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Monday, 10 May 2010

Mali Part Deux - Bamako, Mopti, Djenne, Savare, Dogon and everything in between

We arrived in Bamako in the middle of the day and Mark (driver) had a friend (ex-African Trails driver) who ran a campsite in the middle of the city with a few other expats. I guess nobody had really thought about it until now, but we must have been missing a lot of the home luxuries as none of us could contain our excitement on learning of the inflatable pool, the bar with (cold) bottles of Castel and Flag, free wi-fi, a great local cook (Mango chicken, Haga Haga and the BeleBele breakfast – not 100% on the spelling - are all worth a shout). If anybody out there is looking for cheap/shoestring budget accommodation in Bamako, Mali, The Sleeping Camel is the place to go.

The Saffers and Yoichi caught up with us here after their sojourn in Senegal and Mindi joined us the next day following her chillout time back up in Kayes. With everybody back together, we all got comfortable at The Sleeping Camel for 5 days: running up a bar tab, sleeping in air-con rooms, eating like kings, chilling in the pool (and entertaining ourselves by creating 6-man whirlpools by running in circles for 5 minutes…Victoria aka Squirt, the 11yr old on the trip was loving floating away on the current we created!)

A couple of the boys had gone out on the pish one night, and the rest of the crew joined them the following night.

The gang before a night on the tiles (some of us chose to dance on them, some of us just dropped bottles of beer on joke)

Boys at the back: Zah "Z Mk 2" Dindar, middle row l to r: Yoichi "The Seven Bellied Samurai", Brad Pitt, Neal "The Nutty Professor" Katz, Ian "Boogie" Boudrault, Leon "Happy Hippo" Liebenberg, Kyle "Homeless" Mijlof
Ladies in the front: Karen Subritzky, Kayelene Mills, Lara "Junior" Maubec, Victoria "Squirt" Subritzky, Sonya Ohlen, Zakiya "Z Mk1" Serguro

We headed to a highly-rated local restaurant where we gobbled down ‘Poisson Bamakoise’ and the like (washed down with Castel, Flag and Cognac shots) and had some fresh mango and bananas (which tasted so sweet they were like blueberries…strangely) for dessert. Afterwards, we headed to a live music venue and laughed at all the expats trying to dance like the locals – particularly ‘Big Trousers Girl’ and ‘Short Woman’. (I secretly envied their ‘get-up-and-give-it-a-go’ attitude…but there is no right in two left feet.) From there we headed to a proper club-cum-disco (got to be careful with those hyphens!) where, let’s be honest got pretty fookayed. (I may or may not have had a ‘tactical chunder’ somewhere along the way.) On the way home, Kyle and I grabbed a super-baguette filled with chicken, chips and token greenery from the local kebab shop equivalent.

On our penultimate day, Mark went out and spent 20,000 CFA on a wee goat which was duly slaughtered (by the professional chef I should add) and roasted over a spit for the day. Every hour or so it was turned and basted in a marinade made of ginger and various other herbs and spices. Come 8pm (-ish) the campsite was silent bar the sound of a dozen people chowing down on goat…and the veggies chowing down on spag bol! (The diet of a vegetarian is proves pretty tricky out here sometimes.)

Berber Dave & Zah enjoy a spit-roast together. What?

Big thanks go out to Don, Bill, Claire and Matt (the guys that own/run the place) for putting up with us for that week and for giving us the slice of the home comforts we all pretended we didn’t need (as any seasoned traveller does).

Onwards from Bamako we went to Mopti, Djenne and Savare (not sure of spelling) – the former being a large city where we spent the day exploring and fending off local touts (I also bought a Mali footy shirt here with Kanute on the back), the second being home of the biggest mud mosque in the world and the last being a small town outside of Mopti.

Heading to the mud mosque at Djenne by boat...

...and by ox-drawn cart (where Sonya got a face full of local B.O.)
PS I did take photos of the mosque, but as they were crap, I've omitted them.

We stayed in Savare at a place called Via Via Inn/Hotel/Camping (or something along those lines) and made the most of their bar and free wi-fi and camped on their roof for a couple of nights. The heat was still an issue and by now most of us had our own ways of dealing with it: wet sheet over the top of you, cold water on the concrete before you pitch your tent, just putting your mozzy net over the tent frame and not bothering with the rest. These all had varying degrees of success measured only by the darkness of the black bags under the eyes the next day!

On our second night at Via Via most of us decided to do without the tents altogether (as some have sworn by the whole way along). As the crowd of about 100 people filtered out from the wedding reception (!) that was taking place downstairs at the hostel, we all settled down in the comfort of the open air. Several hours later and in the midst of a peaceful slumber, Berber’s sleeping equipment came flying towards us at speed (shortly followed by Berber himself) and most of the gang were having similar issues. It turns out a sandstorm had come in out of nowhere and the next day most of us turned up at the breakfast table bleary-eyed and looking like we were covered from head-to-toe in ‘foundation.’ Dust/sand had gotten EVERYWHERE. One unnamed passenger said “at least we’ll have good bogies today!”. Every (dust) cloud has a silver lining I guess…

The morning after Mr Sandman ‘s over-zealous visit, most of us (bar Mark The Driver aka Marjane, Zakiya aka Zed Mk1 and Leon aka Happy Hippo) left for a three day trek of “The Dogon Country”. I’m not entirely convinced that my vocabulary will do this place justice, so I’ll let the photos do most of the talking. If you’ve ever read King Solomon’s Mines, or seen Indy Jones then you’ll get a hint of what this place was like. In fact, toss in The Lost World (book), Jurassic Park and Ace Ventura 2 (I know!) to help get a more complete picture of what we walked through for three days. I’m typing this up now and still can’t believe we’d never heard of this place. Maybe we’re just ignorant, but we’d never seen any Attenborough docs on it, or heard of any films set there. Maybe the terrain is just too difficult for film crews? Dogon Country is like a niche carved out of African history where a little bit of time seems to have fallen into a valley and never really made it back out whilst the rest of the world went about its way.

Day One:
We started with a village walkthrough where all the kids ran out and clung on to us for dear life (one was amazed to have the same first name as me!) – 10 fingers meant 10 kids (not in a Gary Glitter way).
After that we scrambled across rocky terrain and down ancietn paths carved into the rockface  before finishing up in a Dogon village by ‘treating/punishing’ (depending upon your taste) ourselves with ‘Dogon Beer’ (local millet beer served in used diesel bottles) before being given a performance by the entire village (it seemed like it anyway): About hundred villagers turned out to dance, shriek, sing and play the drums all for the enjoyment of a dozen tourists. Pretty humbling. That night we slept on the roof of a village building and woke up under the shadow of one of the steep sides of the valley which was pocked with the ancient caves of the ‘Telem’ people (a pygmy-like tribe that made their homes high in the cliff-face to avoid attacks by animals and other tribes…the Dogon’s eventually smoked them out with killer bees!).


Day Two:
More trekking through awesomeness before arriving at a village where crocodiles were kept in a pit. It turns out that crocs are seen as sacred by the Dogon people as legend has it that they lead the elders to this region in the first place. After taking a few snaps (sorry!) of the crocs, we had some munch before being treated to what was possibly the highlight of the whole trip so far: ‘the masked dance’. The villages in the Dogon region compete regularly to see who can produce the best masks and we were treated to a dance by the crème de la crème. Check the masks in the photos.

Caught this little squirmer playing with my trainer as I watched the dance. He was as fascinated with my trainer as I was the dance!

After the dance we plodded on to the place we were staying for the night (by this point, chafe had set in and Kayelene had already convinced the locals to carry her stuff and give her a lift on their ox and cart). Here we ate our fill before being educated on the ways of the African herbs by one of our fellow travelers and shooting the breeze for a couple of hours before falling asleep with a building roof as our mattress and only the starlit sky as our blanket. Cool. Very cool.

Day Three:
Yet more trekking through awesomeness in the morning until we reached our final Dogon village where we had a bite to eat and bartered with the local villagers over mask prices. After lunch we had to climb a 400m path that meandered back and forth through a rocky escarpment. Our mini-bus back was waiting for us at the top and after a two hour drive (which include limited tarmac, bumps, potholes, loads of dust and a motorcyclist going into the back of us) we were at a campsite in a place called Bandiagara were Mindy, Mark, Leon and Zakiya were already chilling out.

At the campsite none of us could stop yapping about our experience to those that stayed at the truck. We had loads to chat to Mindy about too as she had done a solo mission up to Timbuktu* from Bamako and it had been a while since we saw her. Everybody was in a high spirits – none more so than Yoichi who had found himself half a dozen of his own country folk…all of them in their mid-20’s…and all of them female. P.I.M.P! Needless to say, we all got a bit pished that night and I even cracked open my 50 quid bottle of whiskey (but put it away again swiftly after the first round…Scottish blood, you see).

The next day we left the campsite and headed for the border with Burkina Faso. As everybody got their passports stamped, Kyle (Homeless), Berber and I tried catching chickens with a cardboard box, bread and a stick (I’d already broken my locally bought catapult on the same chicken.)

Next stop, Burkina!!!! (But I’ll let Lara tell you all about that.)

(*Although cool to have said you’ve been there, by all accounts, we’d heard that Timbuktu didn’t have much going for it and was probably not worth the effort. More to the point, travel in that area was ill-advised due to kidnappings and the like…fortunately, Mindy came out unscathed and with glowing reports!)



  1. Totally awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!esp the masks.

  2. Loving the blog guys! Keep it up! Anna Shar, xx

  3. The Dogans actually knew about the Sirius star system before modern day Science, They came immigrated from Egypt.. You are lucky to spend time with htem. All their masks tell stories for thousands of years.. This is awesome :)