Mali Stories and Tips

Day 11 - Nearly Broke and Barely Making It Out of Timbuktu

Skinny Dipping Photo, Mali, Africa

I felt relieved waking up on the last day I'd be in Timbuktu. I was glad knowing Aly had found a ride out of town, albeit an expensive one. Today also happened to be Thanksgiving Day. Yet, unknown to me as I left the hotel and walked to the meeting place on the other side of town, today would be unlike any Thanksgiving Day I would ever experience.

At 7am, Aly, Rod, and I all met at Hotel Boctou to take the Toyota Land Cruiser back to Mopti. Aly told us we'd have to walk to the car's owner's house, back towards where I had just walked from. When we arrived, Rod and I sat down in the small living area/courtyard in the house, while Aly went outside with the owner. Through the front doors we could hear Aly arguing with the man. Though, since Rod and I didn't know a lick of Bambara, we had no clue what was happening. Then, Aly and the man left without telling us where they were going.

For the next 2 hours Rod and I sat in this man's house with his family staring at us, wondering who we were. They didn't speak English, and we didn't speak Bambara or French. So, we had no way of telling them who we were, and they had no way of telling us to leave. Slowly but surely, Rod became very agitated not knowing where Aly was. However, I was used to Aly's long absences and was not too concerned.

Eventually Aly returned and took me aside to talk to me. He had never done this before, so I knew something was wrong. Apparently the owner of the Land Cruiser had pulled a "bait and switch" on Aly, quoting one price for the car but then demanding a higher price when it came time to pay. Aly, still insisting that we take this car, ended up selling his cell phone to get more money. But it was still not enough, so Aly asked me for some money. Not expecting to use any of my "emergency money," and not wanting to be stuck in Timbuktu, I gave Aly about US$75 and an additional 16000CFA (about US$32) and told him to spend it wisely. Again, after getting the money, Aly left.

Around an hour later a young man came to the house for Rod and I, explaining that he was Aly's friend and we were to follow him. So, with our big bags, we walked back to the central part of Timbuktu. He did not say anything to us except that Aly was looking for a ride for us. At that point, I knew something bad had happened, that we had lost the Land Cruiser and Aly had no ride for us to get out of town, even with the money I gave him. I feared that Rod was snap at this point, especially since he did not know Aly like I did.

We ended up going to the same house I had spent the previous afternoon in. Again, I played checkers with Aly's friend, and we stayed there for another 2 hours. At the house we met Jezabel, a French student studying in Bamako, doing research in Timbuktu, and also needing a ride out of town.

Around noon, Aly finally arrived with a car. I had never felt more relieved, and was even happier to leave Timbuktu. Still, despite all this, I had not eaten anything that day, even though it was Thanksgiving, because we did not have any money to spend on food.

The next 3 hours were spent on the dirty, bumpy road between Timbuktu and Bambara Maounde. We took a pit stop in Bambara Maounde at the same place I spent the night on the floor of the restaurant. There, the children recognized me as the crazy white guy who had spent the night there a few days before. Here, the driver asked us if we wanted any goat meat by waving a bone with goat meat on it and saying, "Chomp chomp?" Jezabel was the only one who ate any. After seeing how it was prepared a few days before, I declined.

After the pit stop, I ate a few peanuts as we headed down the bumpy dirt road to Douentza, where the dirt road meets the one paved road outside Douentza. Before long, the few peanuts were bouncing around in my empty stomach, making me rather uncomfortable. Luckily, just as the sun set, we made it to Douentza, onto the paved road, and pulled over for another break.

Here, at a tiny roadside shack at the edge of Douentza, with my filthy clothes and unshaven beard, feeling sick, and sweat pouring out of my body, I ate my Thanksgiving meal for 2005: a single plate of spaghetti and water from a Nalgene bottle. I ate the bowl of spaghetti in record time.

After my Thanksgiving feast, we drove for another 3 hours down the paved road to Mopti. We originally had planned to make it to Mopti in time to catch the bus to Bamako. However, due to the delays we had in Timbuktu, we missed the bus. So, I spent the night at Campement Hotel de Mopti.

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