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Day 49: On the Niger

Michael Palin - SaharaThe surface of the river is a mill pond this morning. A stand of tamarind trees is reflected serenely in the water. A line of cows, silhouetted against the eastern horizon, and the occasional sight of low, wood-hulled barges under sail add to the cosy impression that this corner of the Niger could be a seventeenth-century Dutch landscape.

As the day wears on, the alternation of trees, pasture and small fishing villages on one side of the river and exposed and featureless stretches of sand on the other becomes relentlessly monotonous. Occasionally, there will be something to divert the attention; the plunge of a kingfisher or a shiny orange-eyed hippo head breaking the surface, spluttering indignantly. 'Dear Sir, I wish to complain in the strongest possible terms...'

We put ashore every now and then at sad, impoverished little villages, where flies gather round the running noses of little children and their mothers' eyes look blankly back at us.

Then the river course widens out into a series of small lakes and there is nothing to see but water and sky. To keep moving is essential, not just to get us there, but also because it is the only way to alleviate the great heat of the day in this vast and shelterless landscape.
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  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 49
  • Country/sea: Mali
  • Place: River Niger
  • Book page no: 153

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