The capital of Mali and originally a leading centre of Muslim learning under the Mali empire (c.11th-15th cent.), although by the 19th century it had declined into a small village.
Occupied by French troops
in 1883, Bamako became the capital of the French Sudan in 1908, thus beginning its development into the major city it is today. A picturesque place surrounded by hills, but often obscured in the mists of the river Niger, as can
be seen in the picture above.
It was unusually chilly and I was glad I had my warm coat near at hand .. if only I had remembered this fact later in our journey ! Breakfast over, rats counted and up-to-date with the UK football
results, we accepted the offer of an early morning, bleary-eyed taxi driver to take us into the city. But only on the strict understanding that his car had a complete exhaust system and no smoke belching from it.
"Pas de problème messieurs, my taxi is the best in the garage."
An apparition lurched out of the gloom .. 4 wheels, all leaning at different angles, a windscreen so starred with cracks it positively glistened and various bits of trim flapping gaily alongside.
As we set off in the direction of the inner city .. a familiar cloud of blue smoke enveloped us !
Too tired to say anything, whilst grimly acknowledging that perhaps it was the best taxi in the garage .. at that particular moment .. we arrived at one of Alaghi's friends' houses as dawn was breaking. Once again, it had been impossible to forewarn them of our impending arrival and
having found our way into an inner courtyard .. surrounded by small rooms with locked metal doors .. Alaghi knocked gently on one of them. The sight of two filthy dirty and half asleep travellers, virtually holding each
other upright, must have been a rude awakening for one of the incumbents. However, totally unfazed, he smiled graciously and said we could use his 'space',
as he was going to the mosque for his early morning prayers ( 5am ).
Entering the room, which was no bigger than 3 strides in any direction, we found a floor full of sleeping bodies. Simply lying down on the concrete in the space vacated by our host, we fell into
sleep, fully clothed and using our bags as pillows. A few hours later, I was vaguely aware of murmuring around me and the most awful stench. Whatever were they eating for their breakfast, was my first thought. Slowly opening my
eyes, I focussed on a guy folding up three crocodile skins, recently .. or rather semi-recently .. having been taken from their reptilian owners. In exactly the same way as one folds up a shirt: arms, legs and tail were being
neatly folded and tucked into a 2 inch thick, rectangular shaped slab of scaly skin. Thankfully not breakfast, but probably destined to end up as fashion accessories for the moneyed rich.
I have never eaten crocodile .. but if this is how it normally smells .. I doubt if I ever will !!
My first task was to find a hotel, as Alaghi's friends were more than overbooked with their own family and many Hausa travellers, resting in between journeys or trading in the
Consulting the Rough Guide to West Africa .. I chose the Le Naboun, described therein as having:
a decent rooftop bar-restaurant with a first rate view and friendly management.
Although basic and fairly clean, the rooms were really nothing to shout about .. the decent
rooftop bar-restaurant was indecently filthy and covered with dust and rubbish .. having obviously not
been used for months. The first rate view of the surrounding rooftops was hardly awe-inspiring
and the friendly management must have been on holiday. But quite frankly, as it had a large and comfortable bed with no exhaust or crocodile fumes .. and having had very little sleep in the previous 36 hours .. I really didn't care. Paying the CFA15,000 room price up front .. as requested by the non-smiling management .. I was soon sleeping soundly and did not wake until 4pm.
A refreshed Alaghi called to pick me up and we had a quick tour of the two local markets ..
met some of the bead dealers in one and looked at the hundreds of wood carvings in the other.
Still much too weary to enter into the fray of wheeling and dealing with these professionals,
we promised to return the next day and after a lot of searching, found a local Lebanese-owned restaurant
where we gorged on steak, chicken, chips, salad, ice cream, freshly squeezed orange juice and a litre bottle of water each .. in an attempt to finally rid our throats of the effects of
being gassed. Returning to my hotel as darkness was falling, a fog was rising, covering most
of the city .. luckily not foul-smelling, as I had feared .. but seemingly just a river mist.
Next morning, our first task was to find the Burkina Faso embassy to get my entry visa.