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 ( 5 am ).
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 4 pm
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. The Burkina Faso embassy takes pride of place on a vast area of cleared open ground that was formerly Bamako's International Airport, now
developed into a smart complex of residential houses, hotels and embassies.
Ultra modern, with well-tended gardens, beautifully decorated walls and light
and airy offices .. it must be the envy of many foreign diplomats.
Having handed over the necessary passport photographs ( 3 ), paid the CFA 13,000 fee and with the
form-filling formalities over .. the receptionist asked us to return in 1 hour and said that no problems
were envisaged. So, leaving the cool of their offices, we walked the short way back to the main road in the blazing heat, to have something to eat whilst the visa was being processed.
Lunch was a tasty affair .. beefsteak brochettes barbecued over a charcoal grill, chips and a mixed salad. What I had first assumed to be sweet potatoes or a sweet variety of cassava, turned out to be
large pieces of fried plantain amongst the mixture .. another tasty first for me.
We returned to the embassy to be handed back my passport, money and photographs .. with an apology that it was impossible to issue my visa because
my passport was full. Not completely full, but without one completely empty page where they could put their large visa stamp.
Had they been issuing a stick-on visa, no problem .. but their stamped one had to have various parts filled in .. in ink .. and by hand. Although the wife and sibling's page was completely empty, diplomatic
rules and regulations did not allow that page to be used !
"Oh bother" .. or words to that effect .. we said ! I cannot blame the staff of the embassy, they really
were as helpful as they were allowed to be .. but no amount of pleading would sway them from their official constraints. A trip to the British Consulate, within the Canadian Embassy a few kilometres
away in an area called the Hippodrome .. proved inconclusive. The charming Mariame ( whose title of Coordinatrice at the Bureau de Liaison de L'Ambassade Britannique is really grand ! ) was as helpful
as she could be. Although doubtful, she did try to telephone the Burkina embassy to see if anything could be arranged .. but they were not answering their phones. After waiting for half an hour and taking
full advantage of the deliciously cool water in her office drink's cooler .. courtesy of the UK taxpayers .. we decided to abandon the attempt and make alternative plans.
The journey thus far had taken a few days longer than scheduled and having studied a map of Mali the previous evening .. there were a few interesting places I wanted to see, which would justify some extra
time spent in Mali. Burkina Faso and possibly onwards to Niger to see Alaghi's homeland .. would have to wait until another time. We made our alternative plans as we sat in the modern Lebanese restaurant just opposite the UK consulate, having cool drinks.
Setting off to revisit the bead market and seeing a large animal market .. camera in hand, I dragged Alaghi over to see what for him were just another bunch of sheep. Realising that it was prayer time, he joined a group of around
50 other worshippers whilst I sat in the shade of a small thatched hut and took this photograph It really was very hot and dry as we hailed a taxi and set off
for the relatively cool and closely packed stalls of the Golonina bead market.