Tuesday, January 12, 2010
To Mopti and down the Niger
The route to Mopti from Ouaga passes through Ouahigouya 187km along a paved road and then on to Tiou the last village in BF onto Koro in Mali Bankass, Banidiagara - a journey of 480 odd km; 200 of it on dirt!
* The dirt road
* Looking back
Our initial plan was to spend the night in Bankass, rest the car given is temperament, but on crossing the border I discovered that there was a Dogon Festival in Bandiagara and decided to push on there - a decision I was to be quite pleased about given the spectacle we were witness to that evening!
That day we were treated to Dogon dancers, Dogon hunters and most impressive of all a glimpse of Dogon Masks - Dogon culture is filled with mysticism, folklore and rituals, their religion based upon animism. Dogon's knowledge of astronomy superseded western knowledge - in the 1930's two Frenchmen interviewed four Dogon priests were told of a companion star to Sirus - a star that was only discovered in the 1970's!
* Masked Dancer
* Head dresses
* Playing with fire
* Dogon Hunter
* Tarmac - after 200km of dirt!
Mopti is one of West Africa's busiest river ports, a bustling city with a population of 105,000. Boats from here go to Timbuktu serving villages up and down the Niger river. We had a day here to walk about and explore the city before meeting the group the next day. Mopti's Grand Mosque built in 1933 and subsequently restored in 2007 towers over the old city. A beautiful building it is sadly off limits to non Muslims.
* Hustle in Mopti
* The Grand Mosque of Mopti
* Slabs of salt from the Sahara
That evening we found ourselves a seat at the restaurant Bar Bozo which sits at the mouth of harbor, nursing a cold beer watching the sunset across the far bank of the river.
* Sunset in Mopti
While most people were getting ready to go to work, I was boarding a West African river canoe - a Pinnase - en route down the Niger river. A river which is born on the Guinea - Sierra Leone borders a mere 200km away from the Atlantic choosing instead to make a tortuous journey across five countries - Guinea, Mali, Niger/ Mali, Nigeria - for 4200km.
* Our Pinnase
Equipped with tents, sleeping bags, a cook, two people to man the boat, our guide and his second in command 17 of us set off destination Timbuktu. As we gently motored along, Penda the cook set about preparing lunch for us, all cooked on board, sitting in an area that was 30sq feet in size with nothing more that a few pots, one charcoal burner and a couple of knifes. That afternoon's lunch of rice and grilled Nile perch has to be one of the tastiest meals I've had!
* Penda our cook!
That first day on the river was spent in lazy contemplation of life as we past it by, isolated villages, river traffic carrying goods and people from place to place, the fauna and flora that we past by - birds, goats, cattle, occasional troops of monkeys and even a few hippo's further along!
* Hippo mum and kid
* Intense kid
The river was full of character, at its meanest point perhaps a 100ft in width, at its widest, a km it seemed at times! But always placid, gently flowing with hardly a ripple to show.
* The river
The first nights campsite was on firm ground, packed earth, reassuringly solid! We pitched our tents and gathered in small groups to chat - we 21 strangers from Norway, France, the US, Australia, Mali and Sri Lanka.
I cannot begin to explain what that night sky looked like, such a brilliant firmament against a black background, sparkling diamonds in the sky, old friends I had not seen since my days on the tea estates of SL.
The quietness, the lap of water against the boat, the smile's of the kids on the river banks, tranquility...
We reached Korioume, Timbuktu's port, 12km from the city after sunset on the 6th, an eerie experience landing in this little port in the dark, surrounded by kids clamoring for handouts as we struggled to shore jumping from pinnase to pinnase back pack's in hand. After three days on board it was time for a shower and blessed be it it that the house we stayed at that night had hot water to boot - most welcome in the desert where temperature drops to less than 10C at night!
Next, Timbuktu and the Festival au Desert!