Written by HELEN001 on 27 Mar, 2006
As far as I was concerned, a nice relaxing 3 days lounging in a pinasse on the Niger River was going to be a bit of chill-out time—catch up with ‘the diary’, write a few postcards, read, and watch the world go by. Conserve my…Read More
As far as I was concerned, a nice relaxing 3 days lounging in a pinasse on the Niger River was going to be a bit of chill-out time—catch up with ‘the diary’, write a few postcards, read, and watch the world go by. Conserve my energy for Timbuctou and the Festival au Desert. I think most of us felt like that as we slid away from Mopti towards the delta region. We pointed out every boat, every fishing trap, and every village. We saw the most amazing variety and number of unfamiliar and beautiful birds. We took our first tentative steps along the narrow wooden ledge (strake) running the length of the boat so we could use the precariously positioned toilet cubicle at the stern. We ran aground. Nearly everyone we passed on the riverbank waved to us. We waved back and we waved back and we waved back. Then we drew up a rota system and took it in turns to wave in pairs. After the novelty of the first few hours things quietened down. Diaries were retrieved, novels opened, cameras cleaned, nails filed, and eyelids closed. We stopped at a village to buy wood for a fire, ‘parked’ up on a beautiful white sandy beach, and watched another one of those African sunsets. The warm evening hummed with insects punctuated by the occasional small splash from the river—a fisherman or a bird. Suitably uplifted and looking forward to dinner round the campfire, we dragged our tents up the slope and into a clearing in the dunes. What we didn’t know, but were about to find out, was that this is cram cram country! The tranquillity of the evening was about to be shattered by yells, shouts, and multi-national profanities that could all roughly be translated as, ‘What the dickens is that chaps?’ Well, it is cram cram, a grass with the most horrible barbed seeds that stick to anything and everything. They are only minute barbs but they’re like tiny cactus thorns once they’re stuck in you. Hard to find, hard to remove, and hurt like hell. They get into every fold of your clothes, down your sleeping bag, stuck in your mosquito net, and in your hair. Wet your hands before you pick them off clothing and blankets—it’s slightly, but not much, easier. It was no comfort really to learn that if you have an upset stomach and you drink water that has had cram cram boiled in it then you will feel just right as rain. It doesn’t help the suppurating sores left by the barbs of the wretched stuff however. Anyway, we had a great dinner and all spent a companionable evening round the fire picking cram cram off each other. We’d been warned we would be getting up early the next morning but I hadn’t realised it would still be dark, and absolutely freezing. More profanity and more cram cram. It wasn’t until mid-morning, that people felt warm enough to come out from their blankets. Then it was out with the books and diaries while the sun babes roasted on the roof. It was hard to believe it had been so cold earlier. Our lunch was prepared and cooked on board by our wonderful cook, Batoma, who managed to produce the most amazing meals for over 20 of us on a charcoal stove in a tiny space at the back of the boat. There was beer and coke in the cool boxes, teas and coffees when needed, snacks and, when the radio worked, a bit of background music to put us in the mood. The waving rota system was working well and things were cruising along just fine. Or so I thought. There were a few little ‘incidents’ during the afternoon, nothing nasty, just some people saying or doing something slightly out of character.We’d only known each other for a week, so I thought maybe I was just imagining things. It was actually somebody else who said it first, ‘Cabin fever’, and he was right. He had been referring to his partner who hadn’t sat still the whole afternoon. She jogs, she’s fit, she’s a fitness junkie, and she was starting to go through withdrawal. It wasn’t only her either, others were starting to feel a bit trapped on the boat and not just for reasons of fitness. There was very little opportunity to be alone. A couple of minutes before bed, maybe, but not too far because its pitch black and there’s the cram cram to think about. Now I like a bit of solitude myself and although I don’t need a daily fix, I could certainly sympathise with them. Then there were a few who just wanted to be ‘doing things’ and I too have days a bit like that. So, by the late afternoon of the second day we were roughly divided down the middle. Those who thought 24 hours had been just right thank you very much and can we get off now? And those who thought, I wish they would get off then I could really stretch out here.Me? I was fine. I actually found it quite hard to read because I kept being drawn to the view instead. Upstream from Mopti the Niger is very wide with the odd cluster of islands every so often. Downstream it splits into two main channels with numerous smaller branches spread out across a vast area known as the inland delta. In the centre of this network of streams and rivers is Lake Débo, roughly 30km in diameter. Extremely shallow and crossed with the help of channel markers, this lake draws thousands of migratory birds every winter. Quite a few of us had bemoaned the fact that nobody had a bird book—some of the birds were stunning but we could only identify a handful at best.Lake Débo is best crossed as early as possible in the day because a wind blows up later that can make it even more hazardous for shallow draught boats to cross. Once across, the landscape starts to have more of a desert look to it. The Bozo village huts are overshadowed by tall palm trees and the odd sand dune appears. There were some fairly large stands of what looked like eucalyptus trees at intervals along the banks of the river. These are part of an aid project to provide firewood and to help prevent erosion. The regimentation of the planting looked slightly out of place in such a wild landscape but the evidence of why such a scheme is needed is everywhere you look. The native trees are scarce having been chopped for firewood and the desert is creeping further south every year.We stopped off at Niafounké, the village home of the great Malian musician Ali Farka Touré and a place of pilgrimage for a number of people on the boat. It was the Muslim festival of Tabaski and I’d like to think that this was the reason why the decibel level of the music coming from the radio station was considerably higher than any recommended safety standards. It was loud. I mean very loud. So loud that after a quick look round the obviously affluent village with its mud brick houses and clean level streets, it was back down to the river for a quieter wander around the waterfront and to admire the patterns painted on the pointy end of the boats. There were two of us and as we headed back to the river we heard voices shouting. Two guys were on the other side of a wall standing in a cloud of smoke waving and gesturing for us to go over. It was not for the faint-hearted because once we started forward we realised that we were making our way through what looked like body parts. Well, it was horns, skin, hooves, and miscellaneous stuff really. Obvious why when we looked over the wall there was the most amazing barbecue made out of an old iron bedstead complete with a couple of beautifully roasted sheep looking and smelling marvellous. We had the usual exchange of pleasantries accompanied by a frenzied football commentary coming from a small TV set in the house doorway. After taking photographs and admiring the barbecue, pieces of cooked meat were cut from the sheep and presented to us. It was beautiful, tender, succulent and tasty. The ‘veggies’ on board were disgusted and the heavy duty carnivores were drooling and threatening to eat the ‘veggies’ if they didn’t get something other than bloody fish again.
For me though, I think the real highlight was at the end. It was sunset when we eventually docked and I have never seen anything like the thousands of birds, like swarms of bees, arcing swooping and twisting around that huge sky. They were like clouds. It was quite incredible to see.
After watching yet another stunning African sunset, this time however enhanced by reflections from the discarded plastic bottles by the port in Mopti, we realised that we were going to be late getting back to Sévaré. Part of the day in Mopti had been spent…Read More
After watching yet another stunning African sunset, this time however enhanced by reflections from the discarded plastic bottles by the port in Mopti, we realised that we were going to be late getting back to Sévaré. Part of the day in Mopti had been spent shopping for food, some of which was for that evening’s meal. As we had travelled from Sévaré to Mopti in a bâché accompanied by a number of goats and chickens we opted for a taxi back on the grounds there would be more room for our bags and less chance of our dinner being eaten during the ride. There were no taxis cruising round the town and we were directed to the taxi rank which was near the police station on the road to Sévaré. It was the very same taxi rank that I had noticed on the way into town that morning and had identified as the local scrap yard. An easy mistake as it turns out.
In the dark very few of these vehicles seemed serviceable and at least half had wheels missing, lumps of oily engine next to them or a dozen or so blokes leaning into the engine compartment talking simultaneously. The sound was indescribable and the whole place was shrouded in a miasma of fuel smoke. Surprisingly it took a while for our presence to be noticed and, just to be absolutely sure, the first thing I did was ask if this was the taxi rank. I thought it quite a reasonable question myself but the lads obviously thought I was some kind of joker as they all fell around laughing. Once they’d recovered though, it was down to business. We were given a choice of wrecks that could, apparently, move. God knows, they all looked as bad as each other so we just settled a price and pointed to a taxi through the gloom. Now I’m no expert on cars and I confess to being one of those superficial types who likes the shape and colour rather than knows about the turbo-charged acceleration rates of various models. However, I don’t think you need to be much of an expert to know that the overpowering smell of petrol and a windscreen that looked as if a previous driver had been the victim of a single well-aimed bullet through the head, is more than a tad dodgy. Both the rear passenger windows were stuck at half-way and the upholstery had been replaced with a couple of planks on springs. There were no front side windows. Oh, it was a jolly band that set off after being push-started through a ditch and onto the main road! I did wonder if the springs on the seat had originally been anything to do with the suspension as we thudded heavily over a speed bump. The windscreen wipers had been on since the engine fired up, either in an attempt to improve the visibility through the finely cracked windscreen, or more likely because you couldn’t turn them off. Certainly there was no obvious improvement in visibility and if anything the dust was merely being disturbed rather than brushed away. I also noticed there were no lights on the instrument panel and a few seconds later realised that this lack of light also extended to the headlights. Yes, that would explain the flashing lights and horns.
This was one of those occasions when you’ve just got to go with it. There’s not much point in worrying. I tend to regress in these situations and find myself asking every few minutes or so, ‘Are we nearly there yet?’
When travelling I’ve occasionally had reason to wonder why it is that travel insurance companies usually have separate higher premiums for co-called ‘high-risk’ activities such as bungee jumping or white-water rafting. I can only assume that these people don’t get out much. How, in the name of all that’s holy, can bungee jumping be a more ‘high-risk’ than travelling by taxi, not just in Mali, but most of the less developed world?
On arrival at the hotel in Sévaré, there was one comforting note, the child safety locks on both rear doors were on and had been working perfectly.
Written by Invicta73 on 09 Sep, 2003
To paraphrase an old saying, sometimes trip itself can be just as enjoyable as the time spent in the destination, and in my opinion that is particularly true when travelling on water. There are plenty of opportunities in Mopti for river journeys, as numerous…Read More
To paraphrase an old saying, sometimes trip itself can be just as enjoyable as the time spent in the destination, and in my opinion that is particularly true when travelling on water. There are plenty of opportunities in Mopti for river journeys, as numerous boats of various shapes and sizes operate in the area, some of which can are available for use by visitors for practical or leisure purposes.
For starters, it possible to travel along the Niger to what is in effect the stopping off point for Timbuktu, Korioumé. Ferries go there when the waters are sufficiently high enough, whilst smaller but slower pinasses transport both cargo and passengers along the same route all year round. Although in many ways there cannot be a more pleasant and romantic way to get to the famous city, it is not particularly comfortable, and as the duration is at least two days, it is only really a feasible choice for those who are not on a tight schedule when in the country. A much less time consuming option is to head in the opposite direction to Djenné which takes a few hours each way, but can be more difficult to arrange as the road is nowadays the preferred connection.
Travelling in the ubiquitous pirogues is also a worthwhile activity. Although not nearly as luxurious as the basically similar gondolas, the traditional non-motorised canoes do still perform a significant role in everyday life long since ceased by their Venetian equivalents. The cheapest and quickest way to ride in one is to pay a few coins to cross the mouth of the harbour, saving a bit of walk around it or a dirty wade through. Meanwhile, longer and more interesting journeys can easily be organised, particularly at Bar Le Bozo. A reasonable price is around 2,000 francs per hour, but the initially quoted price can be much higher.
Two good alternatives are to travel to a local village or just cruise along the rivers, and I chose to do both on separate occasions. Caution is advisable if arranging the former because it is possible to end up somewhere that the entire population seems to comprise only souvenir salesmen. However, in my case the settlement visited, known as Kakalodoga, was actually not such a place in any way whatsoever. Instead, it was a picturesque but hectic spot as the day drew to a close where women cooked whilst the men repaired nets. The overall effect revealed a lifestyle that has clearly changed little for many years and is much simpler than the more urban areas more frequently seen by tourists. All in all, it proved to be a very interesting insight to how Mopti would have looked in the past. The other excursion was far more relaxing, and involved simply appreciating the numerous lovely scenes along the majestic waterway as the setting sun bathed it beautifully in an orangey hue. Among the many memorable things seen were children playing football on a sandbank and nomadic fishermen watching a generator powered television whilst camping for the evening on dry land. Perhaps the only real shame is that most of the wildlife that once would have been in attendance, such as hippopotamuses, is no longer resident in the area due to the density of human inhabitation and water traffic, although numerous kinds of birds are still common.