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Sahara

Day 44: Mopti to Dogon Country

Mopti, Mali 
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Going nowhere. One of the big Niger ferry boats becalmed at Mopti.
Michael Palin - SaharaWhereas Djenné felt trapped by the river, Mopti, only 65 miles northeast, thrives on it. Its natural advantages are obvious. A hundred yards from the hotel's Soudan-style mud portals, the Bani flows in close parallel with the wider and grander Niger. These two great rivers come together less than a mile away.

Not surprisingly, Mopti has become the riverine trading centre Djenné once was, and if we want a boat to take us to Timbuktu this is the place to find it.

But it's the day after Tabaski, and this normally busy port seems to be suffering from a hangover. Not an alcohol hangover, obviously; more of a sheep hangover. As they used to be everywhere, in courtyards and on street corners, on lorries and boats and motorbikes, on the tops of buses and the back of pick-up trucks, their disappearance leaves a bit of a gap, physically and perhaps psychologically as well.

The normal babble of commerce is stilled and though the occasional pirogue slips out across the Bani, white sail raised to catch the breeze, Mopti seems gripped by torpor.

It's not difficult to find the Niger ferry boats. They look like floating apartment blocks. Three blue and white, triple-decked, steel-hulled monsters drawn up alongside one another. There's no way to get to them that doesn't involve slithering down the effluent-strewn bank of the river, and I have to pick my way over discarded tins, dismembered animals, twisted clothing, motor car parts, a petrified cat with rictus grin and string pulled tight around its neck, and other things I dare not even look at. I reach a wooden gangplank, which leads onto a barge, from which it's a step over the deck-rail and onto the ferry.

Silence, broken only by the hollow ring of my footsteps on sheet-steel plates. The Niger ferries seem completely abandoned. Then I become aware that on the next ferry, moored up against this one and sporting the name 'Tombouctou', there is a small group of people, lounging in chairs around a charcoal brazier, from which a
wisp of smoke rises.
Mopti, Mali 
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Carpet salesmen at the Mopti dockside, picking their way through indescribable things left behind by the receding river.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 44
  • Country/sea: Mali
  • Place: Mopti
  • Book page no: 136

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