One of my favourite things about tavelling is being on the move; actually moving from one place to another – either in a car, plane or train.
Often-times I used to get a knot in my tummy about an hour before arriving somewhere. Admittedly this mainly happened in Europe and the US when my train would arrive and I would need to locate the nearest backpackers that had available bed-space… so there was mild anxiety involved, which I didn’t have while on the train.
Anyway, now that I’m (kind of) grown up, I still enjoy the bit about being-on-the-move, but the knot in my tummy is much smaller, because I have invariably arranged some accommodation ahead of time.
We had arranged for a driver to take us from Bamako to Mopti on this Tuesday in November. We were to leave at 06h30 so that we would get to Mopti about 9 to 10 hours later (it’s about 650km).
06h30 came, and we didn’t see a driver. 06h45 came, and I went outside, and the road was still deadly quiet. (which, incidentally, was a massive contrast to the liveliness of the evening before!).
Just before 7 the manager offered to call me a taxi, but was (understandably) a little surprised that we would take a taxi so far… it seems I wasn’t describing myself properly…
So when Ruth explained to him in actual French that we had pre0-arranged for a driver to meet us and take us, he pointed out the white station wagon parked in the road. I’d seen it, but not taken any notice of it. But I did notice it when we all went over and knocked on the window to wake up the driver – he’d slept in the car!
It’s only after the majority of the large mosquito colony in the car had fled into the morning air, that I noticed the green mosquito coil burning in the boot area… but by then we were only killing one mozzie a minute on average. By the time we’d reached the outskirts of the large sprawling city it was down to about 2 an hour…
It was a fascinating drive – reminded me quite a bit of northern Mozambique when I drove from Pemba to Ilha de Mozambique – dusty villages on the side of the pot-holed tar roads and dirt road detours every now and again. Despite them both being Muslim areas, the architecture here was quite different – flat roofed mud villages with increasing Arabian decoration as we got closer to Mopti.
Interesting bit of traffic control though on these long roads – at the entrance and exit to each village (and there were many) the authorities had put narrow but nasty speed bumps across the road – sometimes 2. sure made us go slowly! There was also the odd police roadblock, at which I didn’t dare let my camera be seen – don’t want to mess with police in Africa!
Other road users consisted almost exclusively of crabbing coaches (glad we didn’t use those!), mini-buses laden with luggage and goats – often to twice the height of the vehicle, and Mercs. Yes, when the roof of the min-bus didn’t have up to 30 goats on it, the sedans were of the old 190 Mercedes Benz variety. At one point my random statistics returned 9 out of 10 sedans being a 190 M-B… And we only saw one bus that had nothing on the roof, only one.
We had only 1 flat tyre on the road, thanks to a pothole, and we spent a few minutes at a road side mechanic having that repaired. It’s not surprising that each village has at least one wheel-man running a shop – what with all the broken down buses and the potholes. I’ve also seen this in other African countries – when a truck or bus breaks down most of them don’t have the smart red triangle with reflective circles on it. So what is generally done is that the driver or his lackey walk back along the road in each direction from the vehicle, and place tree branches (with lots of foliage) onto the side of the road at intervals of 50-100 metres. Generally 3 of them in each direction. It’s quite effective, and bio-degradable!
Despite the hungry pothole, the road was actually quite good. Closer to Mopti inland delta of the Niger became apparent with actually lots of water near the villages. By this point I was surprised by how much water and green there is in this country – I had expected plenty more desert. But that was still to come!
After 9 hours we got to Mopti, I went for a short stroll to where the Mopti and Bani rivers meet. Followed by a swim, and then a relax on the rooftop restaurant of the Yas pas de Probleme hotel we’re staying at… beautiful view onto the surrounding buildings at sunset, and the first of 3 nights with delicious spaghetti bolognaise