Mali: Sahel Journey
Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours


Dispatch 3 - Niger River / Segou (Segu)

  Sunrise, Niger River Malifisherman at sunrise on the Niger River, MaliThe boat departs well after dark so it is many hours, a good night sleep and a sunrise later before you get a chance to see what the world looks like from central river.  By the time that it is light enough to distinguish shapes on the river there are the canoes of fisherman scattered about.  They probably rose well before sunrise.

Village on the banks of the Niger River, MaliVillage and mosque along Niger River, MaliAs the morning lighting grows you begin to realize how populated the river banks are, and likely were all night when everything hid in plane sight in the darkness. Perched at the boats rail, it is moving art gallery watching the villages glide by. The bigger ones are distinguished with a dramatic and distinctly designed clay mosque towering above all other structures. Increasingly the villages come alive and more people come down to the waters edge to wash and play.

Early morning canoe on the Niger River, MaliMorning at the riverside, Niger River, MaliLooking down from the boat it feels like the boat is one with the river. Unless you look at the riverbank it is difficult to judge how fast we are traveling -- we are going down stream -- but on careful examination it is clear we are making progress -- the Niger has a pretty good flow rate at this time of year. Every few kilometers there is a village visible from the river -- there is no way of Boat passengers, a girl and her sisterknowing how many villages there are just back from the river.

On the boat, not quite as quickly, people rise too.

Livestock eating on Niger riverboatAs the people get breakfast so do the animals -- they boarded in Koulikoro but I don't know their final destination.


Segou dock, Niger River, MaliPassenger canoe arrives in Segou, MaliAbout midday we called on Segou. The waterfront was busy with boat delivering passengers, sand, wood, produces and various other materials.

The dock was stacked with watermelons and the riverbanks were lined with people washing, cloths, babies and bodies. Upland areas were stacked with firewood, construction sand and other commodities that were obviously brought in by boat. The boat stops longer here so there is time to get off and look around.

Tradition style Segou wall, MaliTreelined Segou stree with a French colonial feel.Prior to the French arriving in the 19th century Segou was one of the capitol of the 17th and 18th century Kingdom by the same name. The French also used it as a capitol for a while. The tree lined streets and some taller French-style architecture in the older part of town separate Segou from most others of its size.

Monument, Segou MaliWomen in Segou, MaliWomen and baby, Segou MaliWe spent a majority of our shore time meeting some of the merchants in the market and learning about the different kinds of beautiful fabrics (woven, batik, dyed, painted) that are produced in the region and conjecturing about the uses of some of the bird and animal parts and Riverboat dock in Segou, Niger River, Maliplant materials that are in the traditional medicine section of the market. By the time we returned to the boat most of the watermelon had disappeared, presumably into the hull of the boat. Single melons were available for purchase so a couple were bought for the group.

Tourist pass time as life passes before them on the Niger RiverPresumably a tourist because Malian don't typically lay in the sunAfternoon is a leisurely time on the cruise ship. People retreat to books, journals, card games and the shade to pass the time as life on the river passes in front them.  It is highly probable that the people sunbathing were tourists because it isn't typical to see Malians laying in the sun.  I periodically revert to being a birder and occupy myself trying to distinguish between different models of heron, egret, kingfisher, plover, weaverbird, scavengers, etc.Canoe on the Niger River, MaliFisherman, Niger River, MaliCanoe on the Niger River, Maliboat passing village, Niger River, Malivillage along the Niger River, Mali



Irrigating garden by hand, Niger River, MaliJust before dusk we passed through a canal that lead to a lock. For miles along the canal were checker-board vegetable gardens, mostly growing onions.  Who eats all of these onions. [Ed: Later we would see many more acres of onions in cultivation in the center of the Dogon country.]

At the locks, as the boat is lowered there is a trading frenzy between produce sellers on the land and buyers on the boat. It goes on until the two groups are out of reach. Much of the produce is destined for more arid and remote destinations along the river like Timbuktu. Very animated trading is the norm for every stop.

Sunset over the Niger River, MaliCanoe along side the boat at night, MaliSunset brought another cluster of photo opportunities.  Even after dark the boat would stop and villages and the residents would come out to our boat in canoes to load and off-load people and goods.  And, yes, sometimes something would end up in the water, but not as often as if I was the oarman.

Addendum: From our stroll through Segou comes this picture of women pounding grain.

Unexplainably, when we arrived in Segou in '09 the dock was almost empty of people and goods staged for loading.  I am trying to figure out if it was significantly earlier or later in the season, which might explain the differences.
Segou dock, Mali

It's interesting to note the construction techniques in Segou.



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