You’re watching miles of tranquility, as you sit on the roof terrace and drink in the scene. Small wooden boats, known here as pinasse, idle on the river surface as fishermen throw their nets. Larger boats pass through, carrying river sand, people and luggage. They’re motored by outboard engines, but the noise does not take away that feeling of serenity.
The Niger River is Mali’s lifeline, its artery. The Hambe Hotel, sitting on the southern bank a few miles from the center of Ségou, taps into this resource. “I don’t like importing things,” confesses Annicet Kabyrou Dena, who together with his wife, Anne, has run this hotel since 2012. “I find it abnormal that our economy depends on stuff from elsewhere.” The solution? Make as much as you can yourself, and grow your own food.
“Everything on the menu is from here,” Dena asserts. There are vegetable gardens adjacent to the hotel — and next to the river. The dairy, the meat, all local. Fruit juice gets delivered by a small female-run factory in the capital, Bamako. And the building? Made from banco, based on river mud. It ensures the rooms stay cool while it’s hot outside.
The Hambe has Wi-Fi but, like everything in Ségou, it does not move fast. Patience pays.
“It’s the view, it’s the sunset, especially the sunset,” enthuses occasional visitor Bas Springer from the Netherlands. Actually, his reason for coming to Ségou and the Hambe is a very particular one: live music. Every year in February, Ségou hosts the Festival sur le Niger, and this gives Dena the opportunity to splurge on his other passion. “We have a stage, where we organize jam sessions. Not only during the festival, that’s a high point of course, but the whole year.”
Look down from your prime spot on the roof terrace; there it is, under an old tree. It was from there that guitarist Adama Yalomba’s blistering solos found their way into my ears more than four years ago and have stayed ever since. Another regular is Bassékou Kouyaté, born and raised in Ségou, like Dena. He got the world to listen to the great-granddaddy of the banjo, the ngoni.
“[Dena] had asked me to come and take a few shots of the bands playing here,” recalls French freelance photographer Nicolas Réméné, who has made Mali his home. “Then, very slowly, this idea grew to make an exhibition of my work,” he explains. The hotel now has a gallery that features local artists.
Slowness, a key word here. The Hambe has Wi-Fi but, like everything in Ségou, it does not move fast. Patience pays. The same goes for the food: Never be in a hurry. If you get bored with the view (which you won’t), you can always take a taxi into town and watch the river from another angle. But you’ll be back soon enough.
Go There: The Hambe Hotel
- How to get there: Bamako and Ségou are connected by 150 miles of good road. Coaches start leaving at 5 a.m. from any of Bamako’s numerous bus stations, and there are almost no coaches after midday. Ask a taxi to take you to the Hambe in Ségou Coura for about CFA2,000 ($4). Bus fare from Bamako: CFA3,000 ($6).
- Cost: Rooms start at $37 and go up to $70 a night. Breakfast not included.
- Pro tip: When out and about in Ségou, bring identification. The town is safe, but the region of the same name has had security issues. Spot checks may occur. Be polite and friendly.
Explore the world
This year, OZY is going Around the World, bringing you untold stories from every single country on the map, one day at a time, to introduce you to new people, new trends and new places.