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Plans, Goals and Dreams for Upcoming West Africa Trip

I have mixed feelings about the term “bucket list.” Creating a list of specific experiences and things to see can give a person tunnel vision. For example, maybe I’m in Mali with limited time and Timbuktu is on my bucket list, but when I show up in Bamako there is this incredible dance festival going on. I am really enjoying the festival, but there is this nagging sense that if I don’t get to Timbuktu, my trip is a failure.

On the other hand, I see the merit in creating goals and challenges. They keep us motivated and there are adventures and unique experiences, whether they are related to the ultimate goal or not, that emerge because we are pursuing something. And there is of course the whole feeling of accomplishment, and the experience itself, which should be awesome because, after all, it is on your bucket list.

What do you think?

In any case, I am going to West Africa with a list of things I want to accomplish. Call it what you will. They are as follows:


– Rent an apartment in Bamako

– Spend significant time in Mali

– Take side trips to Guinea, Sierra Leone, Burkina, and Ghana

– Go back to Cote d’Ivoire (question mark)

– Showcase social enterprises while teaching people how to draw camels


– Avoid falling into an open sewer

– Speak Bambara conversationally (read 5 reasons why Bambara is one of the coolest languages on earth)

– Speak French fluently

– Speak Dogon passably

– eat 1000 mangoes

– Play guitar with Vieux Farka Toure

– Meet Amadou and Mariam

– Actually, meet a lot of musicians. Toumani Diabate, Oumou Sangare, Habib Koite, Ballake Sissoko, Mamou Sidibe (our first encounter was too brief) to start

– Teach at least 3 Malians how to play settlers of catan.

– Avoid amoebic dysentery at all costs. Seriously.

– Drink a lot of Malian tea, but not enough to make me diabetic

– Sleep in the Niger River and eat a human being… I just wanted to see if you were paying attention. For real though, I made many attempts to convince people in Mali that I was actually a sorcerer and that I turned into a crocodile at night. No one bought it, except for Laura, featured in this episode of camel drawing:

– Tell a Malian that they drink donkey piss, in Bambara. My go-to insult was “you eat beans” and it’s a classic in Mali, but I want to add some variety this time around. If you have no clue what I’m talking about, check out this post on cousinage.


– Ride a camel from Mauritania to Kenya. Someone is actually trying to arrange this for me. I don’t see it happening on this trip, but perhaps one day, when my ass muscles have somehow become elastic.

Am I missing something?

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{ 25 comments… add one }

  • jill- Jack and Jill Travel The World March 23, 2011, 12:30 pm

    In terms of bucket list: I see bucket list as guidance — not strictly as a rule to follow. It’s nice to have but I don’t necessarily consult it at any decision making point. Besides, they’re fun to make 🙂
    In terms of your list: Fun stuff! Make sure most of your 1000 mangoes are ripe and ready to eat though. Eating raw mangoes can wreak havoc to your digestive system… as it did mine 🙂

    I wonder what African mangoes are like… In Indonesia they have these super-orange-soft pulp mangoes, as well as yellow-and-firm-pulp ones that I much prefer.

    • phil March 23, 2011, 1:38 pm

      Hey Jill,
      Thanks for the comment. I like your version of bucket list much better 🙂 They are definitely fun to make and I agree with the idea of using it as guidance more than anything else. I will definitely make sure they’re ripe. I am most worried about finding a worm infestation. All the mangoes in Africa I’ve had are of the yellow and firm pulp variety. The super orange soft pulp are overripe or that’s just how they are in Indonesia?

  • Detective Gertie March 23, 2011, 3:16 pm

    you had me at 1000 mangos.

    • Detective Gertie March 23, 2011, 3:16 pm

      mangoes ….

    • phil March 23, 2011, 4:01 pm

      that’s the most important one

  • Camels & Chocolate March 23, 2011, 5:01 pm

    What an amazing few months you have ahead of you! Can’t wait to follow along!

    • phil March 23, 2011, 5:40 pm

      Hey Kristin,
      thanks for stopping by 🙂 Keep spreading the camel gospel!

  • Helmy Kusuma March 23, 2011, 6:52 pm

    Eat a human being? Seriously? Even if you’re a crocs?
    Love your other plans though… like eating 1000 mangoes… or did you mean to say eating 1000 different kind of mangoes? Phew! Count me in… So far I’d already ate about 4 at the most , lonnnggg way to go…

    • phil March 23, 2011, 9:12 pm

      As a crocodile, I will eat a human if I want to. 1000 of the same kind of mangoes mate. Glad to know you already started. You got a head start!

  • Jilianne @ Cotswold Cottages March 24, 2011, 3:24 am

    LOL at Laura! Well having a bucket can really help get rid of my lazy bones and it works all the time. I travel with my friends and being in the company helps me get motivated all the time 🙂 Thanks Phil and have fun in Africa, Waka Waka!

  • Skott and Shawna March 24, 2011, 12:42 pm

    Hey Phil – sounds like a pretty cool plan….we are actually headed out to start out rtw at the end of June…we will be spending July in Spain walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, but likely by mid-August will be heading down to Morocco. Was interested in what you thought or know of overland travel from Morocco to Ghana. How long should we give ourselves, in your opinion? Tentatively we have planned that we would fly from Ghana to Madagascar (I think THAT overland route would be pretty dangerous, no?) in November. We really want to head to Madagascar and believe that if we are not there by December at the latest, then Jan-March will be pretty wet and shitty. But that gives us two to two-and-a-half months to get to Ghana….we don’t want to be rushing it terribly but….

    Anyways, interested in your thoughts and feedback, and with a little luck we might even meet up along the way…



    • phil March 24, 2011, 6:28 pm

      Hey guys,
      Very excited about your trip! It’s definitely doable. Easiest route would be Morocco>Mauritania>Mali>Burkina>Ghana. Reason I suggest that route is because cote d’ivoire is a big question mark. I would expect a day of travel time for morocco to noakchott. Noakchott to Bamako another day+ of travel. Bamako to Accra would be 2.5 days. That’s just for the raw travel times. Obviously you guys want to take your time and two and a half months is a good amount. You could also go to mauritania and then senegal before going on to Mali. Ghana to Madagascar overland would be dangerous in terms of road safety. It would be costly and it would take a long time. I’m wondering about flights from Ghana to Madagascar, though. Are they routed through Europe? In any case, you are picking the right time to go to west africa. I love the rainy season and the months afterwards are not as hot as spring. Email me if you guys have specific questions: phil dot paoletta at gmail
      take care,

  • Andi of My Beautiful Adventures March 24, 2011, 2:48 pm

    I wish I could join you on this future journey, it sounds ridiculously amazing!!! Dream big my friend!

    • phil March 24, 2011, 6:35 pm

      Andi, when you making it happen?? I know you love the sounds from Mali!

  • Tami March 24, 2011, 11:28 pm

    I hope you find your three Malians to play Settlers but I hope one gives his/her spot to me (at least temporarily) when I get up that way. I’d love to play a round (or two…)!

    Also: bucket/schmucket, if a man simply eats 1,000 mangoes in his life, he can be considered a great success! In other words, I think I have added that to my list of life’s goals – a list that heretofore was nothing more than a blank sheet of undefined longings, but now glows with renewed purpose: the road to 1,000 mangoes.

    • phil March 25, 2011, 3:02 pm

      Tami, you play Settlers?!?! Did I already know this? Of course we will play! I love that you are joining me on the 1,000 mangoes quest, but I’m worried you are going to get to Mali too late. Mango season may be over 🙁 Maybe in Kenya?

      • Tami April 13, 2011, 1:17 pm

        I have hesitated responding to this, because I don’t want you to feel like I blame you personally for snatching from me the first life’s goal I’ve ever formulated – the quest for 1,000 mangoes – but the truth is (and in spite of the fact that Kenya is indeed renowned for mangoes), that having you bring up the fact that I will most likely have missed the season in Kenya by the time I arrive, and surely will miss the one in Mali, well, thanks to that news I’ve hardly been able to get out of bed ever since. So depressing.

        • phil April 13, 2011, 2:29 pm

          Haha well if it makes you feel any better I’m now going to miss most of the mango season in Mali myself 🙁

  • Christy @ Technosyncratic March 25, 2011, 7:37 pm

    Ha, I love the first goal! Always a good idea to keep that one in the forefront of your mind. 😛

    And I never realized that the plural of mango is mangoEs instead of mangos. I’m learning all kinds of new stuff here! 🙂

    • phil March 25, 2011, 11:03 pm

      Hey Christy, thanks for the comment 🙂 Yeah, I don’t know what spelling rule that is, but the mango thing is bizarre.

  • Theodora March 27, 2011, 10:55 pm

    Phil, if you do not make Timbuktu, you will be kicking yourself for decades. I went to Mali, missed Timbuktu, still cross when I think about it. My parents went to Afghanistan, thought about Samarkand, thought they’d get there eventually, and 40 years later still haven’t. So with you on the bucket list thing, but really, push Timbuktu. Lasts longer than music festivals, that kind of thing…

    • phil March 27, 2011, 11:04 pm

      Hey Theodora, thanks for the comment. I went to Timbuktu on my last trip and it is a special place indeed. I was just using that as an example. That’s awesome you went to Mali. When were you there?

      • Theodora March 27, 2011, 11:31 pm

        I feel so old answering this. 1997, I think. Plan was to go Morocco to Cote d’Ivoire through Mauritania. We got as far as Mali, then I got sick in Dogon country and journey ended. But I loved Mali. Would love to go back, and intend to do so, but the only Africa stuff I’ve done since having my son is Kenya.

        • phil March 28, 2011, 1:48 pm

          Well, you made it 3/4 of the way to Cote d’Ivoire. Awesome trip. Sorry to hear you got sick in Dogon Country. I was actually getting over amoebic dysentery when I was there so kind of the same for me. Sounds like Mali needs to be in your travel plans sometime soon! 🙂

          • Theodora March 29, 2011, 5:47 am

            Yeah, I had that. And some other stuff as well… Maybe 2012?

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