Sun 14 Mar - Tue 16 Mar
At 6:00am, in the early light, we watch the first ferry chug its way towards us. In town, I walk the grid of sandy roads and come across a courtyard of smartly dressed people enjoying a communal breakfast. I am soon invited in and given a baguette and a glass of sweet warm milk; a traditional wedding celebration. I find a nice place to stay on the edge of town; I’m given a single room in a walled compound. I climb under the mosquito net and fall asleep.
Gao is a sprawling but delightful town, like Timbuktu: a port serving ships of the desert and the river Niger. In the middle of the day it’s too hot to wander around, but in the mornings and late afternoons it’s fun to explore.
I discover an open-air cinema (from French colonial times), built like a fort, with the VIP seats on the roof of the projection room. Nowadays it’s home to a local radio station.
I visit the modest but fascinating Musée du Sahel. I make a point of going to find the historic tomb of Askia, which doesn't seem that special to me, and on the way back I come across a “rond-point” with an obelisk marking the Greenwich Meridian. How about that? the same longitude as London and so different. I walk along the river, and watch the pirogues ferry people to and fro, whilst down in the harbour area I watch the loading and unloading of the “cargo” boats for hours.