From Bamako via riverboat to Timbouctou, then Gao. A short flight to Niamey, the capital of Niger, and then by taxi brousse (a truck smaller than a half ton fitted with bench seating in the box) to Lome. Along the coast to Accra, a flight to Freetown, another to Dakar, and then back toBamako.
Sounded like a great itinerary to us. But then, what did a couple of 20-somethings know about travelling in West Africa? Not a heck of a lot, but boy oh boy, did we ever learn.
Rainy season, so the Niger River was navigable, but the shifting of the sand during the dry season posed extra challenges for the captain of the General Sumare. In fact the flat boat built especially for shallow waters did beach on an unexpected sandbar. Nothing but water and sand on either side of the boat as far as the eye could see. Hard to believe we were in the Sahara. During the long dry season there would be little to no evidence of water along the river bed.
Stranded? No need to worry. Pirogues appeared as if by magic.
The women and children were ferried to shore. Magically a mini-market appeared near us offering a variety of products for sale. My friend and I checked out the Tuareg jewelry. I was interested in the rings, but none of them fit. No problem. The vendor pulled a ring off his finger and offered it to me. It was too big, but I bought it anyway. How could I not?
We sat on the sand watching the men in long robes watching the men from the boat, who had by this time rolled up their pants and leapt off the side of the General Sumare. Waist deep in the water, they pushed the boat off the sand-bank and the women and children were promptly ferried back to the boat.
The next day, we anchored near a small town. Sitting on the top deck we spotted a circle of Tuareg women on shore. Without moving out of my chair, I reached down to my purse for my camera. I had the tiny camera only half-way out of my purse when the women rose to move away. I let go of the camera instantly. As it slid back into my purse, the women settled once more in their circle. All these years later, the image of those women is fresh in my mind. Some things are best without a camera.
To be continued.