Donkey Crossing

Welcome to Donkey Crossing! Donkey Crossing is an on-line account of one Limey and one Yank living one Dream. From September 2006 until the end of 2007, we plan to visit friends and family on five continents and immerse ourselves into various cultures, natural phenomena and ways of life. We hope you enjoy our tales and visit often! Cheers, Jason and Rachel Napoli

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Unfortunately our time on the beaches of La Somone had to come to an end and we began our journey inland toward Mali. We knew we had a tough trip ahead, as numerous bush taxis, a border crossing, an overnight train and a long haul bus were all in our plan. The trip to the Malian border took two nine-hour days on the road in ten different bush taxis. The weather was steaming, the cars were cramped and the roads were by far the worst we've encountered since starting our travels. The first day of the journey was on a road that was more like a slalom ski slope, with the driver taking a winding, curvy route through endless miles of potholes in the tarmac.

You may look at this photo and think: "Oh, that's nice, a roadside vendor selling locally pressed vegetable oil, or maybe even honey". No. This would be the local gasoline station, selling liters of the motion potion for nearly one dollar a bottle.

The second day of our push toward Mali had slightly smoother roads, and we quickly learned the difference between Senegalese bush taxis and Malian bush taxis. Senegalese bush taxis are reasonably crammed with eight passengers (including driver). In Mali, the same style of vehicle is crammed with eleven passengers! That's a big difference for an already uncomfortable mode of transport. Nonetheless, we reached the border without a problem and cleared Senegalese border formalities quickly before hiring a car to take us to the Malian side of the Senegal River.

The typical African bush taxi...a Peugeot 504. The seating configuration in Senegal is two in the front row (including driver), three in the middle row and three in the back row. The seating configuration for Mali, in the exact model car, is three in the front (including driver), four in the middle and three in the back. There also seems to be at least one young child sitting on a lap. Additionally, Malian bush taxis seem to lack door handles, ceiling tiles and functioning radiators.

Once in Mali, we were led to the police post where we had to clear Malian immigration. No problem there either, other than having to promise, like we did when we entered Mauritania one month earlier, that the next time we visit we'll have at least two children with us. (African border officials aren't whatsoever shy about making it quite clear we should have children by this point in our lives.)

We finally arrived to Mali's first Western town, Kayes. It's a rather uninspiring place with dusty roads, a hectic daily market, amazingly hot temperatures and little to offer in regards to culinary options. We arrived a couple days before the next train was due to depart for Bamako (the capital of Mali), but were able to occupy ourselves with catching up on plenty of reading and writing, as well as a fair share of seven card gin.

The Kayes-Bamako Train: a classic African journey

We were told the best and worst way to travel from Kayes to Bamako was by train. We were warned of robberies, derailments, uncomfortable seats, poor sanitary conditions, etc...therefore, we bought our tickets with enthusiasm for the Saturday afternoon departure.

Upon arrival to the station we read: "The weekend train will probably arrive at 11:30 AM". We knew it probably wouldn't, and it didn't. It arrived around 12:30 PM and we were on our way, not really knowing how long the ride would take, by 2:30 PM.

The train made numerous stops along the way, always causing a flurry of activity for the locals, as the arrival of the tri-weekly train is a major source of local income.

Rachel gazes out the window, with cool beverage in hand, toward the dry African landscape.

"Here comes that damn train again."

The local kids are always looking for an opportunity to have their picture taken.

One passenger gazes out the window as we make one of many crossings over the Senegal River.

Taking a breath of fresh air through the window is always a good idea.

We finally made it to Bamako after seventeen hours of sticky and grimy train travel. We decided to stay put for a couple days in Bamako before heading north. We spent our time making travel arrangements, catching up on some e-mail and frequenting, oddly enough, two excellent Lebanese restaurants. They chopped a fine salad and offered a nice air-conditioned escape from the 100°F+ oppressiveness occurring out in the streets.

Leaving Bamako, headed toward Mali's northern regions, we experienced our first West African bus. As with all other modes of transport on this continent, it was long, hot, sticky and unpredictable. The windows didn't open, the A/C was non-existent, the music was phenomenal and we sweat like we had never sweat before all the way to Mopti, the major port town on the Niger River. The coolest part of the journey was definitely our driver: decked out in a purple wool suit, black leather shoes, dark sunglasses, smoking Dunhills for the duration of the trip and looking awfully similar to Isaac Hayes, he was definitely the "dude".

The "dude" during a brief stop in the middle of Africa.

We made it to Mopti after eleven hours on the bus and have spent the last day making plans for a slow boat journey up the Niger, followed by a trekking expedition through Dogon Country. Stay tuned to hear about these upcoming adventures and our next border crossing into Burkina Faso!


Blogger chicago mike said...

Hi jason and rachel. Mike O'Malley here in Jeddah. Last time I read your entries, you were getting ready to leave Morocco. Thanks for getting me up to date. Saw a program on Disc. Channel last week of a guy who went from Morocco to Senegal overland and he took same route as you. The mine fields, broken down cars expertly fixed by his French travel companions, the train, etc. BTW, the French sold their Peugeots upon arrival in Senegal, which immediately became a sept places. Amazing how the infrastructure sucks but the people you meet seem to make up for inconveniences. Keep up your excellent work and stay safe. Mike

7:42 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

You 2 are becoming old Africa hands, 17 hour train rides in the super heat and dust of Africa barely phase you......and it seems you are picking up on the game of scaring the white people on the "dangers of Africa".... Ahh Kayes... Glad your 2 days in Kayes deserved such a special place in your heart and blog. Wonder what living there for 2 years would do to somebody's psyche?????

10:52 AM  
Anonymous Josie Taglienti said...

Hi Jason and Rachel....i accessed your blog from Boots&All...what a wonderful experience for you,of course, and for we viewers.

Learned a lot as well re. areas i have not visited (yet) world ambassadors you're the best.

11:04 AM  

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