20 days in SENEGAL-MALI, august 02


JUNE 02: OK, summer is coming I wanna travel. This would be my first travel after one year spent in one of the wealthiest country in the world: Sweden. Now I wanna see the other side of the token: Africa. What about crossing Senegal, up to Mali, and trying to reach the Dogon tribes? OK I like, I'll do! But mainly  I wanna meet  people, speak with them, try to understand something of what it means living here: in short try to widen my point of view. There's only one way to get this: travelling with "african" public means of transport, trucks, carriages, a wheelbarrow, whatever I can find.



AUGUST 02: punctured by a bunch of needles for the vaccinations, bought my supercool mosquito-net and filled a jerry car of insect-repellent, I was ready to leave. I don't think I could be able to describe my impressions in the first hours of Africa: the colors, smells, sounds......it has been too impressive, almost shocking. I had no doubt, the travel was worth even just for what I saw, smelled, heard moving by public bus from the airport to Dakar.



In 20 days I left from Dakar to east crossing Senegal. I slept  in Tambacounda and reached the Malian border at Diboli . Then I arrived in Kayes to get the train to the capital Bamako. My staying in Kayes (the hell), buying the ticket, getting that bloody train and travelling for 17 hours, definitely has been my hardest, strongest and most impressive  travel experience. Then, from Bamako, I followed the Niger river up to Mopti. I walked three days in the Dogon area, sleeping underneath my mosquito-net on the muddy roofs. And then, the  way back to Bamako dropping by Djennè. No way I would had passed through Kayes again, hence I got a flight from Bamako to Dakar. But my money were over, so I lazed on the coast, resting my bones. 


At the very end I was enthusiastic of the travel, of the experience. I've seen a tough reality  that belongs to this world, and, hence, somehow is related to me.

But I cannot leave out to say that I've been disappointed by the people, every time I trusted them, even in the small small things, when there was nothing to earn. I've felt racism to me, hostility, anger or simply a lack of hospitality. In 20 days I've not found a  Malian or Senegalese helpfull and nice person, maybe I've just been unlucky....... This is not a revenge, I'm not encouraging you to skip this country, I never regretted this travel! On the opposite it has been great, but what I was looking for, I mean the contact with the people, is what I really missed despite my efforts.



Funny stories









Arrived in Kayes, because of the floody roads, there was no other mean of transport unless the train. Getting the tickets and the train, it has definetely been my toughest travel experience. Rumors said there was just one daily train in the morning, and it was necessary to buy the tickets at 6 a.m. at the station. I woke up at 5 a.m. and reached the stations in the darkeness. I found lot of people who slept queueing since the day before. I stood at the end of the queue despite people were watching at me suspiciously because I was the only one white. After few minutes some blacks came to me wanting me to let them buy my tickets. When I  declined, knowing about the extra I would have had to pay, they got really angry and started yelling to everybody about the fact that I had swindled them and bla bla bla....they were really really freaked out! I didn't know what to do, I waited praying I could get out of that place safely. Suddenly the "ticket office" (a grided small dark window) opened and then it was caos. I mean people pushing, beating, yelling to get that bloody tickets. The police arrived and they started pushing not to stop the mess, but to get their own tickets and then leaving as nothing was happening. Seldom in my life I saw so much anger on the faces as that mornig. I asked to a nice guy from Gambia to fight also for my ticket, and at the end he managed to get this yellow  piece of paper just with an handwrited number on it.  It was 8.30 a.m., I was happy, "just a matter of few hours and I'll get the train", I thought. I went to the station every two hours and no clue about the train. Nobody knew, "it would be somewhere, it leaves after has arrived" they answered me. In fact the train arrived at 23.30 p.m.,  with 12 hours of delay. It was dark and I had to pay a guy with a flash lamp to show the way in the dark wagon. It was so humid that I was soaked by the sweating. At last the train left, but my happines lasted till it started rain. I mean a heavy tropical rain and in a no window train that's a huge problem. All the people laid over the floor stood because it was fllody. I took my umbrella and tried to shelter but I couldn't win the wind, so I surrended at the thunderstorm. In the vagon nobody was complaining about the situation, as awared of an unchangeble reality.




Leaving back from Bamako (Mali) to Dakar (Senegal) I decided to fly to skipp the endless, tiring, shocking travel by land I had in the opposite way. First of all which is the air company who runs this service? AIR MALI....uhm...should I trust? no choise I've to. One entire morning to buy the tickets and then ready for flying. The plane was an old airbus, not that bad, I've travelled on worse stuffs. After one hour during  the descend to Dakar, suddenly, maybe for a loss of pression in the cabin, the oxigens masks fell down and it was panic! I wore my mask and started breathing into, but it didn't work, the shitty plastic ballon in front of it didn't inflate. Everybody seemed not really aware of it and went on breathing in it. The most thrown into confusion was the stuart who was frozen by the panic and was trying to breath into a passenger mask, instead of taking his oxigen cylinder and help children. After one minutes I realised it was possible breathing without mask and then.....I started  getting pictures of the funny scene, don't miss them in the photos section. In ten minutes the plane landed at Dakar airport and the crew announced it had been an exercise!



I was just entered in Mali when, meeting a french couple getting out in the opposite way, I asked them some suggestions for my trip. They had jus one advice:" whatever it'll happen never take AFRICA TOUR BUS COMPANY!!!!!!!!" I don't know why, but after a bunch of days my butt was sat on one AFRICA TOUR BUS. The travel was a 10 hours night travel from Bamako to Mopti, that turned to be  an hell. I didn't know about the bus schedule; they told me: "just after finishing loading". It took hours to load every sort of stuff  on the roof and then they started calling people. I don't think the term overload could be appropriate to define the bus. I think on the bus there were more than the double of the people necessary to fill up a bus that in Europe would've been defined full! There was no room for the legs and my girlfriend had to keep them up. The humidity was unbearable: I was totally soaked, as much as getting out from a hot shower. I turned happy when the bus left and the opened door let a breeze to flow in. But my happyness lasted till the first stop...uhm...more or less 2 minutes after. Then half of the people got off. We waited, I didn't understand why, and then again, everybody on and 4 minutes after stopping again. I think the first hour was just leaving, stopping, waiting. But suddenly started raining and dripping on my girlfriend head. I thought: "Oh my God, it's the first bus I've ever seen with the shower, and it's even warm water!!"




It was the last of three walking days in the Dogon area, sleeping on the roofs, when our dogon guide got lost and we looked for each other till evening. Then he had to rent a jeep to go back in Bandiagara but the driver didn't ask the permission to the owner of the jeep so he was really in hurry to take it back and pocket the money. Obviously he was driving crazly when went out of the road and the jeep got stuck tilted. We tried to push it out for one hour when we surrended and started argueing with the driver. We were in the middle of nothing covered with mud and dead tired. We lit a fire while the driver went on working like a crazy to move the jeep. He called people from a villagge who unusefully tried to help him. It was 2 a. m. when I decided to sleep over a flat hot rock near the fire, hoping the driver couldn't manage to get it out at least till the morning. After one hour a truck passed (shitty truck!!:-) ) and towed the jeep out! the driver was so happy, run to wake us up. I was so pissed off, I wanted to sleep, but no way to convince him to wait till the morning: he wanted to go. He reached Bandiagara and dropped us off in the middle of the night.


Travel tips




      It's not a very cheap country!!
      Never trust people about schedule!!!
      People calling you TUBAB!!
      Learn some bambara words
      Use  local guides
      If travelling with your partner
      Avoid last seat row in taxi de brousse
      Definitely people don't like to be photographed

     Don't take Africa bus tour , you'll regret it!!
      I loved malian fried potatoes



Mine has been a low budget independent travel, without renting any kind of private mean of transport, but just using the public ones and without any support of tourist agencies. If you gonna do another kind of travel (medium/high budget travel by agency) you could have wholly different experiences, or my impression could sound you strange
Remember I don't speak french; this didn't help
Finally consider this travel took place in the 2002 summer; everything changes, things better or worsen, so check it out!




Italian citizens need a visa issued by the Malian embassy in Rome. I paid 30 euros to have it and took about one week (considering I live in Milan and I sent and received it by mail).  To get the visa it's necessary to show the yellow fever vaccination certificate.
When I crossed the border from Senegal in Diboli I was asked for one photo (?), that, obviously I didn't have, so I had to pay!

Yellow fever vaccination is  the only one compulsory  for italian citizens. But I got vaccination also for:
-hepatitis A/B 

Besides I got Lariam pills to prevent malaria. I didn't have any particular side effect due to Lariam as it's said, left out some depression after the last pill back from the travel...I didn't figure out if the depression was for Lariam or for the end of the travel or just a psychological influence. Anyway I didn't commit suicide ;-)

The currency is the CEFA and the change ratio with euro is fixed to 1000 CEFA=1.52 EURO, hence nobody can really swindle you, left out obviously for the "commission"
I experienced two times the frightful street change without bad consequences, nevertheless I don't suggest it.
The most common problem with money is to recognise the kind of note just from the size as they're often unreadable.
Forget using an American Express card throughout the country.

I'll list just the main stuffs:
(it's necessary  when you sleep outside (over the roofs in the Dogon region), or to be set inside the rooms. I did it several times and in the morning usually I heard the mosquito buzzing outside it!! )
-mosquito repellent spray
-mosquito repellent burning stuff
-a flash lamp with batteries change
-a good knife... to eat mangoes ;-)
-water containers
-water purifier pills
-trekking shoes
-long lino?? pants
-something to dry your sweat




It's not a very cheap country!!
Even for a low budget travel like mine it turns out to be as expensive as Spain. Forget travelling with less than 15 euro/day, unless you don't travel walking, sleeping on the side of the road and eating bread ;-),... maybe if you are french speaking you'll be more skillful than me bargaining

Never trust people about schedule!!!
I've had bad experiences about people reliability  concerning schedule (and everything else). They simply lie.

People calling you TUBAB!!
You'll hear almost everybody calling you TUBAB, it means white man. To me it doesn't sound so friendly, at least don't smile thinking to be greeted !

Learn some bambara words
I experienced that to learn some bambara words as the greetings or "no thank you", "please","how are you?", really made people more helpful, also when you ask about their pronunciation you'll see the joy of the people while they explain you. At the end I was able to bargin in bambara, it was fun!...and remember, a greet (in any language) doesn't cost a thing

Use local guides
Getting a local guide is often the best way to avoid bothering people  but the risk   then, is that to get stuck in a turistic root.

If travelling with your partner
If you are travelling with your not-married partner always lie saying you are married, also to the policemen, and especially to the border guards. You are not obliged to have it written on the passport!

Avoid last seat row in taxi de brousse
They always pushed me in the last seat row in the taxi de brousse, even if I was the first to enter in it. I argued but never won. It's so uncomfortable, definitely you'll travel hours leaning you yaw on the knees of your grabbed legs

Definitely people don't like to be photographed
I've traveled in several countries with a very small camera and I've always been respectful and kind taking pics of people, but I've never had as much problems as here. Sometimes I had really to flee from yelling people, expecially in the market...

Don't take Africa bus tour, you'll regret it !!
I think that reading the funny story about my experience with Africa bus tour will be enough to convince you; considering I had been warned...

I loved malian fried potatoes
One of my best memories about Mali was the pleasure to eat the slighty sweet fried potatoes that were sold by the women in the streets. They were so delicious, don't miss them!!! And, moreover, they were one of the cheapest food





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Bamako is the capital of Mali. It's quite big and really chaotic; it's a kinda of huge market, everywhere there're stalls selling everything, especially textures, that make the town colourful. Few streets are paved and even fewer are lit in the night. Definitely it's not a touristic place, but  I think that, with its crowded green minibuses without doors shooting like crazy in the streets, it's representative of the country; at the end I liked it... anyway it's Africa!

PS: don't miss the story about the adventure to reach Dakar from Bamako flying with AIR MALI company (air mali sucks), and Mopti by AFRICA TOUR BUS COMPANY (love your life ? avoid..)



Maybe you're wondering if it's a safe place:

  -As every capital, it's definitely less safe than the countryside, but I didn't have any problem. For sure you won't meet many others whites walking in the streets, unless you don't go to the market of the artisans, the only one touristic place in Bamako.

  -The main danger is the traffic, and you'll understand what I mean when you'll have to cross a street. 

  -Taking picture is not welcomed, as everywhere in Mali, and walking in the evening is "scaring" due to the lack of lighting in  the streets and it's better to avoid it when possible.

  -You'll need tons of patience concerning bothering people asking you to be your guide or to buy something, but I suggest you to get used unless you don't wanna freak out in ten minutes.


Dogon country



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Dogon region for whom travelling in Mali is a must!
This region is defined by a 100 km long cliff where several villages are settled down. Some of them are dag in the cliff and locals (definitely not you) reach them by funny  stairs. Villages are very cute: lots of children playing, girls looking after them, women beating the corn and men.... doing nothing.
I was used to sleep on the roof on the house, it was funny, but don't forget a mosquito net if you gonna do it in  summer! My most impressive memory is the   view till Burkina Faso that you can enjoy when you walk on the upper part of the cliff (see the pic below)...it's unforgettable. I traveled on foot with a Dogon guide for 3 days; I think you need a guide, I cannot figure out how you could manage to orientate without any kind of signal, and, mainly, how you could arrange your meal and accommodation (the roof of the house) in the villages. However the trip doesn't need a particular physical preparation, but meanwhile walking for three days with 40 C, drinking from the wells, sleeping on the roofs and getting the daily summer thunderstorms, it's not something for everybody.
Fortunately Dogon region is not touristy jet, but, anyway, you won't be the first white passing trough. I traveled in the north part of the cliff, but, considering what I heard from the other travelers I met travelling in Mali, there're no meaningful differences with the south part, concerning the difficulty of the trip.

PS:read what happened to me in the way back from Dogon country (crazy african driver out of road)



- I got a guide in the way from Mopti to Bandiagara. Watch out people asking you exorbitant amount of money for a trip inthe Dogon country. I paid (car from Mopti to Sanga, meal and sleeping included) 13000 CEFA/day (20$/day)

-I suggest you to take pills to purify the water of the wells

-Trekking boots

-Mosquito repellent

-A cap for the sun and a flash light (I walked in the night)

-Waterproof cover for your backbag; at least if you travelled during the rainy season (August)




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I was travelling from Senegal to Bamako by minibus when I stumbled on Kayes and I realised there was no way of prosecuting by road; in fact being in the middle of the rainy season, the capital could be reached only by railway. Hence my adventure, to buy the tickets and get the train, started (funny stories).
Kayes in August is really hot and damp. Frankly I've good memories about this town, especially concernig the fucking owner of the " centre d'Accueil de Jeunesse" who cheated me (don't go there!!!!!!!). But the market in town has been the wildest and most typical I've never seen. In particular don't miss the dentists', I mean a man  who, in the middle of the road, pull out teeth :-o)



-Pay attention getting the train. Some people'll want them to buy the tickets for you: they'll charge you a lot of money, or they'll sell you not valid ticket for the day after train, pretending the train is full

-Don't pay more than 3000 cefa each (08/2002) for a double room in the "centre d'Accueil de Jeunesse", the accomodation near the station. Remember the owner is the shittiest bastard I have ever met in my life!





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Mopti is definitely a tourist highlight in Mali, but it's far from appearing as such. I paid a guy to take me around the town, this let keeping away from me bothering people. I spent two nice days visiting the market, admiring the Bani river, the old town and taking pictures. One of the funniest thing was the market area were   many sewmen were gathered to sew typical malian clothes with their "manual cool old-looking" sewing-machine. In ten minutes, for a bunch of euros, they sewed a nice and colorful pair of pants (also with the pockets) for my girlfriend. You can walk all the day throught the market, but you'll never see a woman using a sew-machine, just men... it's funny, don't you think?

PS: don't miss the story about the adventure to reach Mopti from Bamako by AFRICA TOUR BUS COMPANY (love your life ? avoid..)



Mopti was the main point for the recruiting of the guides for the Dogon region and most of the candidates asked an enourmous amont of money compared to the expenses. It wasn't just   a matter of bargaining, in fact some guides refused to take me for less. At the end I got my guide in the middle way from Mopti to Bandiagara for a really cheaper price...maybe it was just luck.. maybe not... who knows....