Sunday, 26 February 2012

The Road To Mali

Greetings one and all from Bamako, Mali.

Agrandir le plan

This is it, this is as far from home as i'm gonna go on this trip. 8000 km of peddling. Its my birthday today and i have made it to Bamako, thecapital city of Mali. Today is sunday and, as Amadou and Mariam, the now world famous blind Malian musicians sang in Dimanche a Bamako,  today is the day of marrages and I have seen plenty around town. There's one just around the corner with a band playing that classic relentless Mali sound as the griots sing the praises of all present and bless the famillies whilst they in turn are blessed with cash from the beautifully attired ladies dancing in the circle. The event is taking place in a marque on the busy, dirty street and for me appitimizes the contrasts of this place.
 I am very happy to be here and the first couple of days in this city has already been filled with playing music and meeting good folk. Having said that this is the dirtiest, poorest, most polluted hectic place i've been on this journey and life here is a hard struggle for many. Open sewers and streets litterred with rubbish and overwhelming amounts of crazy traffic, crumbling ghettoes, dust and fumes and the awesome hustle and bustle of city life. This is all a bit of a shock after 10 days of cycling through forests and staying in villages and, to be honest, i don't know if i can handle the stink and hecticness much longer. My birthday present to my self was a face mask that all the scooter riders ware (and there's thousands of them) and it somehow makes it bearable to be on the street.
What an adventure it has been to get here. Thats not to say it's all over in any way as i still have to make my way back to The Gambia and i'm planning to travel through Guinea Connakry, Guinea Bissau and the Cassamance to get there so planty more of the road to come but for the meantime i'm going to spend a week or so learning Mali style guitar and jamming with musicians. At least thats the idea but I'll have see if i can stand the stink first.

 I delayed my departure east to Mali for a week as there were so many worrying news stories of fighting in the north of the country as Toureg rebels who had been teamed up with Gadaffi's militias returned across the desert armed to the teeth with serious weaponry. The Malian army simply couldn't cope and the rebels have taken control of a number of nothern towns. Some 60000 refugees fled in all directions to neighbouring countries and retaliation demonstrations kicked off in Bamako causing the Tuareg resident in the city themselves to flee for their own safety. Some still believe that this could become a serious civil war and as a result of such stories on the BBC world service and the worry of my gambian friends i decided to go to a festival In Kartong on the the Gambian coast for a week and await further news. It was a little holiday away from the open road and great to dance into the night to the varoius Mandinka, Wolof  and Jula bands and just take it easy doing very little. I didn,t even take any photos so you'll have to imagine all the fun that i had. Go on let your imagination run wild!
Well even after all that the calling of the open road bekoned me on as ever so i loaded up the bike again and left the village of Kwinella heading up river into the uknown once again. The first night was spent in the compound of the regional director of Action aid, the next with a Fulani Imam, then a French hunting lodge, another Fula family, a community of migrant gold diggers and more villages of mud huts and grass roofs. Here's a few of my wonderful hosts.....

The experience of heading off each morning and not knowing where you will spend that night, or if there will be a village with food or water continues to be extremely rich and empowering. Somehow each day something or someone appears that just touches my heart and blows me away. The journey inland from Gambia takes you into dryer and poorer lands. Firstly there are far more Fula people and fewer Mandinkas. At least the Mandinkas become the Malinkis and then the Bambara of Mali. These peoples are all related as the Mandinka travelled from the great Empire of Mali many centuries ago. The Fula are a wonderful people and from my experience all ways very welcoming and accomodating when a rondom Engliush cyclists turns up looking for a bed for the night. They were traditionaly semi nomadic cow herders and continue this tradition of looking after the cattle all across west Africa.

 I have had so many great encounters with people and this internet is again painfully slow at uploading photographs that i'm afraid i don't have the time to tell all. Each lunch time has been an interesting routine of finding some place to feast on rice and then relax during the heat of the afternoon. So often people won't even let me pay for food which says something about their hospitality when they really have so little them semlves. We've had the guitar out on several of these occasions and one night the entire village was gathered in the compound to witness this crazy cycling toubab playing the guitar. We sang and danced into the night and the magic of music transformed our hearts and brought us together.
On the road to Mali i met a guy on  a bike heading home after spending several weeks unsuccessfully digging for gold. Then that night i stayed in little encampment of folk who also turned out to be gold diggers. We were at a noisy dusty junction as trucks passed by 24 hours a day from the gold mine to the processing plant. These men worked for an absolute pitence whilst the french owned company trucked riches out of the African soil. It seems sometimes that little has changed here and so often the experience of poverty becomes heartbreaking when the injustice is so blatant.
The landscape changed little for several days heading into Mali with hundreds of miles of sun baked forest with just a scattering of small traditional villages of mud huts and grass roofs. Strangely the road was one of the best I have cycled here and stretched all the way from Kedougou in Senegal untill Bamako. It turns out to have been built by the Chinese and travels straight through the heart of gold country....

So birthday greetings from me in Bamako.
The dude here has run out of internet tokens so times up.
Much love to one and all

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