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Stuck on a Boat to Timbuktu

Kevin's boat ride to Timbuktu

What's Kevin up to on the long boat ride to Timbuktu? Find out here.

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How do you make "Tea of The Niger?" It's all right here.

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For many people, a trip all the way to Timbuktu is merely an expression that implies a journey to a far distant corner of the earth. But does anybody actually go there? The answer is: YES! The World Trek Team certainly does! While still in the small port of Mopti, Jasmine and I were determined to get all the way up to Timbuktu and back no matter what. Only 180 miles separate these two points on a map but there's definitely no highway linking the two. Driving to Timbuktu in theory takes about 10 hours but with the condition of the road during the rainy season it can take 2-3 days. The only option other than flying is to take a long skinny motor-powered boat called a pinasse.

We were fortunate enough to stumble upon a group of European tourists who had already secured a pinasse for a decent price and were just working out the details when Jasmine and I opted to join them. The next morning we all met and after some further haggling with the owner we were finally off to Timbuktu. As we began our journey, the weather was beautiful. It was so sunny that after a couple of hours in the sun I got a very bad sunburn which prevented me from laying or sleeping on my back for the next few nights. The pinasse was filled with little conversations in which I was able to practice my Spanish and Italian as well as French (when talking to the crew of the boat). We all became accustomed to each other during the trip both up and back from Timbuktu (3 days and 2 nights each way). [See Jasmine's article about all that we saw along the way up the Niger]

Food was rationed out very carefully. Between the 10 of us we bought 5 cases of bottled water (60 bottles!), 20 long French baguettes, and other assorted cookies we could find among the very limited and overpriced selection in the small stores of Mopti. We did bargain for hot meals on the boat as well as tea and coffee. But the meals were simple and only consisted of white rice and occasionally spaghetti. We also had freshly caught fish with each meal. The fish, some sort of electric species resembling a catfish, came out of the same dirty brown Niger River we were cruising on. Eating that same fish every single day made us really dislike fish. On the return trip we couldn't find any bottled water or bread at the docks in Timbuktu and so we had to make due with the little we had left from the ride up (2 bottles of water and a few cookies between the two of us).

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Riding in the pinasse was extremely difficult at times. On the very first day I was taking a nap because the hot sun was fatiguing. I was abruptly awoken by cool winds that passed over the boat. Just ahead of us a sandstorm waited to take us on. It looked like one big tornado. We quickly pulled the boat over and lowered the protective side panels, but the cool rains and abrasive sand poured into the boat soaking our luggage and all of us. Our trip back began amidst heavy rains in Timbuktu. The thunderstorms lasted for two straight days only letting up for a couple of hours at a time. Jasmine and I were thoroughly soaked and very cold (I left my rain-jacket with Monica in rainy Bamako thinking I would be visiting the DRY Sahara Desert). We kept hoping that each storm would be the last but others came soon after.

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Every night we would pull the boat over into a swamp to rest but we hardly ever slept because of the attacking mosquitoes. We both had mosquito nets and insect repellent and wore layers of clothing that made us overheat at night. The mosquitoes always found a way into the nets, bit us even where we had applied the repellent several times, and also bit us through our thinner layers of clothing. Some of the other passengers had very nasty bites and scars on their faces, arms, and legs. Even through the hoods of our jackets we could hear the swarming of many mosquitoes just waiting for us to accidentally expose some prime real estate on which to land. We were destined to loose that battle as well as any sleep we had hoped for. We sat up counting the hours until sunrise and the end of our nightly misery.

On the very last day of the return trip, the dawn finally fulfilled it's part of the deal and brought out the sun. While pulling out of the marsh, we left most of the mosquitoes behind and headed on towards Mopti. I had an opportunity to empty out all of the contents of my backpacks and dry them at last. Finally my clothes had a chance to dry even if they were still dirty. The sun dried the boat as well as the damp wooden seats we had been sitting and sleeping in for two days. It was a miracle!

You readers may be asking the same question we often asked ourselves..."Was the trip up to Timbuktu and back really worth it?" Well, you'll just have to wait and read our next dispatches to decide for yourselves as we tell you all about Timbuktu and our adventures there. I can assure you, however, that riding that pinasse up and down the Niger River is something that Jasmine and I will always look back on as a most memorable adventure!

Kevin p.s. - Please e-mail me at

Abeja - The Earliest Rock Climbers
Abeja - Djenne: City of Mud
Kavitha - Think Globally, Act Globally
Team - The Memory of Mankind
Jasmine - Life Along the Niger River
Team - Who Will Mop Up Their Mess? Shell and Chevron Wreak Havoc in Nigeria

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