Sunday, February 10, 2013

My Mali Part Two

Continuing on from the previous post, I have bee reminiscing about one of my favourite African countries to visit, Mali.
Mopti was the first proper town we arrived at. I was lucky to still be in the group of four that had done the Dogon trek together, so we found our way to a cheap guest house. I can't remember the details or name of the place, but it was probably around ten dollars a night. I shared a dorm room with my friend, and we were fortunate to have it to ourselves.
Changing money was a bit of a hassle I remember. I didn't need to but friend did and it took quite a while at the bank. I had used traveler's cheques at times. Cash was much easier to change in West Africa, however you usually needed a passport to change any money at all and often receipts for traveler's cheques. 

Mopti is situated on the confluence of two rivers, the Bani and the Niger. It's a great base for branching out to the famous and recently infamous Timbuctu, sometimes by boat, sometimes by car. It's not particularly close and depending on the river levels can take 3 days to a week I think. I wasn't headed that way, but many in Mopti were. They were organising all the details for their trips there, quite a few foreigners were staying in Mopti.

The best thing to do as a tourist there, as Mopti itself doesn't contain a plethora of tourist attractions, was to take a boat on the rivers. I spent a few hours floating around, visiting some islands, watching river life in Mali. It was great. The people living on the islands see quite a few tourists naturally, and are always asking for cadeaux (gifts = money) but that doesn't spoil it if you have a cheerful attitude to it.
Watching boats move people and cargo around is great, and I saw some interesting things being ferried - including a small boat full of coffins.
Coffins on the river.

Aside from Dogon Country, Mali's greatest attraction is the Mosque at Djenne, which we did in a longish day trip from Mopti. We had to hire a taxi, but with four people that was very affordable. We took it south, and at one point had to get out as the car made it across a river and up the embankment on the other side. The recent rains had taken out several bridges in the area.
Over the rooftops of Djenne the Mosque stands tall.

A ferry took us across the river to Djenne, it's on a sort of island of its own. The taxi left us outside the mosque, pretty much the centre of Djenne. It was the biggest mud-brick mosque and probably building I have ever seen. A large square surround it - I think there is an amazing market there once or twice a week. You can't go inside sadly, apparently some westerners shot an advertisement there many years ago now which featured scantily-clad women and people were so shocked the mosque became closed to all foreign visitors.
However the whole town is mud-brick, an amazing maze of streets and life. Many people had official cards as guides and desperately wanted to guide us, but we found a nice bloke who showed us the way when we needed help so we employed him instead! It was a highlight of Mali, Djenne, no two ways about it. A must see and a very special place on Earth.
From there it was back to Mopti and another 5am bus the next day. My friend and I said goodbye to the two we'd been travelling with as they headed north to Timbuctu. We would head south to Segou....
The Mosque at Djenne. 

And that's where today's post ends. Last part on Mali in the next week, maybe sooner. Right now I can't recommend travel to Mali, however, if the troops in there get the job done as they seem to be doing, it could be a safe tourist destination sooner rather than later again.

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