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Published: June 23rd 2017
Geo: 14.1446, -3.58635
After the initial disappointment of not going to Timbuktu as expected, we resolved to try and enjoy the schedule change and hope for the best with respect to the new promises of the river trip to Timbuktu. We were hanging out in the bar/restaurant of the Pas de Problem Hotel enjoying a pretty reasonable facsimile of a cheese omelette and fried potatoes (is it possible that we're sick of Couscous already?) and the guide showed up to introduce us to our travel companions for the Dogon trek- a couple of Swiss guys (Toby and Roger) and a guy from Holland (Doug). They seemed very comfortable speaking English which was a second or third language for them but the 2 Swiss guys had to be disappointed- they had also had an encounter with the ever-industrious BAM and had been promised two very attractive French girls as travelling companions- I don't think I was quite what they were looking for (although we had our doubts about Toby).
The 8:30am start time for our trek in Dogon Country was once again African time so at 9:30 our guide showed up and announced that they had been unable to find the original driver
(millet beer- they make everything out of millet around here) and , as a result, had to go find another. After a number of stops to pick up various bits and pieces for the Europeans (most urgent of which were cigarettes), we bailed out of the Landcruiser for a walk through Djiguibombo (how can you not love that name- pronounced “jiggy-bomb-bow“😉 which hinted at the animist culture we were about to explore. We then headed to Kani-Kombole to start the actual trek- Tibra was taken out of solitary confinement and strapped around DH;‘s old-age knee. only to find out that our first day trek was a grand total of 3 kilometers along a flat road. Trekking in Mali must be like beauty- it's all in thee eye of the beholder?? Our guide for Dogon Country has only one gear and that sits squarely between reverse and first. He speaks very slowly and with a deliberation that suggests that he is letting us in on some of the most closely guarded secrets of Dogon culture- it was entertaining at first but you find yourself avoiding the asking of any questions because the answer might go on forever as he ‘fills our
ears and eyes' with stories of the Dogon people. That studied pace tends to extend into the trek itself- we are slow to get going, we walk very slowly, and we don‘t go great distances- even DH is questioning whether or not Tibra is really needed. Tibra is offended and decides not to squeak at all on the first day.
That said, the sights and sounds are awe-inspiring. The mud villages we have seen are unchanged from centuries ago. The customs have been closely nurtured and the Dogons display an almost admirable irritation with the various tourists that wander in and out of their lives. The kids are the exception as they are in many countries. A good portion of the commentary I had read before travelling here focused on the Dogon kids constantly asking for presents- that may have been the case at one time, and they certainly do ask even now but it is with a very quiet enthusiasm and it is easily discouraged. Most of the kids are simply adorable- the greetings are loud and genuine, they will follow us throughout the village, and the smaller ones will hold hands with a grip that suggests they'll be going
home with you.
The villages themselves seem to be a somewhat disorganized series of family courtyards. These courtyards contain both the living quarters for humans, chickens, donkeys, pigs, and assorted other livestock, along with a number of granaries. The more granaries the richer and larger the family- each adult male and female (you‘re allowed as many wives as you can support- DH keeps reminding me that I can‘t even support her so I need to contain my ideas) get their very own granary although the men get the larger ones with windows. The female granaries seem more sacred, however, as only that particular women is allowed into it. There are a number of other structures in each village including a meeting area to resolve differences (you can't stand inside so intimidation and arguments are minimized), and a windowless, short, dark structure where women on their menstrual cycle are banished (seems more than a tad unjust in that the women seem to do most of the work) Other than the money they make from the travellers on treks, the Dogon people are subsistence farmers with some livestock and designated fields for millet and rice.
We spent our first night in the village of
Teli (obviously not keen competitors in the Dogon name-that-town contest?) and just before sunset we were able to climb up to former Tellum village that hangs precariously from the rock face half way down the escarpment. No one is quite sure how they accessed these villages but the pictures have to be seen to be believed. We bunked down on the roof of the Campment surrounded by a mosquito net and nothing more- a thin mattress on a hardened mud floor doesn't make for the most comfortable snooze and we're starting to use our Gravels as sleeping pills- probably not a great idea, I have visions of developing a spiralling addiction to hot-knifing Graval.
Day 2 saw things pick up with a 5/6 km hike to Yaba-Talu and Indelu and a further 5/6 km hike to Begnimato. The trail was relatively flat but it was scorching hot- I have never gone through that much water in such a short period of time. Our Dutch friend started dipping his towel in water and draping it over his head in a way that had both DH and I thinking of Marty Feldeman in a movie that neither of us could place but he
The Best toilets & showers in Dogon Country
was a dead ringer- maybe it was the heat but it was very funny at the time. Tibra was squeaking away but the others were convinced that there was a small flock of unseen birds that were chirping up a storm (Doug aka Marty kept wanting to take a picture of the red one he had seen).
We got to use a shower today and although it was more than basic (think oil drum perched on a mud wall with a spout at the bottom), it was desperately needed. The toilet need not be spoken of. We were given the honeymoon suite today- it was still a mosquito net on top of a mud wall, but we had our very own mud wall this time- the Euros were given their own mud wall. With no electricity and a chain smoking crowd of Euros and Dogons, we're packing it in right after dinner to enjoy the spectacular star show.
Day 3 got much tougher- it was a climb up the nearby escarpment to Konsogou which had Tibra squealing. DH, however, turned out to be one of the better climbers although, to be fair, she was up against a trio of chain-smoking Euros (Doug
aka Marty was a heart attack waiting to happen- his wheezing and puffing drowned out Tibra). The escarpment itself had to be the one used in ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy' movie, when the main character threw the coke bottle over the edge of what he thought was the end of the world. What a spectacular view.
The afternoon was a climb back down to see a weekly Dogon market in action- we thought we lost our guide as he drifted off to sample millet beer with some shady looking Dogoners (including an aptly named dude called TooMuch- my spelling). The market itself was a fascinating collision of colour, sounds, and smells, and it was a great way to wrap up our visit to Dogon Country. The timing was good as Toby, in particular, was showing all the signs of the boorish tourist- despite counsel from the guide he was giving out cigarettes, empty water bottles, and candy to any of the locals/children who asked. The sum total of his ‘generosity' was probably all of 5 dollars, but presumably made him feel like a grand lord and master, all the while promoting a begging culture that will do nothing for the
We were passed by women carrying heavy loads on their heads!!
locals and create huge problems for future travellers. I probably should have said something but his parents probably balanced the scale by naming him Toby in the first place.
One last night on a mud wall with a big time wind that kept us up most of the night and we started making our way back to Mopti… and then, Timbuktu?
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