Beginnings in Bamako

We arrived in Bamako last night, off a very full Kenya Airways flight.

It’s fascinating to see how this part of the world is more of a stop-over area than I realized. And how airlines do multi-stop flights to serve destinations that don’t warrant dedicated flights. So you’ll find that Turkish Airlines stop in Dakar en route to Sao Paolo or Brussels Airlines flights stop in Dakar on their way to Banjul.

And then within Africa you have our flight started in Dakar and stops in Bamako on the way to Nairobi. Kenya Airways also has a route via Abidjan, as do several other airlines in the region. Much like they have in South America – where the old Varig did several stops on their flights from north to south in a large country.

Anyway, so we were met at the airport, and driven along very busy roads (despite it being a Sunday) to our hotel. Most of the traffic consists of scooters, many being taxis, and often with well-dressed female taxi-drivers. And almost always without a helmet. In fact I think I saw a grand total of 3 helmets in West Africa.

Our hotel, Tamana, is very nice with a courtyard for relaxing in, with a pool, and a bar. Our room was spacious with own bathroom, but there were many mosquitoes – in the room and outside. I was very grateful for the mosquito nets – which prevented night-time bites, the little critters certainly got a mouthful or two during the evening…

Food was quite expensive too – about R100 for a pizza… which I began to crave by the end of the trip, but never actually bought because of the ridiculous prices.

Here’s a list of what we ate on our trip:

sat 07 in flight meals

sun 08 dakar B: pastries from patisserie for
L: in flight?
Bamako D: Croque madame at Le Relax

mon 09 Bamako B: bread, jam, butter, coffee at Tamana
L: fries in town near museum (heat stroke?)
D: chicken & fries at Tamana

Tues 10 to Mopti B: bread, jam, butter, coffee at Tamana
L: snacks in the car
D: SpagBol at Ya pas de Probleme

Wed 11 Djenne B: bread, jam, butter, coffee at Ya pas
(daytrip) L: bread & fruit in car on way home
D: SpagBol at Ya pas de Probleme

Thu 12 Mopti B: bread, jam, butter, coffee at Ya pas
L: pastries in patisserie
D: SpagBol at Ya pas de Probleme

Fri 13 COMANAV B: bread, jam, butter, coffee
(boat) L: salad & rice with 2 pieces meat
D: Spaghetti

Sat 14 COMANAV B: bread, jam, butter, coffee
L: potatoes (swapped for spaghetti)
D: rice & veg

Sun 15 to Desert B: bread, jam, butter, coffee & omelette at Colombe
L: beef sandwich (baguette) and veg in dunes
D: chicken and veg under the stars

Mon 16 back to town B: bread, jam, butter, oranges, coffee & tea in desert
L: snacks rummaged from our bags
D: spaghetti & sauce at Maison des Artisans in TOM

Tue 17 Timbuktu B: bread, jam, butter, coffee & tea at Colombe
L: crackers & cheese and snacks at Colombe (self-bought)
D: beef kebabs & fries at Maison des Artisans in TOM

Wed 18 to Bamako B: bread, jam, butter, coffee & tea at Colombe
L: croissant in flight
D: ginger drink (!) and pineapple juice; steak & fries at Piri Piri in Bamako

Thu 19 Bamako B: bread, madeleines, water at river at Mande (self-
L: fruit (paw-paw, banana) & snacks at Mande pool
D: hamburger & fries at Le Relax

Fri 20 to Dakar B: bread, fruit, juice at river at Mande (self-bought)
L: in-flight
D: schwarma & fries at Leyaya (?) Lebanese restaurant

Sat 21 to JNB B: juice & fruit at Radisson
L & D: in-flight

After a very late and leisurely wake up we had breakfast and went on a short walking city tour with Guendo, our self-appointed guide (based on the premise that he transferred us from the airport last night).

Our final destination was going to be the Marché Medina, and I managed to convince Ruth that it would be great to walk, and not too far for her, despite the heat. So we headed off past the fancy nightclubs in our road, and ducked behind a mechanic’s shop and were instantly in a different world.

Obviously this was a short cut – taking us through fields of private veggie gardens that were beautifully tended and lush looking. We reached the rather dusty Hippodrome (horse-racing track) which we crossed with a number of goats, one of whom was being beaten by the goat-herd for being a little too horny… funny, this was to be a recurring theme… no, not the beating, but I did seem to stumble across more procreating animals on this trip than ever before…

But I digress.

The Marché Medina is a local market, not really a tourist trap – so while you won’t find any wooden carvings, you will find plenty of dried fish, raw meat (usually with a free helping of flies), bags of rice, millet and corn, individually packed tiny bags of macaroni (probably about 30 pieces of pasta in there). Piles of motorbike springs next to a group of ladies peeling veggies next to a selection of tyres.

They stall-holders were not keen on photos – in fact I’ve never seen someone move so fast on seeing a camera raised in their general direction. This too was to be common – a country where photos were not liked, appreciated or allowed, more often than elsewhere. One of our guides explained to me that some Malians had seen photos of themselves on guide book covers and had never received payment of recognition for that – hence their mistrust of cameras. Can’t fault them on that!

Dried monkey heads, dirty smelly dusty walkways between the hundreds, and hundreds of stalls of people trying to make a living.

Ruth wanted to get an ink “tattoo” at the one “salon” in the market. It’s an open air space where a group of women sit and braid or extend your hair and ink tattoage patterns on your skin (in henna or black ink). Ruth spoke to the one woman and was negotiating a price for her preferred design. When the lady didn’t want to do it at the lower price, another woman offered to do it, which resulted in a massive shouting match – and I suspect it was only minutes away from a physical altercation. The tempers were certainly high at this theft of a customer.

In the end Ruth went to the woman who offered a lower price, and I had a small design done on my ankle by the first lady.

By this point though we’d had enough of the market – it was hot, and we needed something to drink.

We continued to “Pointe G” which is a hill in Bamako, with a hospital on it, and a grand view over the sprawling Bamako below, with the Niger River weaving through it. We saw the several bridges and markets and the few high-rises, tallest of them being their central bank building.

Exhausted and hot, we headed to the National Museum for the photography Bienalle and a drink, but being Monday it was all closed, despite this being the opening day of the exhibition by photographers from all around the world, including many from Africa.

So off we strolled for a quick bite & a beer at a local restaurant. It doesn’t happen often, at all, but by this point I was seriously over-heating. Diarrhoea, no appetite and no amount of drink was helping either…. I needed to swim and rest – and fast.

I just wallowed in the pool back at the hotel for a while, to let the coolth regenerate me, to bring down my core temperature. One forgets that this takes a little bit of adjusting, even if one does travel regularly! But a nap and a lazy read perked me up again.

After nightfall we went for another stroll, in the other direction, to a bistro restaurant that had been recommended, called Le Relax. It was a super spot – with a terrace open to the road, so ideal for people and car-watching. Interestingly, most cars (and taxis) are old 190 model Mercedes Benz cars – not what I had expected. After that, several Toyotas, but few other German makes.

We had one of those wonderful warm evenings that we just have too few of in SA.

And it is just this warmth of the evening that caused me to fall in love.

Bright, very cool, and despite being quite round, the looks were very promising…

Pineapple juice. From Cote d’Ivoire. I have never tasted pineapple juice better than this… and I was sure to order it anywhere I could from then on… it was that good. And cool. And refreshing.

Damn, I drooled on the keyboard…

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