Guy Talk

This blog entry about the events of Wednesday, March 22, 2006 was originally posted on March 26, 2006.

DAY 6: “Doug!” called out Van.  “We don’t have to take the bus.  My friend has a car and we can go with him to Mopti.”

“Huh?”  Immediately I thought I had fallen into a scam again; I’d go with Van and his gang to some place no one heard of, or, we’d actually go to Mopti, but end up in some place I didn’t want to stay so they could make a commission off of me.  It was a common practice amongst guides in India and South America.

“How much is it?” I asked.

“Six thousand,” Van replied.  “Only 500 more than the bus.  It will be much better for you.  The bus always stops.”

I thought about it.  “Can’t we just take the bus?”

“Trust me, it will be better.”  I already saw the red Toyota Land Cruiser by L’Auberge packing up things from other passengers — shared car services are a common thing in these parts.

“Fine.”  Again, I put my faith in him.

Van told me to wait by his home, a tenement just across the street from my hotel that to the Western eye looked like an abandoned factory.  But it was his home, and the home of many friendly Malians, and you could really feel the sense of community.  I sat next to a man who just sat on a rickety stool making tea.  More and more people came to meet me.

”Ça va?”

”Ça va bien.”

One of them came up to me and taught me a secret “jive” handshake where you connect hands, slap, slide, then snap into a thumbs up.  I started to feel like a local.

He told me he was Van’s brother Ibraham, and then started complaining to me how his new Motorola flip phone didn’t have a menu in French.  Van came by to check in and update me on the car — it was picking up some more people before picking us up.  Another friend stopped by, a young Malian woman in traditional garb; Ibraham tried his best to take a picture of her with his new phone, but she’d always block him with her hand.

This is what it’s about, I thought.  You can’t get this from an agency package tour.  This is how people really live here; this is why I travel this way.  Ever since I’d left Bamako, I’d felt lost and alienated, wishing I’d explored one of the agencies for a custom package tour, but things were looking up.  It was possible that Van was just a good-natured guy like Willie in Zanzibar.

The Land Cruiser came and I bid everyone goodbye after a sip of tea.  Inside the car, I saw one of the people traveling was a middle-aged woman, which put me at ease.  We made a little small talk in French for a bit when some tout tried to tell both of us handmade jewelry boxes.  “Il est fou,” (“He is crazy,”) she told me.

Then Van came over with an announcement.  “We have to take the bus.”  He had only found out then that the driver wasn’t going to Mopti directly but had to pick up people on the way and make stops and stuff — but at least I knew the shared ride wasn’t ill-contented at all.  The driver was kind enough to drive all of us to the Somatra bus station, so we could just go the way we had originally planned.


TWO HOURS LATER Van and I were on the dusty, hot westbound bus with Van’s friend Dogono, who we ran into at the station.  He had dropped off some tourists in Bamako and was on his way back home in Dogon country, spending most of the ride back listening to his Walkman — yes, the one with cassettes.

“How was your stomach last night?” Van asked me at my side.

“I’m okay now I think.”  I had told him that my malaria meds were effecting me.  True, it was my first time on doxycycline, which is not only a malaria preventative but something that makes you constipated — I hadn’t gone in days.  I remembered Lara’s (Peru, Bolivia, Brazil) experience with it — not only was she dry, but it also effected her taste buds.  The local Castel beer I had the night before tasted pretty nasty.

The bus ride through the bush was just as it was before, passing through villages, stores and the occasional dust tornado.  In the heat, it was hard not to fall asleep — both of us kept nodding off — unless we were intrigued by deep guy conversations.

“I stayed up all night playing Playstation,” Van told me.  “You know it?”

Know it?  Every guy in America knows it.  “Yeah, I know it,” I said.  “What game did you play?”

“The football [soccer].”

“Oh, FIFA?”

“Ya.  BASA is my team!”

“Do the Dogon people know Playstation?” I asked.

“No, they don’t know it.  They don’t know anything of that.  When they take the mallet [remote control] of the TV, they do like this,” he said staring blankly into space.  I was refreshed to hear modernization didn’t completely taint every Malians’ life; the Dogon people were behind the times — I mean, Dogono was using cassettes of all things.

“Do many people in Mali have cell phones?” I asked Van, noticing him clenching his second-rate, second hand one he got from a Parisienne girl.

“Oh, if you don’t have a cell phone, you don’t know nobody,” he told me.  “The girls don’t want to talk to you.”

I laughed.

“It’s true.  The girls are always looking to see what phone you have.”

“Oh, like Ibraham and his camera cell phone.”

“Yeah, like that,” he said.  “But a phone with a camera costs 300-400 [thousand CFA].  It’s very expensive.  Even if I have that money, I won’t buy a phone, I will build a house for my future!”

The proposed five-hour ride to Mopti turned out to be more like eight; Van was right about all the stopping.  One main stop was a lunch break in the town of San, where I ate chicken and rice stew with the locals.  When I went to use the squat toilet in the backyard, I came back to see Van fixated on the TV in the corner running a tape of a local hip-hop concert in Bamako of Malian rappers.


MOPTI, LIKE BAMAKO, is a gritty urban city of industry and bustle, minus he asphalt (picture above).  What Mopti lacks in size it makes up in mayhem, as it is one of the Niger’s major port towns, where it meets the Bani River.  In about the geographic center of the country, it is also the epicenter of tourism, meaning it is the epicenter of touts — more desperate than usual with the low, dry tourist season (quite literally because the Niger River that usually did boat tours was at its lowest level of the year).

From my research, I’d heard that touts can get so bad in Mopti, it might actually be worth paying a “guide” to take you around, just so the other guides will see you’re taken and won’t approach you.  Luckily Van was at my side and it worked like a charm; he yelled back at touts and waved away aggressive taxi drivers like a Jedi.  When people saw I was with Van, they immediately stayed away and looked for someone else.

“Did you decide on La Fleuve or Campement?” Van asked me.  He’d suggested the Hotel La Fleuve since that morning when I thought he was up for a commission, but I just wanted to stay at Campement, even if it was a bit dingy.  Van was probably right about La Fleuve being nicer, but Campement had one thing no other place in town had: an internet connection.  Plus it was within walking distance.

“We walk from here,” I said.

The touts stayed away as we walked the two blocks to the hotel, which was a bit gloomy like my guidebook had said.  Plus the bathroom was a cesspool for mosquitoes.  Alas, I wanted the internet and checked in; I confused the clerk when I tried to exchange some US cash and get a room, but in the end it was okay.


VAN WENT TO VISIT his parents and family in the suburbs while I had an internet session, and in the brief time without Van at my side, the touts started to invade.

“You are the guy that come with the guide from Segou,” said a street boy who had come into the internet cafe.  Word had gotten around fast.  “If you go to Dogon country, you can’t take pictures without cola nut.  C’est interdit.

“Oui, je sais.”

“So how many cola nuts you want?  Half kilo?  Whole kilo?”

I just ignored him while trying to figure out the internet.  Little did he know that Van had already gotten me a kilo in Segou as part of our agreement.  Van was after all turning out to be an okay guide for me, although when I went to check out a local tourist agency, I found out Van’s price was about $100 higher than what I could have spent.  It didn’t matter though, for I knew I was getting a good English-speaking guide; the agency looked like a fly-by-night operation anyway where I’d be taken places but not necessarily “guided.”


VAN MET ME at the Campement cafeteria room to chat over chicken, fries, and drinks.  It was then I admitted that although I “was from the Philippines,” I lived in New York City, which made his eyes light up.  A huge fan of the American hip-hop that was broadcasted on some Malian radio stations, he was all smiles when I mentioned Biggie, Tupac, Ludacris, 50 Cent — although his favorites were Eminem, Jay-Z and, surprisingly, Lil Bow Wow.

“[Lil Bow Wow] was like this,” Van said, with his hand about three feet off the ground.  “Now he is bigger than me!”  He continued, “Jay-Z.  If I ever met Jay-Z, by God, I will cry.”  He was pretty excited that I told him I met a girl at a party who’d spotted Jay-Z on a lunch break.  “She is very lucky!” he exclaimed.  “In America, can you go to the rapper’s house?”

“No, they have security,” I said.  “And attack dogs.”

“Oh, I don’t like dogs,” he said.  More particularly, he didn’t like Snoop Dogg, mostly because he was scared of him.  “Snoop Dogg.  He’s crazy.  He will shoot me.”  On the other side of the spectrum, he was a huge fan of Beyoncé.  “Oh, Beyoncé... There is no wife better than her.  She is a diamond!”

“Isn’t she the girlfriend of Jay-Z?”

Then Van explained that they were probably together when they did a song together, but it was mostly to profit from each other — physically as much as business-wise — but that when it was over, it was over.  Even Malians understand the American entertainment biz.

“How come the American rappers don’t come to Africa and help Africa?” Van wondered.  “They are our people!”

“I don’t know.  Didn’t Jay-Z come to Africa?”

“Maybe to South Africa.  I know Will Smith went to South Africa.”

Bonding over hip-hop went back to a conversation about women, one in particular, his girlfriend from Paris that had come to visit him in Mali nine times.  We decided to give her a call, and Van fired up his second-rate speaker phone to dial a number prefixed by 003.

“Bonjour!  Ça va?” I said, but she couldn’t really hear us with all of her street noise.  Perhaps she was out strolling on the Champs-Elyseés.

“She called me last week, and because I called her chou chou — it’s like ‘honey’ — she talks to me like I am a baby.  I don’t like that.  It’s crazy.”

“Girls in New York are like that.  Girls all over the world,” I generalized.

I had realized I had not only met a guide in Segou, but perhaps a new friend of common interests — video games, gadgets, music, girls, etc. — although when you think about it, perhaps it’s all just a guy thing, and guys are like that all over the world.






Next entry: Doug Goes to Dogon

Previous entry: In Van We Trust?




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Comments for “Guy Talk”

  • So it seems as if every cybercafe in Mopti shares a 33.6K connection
    each. At this point, I think I might just give up on trying to post
    photos (at least while I’m in this area), since I can barely log into
    FLICKR, let alone upload anything.

    This current entry is about four days old already… I am rushing to get
    the next 3-4 up before I am in the N.I.Z. again. (I’m going to do
    nothing but blog tomorrow.)

    If all goes well, I am off to Timbuktu on Wednesday, a long trip into
    the Sahara that I almost wasn’t able to make without the help of my
    loving parents who just wired me some money via Western Union. Fans of
    TGT2 know that I learned my lesson to ALWAYS travel with a Visa card in
    Africa, which I did (I brought two of them this time)—BUT cash
    advances of these “new” Visa cards require the cards to be swiped, and
    the one swipe machine in all of the city is just sitting in a box in a
    closet at the bank. Concurrently, I am about two days by road from the
    nearest (the only) ATM in the country.

    If not for my parents’ help I would have had no choice but to use my
    last two emergency amex travelers checks to get back to bamako and go
    directly to NYC.

    Anyway, I hope to have 3 more entries up in the next 24 hours. Sorry
    about the photos, but as they say, it’s the “nature of the beast.” Hope
    you can wait; I’ve got some really amazing photos so far that you’ll
    want for wallpaper…

    blog you all later!
    -doug e. fresh

    Posted by Erik TGT

  • I’m first yay! looking forward to the next entries…. bring me a cola nut.

    Posted by Marsha Marsha Marsha  on  03/26  at  04:29 PM


  • Good to hear from the blog! Sounds like the internet situation is a
    little different from the ease of S. America and SE Asia. Looking
    forward to the photos and new entries…

    Posted by Barney  on  03/26  at  04:32 PM


  • Thanks again, mom and dad!

    Posted by Erik TGT

  • *sigh* I thought I was first. Curses refresh button!

    So, Doug E. Fresh, thanks for giving me a nice break from working.

    Posted by Les Morceaux de Reese

  • Mr and Mrs Trinidad rock!

    Posted by sara  on  03/26  at  05:23 PM


  • don’t mind the links for now…i have to fix them…

    Posted by markyt  on  03/26  at  05:41 PM


  • links fixed, but obviously not the picture links…i think i can pee
    faster tha a shared 33.6K modem dial-up connection…

    E - stop calling the house for money at 530 in the AM…hahaha

    tell van that the snoop dogg of these days ain’t nothing but a little
    puppy dog…it’s no NWA nowadays! he does songs with justin timberlake
    (ain’t nothing scary about that)...

    Posted by markyt  on  03/26  at  06:39 PM


  • I 2nd the non-threating persona of Snoop…. but to this day I am
    utterly convinced that Suge Knight is the Boogey Man.

    Posted by RachitaBanana  on  03/26  at  07:54 PM


  • Just curious why you went with the Doxycycline. If I recall, you used
    Mefloquine last time.

    Posted by egwg  on  03/26  at  09:42 PM


  • EGWG: Shows to show you how poorly I planned this trip in advance…
    Before I realized i needed to take malaria meds, it was already too late
    in the lariam cycle (which needs to be taken two weeks prior)... doxy
    only requires 2 days prior…

    Posted by Erik TGT

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This blog post is one of eighteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Trippin' To Timbuktu" (originally hosted by Blogger.com), which chronicled a trip through the West African nation of Mali in March-April 2006.

Next entry:
Doug Goes to Dogon

Previous entry:
In Van We Trust?




THE GLOBAL TRIP GLOSSARY

Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

NIZ: acronym for "No Internet Zone"; a place where there is little to no Internet access, thus preventing dispatches from being posted.

SBR: acronym for "Silent Blog Reader"; a person who has regularly followed The Global Trip blog for years without ever commenting or making his/her presence known to the rest of the reading community. (Breaking this silence by commenting is encouraged.)

Stupid o'clock: any time of the early morning that you have to wake up to catch a train, bus, plane, or tour. Usually any time before 6 a.m. is automatically “stupid o’clock.”

The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

WHMMR: acronym for "Western Hemisphere Monday Morning Rush"; an unofficial deadline to get new content up by a Monday morning, in time for readers in the western hemisphere (i.e. the majority North American audience) heading back to their computers.

1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.




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