Sometimes borders are just lines on maps, but Mauritania - Mali frontier divides two very distinct worlds. The malian Sahel is vivid green and teeming with wildlife and cattle at watering ponds and instead of the bobo-wrapped touaregs and moors we meet ebony skinned people in Made in China footballers' thirst. Border control is smooth and fast, but we have to deal with the customs in the first malian town, Nioro de Sahel, where, because it's weekend (bad timing in Africa) the price for Laissez passes is double (10000 CFA)
Later we save some money camping in the police station compound and of course using their backyard as toilet. Too bad our Morocco stash is already history.
Overnight a very windy rainstorm shakes us dearly, filling our tent with dust. It merely cools the sticky hot air a bit, and in the morning we do our best to content our muddy misery and hit the road to Bamako.
We are rewarded with e wonderful ride throough a fertile hilly landscape, dotted with scenic villages and lush gardens. A group of Fulani people passes us by: the women are topless and have intricate hair braids and jewelry and huge moonshined packs of tree branches are tied to the donkeys. We are happy we have arrived here in wet season!
Bamako is a sprawling metropolis, with scooters and cars entangled together in big traffic jams, with bridges thrown over the mighty Niger river which divides the capital in two. The shanty towns are on one side, immersed in a sleepy rural life, while on the other side of the water there are concrete and glass administrative buildings and offices and some expensive hotels (with good wifi connection). Here it rains almost daily and only some of the streets are tarred. Bamako is a welcomed pitstop: we rest, wash our pathetic scruffy riding gear, we go for a visa and ATM run and Skype our families. The Burkina visa breaks our bank: 80 euro/pers!, recently doubled cause of french propaganda.
Bamako's heart beats in its colorful markets: near Place de la Liberte & Cinema Vox, in Grande Marche, in the fetish market we find innumerable stalls selling anything from fruit and vegs to clothing and plasticware made in Nigeria. Men are generally sporting generic Chinese designs, but the elegant women of Bamako wear traditionally inspired dresses and elaborate hairpieces and metes. People are warm and friendly, except for the usual guides, touts and beggars, with tricks that we are too familiar with from Romania. The sad thing is that they believe that "les blanc donnent des cadeaux", so who's to blame for that?
A Malian lunchlady in a typical Bamako street restaurant: a wooden bench + many pots
Bamako is famous for live music; as we are nearing Ramadan, women are celebrating and dancing in the streets.
A Malian hipster: different continent, different vogue
Great street food is a no brainer in Bamako: rice with sauce, chicken in lemon and ginger sauce, fried fish, grilled goat or mutton (brochetes), yam stews, cow heart and liver sauteed in a spicy onion sauce, frufru (mini rice or millet pancakes), mango, local melon (meh, but excellent as a salad with lime, fresh chili and olive oil), corn on a cob. Many favorite snacks are black eyed peas based: doughnuts served simple or in a millet congee fro breakfast. Boulageries with fresh baguettes are widely available, so are breakfast stalls with eggs and instant coffee with milk or tea. In the evening the streets are filled with stalls with bubbling pots: fish or meat stews, rice, chickpeas, fried potato/yam/plantain or even couscous.
Rice with peanut & baobab sauce (rise arachide)
Rice with fish sauce and African eggplant
Favorite soft drinks: lime lemonade, hibiscus juice (red) & spicy ginger lemonade
Our usual breakfast: bread with soft cheese and savannah flowers wild honey (with a smoky, sunny flavor) and tea-tree tea
Africa is crazy about mobile phones
The intricate Malian hello takes minutes
Flowers in the inner yard of Mission Catolique where we bunked for a few nights
Soon we had to leave the buzzing Bamako behind to head south-east to Sikasso, the vegetable garden of Mali.