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Shitting Blood in Timbuktu

The quatre quatre ride between Niafunke and Timbuktu was manageably uncomfortable. There were four people in the backseat, four in the trunk, and three on the roof. I shared the front seat with a husky man who knocked me into the gear shifter every time he laughed. He was eating fried pieces of dough that looked like chicken wings. He offered them repeatedly, but I did not want food. I didn’t know this at the time, but amoebas were hard at work demolishing my intestinal wall.

The drive between Niafunke and Timbuktu is difficult. For one thing, there’s no road. It is sand the whole way. Then there was our driver. Fishtailing over dunes, the chef de la voiture approached the drive like a formula one race. One of the owners of my hostel recently remarked that things in Africa move slowly, until someone gets behind a wheel. This is true.

When our bottoms went airborne, everyone yelped. When our bottoms landed, everyone yelled “CHAFFEUR!” and then many things in Sonrai, French, Bambara and Tamishek. The driver shouted back and everyone argued until we got to the village of Tonka (I have no idea how to spell this).

We arrived in Tonka on market day. I was now feverish and had no desire for this chaos. Some of the passengers on the quatre quatre were selling rice. Their transactions delayed us an hour. I ran into the Nigerian merchant from the pinasse and he invited me to chop (eat) rice and sauce. I told him I thought I was going to die. He didn’t understand so I told him I wasn’t hungry. It’s because of this Nigerian that you can buy a Lakers jersey with Kobe Bryant’s number on the front and Barack Obama’s picture on the back, just south of Timbuktu, in the middle of nowhere.


It was noon when we loaded back into the quatre quatre. It was hot. The windows were open, but instead of providing relief the breeze felt like someone was letting loose with a flame thrower on the interior of the car. Sugar cake chicken wing would not stop talking to me. He was nice enough, but at this point I only had enough mental energy to manage what were becoming alarming abdominal cramps.

Arriving in Timbuktu.

We got out of the quatre quatre on the main street of Timbuktu. It was about 1:30 and I felt like I was walking in an oven. The plan was to stay with more of Hamadou’s family in Timbuktu, but I realized there was something drastically wrong with my body and I sought a hotel room. I sought a toilet.

There are at least two hotels in Timbuktu and both of them are overpriced. I got the price down from $55 to $40, and then locked myself in the bathroom. The diarrhea was catastrophic, but unsurprising. It was the inspection of the toilet bowl afterwards that was disturbing. Is that blood? Oh. No.

This was terrifying. Up until this point, all of my intestinal issues had been blood free. I stared at the toilet bowl. It did not look like a shark attack, but there was clearly blood and it came out of my body in one of the worst ways. I shivered through a shower and then took 1000mg of Cipro.

Then I went to bed.

To be continued…

The previous entries on this journey are here: Breathing Dust and Drinking Amoebas and A Breakdown, an Overloaded Pinasse, Flying Urine, and a Late Night Foot Job

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{ 9 comments… add one }

  • Zablon Mukuba November 9, 2010, 7:32 am

    it sucks that you fell sick. i have been to parts of west africa, the drivers of cars are too clumsy and reckless. it feels like you risk your life everytime you enter one of their cars

    • phil November 9, 2010, 1:59 pm

      “the drivers of cars are too clumsy and reckless” – yes, that is an understatement. Road safety is the biggest problem here without a doubt. Thanks for reading Zablon! B well, Phil

  • Andi November 9, 2010, 10:48 pm

    Only you would have a title like that! 😉

    Hope you got better quickly!!!!!

  • phil November 10, 2010, 10:11 am

    I don’t know about quickly, but I did get better. Are you taking shots at me in my comments now??

  • Kay Johnson June 7, 2011, 4:55 am

    Some brilliant writing Phil. It’s great to see it told the way things really are. I have travelled in Ghana, Mali, Senegal & Morocco with similar results inc. AD – which was horrible ! Three days with injections, – by a lovely Italian doctor, ( I should be so lucky !) gallons of water, and phials of medicine before every meagre food intake, thereafter, until returning to point of depart. Oh boy ! I lost a lot of weight ! Apart from the grot – your photos are great & I will be reading more but gotta go & attend the dog. Have you tried the bus to Niger, yet ?

    You are welcome to rest up in Spain !

    • phil June 7, 2011, 6:46 am

      Yikes. I did not require any injections thankfully. I also lost a lot of weight and in a very short period of time. I have not tried to the bus to Niger yet, nor have I been able to find reliable info about the visa on arrival at the border. I will let you know if I find someone credible who gives me an answer on this. Thanks for the invite!

  • Sagu Dolo July 5, 2012, 5:20 pm

    You describe your voyage well. I know the route. Hate for the illness. It happens to many travelers in these areas. Fortunately being from Sangha, I have some natural immunity so I can only imagine your discomfort.
    Keep up the interesting blogs. Terrible for what has happened to our country.

  • Kay Johnson July 5, 2012, 5:37 pm

    Message to Sagu – as I also know, a bit, travel in this area. Do you have any idea of what is happening in Bandiagara ? I stayed in a small hostel down by the river about 4 years ago. The town was recovering from bad weather the previous year. They work very hard to maintain a living & there was a lively internet centre and active market. The worst news may be that they are badly affected by the troubles …… if you have news, please let me know.

    • Sagu Dolo July 5, 2012, 6:04 pm

      I am living in the US. I was home only last year when Mali was still at the top. My friends email me and call. They are desperate. Asking if I can help. This is a difficult thing for a Malien to do. Having depended on tourist trade for 50 years, now there is absolutely none going north from Bamako and few there. All expats have abandoned the country. The drought has caused crop failures in this region so the food supply is dwindling. “Cry the Beloved Country”

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