Written by fallschirmhosen on 29 Jan, 2006
I woke up on the roof of the Sahara Passion (about 5000CFA to camp on roof, rooms for about 12000CFA) hotel ready to see what this mysterious town had to offer. The previous night I had arrived late, then immediately went to the hotel and…Read More
I woke up on the roof of the Sahara Passion (about 5000CFA to camp on roof, rooms for about 12000CFA) hotel ready to see what this mysterious town had to offer. The previous night I had arrived late, then immediately went to the hotel and ate, so I did not see much at all.After eating breakfast, Aly met me and brought me to a friend of his who would give me a tour of the town. For the next couple hours I took a guided tour of Timbuktu. The tour, however, was not anything worth spending on. My guide was 18 years old and did not seem to know much about the town he had lived his entire life in. Most questions I asked he could not answer. When I asked him when people first arrived in Timbuktu, his response was, "A long time ago." If I ever went again, I'd take a good guidebook with me and give myself the tour.On the tour I did see the Djingareiber Mosque, built in the 14th century and open for tourists. I had never been in a mosque, so what was inside was very interesting. After visiting the mosque, we took some time to pass by the homes of the early white explorers. I think it is safe to say that the town has hardly changed since those explorers passed through Timbuktu centuries ago.After seeing the homes, we stopped at the Timbuktu museum, which was a single room that was very badly lit. The museum was unlike any museum I had been to in the States. Instead of everything being behind glass and out of reach, everything in the museum was out in the open and could be picked up and touched. I guess they are not too concerned about preservation. The only things under glass were an old book and shackles for slaves. Again, when I asked the guide how old the book was, his response was one I could have said: "It's very, very old."After seeing the main tourist attractions in the town, we stopped by an Internet cafe to check email and a post office to send postcards. From there, we walked to the OMATHO office to get my official passport stamp. Please note that it is free to get such a stamp at this office, though my guide insisted it cost money and that I had to pay him to get the stamp. At this point I was not too happy with my guide.The most interesting aspects of Timbuktu are the areas of town that the locals frequent. My walk through the local market was indeed interesting, with various foods from around the area for sale, like big slabs of meat covered in flies for people to buy. Be warned that taking pictures here is tricky. Ask permission before snapping away.One thing I learned very quickly is that the locals and guides in Timbuktu will pressure you to buy things, such as turbans, tobacco, etc. According to them, you absolutely need to buy it, and they will give you a "good price." However, the truth is that they just want you to buy the items, at extremely inflated prices, from their friends so that their friends can also earn money. There is no need to buy anything from them, so save your money.After the tour I had lunch (at El Hayat in the main area of town), where my guide took the water at the table and used it to give himself a rough bath in front of me. I think next time I am in Balthazar I might do that if I feel a little dirty.With the tour and lunch done, I met Aly to figure out what we'd do next and see how I'd get out of Timbuktu. Aly insisted that I fly back to Bamako. My tour guide took me through an old part of town where we met a supposed airline ticket agent. This meeting took place inside his house. As I sat on the ground and watched Bee Gees karaoke with his family, the man wrote out the "official" prices of the airline tickets on a piece of paper. The cost was $200, and it departed the next morning (or on Saturday, which would have been too late). So, since this would not work out, we left.Aly and I then determined that we should drive back to Bamako, especially since we had the time to do it. In the meantime, while he looked for a ride, I would then take a 3-day/2-night trip into the Sahara. I was to leave for that in about 1 hour. We walked towards the edge of town, near Hotel Boctou, and Aly met a Toureg man who he had arranged my desert excursion with. If you're interested in taking a trip into the Sahara, look for the Toureg men with camels near Hotel Boctou and the edge of town. Some trips last a few hours, while some can last 7+ days.Before leaving for the excursion, my 18-year-old guide asked if he could have my shoes (the only ones I had on the trip), or my pants (one of my only two pairs I brought), or my shirt (a rather pricey shirt meant to keep me cool and protect me from the desert sun). After receiving a not-so-good tour of the town, I did not fulfill his requests, though I gave him my French-English translation book, since helping him learn English better is a far better gift than a pair of dirty sneakers.Late in the afternoon, around 4pm, I began my trek into the Sahara with two Aussies (well, one technically was from Cyprus, but she lived in Australia) and the Toureg guide. We rode for a couple hours, traveling several miles outside of the town, and then stopped at his house to camp. At the camp was a semicircle of thorn bushes with a mat on the ground. This was where we rolled out our sleeping bags and camped for the night.Before going to bed, the guide made us tea, and his wife prepared a meal of pasta and goat meat. As I was soon to learn, all food you eat in the desert has sand in it. Every bite of food is crunchy, even soft pasta. After eating, we all talked for a bit, then settled in for the night. Close
I awoke this morning after what was a long, cold, miserable night on the dirt floor of a "restaurant" in the dustbowl town of Bambara Maounde. The previous day we were not able to get the camels to ride to Timbuktu as expected, so we…Read More
I awoke this morning after what was a long, cold, miserable night on the dirt floor of a "restaurant" in the dustbowl town of Bambara Maounde. The previous day we were not able to get the camels to ride to Timbuktu as expected, so we unexpectedly spent the night on the floor of a restaurant since the town had no other places to sleep. Aly and I awoke this morning to hopefully find camels to take us to Timbuktu.Since I could not speak the language, Aly went off to look for camels, again. He returned soon and said a man would be there at 9:30am with camels. I was excited and glad that the main reason I came here would be actually happening. Before long, the camels came with a Toureg man who was going to charge us $300 for the camels, as opposed to the $30 we could have gotten them for if Aly's friend was in town. Needless to say, we could not afford the camels and then had to figure out how we'd get to Timbuktu if not by camel.Growing ever annoyed with this town, and the fact that my main reason for coming to Mali was now not happening, I told Aly we should just drive to Timbuktu instead of wasting time negotiating with Touregs who were unwilling to rent us camels for a fair price. Aly agreed, and he went off again to seek out a ride to Timbuktu.Much of this day was spent at the restaurant I slept at, interacting with kids and the locals. In the early afternoon, 4x4 trucks with tourists from Timbuktu began to pass through town. The ones who stopped spent about 15 minutes taking photos and getting a drink before leaving again. I met two men from Belgium here who informed me that the ride from this town to Timbuktu is at least 5 hours away on a rough, sandy road. That did not sound appealing.At 3pm Aly returned, saying he had found a ride for us that left at 4pm. Like the previous day, we'd be taking a bush taxi (or bachee). Aly negotiated a fair price, and I got to sit shotgun, while Aly sat between the driver and I. Behind us, the 4x4 truck was filled with locals who had come from Timbuktu for the market in Bambara Maounde and were now returning to Timbuktu (with their purchased goods on the roof of the truck).Halfway through the ride the car filled with smoke. We stopped and Aly and I jumped out thinking the car was about to explode (though everyone in the back stayed inside and were not scared at all). Apparently, this happens all the time with that car, so the driver fixed it in 2 minutes and we were back on the road in no time.About 25 miles from Timbuktu we passed through another town. We stopped so Aly could see if they had camels for rent. They did and offered us a fair price. But then they saw me, the white man, and immediately increased the price and said the camels would not be there for a couple days. Not willing to deal with the stubborn Touregs, we got in the car and continued our drive.To reach Timbuktu by car, you need to take a ferry across the Niger River approximately 8 miles from Timbuktu. The ferry closes at 6:30pm, though. At 6:20pm we were not yet at this ferry. The driver put the petal to the metal and drove as fast as he could without flipping the car. If we missed the ferry, we'd be stuck on this side of the Niger until the next day.Luckily, the driver's fast driving paid off and we made it to the ferry. However, there was another problem: the ferry only held three cars, and we were fourth in line. When the ferry arrived, the driver sneakily cut in front of the car ahead of us. Obviously, this angered the people from the car we cut in line and a near riot started. As I sat shotgun, people surrounded our car on the ferry and were screaming at the driver. Loud, angry men were leaning through my window and yelling across me at the driver. I think for the first time in my life I felt like I was going to be pulled from a car and torn to pieces by an angry mob. Have you ever had that feeling?Not wanting to be killed, the driver decided we would get off the ferry so the other car could board. However, when he went to start the truck, the engine would not turn over. We ended up pushing the truck off the ferry. At this point I figured we were now stuck on the wrong side of the river. But, much to my surprise, another ferry soon came, which ended up being the last one of the night. We pushed the truck onto this ferry and we were soon crossing the Niger.As we crossed the river, I experienced one of the most memorable parts of my trip. Next to the ferry was a hand-powered boat carrying local people across the river. I could only see them because of the full moon and stars lighting up the river. I thought to myself, "Wow, this hand-powered boat must have been what it was like centuries ago for people crossing the river at night."After 10 minutes or so, the ferry made it to the other side and we drove off (the truck was fixed at this point, barely). Another 15 minutes later we arrived in Timbuktu (the total ride being a little over 3 hours, not 5, as the Belgian men had said). It was now rather late. The truck dropped us off near the main part of town. Aly met a few friends, and then we walked for 20 minutes through the sandy streets to where I was to stay. Unfortunately, where I was supposed to stay was closed, so I ended up sleeping on the roof of the nearby Sahara Passion hotel.After a nice, not too frigid shower, Aly and I went to dinner at Amanar restaurant. The menu is small but the food is excellent (at about 4000CFA for a meal). Amanar is located across the street from the Flame of Peace monument, a monument built to remember the end of the Toureg rebellion that took place in the mid-1990s. In the monument you'll see dozens of weapons buried in cement. It is, by far, the most modern-looking structure in all of Timbuktu.Again, as I did in Dogon Country and in Sevare, I went to bed on the roof of a hotel. This time, however, I had company in the form of an Aussie who made lots of noise, sneezing, sniffling, and coughing all night. Regardless, I slept well my first night in Timbuktu. Close
I woke up in Sevare feeling good. I had a nice shower the day before, I was at a clean, nice hotel, and today was the day we'd drive to Bambara Maounde to start the much-anticipated camel ride to Timbuktu. But, as I would soon…Read More
I woke up in Sevare feeling good. I had a nice shower the day before, I was at a clean, nice hotel, and today was the day we'd drive to Bambara Maounde to start the much-anticipated camel ride to Timbuktu. But, as I would soon find out, today would not go nearly as planned.When Aly met me after breakfast, he informed me that our driver told him that he would not drive us to Bambara Maounde. The driver had an old Peugeot, which was not suitable for the rough dirt and sand roads between Douentza and Bambara Maounde. So now we had no ride.Aly brought me to Mopti, about 10 minutes away, where he hooked me up with a friend of his who would give me a tour of the Bozo and Flani villages that line the rivers of the Niger and Bani Rivers at Mopti. In the meantime, Aly (again) would look for a ride for us.Mopti sits on the Bani River, just south of where it merges with the Niger River. As a result, Mopti is a place of lots of trade on the river, and Flani and Bozo people have many villages on the river.Along the shore of the Bani River you can find tourist boats that will take you to the villages. Aly's friend and I boarded one, and I received a private tour of the villages. While sailing on the river, I saw many fishermen out on the river catching numerous fish, including the dogfish (which looks like a piranha). The people along the river live off the fish. In the villages you saw how they prepare the fish after they are caught. Be warned, though, that the children in these villages are aggressive. If you do not give them anything, they will become quite angry, as I found out.After a 2-hour tour, I met Aly back in Mopti. But, despite his efforts, he could not find a car or driver to take us to Bambara Maounde. So he went to plan B. Just east of the center of the city is an area that looks like a junkyard. But, despite the shoddy appearance, this is the place that you can find bush taxis (or bachees) to various towns and cities. After another lengthy negotiation with the Toureg man who appeared to be in charge, Aly and I boarded the back of a bush taxi and were on our way to Bambara Maounde. Bush taxis are used mainly for locals to get from town to town. They are generally a 4x4 vehicle of some sort, oftentimes modified Land Rovers or Jeeps. They can be unreliable, but that is to be expected in Mali.In the back of this bachee, I sat with Aly, a young teen who was smoking, and a lady who appeared to be mentally ill. At one point there was a fifth person in this back seat with us, but he only rode for about 30 minutes. During the ride, we were stopped at a checkpoint and IDs were checked. Locals in Mali need proper identification in order to travel within the country. Tourists just need to show their passport, as I did, and everything will be fine.After about 3 hours on the paved road, we stopped in Douentza to stock up on water before heading north towards Bambara Maounde and the desert on a rough dirt road. Though mostly a flat ride through near-desert land, just north of Douentza are the Hombori Mountains, which are simply impressive.After another 3 hours, we finally reached Bambara Maounde, which was to be the start point of our camel trek to Timbuktu. Aly and I hopped out and grabbed our bags, and then the Land Rover drove off towards Timbuktu. Aly left me at a restaurant and said he would go find his friend with the camels, and then we would be off on our camel ride.Bambara Maounde is a tiny, dusty town halfway between Douentza and Timbuktu. For tourists, it is just a pit stop where you can buy a cold drink, have a quick bite to eat, or use a bathroom (which is just a mysterious hole in the ground). There are no real sights to see in town, aside from a small market a couple days a week. I had not planned to spend more than a few minutes in the town. But, in reality, I was about to spend much more time in this town than I wanted.After about 30 minutes of Aly looking for the camels, he returned and said that his friend was not there. Apparently his friend had left for a several-week trip into the Sahara to get salt. So, with no friend, we had no camels and could not start the trip. Aly then began asking around for other people willing to rent camels, but all were just stubborn Touregs who wanted to take advantage of a white tourist. In Mali most white tourists are perceived as people with millions of dollars who will pay for anything. Therefore, these Touregs were giving Aly a price of $450 for three camels for 3 days--$420 more than what Aly could have gotten the camels for from his friend.By this time it was getting late. At the restaurant, the owner brought out an old mat for me to rest on. As people ate their food and walked by the restaurant, I napped on this mat, thinking Aly would find camels and we'd be on our way in a short time. But that never happened. We never found camels that night, and I ended up sleeping on the dirt floor of the restaurant, since there was no other place for us to sleep supposedly. Needless to say, it was a rough night, with my head next to a refrigerator, a frog jumping on my face in the middle of the night, and the temperature getting quite cold (the coldest night, by far, that I had in Mali), and I was dirty, tired, and getting quite worried that my camel ride would never happen. Close
I woke up in Begnimato on the roof of a hut to see the beautiful sight of the sun hitting the tower cliffs above the village. Apparently two nights earlier there was traditional Dogon mask dancing on the cliffs, a rarity for tourists to see,…Read More
I woke up in Begnimato on the roof of a hut to see the beautiful sight of the sun hitting the tower cliffs above the village. Apparently two nights earlier there was traditional Dogon mask dancing on the cliffs, a rarity for tourists to see, but the Americans I met had witnessed it.After breakfast, Aly gave me a tour of the village, where I met another man who hunted monkeys and put their skulls in the walls of his house. We then walked to the edge of the plateau overlooking the villages below and the great plains in front of us. This sight made me really feel like I was in Africa. It reminded me of an African plain you might see in National Geographic.When we returned to the hotel area, Chicken was awake and ready to leave with us. Apparently the night before, he arrived in the town very late, after drinking too much at the market we left him at. Today, though, he was ready to hike with us. Chicken carried my bag as we started the hike out of the village, and basically out of Dogon Country. Not long after we left, I ran into the three Americans again. We chatted a bit before their guide took them on a different path than what Aly, Chicken, and I were taking. Along the 2-hour hike we passed through very rocky terrain that reminded me of the black rocky surface after lava hardens. Just a few minutes later on the same hike, we passed through some marshy areas and cornfields.We took a break in the town of Konsogou. Konsogou is the halfway point between Begnimato and Dorou, which would be our eventual destination. When we started our hike again, we passed a group of locals carrying the bags of other tourists in the opposite direction we were heading. Apparently some tourists drop their bags off in Dorou, and then locals carry their bags down the plateau to their destination. When the tourists arrive at their destination, their bags are waiting for them.We reached Dorou around mid-day, then waited for our car to pick us up. As we waited, Aly gave me a tour of the village, pointing out how all the water they use in the town is collected at one time in these two large pools. The water then has to last for several months. I can't imagine what happens when they run out of water.Our car took us back to Bandiagara and back to the scary hotel I had stayed at a few nights earlier. At this point in the trip, Chicken said he would be leaving and not traveling any farther with us. He gave me a false story about his mother dying in the hospital, and so he wanted me to give him some money to help her. I knew, though, that this was a story many guides use to try getting tourists to give them a big tip. And, after giving Chicken a small tip, I was pretty certain his mother dying was a false story when he was dancing in the street 2 minutes later.I was surprised to see the three Americans I had met earlier also at the hotel/restaurant. We ended up eating lunch together, learning more about where we came from and why we were in Mali. I soon learned I'd be spending a lot more time with these Americans. Their guide had not been able to find a ride for them to get out of Dogon Country. So, as a result, they wanted to ride with Aly and I. So, instead of Aly and I sharing the four-passenger car he had hired, we had to put four more people in the car. It was a tight squeeze.Before leaving Bandiagara, Aly wanted to show the other Americans and me the market in Bandiagara. As we were walking through the market, a young man apparently said some profane words at me that Aly understood. This angered Aly, and as a result he chased down this young man and began beating him up in the street. The best way to describe the scene after this was that a small riot started. People began arguing with Aly and the young man. To further enrage Aly, his scuffle with the young man also made him lose a necklace of his that a tourist had given him in the past. Before blood was shed, we managed to get Aly in the car and leave town. The other Americans were now scared beyond belief, and it made the ride to the next town very awkward.All of us were driving to Sevare, a small town outside Mopti. There the Americans were going to take a bus back to Bamako the next day, and Aly and I would then drive from there to Bambara Mounde to start the 3-day camel trek to Timbuktu. We arrived in Sevare in the late afternoon and checked in at the Hotel Via Via. For the first time in several days I was able to take a real shower; despite the frigid water, it felt great. Also, it was at this point that Aly realized we were running out of money, fast, and that we needed to start cutting corners when we could. The Americans I met stayed in a nice hotel room with beds, while I slept on the roof of the hotel, just like in Dogon Country.Before the day was over, we all went to a restaurant and nightclub in Sevare that was owned by Aly's wealthy friend we had driven to Mopti a few days earlier. The restaurant was outdoors, and besides us, no one else was there. The nightclub, though very loud, with a live DJ mixing music from around the world, was empty except for one lonely girl dancing by herself. One thing I noticed was that there were a lot of mirrors in the club. The Americans then told me how people in West Africa like to watch themselves dance in the mirror.I went to bed that night excited, knowing the next day I would be starting my camel trek to Timbuktu. Close
After sleeping on the roof of the hotel I stayed in without needing a mosquito net, waking up to the sound of kids playing and animals making animal noises, and seeing the Dogon plateau looming overhead, nicely lit by the rising sun, was a very…Read More
After sleeping on the roof of the hotel I stayed in without needing a mosquito net, waking up to the sound of kids playing and animals making animal noises, and seeing the Dogon plateau looming overhead, nicely lit by the rising sun, was a very memorable experience. I shared part of my breakfast with one of the local women, and then I met the Dutch woman outside. We wandered around town a bit, taking photos of children and the amazing sights.Before long, Aly and Chicken showed up and said we'd be walking from town to town today. Chicken expressed how good it is to walk and that I will get the true Dogon experience when I walked. Soon after that Aly and I were walking, and Chicken said he'd catch up to us in a few minutes. After Aly and I had walked about 1 or 2 miles, we wondered where Chicken was. A few minutes later we saw him on a parallel pathway getting a ride on a motorcycle, after he had told us it feels great to walk and it is very important to walk.The next town we stopped at was Teli. Teli has an amazing old town built into the side of the plateau. After finding Chicken in town, Aly and I hiked to the top to get a view of Teli and the surrounding area. The most amazing thing is that parts of the cliff village are 3,000 years old, once occupied by the Pygmies. Yet, despite the old age, tourists are free to walk up to and touch anything there. It was also easy to picture how the area looked 3,000 years ago, probably the same way it looked today.After climbing down from the old cliff village, Aly took me to meet the chief. The chief was also a souvenir vendor. After seeing the skulls of monkeys built into the walls of his home, and also seeing his loaded gun, he asked me if I wanted to buy a souvenir. Since he was the chief, and evidently very good with the gun, I made no hesitation to find a souvenir I liked. When it came to bargaining for the price, I sort of just let him name the price without arguing. I did not want my skull to become part of his monkey skull collection.To get to the next town, Ende, Aly said we'd be taking a donkey cart. A donkey cart was exactly what it sounds like--a crudely built cart pulled by a donkey. It seems like a cool, relaxing way to get from town to town, but it is the bumpiest way to travel and leaves you with a very sore back afterwards. Chicken, again, failed to leave with us on the donkey cart. After we reached Ende, Chicken (again) arrived on a motorcycle a short time later.In Ende, Aly became very sick. As he slept off his illness I ate lunch. I napped for a bit as he rested up, and then later in the afternoon he showed me around town. Ende is where Aly is originally from, so I met several of his uncles and other relatives on my tour.Our next stop was a market near Yabatalou. Instead of taking the donkey cart, this time we took the cow cart. I think the cow cart was even more uncomfortable than the donkey cart. This ride lasted over an hour, and we passed through a couple villages along the way but did not stop. Upon arriving at the market, Aly told me to explore it on my own. Being the only white guy there, I was easily picked out as the tourist. Some children, expecting to receive money, food, and clothes, began to follow me around. It was not long before they saw my camera and began demanding to have their picture taken. Unlike in other towns, these kids were very aggressive. They wanted their picture taken, and then they wanted me to pay them for it. With a crowd of over a dozen children surrounding me, I became a little nervous. They grabbed at my clothes and the camera, trying to either just touch me or steal something from me. Luckily, Chicken arrived (on a motorcycle, again) and bailed me out of the situation.By this time the sun was setting again. Aly said we would then be walking to Begnimato, which was located on the top of the plateau. Chicken, of course, did not come with us. Instead, he stayed at the market to eat and drink millet beer.To reach Begnimato from the bottom of the Dogon plateau you need to hike uphill through canyons in the plateau. Since the sun was setting, this turned out to be a very dimly lit hike. Along the way we passed groups of locals walking back from the market. Like his driving, he is a fast hiker, too. I was doing my best to keep up with him, trying not to get in the way of the locals, but at one point I accidentally stepped on the foot of an older lady. She looked at me and was probably surprised to see a white guy next to her. She said something in Bambara to the other women and they all laughed. I can only guess what she said, but I am pretty sure it was about me.We arrived in Begnimato just as the sun set. I rested after the long day, then ate dinner. After dinner, as I went to the shower area, I met two American girls who were studying in Senegal. They were with a third American and sleeping a few huts away from me in Begnimato. After chatting with them a bit, I took my African shower--a bucket of water and nothing else. Close
After waking up in the scariest place I had ever slept, Aly's friend Chicken met me at the hotel and gave me a tour of Bandiagara. This was his hometown, and he knew every nook and cranny of it, so he took me to areas…Read More
After waking up in the scariest place I had ever slept, Aly's friend Chicken met me at the hotel and gave me a tour of Bandiagara. This was his hometown, and he knew every nook and cranny of it, so he took me to areas that most tourists never go, areas that were very dirty and different than the parts of town Westerners see.After the tour of Bandiagara, Chicken hired a motorbike and we drove to the village of Songo. Tis town is about 20 miles outside Bandiagara, off the main road. Unlike most Dogon villages, this village is not under the Dogon plateau. The road to the town has been repaired in recent years, which has enabled more tourists to visit. On my visit, a new hotel was nearing completion, with the hopes of attracting even more tourists.In Songo, the children treated me as a king. As I walked down the street, I had one kid on each of my fingers. It made walking quite difficult, actually. With a proper guide like Chicken, you can easily navigate your way through the streets of this town to reach the small cliffs hovering above it. At the cliffs, besides getting a great view, you can see paintings by the children on the rocks, as well as a cave used to store their instruments (some hundreds of years old). Songo was not on my original itinerary, but I am glad we took the detour.After my tours, and then stopping to eat lunch and take a nap, we (Aly, Chicken, and I) hired a car and drove 45 minutes on the bumpy dirt road to the Dodgon village of Djiguibombo. Along the way we passed a Japanese tourist with a guide who were stuck between the two villages because their motorcycle had broken down. I'm not sure what happened to them after that. Djiguibombo village is mixed with followers of Muslim, Catholic, and Animist religions. Unlike many of the other villages I had been in, this one seemed rather quiet. Not many people were out.On the outskirts of the town was the market. Luckily, I was there on market day. As with all markets in Dogon country, the market is split in two, one side for men, one side for women. The women all seem to sit, sell their goods, and gossip, whereas the men all gather around big fires cooking goat meat and smoking. I was offered some goat meat straight from the bone, but after seeing three other people take bites from the same bones I was offered, I declined.After mingling with the people and making friends with some of the children, Aly returned to say he had found a ride for us to get to Teli, the first town in Dogon Country we would be staying at that night. Our ride to Teli was an old motocross motorcycle meant for one, maybe two people. Yet, we managed to fit all three of us on (Aly, Chicken, and I). The road from the top of the Dogon plateau to the bottom has many turns and is slippery with loose rock and dirt and narrow. If Aly drove in the United States, he would have many speeding tickets under his belt. So, needless to say, it was a fast, scary ride down the plateau. I think Chicken was more afraid than I was.As soon as we reached the bottom of the plateau, the motorcycle broke. We were about 3 miles from Teli and the sun was setting. Aly did not want to walk with the bike to Teli, so we decided to stop for the day and spend the night in the village just a few hundred yeards away, Kani Kombole (the same town used to name my hotel room the night before). I was now in true Dogon Country.We dropped off my belongings at Kani Kombole, and then Chicken gave me a tour of the town while Aly arranged for the broken motorcycle to be taken away. Chicken was a great tour guide, using many profanities and stopping to take a "leak" whenever he felt like it. But he did know his stuff, and I learned a great deal from him.That night the only other tourist staying in the village was a woman from Holland. When I sat down to eat dinner, her guide said to me, "Hey, Gary, remember me?" He looked familiar, but I couldn't quite put my finger on who he was. I thought maybe he was mistaking me for someone else, because my name is not Gary. But then he said, "A few days ago, I was the first person you met in Mali... in the airport." Ah, I instantly knew who he was. He was the man who took my bag and demanded a $5 tip at the airport. I did not like him but I pretended that I did. Dinner, though, was nice, especially with this man and Chicken arguing about religion for most of the dinner. After dinner, Aly taught the Dutch woman how to make the Dogon tea. The problem, though, was that the Dutch woman wanted to go to bed, but Aly insisted she learn, and it takes 30 minutes to make the tea.Before I went to bed, I went outside the "hotel" to see some girls dancing and singing outside. It was pitch black, except for the moonlight, yet these girls were out there dancing and singing away. As soon as the flash from my camera went off, they went ballistic. The next 15 minutes was spent taking photos of them dancing, with no sign of it ever slowing. Aly took me aside and said I had to stop. So the children knew I would be going to bed, Aly had each child shake my hand and say, "Good night, Greg." But, the kids did not know how to pronounce my name perfectly, so they each said, "Good night, Gay." When they had all done that, Aly looked at me and said, "The kids called you gay." Close
I met Aly at Hotel Moba-So's lobby around 9am. His friend who was traveling with us was also supposed to be ready to go at 9am, but he decided to sleep in. So, Aly took me to "downtown" Segou for breakfast. Segou is one of…Read More
I met Aly at Hotel Moba-So's lobby around 9am. His friend who was traveling with us was also supposed to be ready to go at 9am, but he decided to sleep in. So, Aly took me to "downtown" Segou for breakfast. Segou is one of Mali's bigger towns. Located on the Niger River, it has a small port. A few blocks from the port are some hotels and souvenir stands. After doing the touristy things, Aly took me to his "sister's" apartment near the center of town. I was expecting to meet a blood relative, but she turned out to be a white Canadian woman who lived in Mali. Unlike most places in Mali, her apartment had finished floors and a real kitchen, and she even had a shiny iBook laptop.Once Aly's friend was awake and ready to go, we got back on the road to Mopti, only stopping once for a quick lunch in San. The road we took was the main road through Mali and one of the very few paved roads. It is not terribly wide, so when cars driving in the opposite direction approach, you must slow your car down and move off to the side of the road a bit so you can pass safely. If we did not do this 7,283 times during the drive, I think we could have made it to Mopti a few hours quicker.In Mopti we dropped off Aly's friend at his house. For Malian standards, Aly's friend was rather wealthy, and he was married to an American from Queens (go figure). The neighborhood he lived in was also occupied by Europeans, most likely French vacationers who rent out homes for the summer.From Mopti we traveled 30 minutes longer to the town on Bandiagara. Bandiagara is sort of the gateway to Dogon Country. Tourists here can easily find guides to take them to Dogon Country. After attempting to check into the nice hotel at the edge of town but being told it was fully booked, Aly took me to the only other hotel in town: Auberge Kansaye. Like most hotels, it doubles as a restaurant.After my first couple steps inside Auberge Kansaye, I wanted to run out screaming. I had thought my first night in Bamako was bad, but Auberge Kansaye made my Hotel Ende feel like that Sandals Resort in the Caribbean. Auberge Kansaye felt like a bombed-out hotel in Beirut. At the hotel entrance was the bar, where guides and loud backpackers smoked and drank while listening to music from Senegal at 110 decibels. From there, upstairs or closer to the restaurant were the rooms to rent. The first room I looked at was close to the bar. Honestly, it felt like a storage room. The doors to each room were just big slabs of metal, with each room named after a Dogon village (nicely spray-painted on the door). The locks were flimsy, and the "doorknob" was either a piece of metal bent into a handle or (if lucky) a real handle. Because of the noise from the bar, and because the room was about 300 degrees, I decided to check out the rooms upstairs.The rooms upstairs were not much better. As with the rooms downstairs, the mattresses were dirty, sunken in, smelly, and simply scary. But they were 3 degrees cooler than the ones downstairs. I took the room named Kani Kombole. My guide told me to try sleeping on the roof, since it would be cooler, but I felt uneasy leaving my belongings in my room unattended, so I searched the hotel and found three fans hidden in a hallway. The first two did not work, but the last one did. I brought it in the room and had it blow on me all night. Though feeling a bit uneasy about the hotel, I managed to fall asleep rather quickly. Close
Being my first time in Africa, and knowing that I was not taking the usual African trip, I got quite nervous as the plane approached Bamako. As with most flights in and out of Bamako, they arrive and depart in the middle of the night.…Read More
Being my first time in Africa, and knowing that I was not taking the usual African trip, I got quite nervous as the plane approached Bamako. As with most flights in and out of Bamako, they arrive and depart in the middle of the night. My flight, from Casablanca, arrived at 3am.After landing, you walk across the tarmac to the terminal. Within 10 minutes you fill out an entry form, show your passport and visa to the security and customs officials, and have your bags scanned, and then you are out of the terminal. It was at this point that I knew my trip would be quite different than one I have ever taken before.Immediately after passing through customs, a man said, "Are you Greg?" I said yes and asked if he was my guide, Aly Guindo (firstname.lastname@example.org). But he was not. He was a "friend," a term I soon realized did not have the same meaning as "friend" here in the States, and he was to take me outside to meet Aly. Outside I met Aly, a man I had been in touch with for 3 months prior to my trip. His "friend" then asked me for a tip for carrying my bags. So I gave him $1, but then he demanded $5. Aly pushed the "friend" back and cursed at him, and we started to walk away.Before long, individuals who change money on the black market approached us. Aly mysteriously walked away at this point, and I changed some money into the local currency, CFAs (pronounced like "say-fahs"). If you need CFAs at the airport, the black market men will probably be your only choice, though you will get a bad exchange rate.Finally, with CFAs in hand, we took a taxi to Restaurante Ende, about 20 minutes frm the airport. This restaurant doubled as a hotel, which turned out to be very common in Mali. It was owned by Aly's younger brother, who was only 23.I was a bit freaked out at this point, being in a strange city in a strange country where everyone knew I was a tourist. To make it even freakier, every few hours in the middle of the night there would be Muslim praying broadcast over loud speakers throughout the city. It took me a few minutes to realize what it was, as I was totally unprepared for it.The next morning I ate a nice omelet and Aly met me (along with a friend of his) for a tour of the city. It was at this point he told me of some bad news. Apparently the day before I arrived, his friends had crashed his car, killing two people. When Aly quoted me the price for the trip, he was expecting to use his car and only worry about paying for gas. But, without his own car, he now needed to find a car, find a driver, and pay for gas. I knew that the trip would now be interesting, as we had to stretch the money I gave him to cover these added expenses.I received a tour of the city in a hired taxi for the day. We drove to Llasa, a small town overlooking Bamako that has sweeping views of the city. Then it was on to the Artisans Market in Bamako. A word of warning: if you carry a backpack, please be sure to keep a hand on it at all times. Pickpockets are common. At the market you can find any souvenir you want, whether it is a wood carving, drum, jewelry, blanket, or anything else you can imagine. Also, you'll surely see other tourists there, as well as locals.After the tour, I was brought back to the Restaurant Ende, where I ate a delicious plate of spaghetti and fish and napped. During this time, Aly went out to try finding a car to take us to the next city. We were originally supposed to drive to Segou for lunch, then be in Mopti to sleep. This, however, did not happen.At this point, since I come from New York City, I was a bit agitated that things were taking so long and nothing was in order. I soon realized that this is the way life is here, and I had to adjust.In the late afternoon, Aly found a car and driver and we left Bamako. Just outside the city we stopped and met a few of his friends, one being a man named Ismail, a very interesting man I wish I had spoken to longer. After chatting and eating for a bit, we continued to drive and picked up a friend of his who needed a ride to Mopti.That night, after a long 3- to 4-hour, drive we stayed in Segou. Aly was trying to save money by having me stay at the cheaper, more affordable hotels. But, because of bad planning, we had no reservations and the hotels were booked. Instead we stayed at the Hotel Moba-So. The cost was about 20000CFA, an amount Aly unwillingly paid, but the rooms were clean, comfortable, and probably the best I had in all of Mali.After checking in we went next door to a restaurant. To end my first full day in Mali, I ordered pigeon. People have asked me what it tastes like, and all I can say is that it tastes like chicken. Close
Written by Invicta73 on 30 Sep, 2003
The Sahara has always been crucial to life in Timbuktu. The past wealth and almost fantastic reputation of the city was built around the unloading of salt caravans ready for transport down the Niger, which made it a vital point on the trading network…Read More
The Sahara has always been crucial to life in Timbuktu. The past wealth and almost fantastic reputation of the city was built around the unloading of salt caravans ready for transport down the Niger, which made it a vital point on the trading network that linked the Mediterranean with equatorial Africa. Nowadays, the sands tend to bring more problems than riches, but do continue to provide an exotic backdrop for the almost uniquely alluring destination. Meanwhile, the traditional nomadic life of the Tuareg still has a huge cultural influence. Therefore, it seemed to me that in order to better understand the city, venturing out into the beautiful desert for the first ever time was essential.
Fortunately, doing so is not actually difficult, because the sandy streets soon give way to dunes. In fact, taking a walk out is very pleasant, particularly because finding a lovely, calming feeling of solitude amidst attractive scenery is really fairly easy. It is probably best to go later in the day, when the intense heat has subsided and the visibility of the settled area's lights make finding the way back simple.
However, a much better way to experience the terrain is on the back of a camel, even if, as is sometimes said, the area is not as spectacular as parts of North Africa. There are generally guides in and around the Hôtel le Bouctou, with whom arranging journeys of various distances and durations is possible. It is possible to take a short ride to the so-called Gateway to the Desert, or spend a longer period out. Excursions that stretch into the evening are popular, not only due to the cooler temperatures, but also because there are quite differing visions of beauty during the day, at sunset and by moonlight. Overnight stays can be included, and usually food and tourist orientated entertainments, such as acted sword fights, traditional music and dance are part of the deal. To give a rough idea of cost, the latter kind of package should be somewhere in the region of 25,000 francs. Caution is definitely required when negotiating, as the initially requested fee will probably be too high, whilst one traveller that I met insisted on a low price, and much to her disappointment, got what she paid for, which was very little indeed!
Meanwhile, another thing to be wary of when making plans is the danger that the itinerary will revolve around a visit to a camp that is seemingly home only to determined souvenir sellers. However, there are some cameleers that have an excellent reputation, and they are well worth seeking out in order to avoid any problems, particularly Jiddou ag Almoustapha, who is commonly nicknamed Sandy.
Personally, I was fortunate enough to organise a trip with the friendly and informative Tuareg called Mohammed ag Ahmed, which involved riding out to his small camp, spending the night with the family and returning in the morning. At first, the combination of the camel's rocking gait and the hard saddle made me feel terribly uncomfortable and unsteady. For a while, my hands held the reins tightly, and it was a struggle to make the most of the available views, although a stop at a particularly picturesque spot was scheduled and very much enjoyed. Eventually, after night had fallen, we reached our destination, and once the animals had been unloaded, we settled down to the first of many cups of tea. Spending time sitting with my host and his kin around the fire and enjoying a simple but enjoyable meal proved to be a wonderfully relaxing experience. Although less obviously exciting than the alternative staged activities found elsewhere, it provided a much more insightful glimpse into the basic but dignified way of life of the Blue Men of the Desert, as they are known. Having slept under the stars, we returned to the city in the morning following breakfast, via a larger encampment. Surprisingly, by the time that the return leg was underway, I had relaxed, loosening the grip and going more with the motion, and consequently was much more at ease.
Written by Linda Hoernke on 06 Apr, 2001
The Niger flows for 2600 miles through Western Africa, bringing life to countries with little rainfall. Life along the Niger serves as a source for farmers, fisherman and herders, bringing them together through this road of water. The Songhai, Peul and Tuareg tribes are but…Read More
The Niger flows for 2600 miles through Western Africa, bringing life to countries with little rainfall. Life along the Niger serves as a source for farmers, fisherman and herders, bringing them together through this road of water. The Songhai, Peul and Tuareg tribes are but a few that travel and have formed a life on the banks of the Niger in Mali where it forms an inland delta. The bird life is abundant and between Novenber and March the lakes and ponds of the foodplain are full of wintering birds.
The Niger contains nearly 200 species of fish, including catfish, African carp, Nile perch, lungfish and the delicious capitain. Hippopotamus and crocodile can be found, along with many lizards and snakes on the banks. The Fulani tribes depend on the river for the pastures or their cattle, sheep and goats.
Mopti is one of the largest trading stops along the Niger, linking the north with the south. The main population is made up of Bozos and Peul, Dogon, Songhay, Tuareg and Bambara tribes. The population reaches 100,000 with another 100,000 of traders at any given time.
The Niger held a distinct place in the history and hearts of Europe. A river that led through the Dark Continent to fabled cities like Timbuktu. A river to be navigated and mapped, to be followed to cultures not met and scenery only imagined. In the late 1700s the African Association sent a Scottish explorer to Africa to travel the Niger. His name was Mungo Park. Mungo mapped the Niger, proving it ran from west to east. His accounts of his personal journals published, "Travels into the Interior of Africa" (1795), opened up e new world and thirst for exploration. Mungo reached the Niger from Doolinkeabo where two black travelers took him to the Niger at Segou......"Looking forwards, I saw the pleasure the object of my mission----the long sought---for majestic Niger, glittering in the morning sun, as broad as the Thames at Westminster, and flowing slowly to the eastward. I hastened to the brink, and having drunk the water, lifted up my fervant thanks to the Grea Ruler of all things, for having thus far crowned my endeavours with success."