Mud Mastery And Surviving The Elements — Mali Part 2

Mali has much more to see than merely Mopti and Timbuktu. But again it doesn’t come without danger.

So let’s get ready to hide in the backseat of a blacked out car (not all the time) and continue our travels around this West African nation, where we’ll get to see the largest mud building in the world and other impressive mud architecture. Plus we’ll check out some scenic rock formations and explore Mali’s capital after one awful night out in the elements. And lastly, you’ll find out whether or not I enjoyed traveling around this war-torn country.

Segue to Segoukoro

After exploring Timbuktu, we said goodbye to the people in our group who were only joining us for the first day. The rest of us prepared for our three-day extension, during which we would visit some lesser-known cities in the southwest of Mali.

First, we went to Segoukoro, which is a typical village with an old mosque.

The old mud mosque of Segoukoro

In the 18th century, Segoukoro was the center of the Bambara Empire, led by a famous man named Biton Mamary Coulibaly. We took a walk through the crumbling old town and saw Coulibaly’s tomb.

This old town has certainly seen better days

We visited a local church and caught a glimpse of everyday life on the shores of the Niger River in Mali. A lot of fruit and trees grow there, thanks to the nearby water source.

Men on the mighty Niger River

We saw how the people live there, then took another boat ride on the Niger River, this time for almost three hours. It was quite nice having lunch with the group on a typical boat. We went along the Niger River, looked at the landscape, saw how the people live, and disembarked in Ségou. Segoukoro is the little village a couple of kilometers before Ségou. Ségou is the bigger town, although there is not much to see there. 🥱

A quiet shore of the Niger River

Danger in Djenné

We arrived in Ségou and went back in the car and drove to San, where we stayed overnight. San is a town in Mali which is basically just a stopover point. The only interesting thing there is another mud mosque, which is one of the biggest in Mali. It is basically a big mosque made of mud. However, the biggest mosque of all we would visit the next day in Djenné. So, we stayed overnight in San, then early the next morning we drove to Djenné, before going back to San, and then back to Ségou.

Djenné is a potentially dangerous area to visit, or at least to travel to. The town of Mopti, which we visited last time, is basically impossible to reach overland. Djenné is possible, but we still had to be a bit careful. As a safety precaution, we couldn’t sit in the front seat of the car. We all had to sit in the back seats. The windows were all tinted black and so on because if someone saw us on the street, they could easily send someone with a gun to shoot us. It was important to be as low-key as possible on the roads to make it safely to Djenné and back out again.

The Old City

We only spent a couple of hours in Djenné, and it was a long drive to get there, but it was quite impressive to see. It’s somewhat similar to Mopti, but the architecture of the city was very nice. It’s a very old city off of the Niger River which was pretty dry at the time that we were there, but it has an amazing mud mosque which is the largest in the world.

Standing in front of the largest mud building in the world 😲

All of the other buildings in the main town were also built out of mud, which was very nice and impressive to see. In the rainy season, it’s basically an island surrounded by water. We didn’t see much water at the time of year that we were there, but we went through the town to see more of the sights.

Malian mini mud houses

We walked all around through the streets of Djenné. As you would expect, we visited the mosque and the markets, as well as a famous old house that had a well.

Strolling through the old city

We went also to see the rest of the river where there is a tomb. We took a little boat tour out there to see it.

Exploring around town

We also went to the police station to register our visit, which is mandatory in this region. I didn’t have my passport with me because it was back in Bamako at the embassy. I had left it there so that I could get my visa to Niger and Burkina Faso taken care of. That was a problem at first, but in the end, it was not an issue because I was able to show them a photocopy of my passport.

I guess the locals could tell that I wasn’t one of them 😅

We went to the local library where our guide knew a guy who explained to us the Quran manuscripts that they conserve, and so on. We had a nice lunch at a local house where our guide’s wife cooked for us. Obviously, Mali is still at war, so there’s not really much tourism. All of the hotels or restaurants that once existed there are pretty much closed, so we just had to rely on this local organization to meet our needs.

Enjoying some Malian millet beer

On the Road Again

We left Djenné that same day and had another long drive back to San. Once there, we visited the mud mosque, before continuing back to Ségou, where we spent the night at a hotel. We had some dinner there and I worked in the evening, like the night before, before returning to Bamako.

Not exactly your usual view on a road trip

Something that we noticed in both Djenné and Timbuktu is that, at the moment, French people are somewhat hated in West Africa, especially in Mali. They’ve had the army there for a long time but it only creates problems. The army doesn’t solve problems with the Islamic extremists, and they’re very friendly toward Russia, so we saw a lot of Russian flags in Timbuktu and in Djenné because the local people really support Russia. If they see you as a Westerner, in the beginning, they are not so friendly, but if they see that you can’t speak French, then they get friendlier.

As a German, I was fine there, especially with the German history, and they’re automatically much friendlier if you don’t speak French. So, that was interesting to observe, especially the Russian flags they have there because apparently, the Russians do a better job dealing with the Islamic extremists. 🇷🇺

One of many Russian flags we saw in Mali

Seeing Siby

Djenné wasn’t on our itinerary at first, but we saved some time and still went. Afterward, we went back to Bamako and then went to visit Siby in the southwestern region of Mali. That region tends to be populated by more Christian people than Muslims. The landscape there is not as flat as we saw in the rest of Mali.

Like I said… Mali’s not totally flat 😆

There are some beautiful sandstone formations there, and we went to a little village which is famous for its colorful houses.

A snapshot of local life

We spoke with the people there, then continued with a hike for around twenty minutes to the stone formations where they have a beautiful sandstone arch called the Arch of Siby. The arch is very big and impressive and can be seen from very far away, but we hiked until we were just below it. There we saw a big arch and a beautiful view of the area and the surrounding hills.

The impressive Arch of Siby

It was a nice difference from the very flat and dusty majority of Mali, which had very few trees. They have a forest and the sandstone hills of Siby. After hiking around there a bit, we returned to the town and had lunch.

A view from the hike

Back to Bamako

We went back to Bamako, where we had been the night before. We chose not to stay at the hotel in Bamako. Instead, we were booked to camp on an island in a tent. The guys thought it would be cool to spend a night on the Niger River in a tent. In the end, it didn’t turn out to be such a good idea, but it seemed okay at the time.

Back on the banks of Bamako

To get there, we went to a harbor in Bamako which is famous for the local girls there who take sand off of the boats. The men in the boats get sand out of the Niger River, and the girls get the sand out of the boats and bring it to the cargo trucks.

Locals hard at work on the sandy shore

We boarded the boat, then took a two or three-hour cruise along the Niger River in Bamako.

All aboard!

Along the river’s edge, we saw many shabby shanty towns, as well as some big villas on the other side of the river. So we saw that there are both very rich and very poor people living there along the river. Bamako has some hills, fancy hotels, and big buildings, but there’s not really too much else to see there.

Mansions on the riverbank

Intense in Tents

We just cruised along the river, and then at some point arrived at the little island where we would spend the night in tents, which were already there when we arrived. We made a nice fire and had some decent food and drinks.

Ready to camp

One thing I really like about Mali is that they have a nice ginger drink. They make a kind of ginger lemonade which is very spicy but quite nice, and I drank a lot of it. I also bought some kind of packaged wine which I drank that night while I had a very nice talk with a German guy in our group. It got quite late as we talked, and then I went back to the tent. ⛺

Unfortunately, the opening of my tent was broken and I couldn’t close it. I put some clothes in front of it so that the mosquitos wouldn’t come in and get me, but somehow they got in anyway and I got really bit up. 🦟 My whole body was swollen, as I had been bitten by easily at least 50 potentially malaria-carrying mosquitos that night. I couldn’t sleep at all, and I basically kept one eye open that whole night.

It was quite uncomfortable and hot in the tent, with mosquitos everywhere that I could hear buzzing around my head as I tried (unsuccessfully) to sleep. It was a very itchy and bad night. I decided that I would have very much preferred to stay at the hotel, but in the end, it was my mistake because the guide had offered me another tent, and I’d said it was fine with just the cloth covering the opening. 🤦‍♂️

A Private Tour

The next morning, I was obviously very tired and in a bad mood from the night before. We were supposed to do a city tour together that day, but I said goodbye to the group early and took a tour instead with my new guides. The organization Continent Tours that I use for these trips is based in Mali, so I was going to meet Usman, the guy who organizes everything. I met him at a hotel and he sent some local guys to show me around. It was just a one-day private tour of Bamako. They also gave me my passport which was at the embassy, so I successfully managed to get my Niger and Burkina Faso visas.

Ready to sightsee in Bamako

On my private tour, I saw the guys from my tour group again at the National Museum. Our itinerary was only slightly different from one another. We went to the hill of Mali to the presidential palace and saw some nice views of Bamako from the top of the hill. We went to the National Museum, which was nice to see with lots of local clothes, sculptures, and traditional things. We went to the poor part of town where they make all the iron and gold, which was interesting to see how they worked there. 🪙

A bird’s eye view of Bamako

At the end of the day, I was happy to go to the nicest hotel in Mali. It was in a big tower, but it was still kind of a shabby hotel, comparatively. I just relaxed there and recovered from the horrible night I’d had in the tent the previous evening. One of the things that I like most about traveling is that you can be in a very bad tent one night and a pretty nice comfy hotel bed the next.

Back at a good hotel after a terrible night

Leaving Mali

The next day, I was supposed to fly out of Mali very early to head to Burkina Faso, a neighboring country. Due to the sanctions I mentioned last time, you cannot go there overland. If it were possible, then it would have just been a six or seven-hour drive to Bobo-Dioulasso, the second-largest city in Burkina Faso, which is closer to the border than the capital city of Ouagadougou. However, the land borders are closed, so I had to fly to Burkina Faso. It was impossible to fly there directly because of the sanctions. The only places in West Africa where I could fly directly were Conakry in Guinea and Nouakchott in Mauritania.

So, first I flew three hours from Bamako to Conakry, then about four hours from Conakry to Lomé in Togo, and then from Lomé another three hours to Burkina Faso. In total, the trip took about fourteen hours to fly from Bamako to Ouagadougou. From Ouagadougou, it was another seven hours of driving west, back toward Mali, to get to Bobo-Dioulasso. It should have been much easier to travel between these neighboring countries, but these are modern times. Burkina Faso had also just experienced a recent coup d’etat, but that’s a story for another day.

Ready for takeoff to Burkina Faso

In Mali, I basically saw everything that I could see without putting my life at too much risk. Anything I missed was basically impossible to see because of the current security threats. A lot of tourists who visit Mali go to see the Dogon tribe, but we weren’t able to visit them, for our own safety.

It’s not so much an issue of Islamic extremists, but some tribes are fighting each other, and we didn’t want to get caught in the crossfire. In total, I got to visit Timbuktu, Mopti, Djenné, San, Ségou, Segoukoro, Siby, Bamako… basically everything that Mali has to safely offer, at the moment. It was a beautiful country with some unexpectedly awesome places, such as Djenné and Siby. All in all, I quite enjoyed my trip.

One last look at Djenné, a highlight of my trip

Catch up with us next time to read all about my travels through Burkina Faso.