Journey to Mali


Journey to Mali


I was lucky enough to be among what are probably Mali’s last tourists for some time to come. That was in January, 2012: expatriates were all heading back to France, but my companion and I didn’t want to cancel our trip which had been planned for a long time.
As we discussed our plans with people who were there, we were able to confirm that we weren’t proceeding unaware of the conditions on the ground. We adjusted our itinerary: farewell Timbuktu, and too bad we wouldn’t get to see the elephants of Gourma. As soon as we landed in Bamako, we were relieved. There were no apparent tensions, and smiles were everywhere.
I will admit there were times we did freak out a bit. When we had to cross through Bamako in the middle of the night in a taxi cab covered in stickers preaching the glories of Ben Laden and Kadhaffi, for example. Or when we heard some suspicious noises while sleeping on a rooftop in the heart of Dogon country. And there were the times we saw dozens of pick-up trucks filled with hooded armed men. But apart from these random incidents, we felt completely safe the rest of the time, and we had a wonderful trip surrounded by lovely people, amazing colors and lots of smiles.


Because the secret to a successful trip (for us at least) to Mali is getting out there and meeting with the people. After all, you’re in a country where practically everyone speaks French (but that shouldn’t keep you from learning a few polite terms in Bambara), so we took advantage of our common language to communicate with people as much as possible!


We chose to stay with residents almost exclusively, and we used an association to make the arrangements. We stayed with families, played with their kids, had conversations with the parents, and observed the way people lived.


West Africa is famous for the warmth of its people, and we simply have to concur that their reputation is richly deserved. We shared meals with the locals and learned much more than we ever had hoped about the various cultures of the different ethnic groups in Mali and also about daily life.


We jumped around the country a bit, staying quite a while in Segou, taking it easy in Markala, spending a few days walking through Dogon country, snacking on mangoes in Siby. Each place offered us a wealth of interesting encounters.




Travels in Mali weren’t always easy. We spent hours on the side of the road waiting for a tire to get changed, discovered that buses don’t take off until they’re full, and we were able to find out definitively how many people can cram into a car designed to seat a maximum of seven passengers (11 + a baby).
And I can’t wait until the day we’ll be able to go back…

Aurélie Amiot

Aurélie Amiot is a photographer and blogger who specializes in travel. In June, 2013, she published a book with Eyrolles called “Photo Tips for Travelers”.
Her blog: http://www.madame-oreille.com/blog
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