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Birthdays are funny Mr Cam thought to himself, the day would feel no different if the date was unknown, but it is still nice to mark your successful completion of another revolution around the earth in one way or another and with friends. August the 26th came and the group relaxed and spent the day preparing for the voyage by getting some supplies. In the middle of the day they sat at a roof top bar and had a drink while the harbour life played out below them.
The Comanav boat at arrived in the port and they all agreed that it looked quite satisfactory. It was a white and blue boat with three decks; it looked to be at least 40 years old but in good condition. The shore around the boat was extremely busy with good being loaded and unloaded. The boats boarding call was at 18:00 and as the group climbed the gangplank the skies began to darken with an approaching storm front.
The storm rolled in fast and hard and the wind blew hard and the rain pelted the boat. The trio though were safely in the 1st class cabin; it was a cozy room with a bunk bed a sink and not much else. The 2nd class cabin had a Malian family having dinner and two bunk beds, so Mr Cam stayed in 1st class cabin. The boat also had a 3rd class cabin with 4 bunk beds an premier cabin which was air-conditioned and then 4th class which was the deck which was mostly uncovered so during the storm it was extremely unpleasant.
But in the cozy 1st class cabin drinks were being poured and they sat drinking whiskey and wine and toasting Mr Cam’s birthday and making quite merry conversation as the storm raged around them. So, the boat floated off down the river in to the darkness towards the unknown.
The sun rose on the boat as it lumbered down the river and made its occupants rise and begin their day, except for three whose sleep was aided by an abundance of alcohol, but the sun and the noise would soon rouse the sleepers. Meals were provided for 3rd class and up, but 1st and premier passengers ate in the upper galley while the rest ate in the lower galley. So, Mr Cam left his companions to get breakfast which consisted of a cup of tea and some bread.
After breakfast the y travelers relaxed in their cabin for awhile and watched the scenery passing by through the windows. Around midday Mr Cam ventured up on deck and was greeted by different scene. The banks of the river were slowly giving way to sand and the sun was shining bright. Blankets had been hung over the frame above the deck to create shade and people sat and slept on the deck.
Mr Cam was invited to come and sit with a group of men on the deck and was offered some dates. One spoke very good English and the others spoke a little so between a bit of English and French they made small talk. Soon he was joined by his companions and the group sat around talking about nothing.
The river wound through the sand like a brown snake and small fishing villages dotted the banks. Sometimes they would pass small boats on the river or see riders on the horizon. As Mr Cam sat in the shade with the warm desert wind blowing in his hair, eating sweet dates, listening to the soft music that was played on the boat, watching the calm scenery pass by and without a care in the world he felt a great peace and happiness. Even to this day if you were to ask Mr Cam about his trip he will tell you that this was his favourite part and you may see a glint of that peace in his eye.
Everything happened on the boat, people lit their coal pots and cooked, water was fetched from the river using buckets on rope and washing was done. People slept, chatted, ate, washed, drank, smoked and everything in between on those three decks. The bottom deck was full of cargo but even here people lived and went about their business amongst it.
The boat was stopping at a port and the companions went and stood against the railing to watch the goings-on. No sooner than the gangplank was lowered a line of women with goods on their heads sprang off. This was the floating market and they were the sellers, they went with the boat up and down the river to sell their goods along the way, a portable market that came to you. Around the moored boat the women sold their wares, mostly vegetables and they were crowded around for their entire stay there. While the market opened other good were offloaded and people departed or boarded. They stayed in the port for about one and a half hours before setting sale. This same procedure played out a few more times along the journey in various other ports. Once Mr Cam was even able to purchase fresh pita bread, something he had not had for a long time.
Soon the sun sank and finally disappeared into the horizon and they clear night showed a billon stars above them. They sat on the deck with their new friends and chatted and drank tea. Tea was very important in Mali and there was a whole correct procedure around its brewing and drinking and uses a lot of sugar and sometimes mint. Leafs are boiled three times and drank each time in small glasses about the size of shot glasses. The first boil is said to be as “bitter as death” the second “as pleasant as life” and the third “sweet as love”. And so, Mr Cam found himself sitting under a billion stars, warmed by the gentle breeze, sipping tea with his friends, not really saying anything but saying everything at the same time, he thought to himself how good life was. The night slipped away and Mr Cam along with his companions excused themselves and slipped away to their beds to sleep a very pleasant sleep.
Now in the guide, the ferry office and various other people all said the boat left Thursday night at reached Timbuktu Saturday afternoon. They had heard they were ahead of schedule and would reach Timbuktu around 10:00. They were a bit sad to hear this as life onboard the boat was very pleasant, and they would have liked to enjoy it for a bit longer. So, you can imagine their disappointment when they were awoken just after 7:00 to find they were coming into port. They gathered their belongings with haste and bid their temporary village goodbye, thinking one day they would like to take the trip the full length of its journey. Then Mr Cam, CJ and Pien stepped off into Korioume, the port of Timbuktu.