I am sitting at the PC Office in Bamako, the capital of Mali, taking advantage of their free internet (its 1000 CFA/hr here!!!) and figured it was as good of time as any to write about my vacation.
I planned this trip with my friend Jenna, another PCV who lives in the north of Senegal because I wanted to go to Timbuktu. Also, I have taken two trips to England, but felt that I should see more of West Africa than Senegal and the Gambia while I am here these two years and had heard really good things about Mali from other volunteers who had gone.
Still, Timbuktu was really the only reason I had to want to come to Mali and planned my trip around it. I wanted to take a boat up the Niger River and then back down to Bamako in two weeks. Having an intimate knowledge of the public transport horrors here in West Africa, we decided to fly to Bamako from Dakar to save two days of being crammed into one car or another on horrible paved roads. The plane ticket was twice as expensive as overland, but saves us 46 hours of transportation. I definately think it was worth it.
The first hitch in the plan (and there is always a hitch in the plan) was Jenna getting a staff infection on her face. She called me the day before we were scheduled to fly out and told me she wasnt medically cleared by PC to go, so I was on my own. Having already dealt with Megan dumping me right before a backpacking trip in Europe that I promptly did on my own, I decided to just do it and take my chances. So on Monday January 26 I flew out solo for Mali, with very few plans but figuring I would play it by ear.
My first thought as I peaked out the window at the desert that is Mali is how ugly this country was! A few seconds later I changed my mind, deciding that it wasn't ugly, just very different from Senegal and beautiful in its own African way.
My plane got in early and I went straight to the PC Office here in Bamako to make friends. There were several volunteers in town and they took me out to lunch and were so friendly, offering my advice on what to see and do here. PCVs always have good advice to give as we know the country we live in so well.
I stayed in Bamako for three days wandering around. I went to the National Museum, which was really cool and included a modern art exhibit and an exhibit on Malian textiles.
I finally left Bamako on Thurday to go Segou where a volunteer there said he could house me and there was a huge music festival going on. Loads of tourists in town. Couldnt afford the tickets to the festival as they were expensive, but hung out down town listening to music and going out with other PCVS. It was amazing. There was music and dance troups from all over West Africa not to mention an artisinal craft fair with AMAZINGLY beautiful products. I did do a little shopping there. I am human after all.
When the festival ended, Jenna (who was finally medically cleared and caught up with meon Friday) and two other Senegal PCVs and I headed to Djenne, the site of the world's largest mud structure: a mud mosque. I have seen pictures in guidebooks but they just cannot capture the beauty of these buildings. The mosque itself is gorgeous and I wandered around the town just admiring. Monday (the day we went) was their weekly market day and it was the craziest, busiest African market I have seen yet. So much fun to be a part of. I bought some fabric that is made here and much more cheap than in Senegal for my host family and friends in Pout. Hope they like it!
From Djenne we headed up to Mopti where we met with Oumar, who we had hired to lead us on a 4 day hike through Dogon country. The next 4 days were spent hiking up and down the most beautiful cliffs you can imagine, where houses are sometimes built into them, sleeping in campements in any one of the beautiful billages there and just being in awe at God's creation. It may be the most beautiful, amazing place I have ever been. If anyone is even thinking about coming to West Africa, they cant miss this. Unfortunately, as I dont exercise EVER in Senegal, my body took a beating, but it was so worth it. Oumar, our guide, was really great and funny. He always made jokes while explaining Dogon culture to us. I learned so much from him.
At this point in my vacation it was obvious that I didnt have enough time to make it up to Timbuktu and then back, which was really dissapointing, and yet the rest of the trip had been so amazing that it wasnt overly so.
Spent another day in Mopti after Dogon Country and then headed back to Bamako, where Jenna and I have been killing time waiting to get back to Senegal.
There is so much more to say about these last two weeks and I dont even know how to start!
It has been nothing short of amazing. 2 weeks is the perfect amount of time and I am very ready to get home. I do miss Senegal and all of its craziness. I will inevitably take this back tomorrow morning as I am arguing with someone at the garage in Dakar on my way home, but it will be nice to argue in Wolof again.