Crossing into Mali
Sometimes borders are just lines on maps, but Mauritania – Mali frontier divides two very distinct worlds. The Sahel is vivid green in Mali, and teeming with wildlife and cattle gathering at ponds. Instead of the bobo-wrapped touaregs and moors of the Sahara, we cross path with ebony-skinned people of Mali, dressed from head to toe in Made in China footballers’ garb. Border control is smooth and fast, but we have to deal with the customs in the first town inside Mali, Nioro de Sahel, where, because it’s weekend (bad timing in Africa) the price for Laissez passes is double (10000 CFA).
Later we save some money camping in the police station compound and we use their backyard as toilet. Too bad that our Morocco stash is already history. Overnight a very windy rainstorm sweeps a thick layer of dust into our tent. The rain barely cools the air, and we keep sweating through the night. But we are stoked to finally be in Africa proper, Mali, wow, it sounds awesome and it feels awesome. Cannot wait to see Bamako.
We are rewarded with a wonderful ride through a fertile hilly landscape of Western Mali, dotted with scenic villages and lush gardens. A group of Fulani people passes us by: the women are topless and have intricate hair braids and jewelry and huge moonshined packs of tree branches are tied to the donkeys. We are happy we have arrived here in wet season!
Bamako – Street Food Bonanza
Bamako is a sprawling metropolis, with scooters and cars entangled together in big traffic jams, with bridges thrown over the mighty Niger river which divides the capital in two. The shanty towns are on one side, immersed in a sleepy rural life, while on the other side of the water there are concrete and glass administrative buildings and offices and some expensive hotels (with good wifi connection). Here it rains almost daily and only some of the streets are tarred. Bamako is a welcomed pitstop: we rest, wash our pathetic scruffy riding gear, we go for a visa and ATM run and Skype our families. The Burkina visa breaks our bank: 80 euro/pers!, recently doubled cause of french propaganda.
Mali’s heart beats in its colorful markets: near Place de la Liberte & Cinema Vox, in Grande Marche, in the fetish market we find innumerable stalls selling anything from fruit and vegs to clothing and plasticware made in Nigeria. Men are generally sporting generic Chinese designs, but the elegant women of Bamako wear traditionally inspired dresses and elaborate hairpieces and metes. People are warm and friendly, except for the usual guides, touts and beggars, with tricks that we are too familiar with from Romania. The sad thing is that they believe that “les blanc donnent des cadeaux”, so who’s to blame for that?
A Malian lunch-lady in a typical Bamako street restaurant: a wooden bench + many pots
Bamako is famous for live music; as we are nearing Ramadan, women are celebrating and dancing in the streets.
A Malian hipster: different continent, different trends
When in Mali, You Feast
Great street food is plenty in the vibrant capital of Mali: rice with sauce, chicken in lemon and ginger sauce, fried fish, grilled goat or mutton (brochetes), yam stews, cow heart and liver sauteed in a spicy onion sauce, frufru (mini rice or millet pancakes), mango, local melon (meh, but excellent as a salad with lime, fresh chili and olive oil), corn on a cob. Many favorite snacks are black eyed peas based: doughnuts served simple or in a millet congee fro breakfast. Boulageries with fresh baguettes are widely available, so are breakfast stalls with eggs and instant coffee with milk or tea. In the evening the streets are filled with stalls with bubbling pots: fish or meat stews, rice, chickpeas, fried potato/yam/plantain or even couscous.
Rice with peanut & baobab sauce (rise arachide)
Rice with fish sauce and African eggplant
Favorite soft drinks: lime lemonade, hibiscus juice (red) & spicy ginger lemonade
Our usual breakfast: bread with soft cheese and savannah flowers wild honey (with a smoky, sunny flavor) and tea-tree tea
Africa is crazy about mobile phones
The intricate Malian hello takes minutes
Flowers in the inner yard of Mission Catolique where we bunked for a few nights
Soon we had to leave the buzzing Bamako behind to head south-east to Sikasso, also called the vegetable garden of Mali.
Sikasso – Into the Lush Rural Mali
On the way Jon discovers that his mom is venerated in this Malian village :)
We stopped over for an African lunch
Beef with onion and fried beans with chili
A typical pirogue driven by less typical paddles
Drag-race – 2 donkey power vs. lots of diesel horses
On the first night in Sikasso we camp in the backyard of a local family. We quickly become the village attraction, every detail of our tent pitching and logistics being scrutinized, analyzed and discussed with load enthusiasm. Later at night we are invited to join the family (husband, wife, 3 boys and a toddler + uncle) for dinner: boiled yam with a dash of oil, eaten by hand from a big pot. We offer some almonds from Morocco and then enjoy the ritualic 3 glasses of African tea artfully brewed by the woman. Only Bambara is spoken so we cannot communicate easily, and under the star-covered sky the silence in this village where there is no electricity nor running water is broken by some music coming from an old radio.
In the morning we eat a typical breakfast: millet congee with bean doughnuts
We are the village freaks: we have fun with the kids eager to mount the bike and we teach them some Romanian childhood games
Sikasso is the center of the 3rd Malian region; here are grown for local consumption and export: mango, bananas, nuts, millet, rice, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, pineapple, avocado. The market is bountiful so we enjoy a fabulous fruit and tea picnic later, near the Burkina border.
The rear tyre is almost done and we have a nail in, so I m contemplating switching to the knubblies. Also rumors are that the roads to the north are not tarred so…We bushcamp in a cute little spot and rain falls the better part of the night and all morning, when I am happy that I haven’t rushed into changing the tires, as the tarmac is excellent up to Koutiala and then to Djenne.
Breakfast served in bed, under the cover of rain: avocado and tomatoes salad
This baobab was home to a large bird colony
Morning dew in the field of our next day bush camping spot
And on our tent
Another memorable breakfast