handouts - pens, lollies, take photo, etc). One little girl showed Michael her finger and it was a mess - very infected. We found her Uncle and took her on board the boat and 'operated' on her finger - poor little thing she was afraid and it must have hurt her - even a lolly pop couldn't calm her.....and all her friends were leaning into the boat trying to see what was going on. Her family were very grateful for the attention and additional medicine and bandages we gave them - I hope her finger got better as we were worried that she could lose her finger if it
Local in the street, Mopti.
Saw this man get out of a tuk-tuk - we are still surprised to see people with guns. Not sure if they have any bullets - some say the local chiefs carry a gun as a sign of their status in the community.
was not attended to.
My initial fears of camping on the banks of the river were immediately forgotten when I saw the camping area - tents set up, fire lit, relaxing drink, food and good conversation, and a great night sky to gaze up at.....what more could you want.
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