Niger River Cruise Part II, Mali, Nov 10 - 11,2007

Trip Start Sep 19, 2007
Trip End Jan 05, 2008

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

We had a sunrise setoff and very basic breakfast on the boat.  Not soon after we stopped at our first village, a small impoverished one along the river where the mission was to buy some fish for lunch.  I never found out the name of the village, but it was one (I was told) with a mixed tribal population and what I found to be some unsettling images.  While there were happy playing children and bare-breasted women washing themselves and their laundry in the river, there was a whole area of apparently sick people sitting around outside who begged us for western medicine as we walked passed them.  The medical care and medicines they needed was apparently unavailable or unaffordable to them there. 
A strong headwind made for fairly slow going much of the day, but the sights along the river were just as interesting as the day before - nomadic herders with their cattle on the shores, fishing villages with mid brick mosques, and all kinds of boats on the river ranging from small fishermen's pirogues to overcrowded pinasses like outs to large ferries.  We made additional village stops over our last two days at Niafounke and Diaferabe, both somewhat larger than the first village but also very poor and dusty places.  Niafounke's main claim to fame is as the birthplace of Ali Farka Toure, the Malian singer and guitarist who was one of Africa's most internationally renowned musicians.  My mission again in both towns was to try to buy ice to keep our beer and soft drinks cold on the boat. 
We spent our second night along the river at a particularly wide spot on some dunes sandwiched between the river and a marshy area on the other side.  I picked the highest spot on the dune to place my tent.   It got dark shortly after we arrived and the pasta with a vegetable sauce was our second vegetarian dinner in a row.  The fair amount of drinking that went on around the campfire that night ended with Wesley (a serious Methodist) and David (a hardcore atheist) in a heated argument over religion and God.  Richard and I were the last two left giggling at them but figured we'd leave the two to duke it out and headed off to our tents.  Several hours later I woke up as I heard my tent zipper open and felt a hand reach and feel my feet.  "Who are you and what do you want?  Get out of here, or I'll...." I yelled angrily. 
"Wrong tent.  It's just me - Wesley!"  Wesley's night vision was apparently not the greatest and by the end of the trip he had become notorious for mistakenly trying to enter other peoples' tents
Our third day on the river was much the same as the previous two.  Towards sunset we put in at Korioume, the small river port about ten miles from Timbuktu where we were supposed to have been met by Daphne (and Dave and Ben).  Daphne, however, was a no show and there was no word in port about her having crossed the river, so Grandpere organized a minibus at the port to take us to our hotel/ campement in Timbuktu.  A seen of utter chaos ensued as we unloaded the boat and tried to pack everything and ourselves onto the small cramped bus while herds of aggressive begging children swarmed around us and got whipped up into a frenzy. 
It was pitch black when we arrived a short time later at the Bouctou Hotel in Timbuktu, a two-story virtual ghost of a hotel built around an interior courtyard.  Once we unloaded all our gear from the bus and set up our little backpackers tent ghetto on the hotel's roof, I couldn't help but feel overcome by the strange surreal atmosphere of the empty hotel at the edge of town where one of the world's most mystical places dissolves into the Sahara Desert.  The eerie feelings were relieved as we all went across a sandy field to the hotel's restaurant for a group meal of beef brochettes and couscous and much speculation about what might have happened to our truck and drivers.

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