Friday, April 1, 2011

Waffling into Sevare

"No, no. Not Mankan Te Restaurant. Hotel. Mankan Te Hotel."

My taxi driver stared at me blankly, as if I hadn't said this three times already. Of course, he hadn't heard me. He'd heard "Mankan Te" and tuned out the rest. That's what people do, extrapolate what they can from a few words they understand and ignore the rest. It's certainly what I do when trying to grasp what a foreign language speaker is telling me.

He turned the taxi off outside Mankan Te Restaurant, which was, I noticed, right where the bus had stopped in the center of town before I'd taken it to the actual Sevare Gare Routiere and had to take a taxi back. He asked some men who were sitting there outside the souvenir shop. They spoke and motioned across the street.

I'd initially wanted to stay at a place called Mac's Refuge, which the guidebook and TripAdvisor reviews made sound entertaining, with the host regaling the guests over dinner with tales of his life in Mali. But no one had answered my e-mail, and when I tried calling while on the bus, the host had said "Actually, we've sold the business and closed."

Mankan Te also had a good review in the guidebook, but had specific instructions as well. To be sure to ask for the hotel and not the popular restaurant.

I'd chosen Sevare over Mopti, the usual gateway to Dogon Country, after reading this passage about Mopti in my LP guidebook:

"The city swarms with guides and hanger-ons and every conversation can seem to have an ulterior motive…If all that gets too much, stay in Sevare."

The taxi let me off down a dark street. Surely this couldn't be right? The place looked closed, just a darkened compound with no signs of life.

"Mankan Te Hotel?" I was uncertain.

The taxi driver nodded vigorously and drove away.

I knocked on the steel door to the compound. A man opened.

"Mankan Te?"

He smiled warmly and stood back to let me pass. Okay.

I walked through darkness and onto the verandah, where a female German-accent greeted me.


"Ah. Sie sprechen Deutsch?" Now I could communicate. But I didn't have to. My own accent gave me away.

"Yes. Hello. Are you looking for a room?"


"We have only one problem. At the moment, the city has turned off our power."

Oh. That explained the dark. I could see two other people beyond her, sitting on a sofa on the verandah.

The hostess, who I could see was an older woman in glasses and curly white hair, used a flashlight to show me a room, which I couldn't really see. There was A/C, a fan, a bathroom and a towel, but it was impossible to judge the room in the dark. But I wasn't going anywhere.

I took the room, then joined the hostess and two guests for dinner, down the block and back across the main street at Mankan Te Restaurant, where generator power kept the business going when the grid was off. And I asked if she new anyone who would guide me to Dogon Country tomorrow. Someone with a car.

"I've used up all my extra time," I explained. "I have to be back in Bamako to pick up my passport on Tuesday."

The normal approach to Dogon Country is to go to Mopti, hire a guide, then take the bus with him to one of the trails, and from there, hike for three days and two nights, staying on roofs of guesthouses in Dogon Country. I had one day. I'd be back at Mankan Te the same evening I went into Dogon.

"It's very expensive. Maybe 50,000 CFA."

Jesus. That's not what I expected at all. Like a hundred bucks to drive there, walk around a bit and come back?

Well, I hadn't come all this way to sit in the guesthouse, so I had her call a driver.

He told me it was 75,000. Even worse. I negotiated but he was firm. Eventually, though the driver took pity on me since I was traveling alone. I'm sure he wouldn't have budged in the high season, but then, I was the only game in town at the moment. So he said "65,000 and no less. That is the final offer."

I sat and thought. $130? Even more. I'm rounding down.

At that moment, I was called over to eat.

"Talk business later."

And with that, the driver, Dramane, left and I ate at the German woman's restaurant. I wondered when exactly to talk business later, but the driver had left. I was now completely confused.

After we ate and beer had been ordered, the hostess asked me, "So are you going tomorrow?"

"I don't know."

"Well, why not? The driver will be asleep soon. Didn't you work something out?"

Wait, what? What happened to talking business later? Oh, never mind. Just shut up, Marie.

"Okay, I'll do it. Can you call him again?"

She did, and he agreed to pick me up early in his Land Cruiser.

Finally, I was going to Dogon Country.

And when we went back to the guesthouse, the power came back on at 11.

My room was lovely.

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