Wednesday, September 8, 2010

On the way back to Bamako. San, Sevare and Ségou.

The Grand Mosque in San.

O
ur road trip back to Bamako would take us through the towns of Sevare, Ségou and San.  First stop was the town of Sevare for lunch at a Seneglese restaurant.  Tall had called the restaurant earlier that morning to arrange for a meal of ceebu jen (cheh-boo jen) which is a dish of fish and rice. It's Senegal's national dish and if cooked the *right* way, takes several hours to make so you have to call ahead.


We arrived into Sevare close to lunch time.   Geographically speaking, Sévaré is a crossroads town located about 10 km. southeast of Mopti .  At one of the larger road intersections, there were signs pointing to Bandiagara to the east, Timbuktu to the north, Ségou and Bamako to the southwest, and Burkina Faso to the south.

However, from a tourist's perspective, it was a pretty boring town.  Nothing really to see or do which was fine by me since our only reason for being here was to have lunch.

Speaking of lunch, we walked inside a very small restaurant (4 small tables) and before we could sit down, the cook came out to tell Tall that it would be at least another 1/2 hour before we could eat.  So, Tall decided to take us to a nearby shop that turned out to be a travel agency owned by one of his cousins who greeted us at the door.

As Tall chatted with his cousin, I occupied myself by looking at the big maps hung up on the wall.  It was nice to see where I had been the past few days put into perspective.



The half hour wait for lunch came and went.  It was close to an hour before we ventured back to the restaurant.  Back at the restaurant where we seated ourselves and waited for the food to arrive.  Out came three plates of ceebu jen.   A Wolof term meaning "rice and fish," ceebu jen is a tomatoey mix of fish, rice and cooked vegetables that reminded me of Spanish paella and Creole jambalaya.

The plate before me smelled divine.  Nestled in the center of the bed of rice was a chunk of fried river fish - presumably caught in the waters of the Niger.  I had the center section of the fish.  I looked over at Tall's plate and he had the tail section.  We swapped since I prefer tail and he doesn't mind the belly.  Peter had the head so one fish fed three of us.  Along with the fish were some root vegetables, squash, carrots and onions.

As a cook, I know that rice that has simmered for a long time in a well flavored broth is something to die for and this dish was no exception.  The taste of the fish and the tomato had melded together perfectly.  The seasoning which was a tad of chili and salt was just the right amount.  Every now and again, I would bite into a crunchy bit of rice.  You know, the rice that gets slightly burned at the bottom of the pan and that everyone fights over.  After days of eating stewed this or that over rice or couscous, this flavorful dish was heaven sent!


It was a huge portion of food so I ate what I could and shared the rest with the guys.  There was not a single grain of rice left on any of our plates when we were done eating.

After lunch, we made a quick pitstop for gas and then hit the road.   A short while later and we arrived into Ségou.



















From what little I knew of Ségou at the time, I wasn't expecting to see much other than some venue where the annual music event known as the Festival of the Niger takes place.  Turns out that Ségou is also suppose to be known for its French colonial architecture.

As we entered into heart of the town, Peter turned off onto a street that took us alongside the Niger River.  He deposited outside a cafe that was located just off the entrance to a square that looked like it could be a place where people would congregate on market day.

It started to drizzle as we pulled into the square and soon turned into a gentle rain. Tall and I ran inside the cafe to keep dry. From there, I had a view of the river and stood, for a while, on the covered patio to watch the activity going on at the boat dock.  Tall pointed out the cement platform that serves as the performance stage for the music festival.


We were hoping the rain would stop soon but it only seemed to get heavier as time passed.  We had to make it to our next destination, San, before nightfall so we had no choice but to continue on....rain or no rain.

We darted back to the car and Peter took off, through the square, and down a road that was flanked on one side by houses that sat at the river's edge.

We were driving through a neighborhood of French colonial style buildings some of which were personal residences but it seemed like most were official buildings of some sort.  We passed by a school or two.  I'm no expert in architecture so I didn't really know how to appreciate what I was seeing from a French colonial perspective.  All I know is that after 5 days of seeing mud buildings that are pretty crudely constructed, these solid concrete (or maybe they were brick) buildings looked very impressive in comparison.  The buildings would not be considered large by North American standards but by Malian standards, they are enormous.  Each and everyone of them could have used a bit of cleanup and a new paint job and some cleanup in the landscaping department.  I can imagine that they all have enviable views of the Niger.



We on our way to San where we would spend the night.  More driving through Malian countryside and villages.  Nothing exciting.  With nothing to keep my eyes occupied, I decided I could to put on my headphones, power up my little mp3 player and let my ears have some fun.




Rain had started to fall long before we arrived into San.  It was a late Sunday afternoon and I think everyone in San was out and about.  Perhaps it was market day.  Peter dropped us off at the roadside and I followed Tall into the crowd.  For an instant, I flashed back to the day that I was walking through the market in Mopti.  I clung on to the back of Tall's shirt to make sure I wouldn't lose him. 



Of course, I had absolutely no idea where I was going but I didn't care.  All the hubbub going on around me kept me completely entertained.

We entered into a square.  People and animals were milling about everywhere.  From the looks of it, vendors were calling it a day....packing up their wares to head home.




At one end of the square was the town's Grand Mosque.  Not as grand in scale or size as the one in Djenné but it definitely surpassed the one in Mopti in terms of character.  



In the short distance from the center of the square to the front of the mosque, I had attracted a small gaggle of kids.   All smiling and all wanting to have me take their photos.  I happily obliged each and every request.  Every now and again, I would feel the gentle touch of small fingers.....another curious child wanting to know what the skin of this odd looking person (at least to them) felt like.  They were all so adorable.

The skies were getting darker by the minute and Tall urged me to hurry back to the car.

Before we made it back to the car, the skies opened up and we were drenched in the downpour.  Actually, it was refreshing to be wet as the day had been very hot and humid.

Peter drove us to the hotel where Tall got me checked into a room.  As I walked in, my first thought was take me back to a Dogon village, any Dogon villag.  It's not worth describing the room in any detail so let's just say that it was not really inviting.  It's only redeeming qualities were electricity and a shower which after several days of no running water was a welcomed sight even though there was still no hot water.

I rested up for about two hours before heading out to dinner with the guys.  It was still pouring when we left the hotel and the drive to the restaurant was a exercise in avoiding large pools of water.  Peter's used to it so it didn't faze him one bit.  

Tall took me to a place with *French* food which was okay but I much preferred the cebbu jun that I had had at lunch. 

My time in San was very uneventful and by now, I was ready to be back in Bamako.  For now, I'm taking advantage of the fact that I have electricity and I'm charging up every single electronic device I have.  There's a TV in the room but nothing interesting on so I'm going to spend my night organizing the photos I've taken so far and to catch up on some blogging. 

'night.