Mali: Sahel Journey
Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours


Dispatch 4 - Mopti


Sunrise on the Niger River, MaliCanoe at sunrise on the Niger River, MaliThe new day would start with more beautiful pastel scenes that seem to be incredible difficult, despite multiple attempts, to full capture in photographs. Extrapolate from the photographs, thinks beauty with more intensity and you might be approaching the reality.  The morning light was great, but it didn't last long enough.Canoe at sunrise on the Niger River, MaliCanoe at sunrise on the Niger River, MaliCanoe at sunrise on the Niger River, MaliCanoe at sunrise on the Niger River, MaliCanoe at sunrise on the Niger River, Mali



Comraderie on Niger River boatWith each passing day and even each passing hour the passengers progressively become more and more at easy with one another and person space is evaporating. Initially when people passed each other in the narrow corridors they were very formal about personal space, by the second day people are stopping to talk, put hands on shoulders, sharing activities and games, taking photos of new friends, showing postcards of home, trading addresses, dancing and generally acting more like an interwoven extended family, than clumps of strangers.

Bozo housing, Niger River, MaliAs non-luxurious as the riverboats of the Niger are, beyond our floating world is the even more basic world of Bozo village (the ethnic group of the river) (Bozo is the Bambara word for "house of bamboo), boatmen and fishermen, and Fulani herders and herds. If the boat never passed this way again I doubt if their world would change, and other than providing images they don't interact with the boat. These were separate worlds passing in the cosmos.



Niger River flood plainsThe origin myth of the Bozo says they came from Egypt 5000 years ago, though this is not suggested by their linguistic affiliation. In about 250 BC, their ancestors built up Djenne-jeno (near the current Djenne), which was noted for it's metal workers, gold, pottery (early Sahara), and rich agricultural land (Niger and Bani River flood plains).  It is the traditional heart of the Bozo country that we passed through as we approached our next destination, Mopti.Market day along the Niger River, Mali



Most people would label getting off the boat a 100% African experience, though I expect a version of the same dynamics can be found on most every continent. In space less than half the length of the boat - because that is as long as the usable portion of the dock is -- hundred of people are jostling to off-load and on-load the boat at the same time. The people try to get off have no place to go because of the push of people trying to get on. Through this scrimmage we needed to move our panniers, helmets, water bottle, packs with valuables, pumps and bicycles - way to many things that are either too small or too big. To add to the challenge you need to run the gauntlet of boys who want to be your "guide."

Mopti should be a quaint and charming town; it has a river bordered by a tree-lined road and a busy shore filled with boats of contrasting size and character. The market is interesting and "African". Parts of town have unique and esthetic residential and mosque architecture. And by in large the people are friendly. So why do I qualify my enthusiasm? Because constantly getting in the way between you and a pleasant experience are a seemingly endless stream of want-to-be boy-guides with every sort of hustle and scam and no manners to take "no," in any language, for an answer. They can useful if you are trying to find some place of something. They know the physical layout of the town, but as presenters of the culture, instructors of history or interpreters of nuance, their skills are minimal. One of their many impacts can be to effectively prevent you from meeting or talking to anyone else in town. In Mopti, one tends to hire a guide more as a form of protection money from being harassed by the other guides, rather than for what they added to the program.

One example of the shenanigans is, in Mopti, the guides insisted that you needed to go to the police in Mopti to register. As advised we went to the police. We filled out the form that was presented to us, our passports were stamped and then the gentleman who runs the bureau told us that we would have to pay 1000 CFA each. No receipt or tickets were offered. When we later met the regional tourism office we were told that this fee had been stopped several years ago.

Transport boat leaving Mopti, MaliSailing canoe approaching Mopti, MaliOne tends to want to have a quick look around town and then be ready to move on. We took a delightful ride east along the river and back, then around the port area that is backed with boats that are in turn packed with people and/or goods - it was a weekly-market day. We wandered through the various sections of the market and headed off to explore old town and take a few photos of Mopti elegant mosque. On the bikes we could pretty much stay ahead of the wanaby guides, but we didn't feel at ease to stop for too long for fear that they would descend upon us again like a plague of locust.

Addendum: When the boat is late you get the benefit of another beautiful sunset on the river, but you also get to negotiate the gauntlet of Mopti (see main narrative) at night.Preparing to disembark at night in Mopti, Mali

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