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Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

Mali: Timbuktu to Gao

The public ferry 'Tomboctou'
The public ferry Tomboctou, which kindly took me from Timbuktu to Gao

Now that I'm on the public ferry from Timbuktu to Gao, I finally understand why the guidebooks rave about the River Niger boat trip. I spent most of the pinasse trip from Mopti to Timbuktu shifting my weight from one corrugated cheek to another while trying not to inhale high tar cigarette smoke from my neighbour's Liberté, and although the view out of the side of the boat was pleasant, it wasn't that exciting; on the ferry, though, it's a completely different experience.

Animals in the bows of the public ferry Tomboctou
The ferry is home to many things, not least animals

Easy Does It

The River Niger
A sweeping view of the River Niger from the roof of the public ferry

Things have gone smoothly from the very start, which I really wasn't expecting. We were told the ferry would be arriving in the old Timbuktu port of Kabala at 11am, and after just five minutes by the side of the southbound exit road from Timbuktu, we found a couple of donkey carts who were only too happy to take us to the grand bateau in time for the arrival. People waved and grinned us as we bumped along the 7km road to the port, and when we arrived I found the ticket office, asked for tickets, and managed to buy them without any arguments over the price, any discussions as to when – or whether – the boat would be leaving, or any hassle whatsoever. The ticket man was formally polite, and as I handed over the money I heard the ferry toot its horn and saw it glide into view, bang on time. I wasn't expecting this kind of efficiency; indeed, the only thing that went remotely wrong with the whole process was the name on my ticket, 'Mark Moxxon', which I rather like because it makes me sound like a character from a science fiction B-movie.

Mark sitting on the roof of the public ferry 'Tomboctou'
Sitting on the roof of the public ferry as it chugs through the sands of the Sahara
A large pink dune by the banks of the River Niger
Pink dunes tower above green fields of crops by the banks of the River Niger
Brook on the main deck of the ferry Tomboctou
Brook on the main deck
A small settlement on the banks of the River Niger
Just one of the small settlements dotted along the banks of the river
A small settlement on the banks of the River Niger
Some houses are practically in the river