Saturday, 8 September 2012

The Africa Diaries: Mali - Bamako to Timbuktu

We arrived in Bamako, the capital of Mali.

Mali is hot.  Well, so was Ghana, but Mali is hotter.  Much much hotter.  The kind of heat where you can feel your skin get tighter on your body as you start to dehydrate and shrivel up.

Bamako wasn't much fun, though it's a fairly pretty city.  It was colonized by the French at some stage, so there were lots of wide, tree-lined streets and some beautiful buildings.  But the most striking thing that I remember about Bamako, was the children who loitered around the bigger intersections.  Armed with baseball bats and sharp, machete, beat-your-head-in-because-you're-not-from-here type implements.

We didn't stay long.

We took a day long bus journey up to Sévaré which has nothing at all to recommend it, other than being right between Bamako and Timbuktu.  There were no toilets on the bus.  It was my first big test.  I didn't wet myself (success).

The next day we hired a driver and his car, and drove to Timbuktu.  Timbuktu is on the edge of the Sahara, so things were dusty.

But the journey was amazing.  Yes it was bumpy and hot and long and our car broke down.  But it was still pretty amazing.

The whole trip, not just this bit, was a study of contrasts.  There was so much beauty and magic...
... and there was also so much rubbish.  Everywhere.

There were long open roads ...

... and open spaces ...

... and pure magnificence.

And there were vehicles piled high with belongings.  Where the expectations of a vehicle far surpassed the actual capacity.

And so amongst all this beauty and craziness, my real African toilet experiences began, though thankfully these ones weren't too traumatic.

The first wasn't really a big deal.  Just a squat on the road behind the car (hoping that I wasn't visible from the rear view mirrors).  Now it doesn't seem like anything, but at the time it was.  Particularly since I had to look up how to ask "Please stop the car here as I need to use the toilet" in my French phrase book, though I think that what I actually said was "Stop now Mister.  I go to the toilet".  No wonder he stopped so promptly.  

My second experience was a sign of things to come.  We'd stopped for some food at a small town, and I asked Baba (our driver) where the bathroom was.  He took me to an open air toilet which was pretty much just a walled off area with a hole in the middle.  I squatted and did my business, but about 1/2 way through, the door (i.e. piece of corrugated roofing) swung open.  Baba (who was standing outside waiting for me), nonchalantly came over and quite calmly closed the door, ignoring my great big moon of a bottom (and everything else) that was on display.

Baba was pretty cool.

Anyway, we finally reached the Niger river, and a few miles over the other side was Timbuktu.  We crossed in a barge boat which provided both entertainment (while watching them cram as many vehicles as possible onto the barge) ...

and more colour ...

and endless magical moments to remember (though thank goodness for camera's, because I'd forgotten most of this before going through the photo's!)

We drove a few more miles, and then... Timbuktu.  It really does exist.

Credit to Allison for the majority of the photo's in this post.  She takes a much better picture than I do.

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