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Published: January 4th 2005
After the hassle of Bamoko we headed east to Severe, Mopti and Dogon Country. We'd both decided to do our own thing for a couple of days - Neil wanted to go off-roading with the Landrover in swampland, maybe even get to Timbuktu & I wanted to spend some days trekking in Dogon Country. So, with Mac's Refuge at Severe as our base we set off on our trips. That was after I'd spent a whole hour changing travellers cheques at a bank - I'm still at a loss as to how it took that long but that long it did indeed take!
My first adventure was taking the bush taxi to Bandiagra - one of the gateway towns for the Dogon Country - I basically had to buy my ticket and wait for....2 and 1/2 hours until they had enough people to make up the numbers. Then, it was every man, woman, child & goat for himself as they crammed us in somehow - there must have been about 20 of us in a tiny pick-up no bigger than an old Morris Miner! As we set off I struck up a conversation with 2 french guys, but the wind
soon prevented any further chat as we held onto our hats & quite literally kept our heads down. An hour later we arrived in Bandiagra, where I made my way to Auberge Kayoune & found myself a guide. I'd hoped to maybe join some other travellers on a trek, but my timing was lousy, so it was just me & my french speaking guide, Amadou. We set off bright & early on Sunday morning (19 Dec) by Mercedes taxi to Dourou, high on the rock escarpment. Having marvelled for much of the trip at how on earth the Mercedes taxi drivers negotiated the potholed roads throughout Africa, it was great to finally witness it first hand - and marvel I did - some of the most skilful driving I have ever witnessed, made all the more impressive by the incredibly low suspension on the car, not to mention its age (it must have been over 25 years old!). The heat was getting unbearable so we stopped for lunch & a siesta before exploring the first village (I was to get used to this over the next few days). The Dogon people are noted for their unique houses and granaries built
of mud & rock - some clinging to the bare rock face of the escarpment, and over the next few days Amadou gave me a real insight into their complex and elaborate culture and art forms. We trekked through 4 or 5 villages, each one unique in its own way, including Amadou's own village, Tirelli, where I stayed the night in his own little house. Most impressive was just how self sufficient they are - they have everything they need to survive in their villages - animals such as chickens, goats, cows, even pigs (all the healthiest I'd seen in Africa to date) - water, which is pumped from underground & was crystal clear & cool - crops in abundance - okra, banana's, mango's, onions, tomatoes, millet, sago, the list is endless. After Tirelli which is a village at the bottom of the escarpment we trekked further up the valley to Ireli and stayed at a new Auberge - where yes, you guessed it - I was the only tourist. With my 'petit francais' and Amadou's broken english communication was a challenge to say the least but in hindsight maybe a richer experience for that very reason. It took some
time to understand each other but at least we had the time & it's amazing how well you can communicate with sign & body language (and a 20 year old mannered french phrasebook!). On the final day we climbed back up the side of the rock escarpment to the village of Sanga where it was market day and surrounding villagers all make their way - some for as many as 12 or 15 kilometres - up the side of the cliff face, using steps fashioned out of the rock face, and all carrying their wares on their heads. We met little girls aged only 7 or 8 with 3 or 4 huge boxes of pasta balanced on their heads and mothers with babies strapped round their waists carrying 6 foot lengths of steel on their heads - I felt completely humbled in their presence (my guide insisted on carrying my rucksack for me!). Sanga market when we eventually reached it (we'd walked some 8 - 10 km ourselves) was a riot of colour and a hive of activity and one of the highlights of my trek.
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