Thursday, July 31
Mopti, Mali

“In Mopti, tourism is a contact sport,” Lonely Planet warns.

Indeed, there are a lot of tourists here, since Mopti is the departure point for two popular activities, visiting Timbuktu and trekking in Dogon Country.

But aside from natives laughing at me (I’m funny simply because of my white skin), touching me as I walk by and asking me, again and again, to buy whatever it is they’re selling, I like Mopti.

The port is busy — the town is located right where the Bani River meets the Niger River — but follow the Bani away from the port and it’s possible to find a tranquil spot to enjoy the beautiful scenery. And people here seem happy. This morning, a caravan of mopeds and taxis took over the streets, beeping in celebration of a marriage.

I’m staying in a dorm at a hotel called Pas de Probleme — who could pass that up?! — with a lovely pool and hoards of Frenchies, as I wait for transportation to Timbuktu.

The “big boat” is supposed to pick up passengers here on Friday. Your guess is as good as mine as to what that boat will be like, but I’ve asked for a ticket, and hopefully there will be room for me when it arrives. I’m told the journey by water takes three days.

The next time you hear from me, I should be in the mystical city.