Sandstorm Season

We’re in Timbuktu.  The entire day was spent driving here, and the air has been full of dust and sand swept up by winds from Algeria.  We won’t be rained out in the eclipse, but we might get sanded out.  Whatever — we’ve seen lots of eclipses, but never a real sandstorm, let alone two weeks of them.

Anyway, this is just a taste.  Tomorrow we ride a camel, the next day we drive back out of the desert, and then we have a week before returning to the Sahara.

Again, we have lots to tell you, but there’s only so much I can type on a French keyboard layout in 30 minutes.  We’ve seen the abandoned French colonial buildings in Segou, gone on a pirogue ride in Mopti, met a few village chiefs and tons of kids, had some good food, learned about the various West African tribes, and done some bargaining — today a guy who asked for $50 for a shirt would have let me have it for $5, but I didn’t have change and it wasn’t that great.

Yesterday we saw Djenne, with its mosque, the largest mud building in the world, and its market.  Tourist pricing is alive and well — hotels and restaurants are US prices, but we bought a huge sack of donut holes in the market for 20 cents.  Non-Muslims are not permitted inside the mosque, but “psst!” — some guys invited us in for $10 each.  The interior is supported by very large colums very close together like the Temple of Karnak in Luxor, Egypt.

This is Mali’s dry season — the rain starts in June.  We’ve made a few short ferry crossings which would be 10 times wider in September.  In April the ferry isn’t necessary crossing to Djenne.

The hotels have been very nice.  The guide, who is my age, and has six kids with his original wife, and one more with his second wife, who he took over from his brother when he died, is very knowledgeable and speaks English pretty well. We were a little annoyed he didn’t take our side in some bargaining with craftspeople. The driver, a Tuareg from Niger, drives quite conservatively on the open road, avoiding obstacles like tiny goats, motorbikes, and push carts; he gets a little more aggressive four-wheeling on the desert tracks.  Maybe it’s the tea he drinks several times a day.

It’s pretty likely we won’t post again for about a week — not only is the Internet slow and expensive and not widely available, but we have a pretty full schedule on this tour and much of any free time is spent taking naps.  Or writing postcards — Ray is trying to get Timbuktu postmarks on as many cards as possible.  Timbuktu, for those of you who didn’t know it was a real place, is a historic trade location for where the camel caravans crossing south across the Sahara from Algeria hit the Niger river.  Many visitors here join a caravan to go gather salt in the desert — we have our own desert expedition planned, and although the sand in the air makes it possible to see the partial phases of the eclipse without protective eyewear, it would probably obscure the corona.  Sigh — someone will take pictures and we can look at them later.

I’d better click “Publish” before my connection times out, taking this careful typing with it.