Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Flashback #2 - Mali: Timboktu

Yes Virginia, there is a Timboktu and it is in Mali.     It's a big difficult to get to so we chose to ride the ferry boat from Mopti to a landing near Timboktu.    The trip would start on the Niger river bank in Mopti.    Jim was laid out with his turn to deal with the African trots, so Erin and I went down to check on the "reservation" which was for a lst class cabin on the upper deck of the ferry.    When we got there, we discovered that our reservation had been sold out from under us upstream and our only choice now was to sleep on the decks with all the other travelers.    Not bloody likely!!!    Erin got to work and we walked along the stream until we found a pinasse that was heading back down river toward Timboktu.    Great news, the pinasse would sell us space.   Erin was careful to indicate that we wanted our own benches and got two other groups of western travelers also left stranded by the ferry to go in on the pinasse with us.    The idea was to not be crowded in by locals for the 3 day trip.    Well as soon as the lines were let off, a mad dash by bystanders on the river bank resulted in the pinasse being filled up with local travelers.    We westerners howled our discontent and the loading stopped but only after about a dozen additional travelers had boarded.  It was going to be a hot, 3 day trip, sleeping on the river banks at night and we did not want to be squashed for the duration.

We would stop along the way at small river villages to buy a fish for dinner.    We were always mobbed by the villagers curious about the westerners traveling on the river.

At the end of the 3 days, we arrived at a port which was still about 10  miles from Timboktu, so we hired a van to take us into town and then we all split up looking for lodging for the next couple of nights.    Erin had organized rooms for us in an old caravanserie.   It was a bit dreary so on our walk through town we discovered a brand new hotel had opened up and we moved the next morning.    While having our breakfast we were hounded by Tuareg salesmen.   Finally, we promised one we would go see his "shop" after we had made our move.   His shop was actually just his home which was a berber hut on the outskirts of town.

The ritual inside the hut was to first have tea, their version being a sugary concoction, and then get down to bargaining.    They showed us their stock, mostly a few pieces of jewelery, and we would bid, then everyone would laugh at each other (asking too much, bidding too low) until an agreement was made.  We actually had a good time with these guys.

We acquired a guide and walked around town.    Here is the door to a mosque.

Timboktu actually translates to Boctou's Well.   This is it, supposedly.  At one time, the only well for hundreds of miles.     Our guide took us to a museum where we could see on display some very old Korans and even more interesting for us sailors, an ancient disk used to navigate caravans across the desert by the stars.

Kids at the war memorial in Timboktu.  Note the lighter skin colors and more Arab features on some of these children.  The girl in the red top is a beauty.

We took a camel ride into the desert, which really was a shopping trip cleverly disguised as a camel ride. But it was fun nonetheless if not a bit uncomfortable.    The saddle horns were spike shaped and dug in with every lurch the camel made.     This closed out our journey to Mali.  A quick plane ride (in an antiquated Russian prop plane which had me wondering where I had last seen my rosary) back to Mopti and another journey back to Bamako where a new hotel and nice swimming pool and a bottle of wine were waiting to round out our stay in Mali.

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