My wife, Pat and I first met Kunta in August 2007. We had booked on an Intrepid Travel small group tour of Mali – The Road to Timbucktou. When we arrived at the starting hotel Kunta was our group’s guide for the next 14 days.
Over the period of the trip we found Kunta was more than the usual Intrepid leader. He was a genuine local man with an extraordinary knowledge of the people, the geography, the food and the politics of each of the towns we visited. We saw the bustling markets of Bamako,the wonderful mud mosque and Monday market at Djenne, the mud cloth paintings at Segou, the masked Dogon dances including camping overnight in the Dogonvillages, a 3 day panasse ride on the Niger River culminating with an in- depth visit to the fabled town of Timbucktou. This town is Kunta’s birthplace so we saw so much of the town, including places that would be difficult for normal tourists to access. The 700 year old manuscripts were just there in front of us in a small museum.
Everywhere we went the local kids just wanted to hold our hands.
Kunta looked after us like we were all his family. He told us where it was safe to swim, where not to, he would help with the bags and then cook wonderful meals for us when camping on the Niger River banks. Every day we learned more about the various tribes that make up Mali, the Boso’s, the Felanietc
Needless to say, we remained in contact with Kunta. In the meantime he had set up his own travel business and bought two 4wd vehicles.
In 2011, we went back to Mali for a 5 week in depth trip with Kunta. The trip covered Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Benin and Togo. Kunta met us at Bamako airport, took us to our hotel and over the next five weeks looked after us like family including arranging for all the visas on the way.
We travelled in his air-conditioned 4wd over some of the roughest roads I have ever been on. We stayed in good hotels where they were available. One day we had to rough it and food was a bit difficult, when we woke up the next morning Kunta was cooking our breakfast for us. He also often cooked a lunch for us beside the road if there were no restaurants on the way, or when we tired of the local food.
Whatever we wanted, he arranged. In Burkina Faso we asked to hear some local music, so we ended up as the only tourists in a big backyard and then the music and dancing started! I have never seen suchrhythmic movement ever before. The memories are rich and colourful.
There are not a lot of tourists in some of the areas we visited, but that did not prevent Kunta from arranging for us to see the local attractions, for example the fire dancing and then later on, the Voodoo ceremony. There we were in these small villages watching these ancient customs surrounded by lots of villagers and the only tourists were us. We felt so privileged.
Every day Kunta would tell us a long story about the local people, their customs, their religions, their politics and their history, including of course the horrific slave trading that went on in these parts. Most of the slaves that were taken to North America, South America and the Caribbean came from this part of Africa.
Whatever we asked he would have an answer that was sensible and meaningful. We often stopped in a tiny village and next thing we were inside the houses looking at the local people and observing the way they lived. Absolutely incredible!
After the trip ended in Togo, Kunta made sure we were safely on the plane before heading off on his long trip back to his family in Mali.
If you are interested in the towns and villages we visited please have a look at Pat’s blog at mytripjournal.com/westafrica2011. If you want any further information from us we are happy to share with you our experiences with Kunta and of that part of West Africa that we visited. Our emails are email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
We really consider that were so lucky to visit a part of Africa where few travel. Having Kunta as our guide and mentor made such a difference. We recommend him highly as a tour planner and guide if you are interested in West Africa. I know he will plan a trip to suit whatever you want to see.
We will be back, either next year or the year after to see some more of this part of West Africa. Of course we will ask Kunta to arrange the trip and to be our guide. Most people think of Africa as being mainly the game parks in the East. Believe me the colours, the people and the culture of West Africa are special and well worth at least one trip! There are also lots of animals in these regions – we saw elephants, hippos and warthogs etc.
Richard and Pat Powell