Friday, 1 June 2012

Bamako

So I realised that I never got round to trying to describe Bamako, which feels like something of an omission. Although ACI 2000 and the weather were my dominant experiences in Mali, in a short time I did manage to pick up a bit more than that.

The first thing to say about Bamako is that it sprawls. Dakar feels like it's crammed into as small a place as possible, which makes sense because it started by the sea and has expanded backwards up a narrow peninsula. Bamako has the Niger river - hundreds of metres wide, and this is the dry season - through the middle of it, but no natural boundaries, so it's just sprawled, with long low suburbs stretching for miles. And of course, because of the weather, it's grey and dusty.

Dakar also has an obvious centre - Plateau, where the government buildings and embassies are. Bamako doesn't seem to have that - there's certainly a kind of downtown, but the Presidential palace is way up on a hill (which made it even more obvious that the crowd had been allowed in when they got in to beat up the interim president), and I'm not actually sure where the parliament is. I know where the central bank is, because it looks like a tower from mordor, but there's nothing really close to it so not sure if it's really in a centre centre. There's also the market and mosque, which was a lot more lively and which felt a lot more like a centre, but which are further away from all the administrative buildings, and Place de l'Independence and the Musee Nationale, where a lot of the marches were held, which is a different area altogether. All in all I just wasn't sure. It also meant it never seemed an option to get a taxi to an area, and then walk around - because even within a quartier, things are really spread out.

It was also a difficult city to get your bearings in, partly because it's so spread out and partly because it all looks the same - low buildings made of concrete, and people selling things in the street and hanging their wares off the walls. Of course it didn't help that I was going everywhere in taxis - even though to get a taxi in Bamako you need a rough idea where you're going as the taxi driver likely won't, that works more on the micro level (how to get to the exact place from a well known landmark) than the macro level (where places are in relation to one another). And taxis seem to cost the same to go basically anywhere in Bamako, so that isn't much of a clue either.

So far it hasn't sounded very nice. But there were bits of it I liked a lot - we found a restaurant overlooking the river, where you could see a bridge with street lamps on it and a couple of buildings with neon signs at the top on the other side of the river. Not much of a Bamako Riviera, but the closest we got. Hippodrome has some nice hangouts, and before curfew kicked in I managed to go to a live concert, which was fun and made me realise it would have been fun to be there longer. The park by the national museum and botanical gardens were utterly gorgeous. And I liked ACI a lot, despite the fact that I couldn't buy vegetables or tonic there. 

Of course I realise I didn't exactly see the city at it's best - hottest time of year, and a curfew to boot. I wouldn't mind going back and getting a different view at a better time. But on the whole it's fair to say it didn't bowl me over. I think the problem comes down to: it's a big city, so didn't have the oversized-village feeling you get in somewhere like N'Djamena, which is a bit irritating sometimes but is also nice when you're new and don't know many people. But it didn't seem to have big-city amenities - supermarket, clubs, etc. So  while I'd like to go back in cooler (politically and literally) times, it's not going on the list of African cities I've fallen in love with - at least not yet.

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