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Sahara

Day 49: On the Niger

Quadagga, Mali 
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Children wave as we pass the small town of Quadagga, proud possessor of a gem of a mosque, which I first thought was a mirage of King's College Chapel at Cambridge.
Michael Palin - SaharaOut of the tent just after six. We are in a very bleak spot, a flat coverless expanse of mud and sand with a cordon of local Bozos, or possibly Bobos, already gathered and regarding us with unemotional interest.

Flat, coverless expanses present problems for the morning toilet. A nonchalant reconnaissance turns into a quarter of a mile hike, before I find anything resembling a dip in the ground.

Back at the camp I find a bowl of warm water outside the tent and coffee, tea, bread and fruit laid out on a table. Our little knot of spectators - old women, children, a couple of lean and mean dogs and an old man with prayer beads - waits patiently. They are not trying to sell us anything, for they have nothing to sell. They're waiting for anything we don't want. Mineral water bottles and film cartons are popular. Nigel donates a pair of his shorts, which, after a day in the bowels of the Pagou Manpagu, look beyond redemption to me, but are eagerly accepted.

Most of us are now convinced that the boat we were on yesterday was actually for carrying goods rather than people, which would account for the lack of most of the basics, including a deck.

Our spirits are immeasurably lifted, therefore, by the news that the crew of the Pagou Manpagu are refusing to take their boat any higher up the river, and if we want to get to Timbuktu we shall have to make alternative plans. With a huge sigh of relief we transfer to a local pirogue. It's 25 feet long, with a curved rattan canopy offering protection from the sun, and an upright rattan screen marked 'WC' offering privacy and a hole in the stern. The boat is lighter and much more agile than the pinasse and its shallow draught should see us safely over the sandbanks. And it has that rare and almost unimaginable luxury, seats.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 49
  • Country/sea: Mali
  • Place: River Niger
  • Book page no: 152

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