Beam Me Down

This week's random co-ordinates chosen by the computer are:

11 52' N 7 31' W

FIRST REACTION

It strikes me that desertification and global warming are not myths.

COUNTRY AND REGION

Southern Mali, in west Africa.

NATURE OF THE TERRAIN

Dusty landscapes, tinted with green, interspersed with melancholy cotton fields.

ALTITUDE

Between 500 and 1,000 metres.

NEAREST SETTLEMENT

A tiny settlement called Kolondieba is slightly to the east of where you have landed.

POSSIBLE HAZARDS

Bilharzia, which begins with an itchy rash where parasites have entered the skin. The sometimes fatal disease - other symptoms include abdominal pain, coughing and fever - is caused by tiny flukes which leave their freshwater snail hosts to burrow into human skin and multiply in the bloodstream. Avoid swimming in that seductively muddy irrigation canal.

USEFUL LANGUAGES

Mande or Malinke, which is spoken by the Bamana, the largest linguistic community in Mali - roughly one million in number.

TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER

President Alpha Oumar Konare.

LIKELY WEATHER CONDITIONS

Monumentally hot, between 29C-32C (94F). The rainy season generally lasts from June to September so you may catch the last of the season's welcome downpours.

REASONS FOR HANGING AROUND

The chance to do the last great river journey in West Africa on the River Niger. The river is navigable for 1,300km (800 miles) from Gao in the north to Bamako in the south. You could also visit Timbuktu, the "forbidden city" in the deserty north of the country.

GETTING THE HELL OUT OF THERE

Hitch a ride from Kolondieba (the nearest settlement) to Sikasso, Mali's southernmost town. From there, flag down a passing bus and take the main highway north west to Mali's capital, Bamako. From here it will be a slow trip home as most flights are routed through to Abidjan, in the Ivory Coast; Lagos, Nigeria; or Accra, Ghana.

Compiled by Suzanne Fisher

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