Sunday, March 21, 2010

‘Djenné lies deserted’ I announced yesterday.
Well, actually the pronouncement was immature. There are some stray visitors reaching us across the dusty plain. Some of them are professionals, such as the chumpas who turned up yesterday afternoon. A ‘chumpa’ is Djenné hotel speak for people who turn up out of the blue without a reservation. The word sounds rather clumsy and did not well describe these guests who were the most glamorous of people, young and excessively pretty both of them. She was Swedish and he a native of Sierra Leone, but both worked for some sort of London think-tank with the splendid sounding professional titles of ‘Political Risk Analysts’. They were colleagues and not lovers (or didn’t want to be seen as such) and so took separate –superior- rooms. They were the sort of people whose mere presence makes one realize that one’s hair is in a disgraceful state. I became painfully aware that my toenails, which I hadn’t noticed for weeks, were in desperate need of attention and of a reapplication of nail varnish. Anyway they were not only beautiful but kind as well and wrote lovely things in the Djenné guest book before swanning off to Bamako in order to fly onto Niamey, presumably to analyze the potential risks of the new Niger regime to investors?
And then there were the other poor guests, although these were not ‘chumpas’ but had actually phoned in their reservation a couple of days before. ‘We will be arriving quite late’ they said, and this always has an ominous ring to it, especially if the guests are travelling on public transport. It means that they probably have no idea of the difficulties one has to go through before arriving in Djenné.
The odd thing is that they are all clutching their guidebooks: if English speaking this is often the new edition of the Bradt guide, and sometimes the Rough guide or Lonely Planet. The French arrive with the new guide book for Mali the ‘Evasion Mali’, or either the Guide Routard or the Petit Futé. I am not sure, but it seems to me that not one of these guide books actually talks about the difficulty in getting to Djenné! Perhaps it is because the writers and up- daters of these guide books don’t travel by public transport but in 4X4s with drivers. Then one is not aware of any inconveniences.
Therefore, time and time again I have people phoning me in the middle of the night, having been dropped off at the Djenné Carrefour ( Djenné crossroads) at midnight, by a Mopti or Gao bound bus. The Djenné Carrefour hosts a small community which has sprung up for the sole reason of it being a crossroad and therefore presenting possibilities of selling peanuts or a cup of sweet sticky coffee to those dropped off there, while they wait for further transport. It is a fairly miserable collection of windswept huts and stalls and has no hotel or even possibility of shelter. Djenné lies not only forty k. away, but there is a river to negotiate at the Bani crossing, and the last ferry crosses about 7pm. These are important facts which are essential to know for those arriving with public transport. The Bradt guide doesn’t mention any of this.
There is a beaten up old taxi brousse waiting for Djenné bound passengers at the Carrefour. Often it can take many hours, or perhaps a day to fill up. It has to be said, tourists are often quite clueless. They phone me to ask if I can send them a taxi. ‘Have you negotiated with the taxi brousse? I always ask, and they never have. Clearly if they pay the rest of the seats they don’t need to wait, and they can leave straight away! It is normally cheaper than sending for a taxi from the hotel.
The poor young couple in question left Segou at 6pm (!) yesterday, quite merrily under the impression that they would just saunter into Djenné a little late for supper! They arrived at 3 am this morning, having negotiated on my advice with the driver of the taxi brousse to take them. The driver had to wake up the piroguiers at the Bani Crossing (the ferry would have been outrageously expensive, and it is doubtful if one could have found the ferry man) they then paddled the young couple across the Bani to the Djenné side in a canoe, and there two motorcycles were awaiting them for the last step of the journey to Djenné Djenno, again arranged by the driver of the taxi brousse. For this complicated piece of maneuvering in the middle of the night he received 19000FCFA, a bargain in my opinion!


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