From Houston to Sydney 2013

West Africa



The 465 kilometre drive from Segou to Mopti usually takes six hours.  Today, we took nine hours, the extra three hours being the highlight of our day – a visit to Djenné, the ancient sister-city of Timbuktu.

In order to fit in both the long drive and the visit to Djenné, we had an early breakfast at 6:30 am and we were on the road by 7:20 am.  The drive followed Route Nationale 6, which took a somewhat circuitous route south-east, then east, and finally north-east, usually skirting around the floodplains of the Niger River and its tributary, the Bani River.  The quality of the road was generally better than yesterday, having far fewer potholes despite its narrower width.  As we drove northwards we entered the Sahel region, a vast scrub desert whose vegetation was reminiscent of northern South Australia or parts of New Mexico.

We reached Djenné at about 12:15 pm, having a surprisingly short wait for the ferry to cross a section of Bani River – surprising because Monday is market day in Djenné and the road is usually very congested.  Some cloud cover was starting to build up so we elected to explore the city before having lunch – a wise decision from a photographic lighting perspective as it turned out.

The entire city of Djenné has a thoroughly deserved UNESCO World Heritage listing.  Under Mama’s leadership, we followed an anticlockwise circuit around the market area and the Grand Mosque.  Djenné’s Grand Mosque is an amazing sight.  It is the largest mud brick (adobe) structure in the world and dates from 1907 when it was built to replace an earlier structure.

The three minarets are each more than 10 metres high, and it is built around a wooden structure that serves both as decoration and as scaffolding when the mud bricks require their frequent repairs.  Until the mid-1970s, non-Muslims were allowed to enter freely, but that stopped when a couple of Italian tourists went inside naked.  Since that time, non-Muslims have been banned from entry – unless you have a very special contact as we found out today to our delight.

I had scheduled our visit to Djenné to coincide with the weekly Monday market.  People come from as far away as Bamako to sell their wares at the weekly Djenné market, which fills every bit of the large open area in front of the Grand Mosque and spills over into several of the nearby streets.  It was outrageously colourful, crowded, aromatic and busy – a delight for photographers (Andrew and me) and pickpockets alike (not today though!).

Shortly before 2:30 pm we had concluded our walk.  Mama informed us that nowhere in Djenné was open for lunch (surprising given the crowds!) and we should head off to Mopti where we could have an early dinner at our hotel upon arrival.  We were both hungry, but reluctantly agreed after we had a can of soft drink (Vimto) each to keep us going.

We arrived at our hotel at about 4:30 pm.  The Kanaga Hotel has lovely clean rooms, a pool (with water, unlike the pool at the Hotel Independence), and is located towards the northern end of Mopti at a lovely location that overlooks the Niger River right across the narrow roadway.  On the negative side, its wifi only works in the reception area, it charges three times the going rate in the street for a bottle of water, and most disappointingly for the two of us this evening, they don’t serve any food before 7:00 pm.  We were told that because of the drop in tourist numbers in Mali, nowhere else would be open to serve hygienic food in Mopti this evening, so we had no choice but to extend our fast and wait for the restaurant to open.

Our car has been making strange noises and blowing clouds of white smoke from the exhaust all afternoon, so perhaps the unseemly rush to get us to Mopti was an attempt to get the vehicle repaired this evening.  Charitably, I will give Mama and Harouna the benefit of the doubt.

Day 10 - Segou to Mopti via Djenné


6 January 2014