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Day 44: Mopti to Dogon Country

Mopti, Mali 
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Mural of Dogon Country. A sneak preview of my next destination on a hotel wall.
Michael Palin - SaharaI make my way across, half expecting to be ordered off, but instead I'm met with smiles and offered a cup of tea by a trimly bearded man in a violent orange and blue floral robe and green headdress. He turns out to be the captain of the Tombouctou. His wife is scrubbing down a whiskered fish, which normally lives in the river mud. It wriggles angrily and appears to continue to do so until, and a little bit after, she slits it down the middle. She slices it deftly and lays the fillets on the fire. Another man sits on a plastic strip chair, one leg drawn up, picking at his toes. There are two others, one in T-shirt and trousers, the other in a bulbous pale blue robe. I ask if they're passengers. The captain laughs and shakes his head. They're his brothers come for tea.

The Tombouctou is clearly not going anywhere. The captain points at the stinking mud banks I've just crossed.

'The water is too low.'

We could wait a day or two. I ask him when he will be operating again.



Now that's another matter. July is over three months away. The fish begins to sizzle nicely and one of the captain's brothers has made some tea.

I knock back the first glass and stare out at the river. I'm feeling rather foolish, but the captain could not be more understanding as I explain the purpose of our journey, and he nods with wide-eyed interest when I tell him where we've already been. He's a travelling man. I learn from him that for big ferries like his the Niger is only navigable for six months of the year, and with the river this low our best bet is to try the smaller local boats down in the port.

Thanking him for his help and his tea I retrace my steps back across the foul-smelling ooze. I'm rewarded by a chance encounter with a man who knows a man who knows a man who has a pinasse, a stouter, bigger version of a pirogue, which, if we make it worth his while, could be encouraged to take us up river. Because of the Tabaski holiday, this would not be for a few days.

He indicates the boat, a gawky, gaudily painted vessel, drawn up on the mud and leaning slightly to one side. An upper deck and engine house, bearing the words 'Pagou Manpagu' and decorated with playing-card symbols and the crescent moon of Islam, have been grafted, ruthlessly, onto a long, curved hull.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 44
  • Country/sea: Mali
  • Place: Mopti
  • Book page no: 137

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