: Majestic Landscapes and the Nature of Survival
The Niger River: West African Lifeblood
The Niger River is one of the mightiest in Africa, winding along 2,500 miles (4,000 km.) in a great curve that extends east to west from Guinea though Mali, before turning south in the "Great Bend" (near Gao) and making its way through Niger and Nigeria, to finally empty into the Gulf of Guinea. From September to December a big inland delta emerges in central Mali, flooding large plains covering an area about 185 miles (300 km.) long by 60 miles (100 km.) and forming several lakes Dèbo and Galado are the largest creating the miracle of life in areas otherwise deserted.
The river is of crucial importance to West African people, serving as their major transportation highway and making life easier for the population, most of whom settled along the river banks. The river also yields abundant fish and skilled fishermen are seen, at all times in their canoes, nets in hand and ready to catch for the family needs or to sell it in the markets. The Niger also provides the water essential for farming. For the more romantic traveler, nothing is more idyllic than enjoying from a canoe one of the marvelous sunsets that the Niger witnesses daily. August to May -when the river is not flooded, is the best time to take a river trip in a canoe. Travelers also have the opportunity to take extended trips on larger boats, navigating from city to city, as locals do. The route from Bamako to Gao, via Ségou, Mopti and Timbuktu, takes about a week.
Its Ever-Changing Inland Delta
Despite the flooding, some native communities decided to live in the inland delta year-round and have built their houses on high ground or have elevated the ground above the regular highest river levels. Visitors can see many villages built on high mounds that have accumulated over centuries, growing higher over time. During flood season, the villages look like tiny, beautiful islands.
The Niger River offers a safe, reliable mean of travel and touring. During the high water months, August to November, large river boats cruise the river, crossing over half of Mali in six or seven days. Smaller and slower vessels also offer river passage, including pirogues, Mali's small traditional canoes, and pinnaces, slightly larger and motorized boats. The river is not only for transportation. One of the highlights on a Mali trip is bird watching along the Niger.
The ecological value and preeminence of the Niger is immeasurable and critical to many communities of wild animals, including local species as well as large migratory populations of birds, which can be seen from the river banks as they fly along or across the river.