Wednesday, February 13, 2013

My Mali Part Three

Bus travel in West Africa is an early morning affair usually. It’s nice to just find a bus service really as it’s much cheaper than bush taxis and other forms of transport in the region, and I think the bus out of Mopti to Segou, about halfway to the capital Bamako, left before 6am.
Getting ready for departing Mopti, Bani Transport

My friend and I decided on that bus because we wanted to get to Segou  early enough in the day to walk about and see things. We had run out of days to get to all the places we wanted to so this way we had a full afternoon in Segou to see the river and life in the town.
It was always good to be out of the bus before it got really hot in the early afternoon, and by lunch time we were in Segou. The guesthouse was simple enough but again there was a dorm room, this time with three beds and the third remained empty. We had a TV in the room but showers and toilets were downstairs via a rickety old metal spiral staircase.
There was a decent restaurant at the hotel too which helped a lot. After we finished lunch it was siesta time. Throughout West Africa I found that places all shut down after lunch for a couple of hours before reopening. Towns become a bit quiet. Who can blame them in that heat?
Ferry and life, washing, Segou

We were following the Bani river southwards in Mali, and Segou was another town built on it. Although I didn’t go to any museums or see anything amazing, I quite liked Segou as a sleepy town with bustling river life. The river was where people bathed and washed their clothes. Boats lined up – big boats compared to the small ones in Mopti. On the rocks by the river people spread their wet washing to catch a few rays of sunlight. I don’t expect it took a lot of time to dry in high-30s heat.
Segou also featured many mules, I saw plenty by the river. But time was short in Segou, one afternoon and then off to the capital Bamako. What a journey it turned out to be!
I had been warned to take a reputable bus company as some of the cheaper, less official companies had a lot of issues and often stranded passengers if something went wrong with the bus. I was soon to find out that those issues also can be encountered on the better bus services.
Bani was supposed to be one of the best, but not long out of Segou and the bus was having problems. I shuddered at the thought of having to wait for a new bus once we were already on the road, but the driver opened up an engine panel at the back of the bus and seemed to think everything would be okay.
And for the most part it was, however, as we approached Bamako, maybe 30 kilometres from the centre, the troubles resurfaced. It had been a fun bus trip with a happy atmosphere on board. The buses aren’t always that comfortable in West Africa, sometimes they really pack ‘em in, but generally people have a smile on their face.
But just before Bamako the bus was stopped again and the panel was opened again. This time it seemed there was no remedy. Bags were removed from the top of the bus – they love to stack buses, taxis and mini-buses as high as they can with luggage on the top.  All of a sudden no one was around. Everyone, including the driver, had disappeared. Well. What was there left to do? Had to hitch a ride into town somehow, and I found myself on a coal truck headed into central Bamako. Then in a share taxi.
Bamako Street

Eventually I found my way to the guesthouse where I took a mattress on the floor for not much money at all. Bamako was another fleeting visit. There’s not a lot to see in Bamako, but the markets are rather interesting and there are some decent bakeries and restaurants, good if you’ve been stuck on simple food for a while.
There was a great arts and crafts market I visited, called the artisans' market. This is where people worked at woodcraft and other such things, a great place for souvenirs and the like. When I went to the fetish market – where you can get all types of things, many voodoo related, was interesting too. I took a photo and the owner was very upset and angry, I showed the photo to him and suddenly he was very pleased. I offered to delete it but he didn't want me to. In fact he asked me to take another, this time with him in the photo.
Wood carving at the Artisans' Market.

In Africa generally you have to be very careful about taking photos when people are involved. Often they will ask for a gift – money (cadeau) if you ask, which you should do if you are photographing people up close, or often even midrange. As travellers we love to take photos as our memories, and now that film is a thing of the past nobody worries about how many they are taking, but as a local I can only imagine how sick they must get of tourists and cameras.
And the fetish market. A little creepy. The kid just wandered into view half a second before I went 'click'.

Bamako has statues (some of crocodiles, big ones) churches and mosques. It’d be easy enough to pass a few days there before getting bored, but it is no high on tourist attractions. Mali though, especially for the region is.
According to news reports, things appear to be going the way of the French Army in Mali, and if they are to be believed the local Malian people are happy about that. It’s very sad to read or hear about a place I visited having troubles, especially with terrorism and the like. I’m hoping for a speedy return to normality, and that once again Mali will be attracting the tourists like it did before. It’s a very rewarding place to visit.

If you'd like to know more on Mali, or other places I have written about, I have some interesting stuff on Kindle:

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