Always in the deep woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is an ancient fear of the unknown and is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into. What you are doing is exploring. -- Wendell Berry

The TRIP: GUINEA - wonkifong --> MALI - bamako, djenne, douentza, Dogon Country --> Burkina Faso - ouagadougou, bobo-dioulasso, bala, ouagadougou --> GHANA - tamale, mole national park, tamale, yeji, volta lake ferry, akosombo, accra, green turtle lodge, elmina, cape coast, accra, hohoe and wli falls --> TOGO - kpalime, atakpame, lome --> BENIN - cotonu (transport stop) --> NIGER - niamey, tahoua, agadez, camel trek in aiir mtns, niamey --> BENIN (abomey, grand popo, ouidah, ganvie, cotonou) --> CAMEROON (douala, buea, top of Mt Cameroon, limbe, sangelima, yaounde, kribi, douala) --> MAURITANIA (nouakchott, atar, chinguetti, camels into the sahara, terjit, choume, ride the coal train, nouadhibou) --> MOROCCO (western sahara, dakhla, agadir, essaouira, marrakesh, imlil, summit of jebel toubkal, fes, chefchaouen) --> cross the Strait of Gibraltar --> Malaga, Spain --> fly to Geneva, Switzerland --> Les Grangettes, France
Click for a map. Updated April 30, 2007

samedi, mars 03, 2007

Dogon Country, Mali (Feb 24 - March 1)

Before 7:00 in the morning, Patrick and I had packed our bags and left the campement for the market area of Douentza. It was here that we were told transport could be found for Bamba, the northern entry point into Dogon country. The ride from Bamako, Mali to Douentza had been classy compared to Guinea standards and part of me was excited to be piling into the back of a small cab pick-up with eleven other people. Wooden benches to sit on were bolted along the sides of the bed but the bed space was filled with many 25 kg bags of salt. We all squished in and folded our legs on top of the salt bags.
A passenger of note in the back with us was an old, smiley warrior. It was obvious that he was a warrior because of the sword present at his side and the piercing look he gave when staring at me. Fifteen minutes into the slippery sand and bumpy road we hit a bump that sent many of us flying. Patrick banged his head against the top of the roof which set the warrior laughing for a solid five minutes. Then, about halfway through the ride the truck stopped in the middle of absolutely nowhere and the warrior descended to walk alone through the barren, sandy environment.
As we continued to Bamba, the scenery changed to include massive, golden sand dunes forming the sides of what appeared to be an ancient river bed. Soon we reached Bamba, the entry point for Dogon Country.
It was market day in Bamba so there was lots of activity. Vendors, in small wooden stalls or out in the open, sold items ranging from produce to Goodwill clothing to traditional cloth and other items. We were pleasantly surprised to find plenty of mangoes for sale. In general, it is still a bit early for the massive harvests so it was a special treat to get a few.
After enjoying the market, we began our hike. Dogon Country is a strip of land along a massive escarpment running through southern Mali. Dogon villages are located on the sloping, rocky areas underneath the vertical walls of cliffs and sometimes extend into the plains at the base. At some points, Dogon villages are also located above the escarpment on the plateau. More interesting for me was the Tellem villages located high in the cliff walls. (I do have some good photos but unfortunately sent my camera cord back to the States so I can’t retrieve the photos at the moment.)
Back to the first night – we hiked until the sun had passed behind the cliffs. A young boy who had been tagging along for some time asked if we had a place to stay for the night. We did not, and he offered his father’s campement. We negotiated a price and slept on an open-aired rooftop. That night, the temperature must have dropped a bit below 70F and I froze, even though I was wearing pants, a sweater, a jacket, a toboggan, and was wrapped in a sheet and towel. My body has acclimated to the heat and anything under 85 feels cool!
The next morning, we toured the small Dogon village before continuing on. In most villages, there is a meeting hut that is centrally located and built low to the ground. Its lowness is by design so that if in the course of a disagreement one person angrily gets up, he will bump his head on the ceiling, reminding him to stay calm. Another part of the village includes a small open area used for ceremonial dancing. Throughout the remainder are low built houses and granaries with tops that greatly resemble witch’s hats.
This day’s hike was enjoyable as we decided to venture off trail and set across a vast, open expanse of sand sparsely covered with low shrubs towards a massive rock grouping in the plains. Our map indicated that three villages – the Yougas – should be located there. At the far side of the plain, there was no sign of a village but when asked a man guided us around a bend to where the Dogon village nestled against the cliffs could be seen. A Tellem village was located in the cliffs above the Dogon. The connection between the Tellem and Dogon is not completely known, but the Tellem arrived before the Dogon and eventually continued south towards Burkina Faso. When asked how people would reach their homes located in the middle of a massive cliff face, I received many answers beginning with the magical ability of people to make their hands stick to rock to climb up.
As was the case every day we trekked, a man met us on the way up and guided us to his campement for lunch and a rest during the heat of the day. That afternoon, we hiked one of the best trails I have ever been on. We began by climbing up to the plateau-like area on top of the cliffs. From here, incredible views of the endless stretching plain were provided before we dropped down through a crack in the rocks where a stairway had been constructed using stones. We continued through the cracks, passing water retention ponds to hold water during the rainy season. The exit from this “hidden” passageway was in the middle of a Tellem village. By now, the sun was low in the sky and was bathing the red rocks in a golden glow.
The next four days were somewhat similar and interesting. We woke early to hike before the heat was unbearable and rested during midday. At night, we slept on the roof tops of houses and were able to enjoy the stars without any light pollution. My biggest surprise was the variation in scenery from one day to another. From open plains to wooded areas to sand dunes, we crossed a variety of terrain. Each day, the hike would lead up to the top of the cliffs through a hidden and amazing path, cross the barren and windy plateau and then descend through another rock stairway.
Several nights, we were fortunate to arrive in village with a market, since many villages have markets only once every five days. These nights, the villages were animated as people conversed, sold wares and ate food. It was as if people waited on a five day cycle to have a big party.
At the end of the trek, we turned exited via the towns of Bankass and Koro before leaving for Burkina Faso. The trip to Koro was an adventure that included a motorcycle ride with one wipe out (the bike slipped out under me and my driver due to his lack of control on the soft sand), two flat tires and a long ride in the back of a dumptruck.