Sunday, January 20, 2008

To Timbuktu and back again!

So to explain my title, which kind of gives away the highlight of this post… after Christmas I traveled to Mali for a 10 day adventure with Magdalena and Georgie, AND we went to Timbuktu. Sweet. So to answer the question that immediately popped into your mind: Yes, Timbuktu really does exist and it is in Northern Mali. I’ll tell you all about it later, so just hold tight and keep reading.

First, let me set the stage. Magdalena (a.k.a. Maggie) is from Germany, but also speaks French and pretty much perfect English. Maggie is in Burkina for 5 months teaching in a private school in Ouagadougou. I met Maggie through Leanna in November. Georgie is from New Zealand and was in Burkina for a short term mission trip. While the rest of the team headed back already Georgie chose to stay a bit longer and is now off to travel around Egypt for three weeks with here flat mate from uni (i.e. one of her housemates from school, if you need a little New Zealand lingo translation). Georgie doesn’t speak French. Add me, an American, here for 9 months, speaking Spanish and now decent French… you have quite the international ensemble. The trip to Mali idea was first concocted on Thanksgiving when Maggie and I decided we wanted to go somewhere over the two weeks of break we get for Christmas. At first we thought Ghana, but the bus ride would be too long (24 hours to Accra!) and it was too expensive to fly. So instead we looked North. Hence, Mali. Before the trip the three of us got together to make some tentative plans… the plan: Dogon Country, Mopti, Djenne, and Timbuktu.

I believe I left off going to bed on Christmas at three o’clock in the morning after having cleaned my house, packed, made chicken stock from chicken parts left over from the dinner on Christmas Eve, and writing up an eight page post. As horrible as it felt getting up at 6:30 after only three hours of sleep, it was worth it. I would have never been able to remember or want to recount everything that happened before Christmas after coming back exhausted from Mali. Leanna and Tyler came to pick me up at 7:00 and we got to the STMB station without a problem. I was planning on a taking the 8:00 bus to Ouahigouya. I had texted Bianca to check on the bus times and she said 6:45, 8, 10, 12 and then after that she wasn’t sure… well, sorry to say there was no 8 o’clock bus. It was 6:45 and 10, and I had missed the 6:45 bus. I didn’t really care too too much about going later, but I would have slept for two more hours instead of sitting around at a nasty bus station for two and a half hours. The only consolation was that I was able to buy a baguette with salami for breakfast without leaving the station. It sounds gross, but I was really hungry and its really not all that bad tasting. When I finally did get on the bus I was genuinely excited because the bus was in really nice shape. It was also a smaller bus and so there were two seat on one side of the aisle and a single seat on the other side. So, being smart and knowing, just knowing that even though the bus wasn’t full yet it would be full, I took a single seat. Funny story: even as we were pulling out of the bus yard there were still empty seats and I was regretting my single seat choice when it looked like I could have had two to myself, I was getting greedy I admit it, but as we are moving people start jumping into the bus. IT WAS CRAZY! Of course they didn’t have tickets. A few people bought them from the guy on the bus, but another jumped back out later when he got in an argument with the bus guy. Whatever.
Bottom line = I was happy to have a single seat. I put my camera bag between my feet with my ankles laced through the shoulder straps and my backpack on my lap. I rolled up my fleece as a pillow and promptly fell sound asleep for an hour and a half. It was glorious! I woke up when the bus pulled into Yako, but stayed in a state of semi-awareness until we go to the Ouahigouya peage (toll booth).

When we rolled into the station I spotted Maggie and Georgie. They had arrived earlier and had already found us onward transport from Ouahigouya to Koro, Mali. They were coming from a town called Djibo to the West where they had spent Christmas. The onward transport was… wait for it… a bush taxi. A legitimate bush taxi, with like 25 people in it. This old van seemed like it could stop running at any second. The trip was only 91km but it took a good three and a half hours. It was a dirt road, but the road I would later come to find was in pretty nice shape, comparatively. The border crossings took a while. There was the military pull off, the government stamp stop and then the customs stop for both Burkina and Mali. Why all three stops aren’t in the same place instead of 5 km down the road from each other is beyond me… We made it to Koro at 4:30ish and made the bold decision to keep going to Bandiagara. We would take a Peugot taxi, worse than a bus taxi, on a 4 hours trip through the rock escarpment. Our motivation for forging ahead was that we wanted to get the tough travel portion done all in one day. Also, we wanted to start our trek the next, Thursday. We already had a guide lined up thanks to my friend Bonnie who got me in touch with her friend Elspeth who was in Peace Corps in Mali and had some connections he hooked me up with. The guide was going to pick us up from Bandiagara the next day so we steeled ourselves up and squeezed three together in the back seat. The Peugot taxis are station wagons basically. Expect, instead of putting the same number of people in the taxi as there are seats they put 10 all together including the driver. There are three in the back, four in the middle seat, and two sharing the front seat. Not the most comfortable mode of transportation. But we made it. The hotel we stayed at that night was called the Hotel Satimbe. It was alright except we were famished and we ordered food, but it took, and I’m not exaggerating, 2 hours to get food. AND all we ordered was pasta. How it takes two hours to cook pasta you tell me?! Aside from that it was fine. We had a mattress on the floor and since we couldn’t hang up the mosquito net we just kind of put it over ourselves like another blanket which I’m not sure really helped, but it was better than nothing.

The next morning Hassimi the guide came to pick us up. We stopped and bought some water which was twice the price to buy once we started into Dogon, and snacked on bread with Guava jam. Guava jam, by the way, is amazing. It has become my mission to find some for sale in Ouaga. Anyway, Hassimi spoke English which was great and we thought he would be our guide. Wrong. He pulled some crap about just getting over malaria, and how it was last minute and he has all this other stuff going on. Anyway, instead we got Hassimi’s brother Omar as our guide. Omar was only 22, and didn’t speak much English. I was fine, but Georgie only spoke English so Maggie was constantly translating and it was difficult for Georgie to express her concerns. And I would like to reiterate that Omar was 22, and an immature 22 at that…just a bit of an attitude and little arrogant. BUT, in spite of that we did have a really great time. We trekked for four days. Hassimi dropped us off in a village called Dourou which is on top of the rock escarpment. Short side explanation: Dogon county was first inhabited by the Tellum people. They were dwarf sized cliff dwellers who became extinct when the Dogon people arrived after being driven out of Bamako for religious reasons. This was all a long time ago. p.s. the Dogon people are animistic. Freaky. The landscape is famous because there is a huge rock cliff. So you’re just going along through the plains, la dee da, and then bam! There is this huge wall of rock, i.e. the escarpment. There are Dogon villages resting on the top of the escarpment, villages clinging to the sides of the escarpment and villages whose people have migrated to plains where farming is easier. When we first traveled to Bandiagara from Koro we took a rather iffy winding and bumpy road through the escarpment. Frankly, I’m glad it was dark so I couldn’t see what we driving through. While hiking on the last day we could see the road we took. Glad I wasn’t driving.

Back to Dourou. We left Dourou at around 3pm and headed along a path above the escarpment for 7km. We arrived at a village called Benagamato just as the sun was setting. The village is divided into three sections: Christian, Muslim and animist. We were hosted in the Christian section. This village was surrounded by awesome rock formations. It reminded me very much of pictures of the American West. Since seeing Dogon, I have vowed to go explore more of the western states of the good old US of A. Anyway, we arrive at this encampment and there are like 6 to 10 other tour groups. Each with their own guide, and all the guides seem to know each other too… There are only pit latrines and bucket baths. For dinner we had pasta and sauce and that night we slept on the roof of a mud hut. We could have slept inside, it was our room and all, but it was more exciting to sleep outside. However, it was also freezing! We didn’t have sleeping bags and only two blankets between the three of us. brrr… I didn’t sleep very well, BUT waking up to see the moon rise and cast an awesome like on the towering rocks in front of us was way worth it.

In the morning we had toasted bread, butter, Guava jam (yummmm), coffee and tea for breakfast. After all of ten minutes packing up our stuff, Omar took us to this amazing vista point where the view of the plains and the escarpment extending until it disappeared onto the horizon was in one word, breathtaking. From Begnamato we trekked along the escarpment ridge. On the way we went through an animist village where Omar explained what a “fettish” is. A fettish is pretty much an alter of sorts, but it looks like just a round stump sticking out of the ground. From what I understand, if someone in the village has a need of sorts they go talk to the Shaman. The Shaman tells them what sort of offering is required and then the offering is poured over the fettish. Examples include millet, chicken blood, and goats blood. gross! As a Christian, it is moving to see this type of religion in real-life. It is hard for me to understand how people believe that by offering something to this fettish whatever they desire will happen. I asked Omar what happens if someone makes an offering and they don’t get what they asked for. He said that doesn’t happen, and if it is taking too long you try again with a different offering and maybe use a more sacred fettish. Interesting. I am glad to have a faith in the living God who offers first salvation and then a promise to always walk beside us taking care of our needs according to the awesome plans he has for us.
After this short stop our trek then started the descent to the plains. It was tricky, but very manageable. The routes we took did not require any special equipment, only close attention and sure footing. From on top the plains looked so far below, but it only took about 30 minutes to descend. We ate lunch at a village, couscous and sauce, and chilled while the heat of the day passed. I had started reading 1984, and was really enjoying the book. It was great to have something relaxing to do in all the down time we had.

After lunch we walked another 5km along the plains to get to Ende. On the way you see this tower of a rock formation sticking out above the rest. It is called the finger of Ende and identifies the town. That night we stayed in a similar encampment and had rice for dinner again. The only perk was that they had this really good carbonated pineapple juice drink. I usually got one for dinner, so I had something to look forward to ;) That night at the encampment we met a really nice young French women named Caroline. She was in Dogon for 4 days as well, but had her own guide and a slightly different program. Instead going from village to village they stayed in the same place, but took day trips to neighboring areas. I prefer our method of exploration. The breakfast was the same as before and before we got going we meandered through a portion of the village that had many local crafts for sale. We weren’t interested in buying anything and the thought of carrying everything with us really deterred us from any impulse purchases. We walked 5km to Teli. The village of Teli is right next to the cliff and there is a great view of the ancient cliff dwellings. Lunch consisted of rice with a peanut sauce that is definitely my favorite type of sauce. Maggie and I looked around the village a bit after lunch and after the rest time Omar took us up to the cliff dwellings to give us some more history of the area and feel for the size of the Tellum houses. When Omar first said the Tellum people were miniature sized I thought he was pulling my leg, but no. The houses are genuinely sized for very tiny people! The view of the village below was picture perfect and it was nice and cool in the shade of the rocks.

After exploring the cliff dwellings we walked another 3km along the plains to Kari Kanbouri, the village where we would spend our last night. Since our experience the first night was not quite ideal, the next two nights we slept indoors. When we got to Kari Kanbouri one of the villagers said there was a dance going on. I got all excited and we headed over. Man was I let down. It wasn’t a mask dance of anything cool like that, it was just a bunch of villagers standing around in a circle with like three guys playing drums. Pairs of people would go in the middle of the circle and stomp there feet about. I don’t want to sound too critical, but really is wasn’t that impressive. And, really, I don’t know how they danced at all because the drumming wasn’t even like a recognizable pattern. Anyway, on the way back we found a little store and bought first more tissue to use the bathroom and some cookies which were a lovely last night in Dogon treat.

On Sunday, our last day trekking, Maggie and I got up early to watch the sun rise. It was incredible. Afterwards we had a short prayer time together which was much appreciated. For breakfast we had bengya, which is fried millet batter. Not terrible, but not great. Dip them in enough sugar and you are golden. By this time our Guava jam had run out. Not all that surprising…

The trek for the day was again about 7km. This time we were going back up the escarpment. It is a pretty big elevation gain from base to top and I was happy I was in shape to take on the climb. After the ascent we met up with the road I mentioned before and walked along it until we got to a town called Djigibounbom, sounds like giggy-bon-bon. The name reminded me of a bad rap song. From here we started back to civilization, or as close to that as it gets here in West Africa. Our goal was get to Mopti that afternoon. Omar’s friend picked us up and drove us to Bandiagara. We grabbed a quick rather nasty bowl of rice for lunch and from there we took a Peugot taxi to Severe which is 12km outside of Mopti. We wanted to go all the way to Mopti, but we had to stop and pay Hassimi the rest of the money and write in his guide recommendation book. It was hard to find something to say since after four days we were pretty ready to dump Omar. So very diplomatically I wrote something along the lines of, “We loved Dogon Country. Thank you for arranging our trip on such short notice. It was just the kind of trekking we were looking for.” All true statements.

After we finished with Hassimi he acted like he would bring us to the taxi stop so we could go on to Mopti. At this point Georgie almost lost it. Mainly because the taxi we were just in was heading there, but Omar insisted that we get out at Severe. End of story, Omar drove us in Hassimi’s car to the Hotel we were going to stay at called Hotel Yas Pas de Probleme, or Hotel No Problems. Omar drove so fast it was scary. I could tell he was mad, but whatever. It was his own fault he could have let us go to Mopti with the other taxi. The Hotel was really nice. A pool, flush toilets. The three of us laughed about how low our standards had fallen :) When we got there, even though it was called, Hotel No Problems, we had a slight problem. They didn’t have any more rooms so we had to sleep on the roof. Fun, except that Mopti is right on the Niger River and the breeze off the water is really quite cold. We borrowed two blankets each from the reception closet to make it through the night. I can’t imagine that night without the blankets, I would have died.

That first late afternoon evening we spent in Mopti was fun. We went swimming took showers and then met with a travel guide to discuss plans for Timbuktu. As a group we decided to ditch the Djenne idea because it would have meant five more hours of traveling and the main attraction is the market and a gigantic mosque. Well I’ve seen enough mosques and markets so we opted to brave the journey to the city of mystery. We wanted to leave the next morning, Monday, New Years Eve. We wanted to travel by 4x4 since the boat option took too many days, and we wanted to come back on Wednesday so we could spend Thursday exploring Mopti and then Friday traveling back to Ouagadougou. Besides getting to Timbuktu we also wanted to arrange camel ride and overnight stay with Tourag family in the desert. FYI Timbuktu is on the edges of the Sahara desert. It was once a very wealthy city where camel caravans traversing the continent would stop. Timbuktu is also famous for its salt trade. The ancient lakes now buried deep in the Sahara desert supply unimaginable quantities of high quality salt. Anyway, this guide wanted 140,000CFA or $250 each to arrange everything. This was an absurd price and we knew it. We were tough bargainers and at the end the guy seemed exhausted by all of our questions and determination. We paid 70,000CFA each which included the transport there AND BACK and the camel ride. Georgie was especially concerned about getting back so even though I would have preferred to pay 60,000CFA we paid the extra 10,000 for the assurance of return transport. After finalizing our plans for Timbuktu we celebrated by going to dinner at this restaurant that the Lonely Planet guide book highly recommended. It was quite a challenge to find. We had to ask like 5 people for direction, but it was well worth the hassle. We all got the same dish. It was Niger Perch in a sweet red sauce with bananas and cooked potatoes. It was a great dinner, albeit the temperature outside by the river was a bit chillier than we had dressed for and the restaurant was open air.

We left at 6:00am on Monday in this sweet land cruiser with a very good driver. The first 160km are on paved road, the next 195 are not paved and the road conditions deteriorate very very quickly. Luckily as I said we had a very good driver who handled the terrain like a pro. We got to the Timbuktu River and had to wait for a ferry to carry the car across. Bet you didn’t know you have to cross a river to get to Timbuktu. Well you do and the ferry ride is like 40 minutes. It’s a slow moving boat… Anyway, we got to Hotel Bouctou and met up with the partner guide, the friend of the guide in Mopti, who was going to take care of everything for us. After a quick snack and Maggie buying a turban we were off on our camel ride. One, camels are very tall. Two, the saddles are wooden and not all that comfortable. Three, it was amazing. The family we stayed with lived about 7km from Timbuktu and it took us between an hour and a half to two hours to get there. While we rode the camels on of the young men walked ahead leading them.

We watched the sun go down on the 2007. That night we had goat meat and buttered rice for dinner. It wasn’t horrible, but definitely different. It must have been goat butter or something because the rice had a funny taste. Anyway, it was authentic Tourag food so I was happy to try something new! That night we rang in the New Year by promptly falling asleep. It gets cold in the desert at night. Luckily Ali, the Timbuktu guide gave us two sleeping bags to use and the family let us use a blanket. We all slept really well that night. It was actually kind of cool going to sleep in 2007 and waking up in 2008 :)

The next morning we woke up with the sun. They served us this round bread for breakfast with coffee and tea. Then two of the family members brought over some hand crafts to sell. Maggie bought a ring which was nice of her to do. I’m not all that drawn to the African jewelry. It looks nice on the African women, but just weird on white people. By 9:15 the camels were saddled again and we were headed back to the city. I can’t leave this portion of the trip without mentioning the little naked boy. Yep that’s right. One of the little boys of the family probably about 3 or 4, was running around naked. Everyone else had clothes on. It’s Africa so this isn’t all that surprising except at night it got really cold. When they were making us tea the little naked boy came running up and crouched by the fire to keep warm. Poor kid. But really I think it was his choice. The best part of all was that he never walked anywhere. He was either standing still or running somewhere, and he always ran on his tip toes. In the morning we gave him two pieces of candy, one for him and one for his little sister. Then later Maggie was feeling especially generous and gave him a handful of like five. You should have seen his face. He was not only smiling ear to ear but was dancing about a bit and shaking his head back and forth in excitement. As he ran back to his family’s tent with his head turned back at us, he dropped a candy. He stopped, picked it up and shook his head again this time making a very funny face. It was awesome. Highly memorable! Just as were about to leave someone put clothes on him. He didn’t run quite as fast anymore and I just wonder how long the clothes actually stayed on that day :)

After the camel ride back to Timbuktu, which was equally as uncomfortable as the ride there, we found our day guide and headed off to explore Timbuktu. Our day guide’s name was Abdula, which makes me think of Paula Abdul which is the only way I could remember his name. Anyway, he spoke great English and brought us to the three different mosques, we saw the houses of the first explorers to reach Timbuktu, the flam of peace monument, as well as the local historical museum. We had lunch on top of the market building which had a great view of the city below. You could even see out to the desert. That afternoon, exhausted from the camel ride and tour of the town we crashed for a nap at Ali’s house. We also planned to stay there that night. The guide has a first floor room with a bunch of mattresses where people can stay. His family sleeps upstairs. It was cheaper and easier than staying at a hotel. After our nap we set out again, this time in search of fresh baked round bread like we had that morning and some famous salt. We bought 9 mini loaves of bread hot out of the stone oven. Than plan was to have them tomorrow for our trip, but we each ate two that afternoon as we couldn’t help how good they were!

For dinner we went to this restaurant across from the monument named the flame of peace. In the 90s there was a tourag rebellion of sorts and when the fighting ended the weapons collected were all burned in a great fire at that exact spot. Surprisingly, the monument was, well, crumbling. I guess it’s not that surprisingly but it is discouraging and I hope it doesn’t symbolize the status of peace in the country either…

Friday morning we got up and walked around town again looking for more bread to buy. Our hope was to leave Timbuktu very early but there were complications and such so the car wasn’t coming for us until 10, which turned into 10:45. We didn’t get across the river until after 1:00pm. Late start for an eight hour journey… As good as the driver was on the way there is as bad as the driver was coming back. He wouldn’t drive on the road because it was too bumpy and the 4x4 was older and a really rattled. If he drove fast it wasn’t a problem because car kinda skims over the top, but he wouldn’t get up to speed. So instead he drove on these paths next to the road. It was very winding and slow going. It was so depressing to glance over at the road as see other 4x4s going flying past us. To make matter worse because our driver wasn’t driving on the road, we also got stuck in the sand! It was not funny. Appropriate as Timbuktu is known to be harder to get out of than to get to. I was not happy thinking about having to spend the night in the middle of nowhere which is immediately where my mind went. However, within thirty minutes we were back in business.

So Maggie sat up front on the way back. She has a thing about really needing a seatbelt, something about previous car experiences she’s had. Anyway, that wasn’t a problem. What was a problem was that that left Georgie and I in the backseat with then four African guys crunched together in the trunk. Well, I wanted to sit in the middle anyway to be able to watch the road so I didn’t get sick. Since we hadn’t paid for the whole car and there was any empty seat it seemed ridiculous to make the four men squish in the back like that. So we offer for one to sit in the empty seat. This was fine until the about 6 hours into the trip. I was done with sitting in the middle. We had reached the paved road and my bum hurt from the seat which was split in the middle leaving me to sit half and half on the two seats. So I traded places with the guy, who then proceeded to keep falling asleep and having his head fall either on Georgie or I. He also had really long legs which had no place to go in the middle so he kept squishing us. Whenever his head fell I would nudge him to wake him up and he would be like sorry, sorry… BUT then continue to do it again. I was like if you are really sorry you’ll just stay awake. I ended changes back places with him so he could lean on the window. This solved the problem. The whole experience has really made me think. We paid a lot of money to get a ride in that car, a lot more than those other guys. Georgie and I could have kept the back seat to ourselves, but we felt guilty about it. But then I was thinking if I had paid for a first class seat on an airplane I wouldn’t have invited someone in coach to come sit with me… Anyway, I have been struggling with this. What level of luxury should one afford themselves in the face of great inequality?

The end of the transport story is that after 12 hours we were back in Mopti. Safe. Praise God for is traveling mercies :) This time we had a room at the hotel, we reserved it before leaving. It was nice to have a room to ourselves. Our last real day spent in Mali we explored Mopti. It sits on the Niger River so there are many boats coming in and out loading and unloading any and everything. It was such a crazy scene. After just one day I can genuinely say I am happy Ouagadougou is not a port city! People were everywhere. The fish smell was overwhelming and as a tourist we couldn’t take two steps without someone bugging us. For lunch we went to a place called the Bozo Bar; again a Lonely Planet recommendation which was spot on even to the point of describing the slow service which we definitely experienced. Good thing we weren’t in a hurry to get anywhere. While out and about I bought a really neat purse made of all sorts of fabric patterns. It is a bucket style bag which the guy original wanted to 18,000CFA for. I ended up with one for 3,000CFA. It was a great purchase. I actually wish I would have bought more as presents for people. Speaking of purchases, at this point in the trip we were all pretty much out of money. I brought only my Mastercard, but the ATMs take only VISA. Georgie had to take out money for all three of us. We were to pay her back of course… BUT it was stressful and I learned a valuable lesson about making sure I have some way to access more money when traveling.

One of our other objectives in wandering the city was to search for transport back to Ouagadougou the next day. There are no buses to Bobo which we were thinking of as an alternative to the bush taxis to get here and the other option of going all the way through Bamako was a ridiculous idea. There was one direct bus to Ouaga which left at 4:00pm and traveled through the night, on unpaved paths for 17 hours. Not too enticing. So we resigned ourselves to simply reverse the mode of transport we took to get to Mopti. We started mentally preparing ourselves of the long haul. In the afternoon I took a quick, freezing dip in the pool, mainly just to move around a bit more. I read some more of 1984, the book I had brought with and was about to finish. While sitting by the pool a nice woman from New Zealand who now works in London started talking to me. Later that evening when we had dinner at the hotel restaurant, she joined us and we talked together until 10:30 which is late when you start dinner at 6:15. The woman’s name was Deb. She is a doctor who has done a lot of work in Africa. It was fascinating to hear what she had to say!

The next morning we got up very early and got a taxi ride to the transport station. We got there at 6:15ish and yet again watched the sun come up. We waited until 7:30am for the peugot taxi to be ready to leave. Basically, there are no scheduled times. When enough people come to fill up the car it leaves. Could be you wait 5 minutes could be you wait and hour plus. The trip was divided into three parts: Mopti to Koro, Koro to Ouahigouya, and Ouahigouya to Ouagadougou. The roads got better as the trip went on. The first leg in the puegot taxi was horrible. There was a problem with the exhaust and there were really bad fumes. I felt like I could feel the brain cells dieing off. We had to ask them to stop and roll down the windows, which they have to do with a wrench as the cranks were broken off. The only good thing was the driver was speedy which meant we got to Koro in good time. Problem was we waited 4 hours in Koro for the next bush taxi to leave. They were waiting for another taxi from Mopti to arrive. It was frustrating at first thinking we could have slept in, but is better to go and wait along the way that way you don’t miss anything. Who knows if we would have gotten a place in the other vehicle?! Waiting in Koro we met an American couple headed to Timbuktu for the famous musical festival in the desert. The wife works at Stanford with water stuff too, which made for fun conversations :) Maggie, Georgie and I also entertained ourselves by buying our lunch in increments, first some bananas, then some bread, then some watermelon. The taxi from Koro finally left at 2:00. This road was really pretty good, not paved, but not bumpy. Ouahigouya is only 91km from Koro but it took like two and a half hours because the van was so slow, and don’t forget the marathon boarder crossings.

We did finally make it to Ouahigouya and got seats on the 6:00 bus to Ouagadougou. Thankfully the road was paved and the bus was nice. While it was only another two to three hours, it seemed like forever. There was digital clock on the bus and I thought it was broken because the minutes seemed to just crawl by! Back in Ouaga Leanna came to pick us up at the bus station. What a blessing! I was back at my house at 9:30. It was a 15 hour travel day. LONG. I slept very well that night after staying up to figure out the money situation which I planned to remedy the next morning.

Overall it was an amazing trip. I would do it again in a second and would do very little different. I think I learned some really good lessons and will be even savvier as I travel in the future. Maggie, Georgie and I all got along great. Spending 10 days with two people who only kind of know can turn out good or bad. Lucky for us it was a very positive experience. We worked through any travel challenges together. We were understanding, forgiving, and trusted that the Lord would guide our plans and protect our paths.

Two random additions:

In the Dogon villages the children and even the adults will hold out their hands and say “un cadeau”? Which means “a present”. They are so used to tourists and white people giving them stuff they just automatically ask. It was so annoying. Then some of them even would get mad if you didn’t give them something. This continued in Mopti and Timbuktu. We gave the little naked boy candy precisely because he never asked and it was such a nice change of pace! One time walking in a Dogon village, Georgie says “some kid just threw a rock at me…” I didn’t think much of it until I felt a pebble hit me in the back of the neck. I turned around and said no and clapped my hands really loudly and shook my finger at the kids. They got the point.

Lastly is that in Timbuktu Georgie was walking to where we were meeting our camels and this little kid helps her carry her bag. She didn’t the help, but this kid spoke English and was very convincing. Anyway, he then lends her his turban. She refused it at first and this kid about 11, says in perfect English, “Oh, come on. You’re going into the desert. You need this.” Just like a Mom would tell her kids to put there hats on. I was hilarious! Later on, the same kid found us the afternoon we walking about Timbuktu and helped us find the bread and salt, ect. We ended up giving him a nice tip for his help. He seemed like a very enterprising young man. I hope he does well for himself in the future :) Along those lines, you would not believe how westernized some of the young men are in Timbuktu. Many speak English because of all the tourists. This one guy who talked to us at the hotel when we first arrived and was trying to sell us turbans said, “My name is Oamaassdiuahwe (I don’t remember it..), but my friends call me Bob Dylan.” Like where did he come up with that! I bought a sweet shirt from Timbuktu as my souvenir from a very similar type of fellow. They were quite entertaining and knew that no meant no and would leave. That was very refreshing change of pace.

Aren't you glad you read all that! Felt like you were there every step of the way... You were. In my heart ;)