[NOTE: you can read all the “Mali posts” on a single page at any time by clicking on the “Trip to Mali” tab in the header of the blog.]
So, after our stop in Mopti, it was time to get on a “pinasse” (typical boat found on the Niger) to make our way to Timbuktu. The initial plan was to go all the way to the port of Timbuktu which is in fact 18 kms (10 miles) from the city itself, meet our driver there and then hit the dirt road that we were told was a tough one all the way to Timbuktu. That was the plan.
So about our “pinasse”. We had plenty of room since it was only the 2 of us, our guide, the cook and the boat guy. As you will see on the pictures, we passed similar boats with tens of people on them plus their cargo. These boats are built in such a way that it’s easier to use the blue planks on the side or, alternatively, the roof to get around. We stuck with the planks, and even that took a little while getting used to. The kitchen was basically a small portable BBQ pit and the bathroom a hole towards the back of the boat (the green “box” on the picture.) Standing in the box, my head would stick out of course.
As you can see, a luxury cruise.
We spent 3 days and 2 nights on the Niger, pitching our tent at sunset in the middle of nowhere and hitting the “road” at 6am in complete darkness the next morning.
And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for… “black magic night!”
The second day, Heidi had a lingering headache all day and took a bunch of Advil, to no avail. That night, she woke me at about 1am with a monster migraine. She was virtually crying, very upset saying that she just could not deal, would not be able to sit here another 5 hours until the morning, let alone stay on the boat the next day.
Now, we’re in the middle of nowhere, in the desert, and it’s 1 am. I did try to calm her down, but for those who know her, that was a lost cause right from the start (I knew that too.) So I had to woke the guide up to figure out what to do.
He basically suggested that we cut the next day short and make our way to Dire where our driver would come and get us. This was about 3 hours from where we were by boat, and we would then drive the remaining 200 km (!) (about 125 mi) on the nasty dirt road all the way to Timbuktu.
I explained that this sounded like a great plan, but that until then she would not be able to sleep (secretly hoping that we could get on the boat earlier…) and he just said: “I will take care of this and make her sleep.” I thought to myself…”yep, good luck with that buddy!” but kept quite because, really, what else could I have done? it’s 1am in the desert.
So it went down like this:
– We went to the “kitchen” on the boat where he grabbed a large kitchen knife. By that time, I was starting to wonder if “I will take care of this and I will make her sleep” had a different meaning in his mind.
– He then asked me to move Heidi towards the entrance of the tent so that he could have easy access to her head. Right. Of course. At that point, Heidi is in such a pain that she is not quite sure what’s going on, but, for once, just does what she is told.
– He took the knife and started writing some stuff in the sand, right by the entrance of the tent with the tip of the blade. Ok, this was getting weird now.
– Then, he turned around and as he placed the tip of the blade on some sections of what he had written, told me to hold the knife steady while he massages her head. Ok, why not? We did that a couple of times, as he moved the knife to a different spot on the writings each time. At one point, he turned around and told me that we had to do it again because, you see, “I wasn’t pushing the knife hard enough towards the ground.” I of course obliged, thinking to myself: “dude, I didn’t graduate marabout school, ok?” (a marabout is defined as “a hermit or holy man, esp. in North Africa, often wielding political power and credited with supernatural powers.”)
But I did it nonetheless. Once done, he turned back towards me and went…”ok, she will sleep now.” He said this in such an assured tone that all I could say was “ok, great” when I really meant “what the *%*%^?”.
So I went back into the tent, held Heidi’s hand for about 30 seconds and sure enough, she fell asleep. Just like that. She slept through the night and the next morning, the migraine was gone.
Make of this what you wish.
The next morning, we hit the road at 6am again and made her way to Dire. We found out there that our driver would not make it because the trail to Timbuktu had gotten the best of the Land Rover (fried clutch/gearbox) and so met up with a Tuareg driver our guide had lined up overnight.
If you ever find yourself near Timbuktu, be very afraid of Tuareg drivers. You will see why in the next post.