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Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

Mali: Mopti

A pinasse on the River Niger at Mopti
Look closely at this sunset scene on the River Niger in Mopti, and see if you can count the number of people who are crammed onto this crowded pinasse...

Poor Mopti. It has such a pleasant name, the sort you'd give to a particularly endearing floppy-eared dog or a favourite teddy bear, but the odds were stacked against it from the start. I was never going to like the place.

Decisions, Decisions

The harbour at Mopti
The harbour at Mopti is smothered with the filthy detritus of the local fishing industry, and the smell is only matched by the insistent ferocity of the local touts

I sunk into a coma for a few hours, and it helped; after a shower, another colonic symphony and some rehydration salts, things looked a lot better. I decided I wasn't going to be able to handle the cheaper pinasse as there simply wasn't enough shelter from the baking Malian sun, and Brook fancied a pinasse trip over the more touristy ferry, so we took Buddha's middle way and chose the larger pinasse. Of course, by this time the price had shot up to CFA15,000 – 'Morning prices are different to afternoon prices' was the irrefutable excuse offered by the man in charge of the tickets – but we'd both had enough of negotiating and just wanted something booked, so we coughed up the money, took the tickets, and prayed for a swift exit.

Exploring Mopti

Even if you can ignore the touts, Mopti unveils itself as a pretty grim little place. The River Niger is its saving grace as it flows gently past, flat as a pancake with gently sloping banks on either side leading up to the concrete bunkers that pass for shops and houses in these parts. It's a busy port, and boats and pinasses smother the shore, a constant barrage of loading and unloading stirring up the mud while women do their washing by the water's edge. A little to the south of the ferry terminal is a U-shaped harbour that's lined with hundreds of pinasses pulled up onto the shore, making it look like the rim of a particularly dirty toilet, for there is the detritus of human cargo everywhere – dead fish rot in the sun, black plastic bags choke the waterline and the Niger turns a dirty shade of grey as it laps against the boats.