The CFA 6000 bus trip with Bittar-Trans was comfortable and reasonably uneventful, apart from 90 minute delay at the start. Seemingly, the timetable is strictly adhered to from the Mopti end, but waiting for a full compliment of passengers, i.e. the bush taxi way, can happen in Bamako.
It really was good to be back at this charming oasis in the desert.
Having booked ahead by telephone, a wise thing to do because the Refuge gets very busy .. Alaghi went to sleep for the rest of the afternoon whilst I sat on the roof of the restaurant, in the space reserved as a camping site, watching an enthusiastic football match across the road. The players were kicking up so much dust, it was often impossible to see from one end of the pitch to the other.
The family meal, supervised by John, merrily and fluently switching between French, English ( well, American English ) and one or two local languages .. to entertain and inform the six or so different nationalities of guests at his table .. was very tasty. As usual, a help yourself to as much as you can eat mixture of home-made recipes and drinks, which have different themes for different nights. Alaghi .. more used to fairly plain diet, squatting and eating in the African style with his family and friends around a communal bowl of rice, vegetables and meat .. always makes the most of these occasions !
We telephoned Banya
, our local taxi driver and guide, to arrange a lift to Mopti the next morning, a day out in Dogon Country the day after .. and could he find out how best we could get to Timbuktu.
Mopti is a fascinating town, full of local life and colour which, at this time of the year, is almost surrounded by enormous herds of cattle with their nomadic Peuhl herdsmen and their families .. camped out on the hot and dusty Niger flood plains
We saw thousands of cattle being driven to and from their grazing areas, the clouds of dust they left in their wake seemed to hang in the air for ages.
Our first port of call was to see Aly Cisse, his family, his pets and his super selection of beads, stone and pottery. Aly is the largest and most experienced dealer in the area and, in the same way as on our previous visit, was not to disappoint us in the wide array of quality items he had on offer.
Aly and his three Cisse brothers seem to be the major players in the bead sales of the area, they
certainly have the most and finest items in stock. So after finishing our business with Aly, he drove us into Mopti to meet two of them and to take our pick from the items that they had to offer.
A surprising find was some recently discovered fossil beads from the desert area of Toudeni, which nobody in the locality could name, but were in fact Crinoidea Shells ( Sea Lilies ) between 250 and 550 million years old.
We were told that the 4th brother, Baba ( Peace Corp ) Cisse, from Sévaré and definitely the most flamboyant of the four, had already travelled to Ouagadougou for the Pan African Film Festival .. perhaps we might be able to find him there.
Walking to the centre of Mopti, we were disappointed to find the small craft market virtually in ruins, something to do with a rebuilding project that had torn down the buildings, leaving rubble everywhere, but no rebuilding had been started. Most of the traders we had seen before had disappeared and those few that had attempted to re-create their stalls in the chaos, where very upset at the situation.
Very few genuinely old items were found during a tour of the other tiny craft market nearer the port, despite the wishful thinking of the traders there. Deciding to return to Mac's Refuge to meet Banya and discuss plans for our excursion to the Dogon Country the following day, we stopped on the outskirts of town so that I could take some super panoramic shots of the waterside views.
The town of Mopti is essentially composed of three islands set at the confluence of the rivers Bani and Niger. The scenery is simply stunning, making it a favourite destination of photographers worldwide.
Dinner at Mac's Refuge that night was again fulfilling, in its quality, quantity and in the variety of the conversation. Mac's long-time missionary friends were staying the night, a lady from Switzerland, discovering West Africa for the first time having spent her working life giving valuations on the world's most valuable diamonds for the rich and famous, charity workers involved in various projects, experienced travellers and tenderfoots alike .. all interesting people with fascinating stories to tell.
Last time Alaghi and I attempted to explore part of the Dogon Country
, I was stuffed up with a head cold from the dust in Guinea and the mountaineering we unexpectedly experienced nearly killed me !
This time I was fit and well and wanted to see the villages and cliff houses of the ancient Tellem people, suspecting we would have some more climbing to do .. but this time ready for it.