On the River Niger

From Mopti bound for Timbuktu
February 18 - 22, 2006

The Kaiwaranie, a bulky pinasse, was on a cargo run. She carried tons of cornmeal and over 40 cases of beer, most likely to slake the tourist thirst in Timbuktu. That was our destination, that fabled city on the fringes of the Sahara. But the Kaiwaranie would never arrive; it was February and the river Niger flowed dangerously low.

Pinasses await the calming of the harmattan before departing Mopti's port.

Kairawanie's crew lighten her load of cornmeal
to let her ride higher in the shallows.

But the experience of our riverboat pilot, Amadou, would take us only so far.

Masa, a fellow passenger, glows in evening hues.

The cruise unfolded like a fantasy. From Mopti, sunshine and a cool breeze accompanied us for three days. Mostly I read, wrote, and looked with great intrigue at the shoreline, eying the occasional village to port or starboard that lay less than 100 meters distant - but worlds apart. The question dogged me: what’s life like there?

Late in the season the river bares its banks.

A fish vendor sidles up to our pinasse near Kanna.

A pinasse with a sail of worn flour sacks slides up the Niger.

Shielded from the sun in my gortex raincoat,
cotton turban, and counterfeit raybans,
I gaze at the horizon.

At dawn polemen stab the river, assaying its depth.

Aground! Diesel fumes fill the air as crewmen on the vessel ahead of ours lean on their poles to push her free.

On the shoals of
Lac Debo cattle parade by.

Then, on day four near the village of Tonka, we hit a rocky shoal which brought the dreamride to a sudden stop. We immediately sank.

Sunk! Just shy of Tonka we hit bottom and are rescued from the ill-fated Kairawanie.

Crew and passengers stood anxious but safe on the boat's roof, just above the river's surface. Moments later local villagers rescued us in pirogues, and for an hour I experienced firsthand fate’s riposte to my question.

But I could not know how many pinasses would be travelling to Timbuktu so late in the season. Thus I boarded the first that stopped, left to continue wondering about the quotidian rhythm of village life on the bank of the river Niger.


vendetta said...

Those are some great pics.

Mike Da Hat said...

At the risk of being boring I'll repeat what the previous commenter said... Great Pics.

Unknown said...

hey tj
you tell agreat story through the pictures!

Anonymous said...

on attend des photos de cette nouvelle aventure !!!!!!!

Unknown said...

i like your pix too, the portraits are amazing!
did you take their pictures in an impromptu session or rather made appointments ?

essentialafrica.com said...

Thanks for your really fantastic photo. wow! amazing! I am filling lucky.
africa travel