It would have been remiss of us, if not totally rude to have lived several years working in Mali and never made the effort to travel to Timbuktu or as it is otherwise known as “The End of the Earth”.
Back in February, 2008, we did just that. I remember that it was still baking hot, even though February is considered one of the cooler months (with an average monthly temperature of 34C).
We travelled by road, stopping in at Djenné, Mopti, and Sevaré along the way. We didn’t have much time to spare away from work so this didn’t result in the most leisurely of trips. It was still pretty darned cool though. Other than myself and my husband, one of our crew members came along with us. He happened to hail from Timbuktu himself, which made for a handy guide not just for visiting his home town, but getting there in the first place!
We set off on the road from Bamako to Ségou extremely early on the first day, a Friday. We stopped along the way for only the shortest of pit-stops until we reached Djenné, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the host town of the Great Mosque.
The Niger River was well off its highest levels, but we still had to negotiate a ferry crossing to actually reach this town.
Once there, we had to contribute to the general up-keep of the town by way of paying a Tourist Tax of about $2 per person.
Considering that practically all the houses and buildings including the Great Mosque are clad in mud, which is washed off in the annual rainy season, I can only imagine how many man-hours are involved in this yearly restoration business.
Winding our way through the streets, we arrived at the open square in front of the Great Mosque itself. There we parked, “acquired” ourselves a local guide (in the way tourists usually end up having to do ) and had a walkabout through all the narrow alleys in and around Djenné.
Naturally, we also acquired a few traditional arts and crafts along the way (more on these in a following post).
Regardless of it being a Friday, we as “infidels” were not permitted to set foot in the grounds of the mosque, let alone get a look inside. We had to be content with walking around it and looking at it from the roof-tops of some friendly local’s houses.
It is a pretty amazing structure.
All the posts that stick out of it are essentially scaffolding, which is used during the mud re-cladding process.
Atop each of the three towers is an ostrich egg. I don’t remember seeing a single ostrich anywhere in Mali yet here they have eggs, perched on buildings which annually disintegrate. Curious.
From Djenné, we re-crossed the river and carried on our way north-eastwards until we reached Mopti. We didn’t stop for long, just enough to catch a glimpse of daily life on the banks of the mighty River Niger.
It was utterly chaotic, yet all seemed to function as normal – whatever normal might actually mean.
From Mopti we stopped over-night in Sévaré, which serves as a convenient base for travellers wishing to explore the Dogon country. We, alas, didn’t have time on this trip to cover this amazing cultural community. I am still hopeful, that if we return to Mali, that we can sneak this trip in before we leave altogether.
Next Post: From Here to Timbuktu – Part 2: Reaching the End of the Earth