Mud marvels in Mali
It was a great feeling - one of exhilaration - as the 5am bus pulled away from the dark little side-street in central Bamako to start the 580km trip north-east to Djenne.
I first visited Djenne 13 years ago, and I wasn't going to let coups, rebellions or ill-informed foreign office advice stop me from going back. I'd checked and double-checked and Djenne is safe. But with much of Mali currently so unsafe there are no tourists coming, and with the embassies advising against all travel to Mali even the business travellers are leaving as quickly as they can - so I knew that I would have Djenne all to myself.
I hope I didn't raise any false hopes (please, readers, go to Djenne, and spend money there!) but it was nice to feel so welcome and wonderful to wander the streets and visit a couple of nearby villages without seeing another tourist. The need for tourist $ also meant I was allowed inside the famous mosque, nornally off-limits to tourists (although to be honest the interior turned out to be far less impressive than the exterior).
Djenne is a truly beautiful place, one of my favourite towns/cities in the world. Buildings are built with banco (mud mixed with millet straw) in traditional styles maintained by a strict guild of masons, and are regularly replastered to counter rain damage. Located in the Niger inland delta, the surrounding land is a floodplain, underwater for several months of the year. During my visit the water had only partly receded, so the town was effectively an island reachable only by crossing a bridge or taking a ride in a pirogue.