Thursday, August 7
Mopti, Mali

The rumor is true: Getting out of Timbuktu is more difficult than getting in.

We considered taking the easy way out, hiring a vehicle just for the five of us, one that would provide a bit of comfort on the long dirt road back to Mopti.

But it was too expensive for us budget travelers, we decided. Besides, traveling like toubabs misses the point; if we wanted the easy way out, we wouldn’t have come to Africa to begin with.

So we bought tickets to ride in the back of a public 4×4, which sit about 12 people squished African style.

Our car in the desert.

Our car in the desert.

Our car happened to be full of all tourists, though the ones in the middle and the front had paid more than us to sit in actual seats. We squeezed into bench chairs that faced each other in the back of the car, right over the rear wheels.

That was thee most uncomfortable I’ve ever been in my life. I like to think I have a strong stomach, but I had to keep a plastic bag nearby because I was nauseated from the car’s heavy fumes and bouncing over holes in the road. I could barely move, yet every time we hit a bump — every few seconds or so — my bones would jam into a hard part of the seat or the person next to me. I could feel my body bruising and my legs cramped from being in the same position for several hours.

It would have been worse, though, if I had been crammed in there with strangers. Don’t we look like we’re having a good time?

Lexi, Cedric and Ed traveling ever-so comfortably.

Lexi, Cedric and Ed traveling ever-so comfortably.

Cedrics foot hanging off the top of the car

Cedric's foot hanging off the top of the car

We were a bit more comfortable for an hour or so when Cedric climbed up onto the roof of the car to ride with two Malians already sitting amongst our baggage. It created more room for us, as well as some fun for him, until we hit a police checkpoint. Apparently white folk aren’t allowed to ride on the roof. Cedric got a shake-down for that one.

And yet, it was perfectly permissible for our driver to race another 4×4, one also filled with tourists who I imagine were as scared as we were when the two drivers sped alongside one another in the dust. Here’s the view when our car was ahead:

Drag racing in the desert.

Drag racing in the desert.

The trip, including a ferry crossing and a bus transfer, took nearly 12 hours, which is pretty impressive. We had no flat tires, we weren’t forced to spent the night on the road and the pool at what had become my favorite Mali hotel awaited us upon our return to Mopti.