All this for saving the life of the longest living captain for a football club of former cannibals. Of course my ex-classmate and football buddy whom we name Romano is no way near that grand football age. Guys, when I say longest living I mean anyone who survives longest without being eaten during the ravenous hunger pangs of a bunch of ex-cannibals after a field day. A one-club man is a sportsperson who has played his or her entire professional career with only one club. Romano becomes a one-club man as he is probably locked up by his fellow club buddies after each match.
So here I am in a place faraway from Dronesville, bound for a mysterious football field full of gold near Timbuktu, a famously remote, now decrepit city at the edge of the Sahara in central Mali, in another unbelievable journey!
My google search turns out this narration: “you can’t beat traveling there by boat, along the mighty Niger, Africa’s third longest river. Setting out from Mopti, to the west of Timbuktu, take a pinasse (flat-bottomed fishing smack)a type of motorized canoe with a domed grass canopy, and enjoy the traveling as much as the arriving.”
I search further and read this description by a traveller: “The road trip from Bamako to Mopti requires about 8-9 hours and is about 640km long, over paved road…Along the way, you will cross the African savannah, full of baobab…” Well, it sounds good. I seem to see the baobab that the Little Prince describes, “It is a question of discipline….When you’ve finished your own toilet in the morning, then it is time to attend to the toilet of your planet, just so, with the greatest care. You must see to it that you pull up regularly all the baobabs, at the very first moment when they can be distinguished from the rose-bushes which they resemble so closely in their earliest youth…” (5.16). I suppose Romano and the gold can wait while I see these frightfully deceptive baobabs.
Like all studious nerds I continue searching and study the internet for information and tips. I decide to follow two of the the advices of this Joshua Hammer, an American freelance journalist and author 1. In Bamako: Your best bet is a less obtrusive but no less comfortable guesthouse. Well, this should be easy. 2. Take the road to Timbuktu, if you dare…don’t veer off the main track: the desert is strewn with mines. Do I dare? That’s it. I decide to use land transport from Bamako to Mopti and thereafter by boat to Timbuktu.
After an uneventful night in the least obtrusive guest house except hearing nightmarish stories of amateur travelers driving and hitting landmines, I decide that driving is out of the question. Should I get a paid private lift from the battered 4×4? Again I decide against it having heard some horror stories from other guests. One traveler replied another seven years ago (online source): “The last option is to take a bus…There are buses at least in the morning and afternoon leaving Bamako for Mopti from the Sogoniko gare routiere. (I haven’t done this before so I don’t know which one) straight to Timbuktu. Of course they are prone to breakdowns.”
So here I am in the early morning waiting for a bus. The place has had no rain for months and someone says that the temperature can reach over 40 degrees! The buses are full and I cannot wait another day in the marketplace swooning in uncertainty. I am down to choosing between these two and I choose the bus with at least 50 goats tied on the roof! Well, it’s an added advantage to travel with goats in case we get stuck in the desert and need to use this food of last resort…so I imagine. After all, I pride myself for being able to make the right prioritized decision based on the lowest Maslow hierarchical needs (To be continued).
The following pictures are credited to internet sources to illustrate the above story: