An April 2003 trip
to Bamako by Invicta73
Quote: Even though the main reasons for visiting Mali are located elsewhere, I decided to spend some time in Bamako after initially landing there and before heading on to the more renowned locales. I feel that doing so was definitely a good idea, primarily because of the capital's wonderfully vivacious character.
Instead, the actual highlight of my visit was experiencing the city's markets. The utter preponderance of stalls on pavements throughout the centre means that the whole place could quite easily fit such a description. However, the atmospheric and lively streets stretching between the vicinity of the Grand Mosque and the area surrounding the Grand Market building is undoubtedly the core. An amazingly diverse and rather fascinating range of products is available to purchase there, from clothing to traditional medicine.
On a brighter note, I would recommend taking the time to appreciate the River Niger. Although not the most scenic stretch of the great waterway, it is nevertheless the true heart of the city, and varies from incredibly busy to surprisingly tranquil. In places large groups of local women noisily congregate to do their laundry, whilst elsewhere there is peace and quiet, which is only occasionally disturbed when a pirogue passes by.
Therefore, utilising other modes of transport can be attractive, or even necessary, at times, especially considering that the majority of hotels and restaurants are located further out of the centre. The cheapest alternative is to use the ubiquitous and usually crowded green minibuses than run all through the city. Meanwhile a more convenient and comfortable alternative is to take taxis, which fall into two self-explanatory categories, shared and private.
Scattered around the pleasant site, which is in an outlying eastern district of the city, is a series of buildings that manage to be fairly traditionally styled, despite being concrete. Each contains several plain but clean and comfortable bedrooms, all of which have a reasonable selection of facilities, such as en-suite shower, satellite television, slightly ineffective air conditioning and much-needed mosquito nets.
Elsewhere, the pleasant reception features some eye-catching wooden sculptures, and is home to a small shop, an Internet connection and the area in which the very good breakfast buffet is available each morning, whilst upstairs there is a very highly regarded restaurant. Meanwhile, the members of staff are both generally efficient and always friendly, which encourages a thoroughly agreeable atmosphere.
Although the location may not be particularly convenient in some ways, it does mean that the hotel can spread out over a larger area than that covered by rivals closer to the city centre. The well-maintained and lush grounds feature a fine outdoor swimming pool, stretch right down to the banks of the Niger. Such a prime waterside setting is unrivalled, and offers tranquillity as well as plenty of opportunities to enjoy some interesting views, as fishermen travel past in pirogues and local women do their laundry in the waters.
Finally, the covered but otherwise open-air veranda that extends out over the river houses a fine bar. After a day spent in the hectic heart of the Malian capital, it is the perfect venue for having a cooling beer whilst watching the setting sun bathes the always lovely scenery in a glorious orange hue.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 19, 2003
Cité du Niger
The menu features a good selection of top quality West African dishes, which usually consist of either meat or fish with rice and maybe vegetables, accompanied by an all-important sauce. The ubiquitous River Niger speciality capitaine, which is usually called Nile Perch elsewhere, is of course available, and is supposed to be particularly great. In addition, the ever-helpful staff proved very willing to be flexible, meeting my request for a vegetarian meal with a wonderful feast, despite no such thing being formally on offer.
The appealing sound of live music performed on the kora frequently complements the dining experience. Meanwhile, the very pleasant nature surroundings are another highlight. Construction of the building, which is set back from the busy main road behind an appealing garden, clearly used traditional techniques. Inside it is beautifully furnished and decorated with Malian handicrafts and art, which undoubtedly reflects ownership by a former Minister of Culture and Tourism. Finally, the adjoining gallery is an excellent place in which to purchase extremely well made souvenirs.
Restaurant Le San Toro
Corner Of Av Al Quds And Hippodrome Road
2021 30 82
Located at the junction of Rue Famolo Coulibaly and Rue Mohammed V, not very far from the main markets, it is a convenient spot in which to take a break from the often hectic pace and frequently fierce heat outside. Full meals are served at both lunch and dinner times, although admittedly the menus consist mainly of fairly standard European dishes. Instead, the real draw is the large and constantly available selection of cakes and pastries created by the baker, who is reputedly one of the very best in the country. In fact, sitting in small shady garden enjoying one of the delights suggested by the establishment's name, which generally would not disgrace a cafe in France, alongside a decent cup of coffee, a rarity in the area, whilst watching the typically West African chaos on the crossroads outside is a wonderfully contradictory experience. Finally, the reasonable prices and excellent service also add to the charm.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on August 19, 2003
Les Délices de Bamako
Rue Famolo Coulibaly/Rue Mohammed V
Probably the single most important tourist sight is the National Museum, which is some way to the north of the centre. The ethnographic collection exhibited there is reputedly one of the very best in the region, which is largely due to the efforts of former archaeologist Alpha Oumar Konaré during his presidency. Unfortunately, there was no public access whilst I was in the country because of an ambitious refurbishment project.
Instead, going to the expansive and incredibly vibrant markets proved to be the most enjoyable part of spending time in the city. Close to the heart of what is in effect one vast outdoor emporium is the Saudi built Grand Mosque. In Malian terms, the structure is unusual because the general look, featuring soaring concrete minarets, is much more representative of the Middle East than West Africa, and also because non-Muslims are occasionally allowed to enter. Although definitely not as picturesque as some mud-brick counterparts elsewhere in the country, the scene around it on Fridays is certainly eye-catching as worshippers fill the precinct.
Meanwhile, the French left behind a couple of colonial era landmarks in broadly the same area. The first is a now little used sandstone cathedral, which is pleasant enough, although its European styling admittedly looks somewhat out of place. A similarly aged place that is much busier and more important to the local population nowadays is the train station. It is the terminus of the railway line from Dakar, and has a lovely façade that includes a notable gabled clock tower. Next door is the renowned Buffet de la Gare, where live performers sometimes play, including occasionally the legendary Super Rail Band.
Finally, spending time along the banks of the Niger is highly rewarding, and the stretch between the two main bridges on the north side of the river is particularly good. Not only are there lots of well tended lush green gardens that are full of bright flowers, fruit trees and vegetable plantations, but visions of daily life, such as large groups of the city's female population scrubbing bright garments in the waters, are also common. Towering above everything is the BCEAO tower, a skyscraper that dominates the skyline for miles around. Aside from being one of the tallest buildings in the vicinity, it is also noteworthy for a design that imaginatively draws inspiration from architecture typical of the Sahel.
One initial impression is likely to be that the entire place is one single huge bazaar, and really that is not too far from the truth, for the vast majority of the capital's commercial life occurs on the streets. Masses of colourfully attired people, many of whom are carrying loads on their heads, vie for space on the pavements with rows of ramshackle wooden stalls and cabins, from which just about everything available in Mali is sold. Meanwhile, the constant stream of mopeds and minibuses that fill the chaotic roads, a soundtrack of music coming from all directions, and the general friendliness of the locals combine to make visiting the centre a truly exhilarating experience that in my opinion should definitely not be missed, even if shopping is by no means a goal.
The focal point of activity was once the Grand Market, which burned down during the early 1990s. Despite the structure being rebuilt to look just like the original Pink Market, as it was and still is nicknamed due to the eye-catching and all encompassing colour scheme, many of the traders have proved to be reluctant to vacate their interim roadside positions and return to the new complex. However, although the concrete rendition of the typical local building style has not been too popular, going there is nevertheless worthwhile because only from up on the ramparts is it possible to see an undeniably engaging overview of the relentless bustle below. The area seen from the elevated position is largely home to vendors offering a wide range of goods, from household utensils to jewellery and West African cloths to lots of imitation brand name clothes. Nowadays it all pretty much merges with the somewhat inaccurately named Small Market, which is distinguishable only because the items that can be purchased there are predominantly various kinds of foodstuffs, such as fruits, spices and kola nuts.
There is also the Fetish Market, specialising in traditional medicines and charms made from dead animals, for example monkey heads and dried reptiles. It is not particularly for the faint hearted, as the sight and smell of the merchandise festering under the hot sun is quite unpleasant. However, the place does provide a morbid but interesting insight into Malian life, revealing how Islam has merely overlaid rather than supplanted previous beliefs, which is particularly pertinent given the close proximity of the Grand Mosque.
Finally, the nearby Artisans' Market is a fine spot in which to purchase souvenirs. The craftsmen based there not only sell their wares, but also can be frequently seen creating all kinds of objects associated with the region, including goods made from leather, silver and other metals, as well as musical instruments. The quality of stock is generally good, as are the prices, although a little friendly haggling is usually required.
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