Monday, February 07, 2005

Close Enough To Timbuctoo

I met a 45 year old American archeologist in Bamako who said that when he started out he was told that West Africa was a young man's place; if you were over 50 it would kill you.

In certain ways entering Mali was like inching back into the Third World: electricty, paved roads, buses (though funky), no obvious payoffs at the police stops. But in other ways it was the poorest country yet. For instance, it was damned hard even to find bottled water, let alone edible food.

And virtually the entire country is made out of dried mud. As we had left Guinea those cute conical stone huts had become almost prevalent, with entire towns of them. But in Mali it was just cruddy dried mud adobe. And the landscape was the same dried out dreary flat scrub and/or dry grass with scattered trees.

Maybe I was just getting tired out by the beating I've been administering to myself. But West Africa IS depressing.

And it didn't help when, at the end of an 11 hour bus trip I got to Mopti, found the well recommended Catholic center closed down, and ended up at the worst hotel ever. For thirty bucks I now got a two inch mattress on wooden slats that was so uncomfortable that I had to put it on the floor and try that.

The next morning I walked around the tired little town on the Niger river, then went ten miles inland to Sevare, where I found a little place run by an American guy. And got his last and tiniest little room.

The plan was for me to go the town of Djenne and its famous mud mosque. But to do that I had to go back to Mopti and wait around in the hot sun for a minibus that never left.

At this point I was only 200 miles from Timbuctoo, which due to the newly completed road was just six hours away. But the place is supposedly such an uninteresting tourist trap these days, with planeloads of French tourists flying in, that I concluded that it would be far hipper for me to be this close and NOT to go there.

Anyway, back to Sevare. Once again I was feeling awful. I chalked it up to heat exhaustion, thinking in the back of my mind that it might be malaria, but figuring that, having taken all my pills and having only had about three mosquito bites..

They served a pretty good approximation of Mexican food that night, but my appetite wasn't so hot. Hopefully, tomorrow I'd be feeling better.

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