Dec 5, 2008

In the morning we drove back through Kayes and retraced our steps to Diema. We stopped for fuel and watched with interest as the attendant used a hand crank to pump the fuel into the vehicle. We then drove just a bit further where we found a great, quiet campsite just as we realized that we were completely exhausted from the long day’s drive.

Dec 6 – 8, 2008

Today our drive took us past village after village of Fula herders. These were mostly small adobe walled compounds surrounded by brush enclosures for their cattle, goats and sheep. In one of the villages we stopped at a busy market that was packed with people stocking up on all the necessities for the Feast of Tabaski – especially the goat or sheep. We saw cars, trucks, taxis and even motorcycles packed with animals that were being taken home for the feast. One moto was carrying two people and two sheep! The animals were tied to the roof racks, stuffed in the passenger compartments or just held in the purchaser’s arms. The idea was to get the animal home alive.

As we arrived at the market, traffic was stopped in both directions, people were walking everywhere, animals were wandering all over and in general, it was sheer bedlam. Of course we had to stop immediately and join in. We bought lots of veggies to replenish our supplies and took a ton of photos.

As we inched our way through yet another crowded market, a truck driver heading the other way misjudged the distance between our vehicles and smacked his mirror into our driver-side mirror – amazingly it just kind of bounced off the impact and didn’t break. The driver just waved and drove off. In the meantime, Kim had to dodge the multitudes of moto-drivers who were even more reckless, passing us on the right, between us and oncoming traffic, failing to stop for traffic signs, etc.

Our destination for today was a small campground/restaurant that we had been referred to that was well outside of Mali’s capital city, Bamako, where we could rest up over this long weekend. Arriving at the camp, Le Cactus, we were welcomed by the ex-pat Canadians who are the owners. It’ll be a nice and welcome break to be off the roads for a few days.

In the morning we walked down to the shore of the Niger River and watched the many pirogues that were being emptied of their cargo of sand. The sand would be sifted, shoveled into mounds and then would be shoveled – by hand – into dump trucks and hauled away. There were villages of workers built along the shore, the men would shovel, the women would cook and clean – all in the same small area. One surprise was the number of American flags adorning the boats. An unanswered surprise.

Dec 9, 2008

This morning we traveled back into the city of Bamako to try and get our visas to visit Ghana. When we arrived, the receptionist told us that the visas took 48 hours to be issued. Oh no, we had already spent three nights in town and didn’t care to spend two more. We turned around and left hoping to have better luck at the consulate in our next country.

Then we thought, maybe we can pay something extra for expedited service. We returned to the embassy and found out that yes, for just an extra 10,000CFA (about $20us) we could get our visas in about two hours! OK, so we rushed to complete our applications, in quadruplicate, and then wait. Actually we took care of Internet issues and had lunch. About three hours later we received our visas – and we weren’t even charged the extra "fee".

On our way out of town, we stopped at a supermarket frequented by expats and foreign nationals. These markets tend to have items that foreign travelers like, and are willing to pay a bit more for. Unfortunately the store was closed for their three-hour lunch, so we waited around just for the opportunity to stock up. And yes we did manage to get a few things later when they reopened.

We finally left the city at nearly 4pm and were able to get about 50 miles away, where once again, we found a nice bush camp. It is surprising that we are able to find quiet wild areas to camp where the locals pass by and say hi, but no one troubles us in any way.

Dec 10, 2008

Today was a driving day. We stopped briefly in Segou, where we checked out a women's co-op making mud-dyed designs on hand woven fabrics.


We then walked around town, thinking we would find a city camp spot.  We headed to the shore of the Niger River where the river boats and ferries were interesting to look at but the area looked to be too busy to camp in. So we left town to find a suitable bush camp and ended up driving another 30 miles. We did find a nice bush camp near the Sansanding intersection.

Dec 11, 2008

Today we had a great drive through the Niger Delta area. Based on information in our guidebook, we expected the paved road to end at Sansanding, but it was paved all the way to Messina. We saw lots of great birds, right from the road as the road is more like a causeway, raised just above the water. We also saw lots of Bozo (yes that is their tribal name) fishermen with their fish traps and fishing lines.  The roads are full of scooters and small motorcycles, which seem to stop for fuel at small shops rather than at fuel stations.  These shops use old fashioned pumps to measure the fuel into small containers that are then used to fill the moto tanks.


When we arrived in Messina, we took the scenic route around town looking for the ferry that would take us across the Niger River, driving through streets that were little more than alleys. We finally found the ferry and asked what the fare would be. Understanding that the fare would be 2,000 CFAs ($4.00us) we pulled the truck onto the ferry. Half way across we were handed a receipt for 10,000 CFAs ($20.00us). With a sigh, Don attempted to negotiate and insisted on seeing proof that other people had paid the 10,000. Finally the ticket man provided an old ticket book with receipts showing fares of 5,000 for cars and 10,000 for trucks. We paid (what else were we going to do) vowing to never accept their word for prices and to always pay before service is rendered in the future, and to get a receipt as proof.

We pulled off the ferry on the opposite shore and headed off on the back road to Djenne, a major tourist destination with its huge mud-construction mosque.

The dirt road was in excellent shape and we were able to drive along averaging 25mi/hour. The road periodically went right through the middle of villages and we enjoyed the reception we received from the villagers. Everyone was extremely friendly, waving and smiling and yelling hello.  One of the villages had a very nice mud mosque and we stopped and requested permission to walk around the village. Permission was granted and we were soon surrounded by children. The kids loved having pictures taken of them and viewing the shot on the LED monitor on the camera.

We stopped at a second village and were surprised when the gentleman that granted us permission to walk around spoke English!

At the end of the day, once again we found a quiet spot down a track into a millet field and enjoyed a beautiful African sunset/moonrise.

Dec 12, 2008

The next morning, we made our way through the skinny roads of Djenne and parked in the main square. We were immediately accosted by all kinds of touts who wanted to guard the car, guide us around the city, show us a restaurant, a hotel, a campground… We resisted them all and headed off on our own to find a place to park the car for the day and night. Not finding anything that the vehicle would fit into, we decided to have lunch. We went to the guide book-recommended restaurant and ordered their specialty. About a ½ hour later, another couple came in and ordered the same thing. About a ½ hour after that, we all received our food together. Just another typical African day.

We then wandered around Djenne, admiring their magnificent mosque, but missing the friendly and intimate interaction we had had in the small villages. We went back to the car and moved out of town onto the banks of the Bani River where we watched the boats and the fisherman and once again spent a quiet night.

Dec 13, 2008

In the morning we made our way back again through the skinny streets of Djenne and were able to park directly in front of their famous mud mosque. The mosque and town are both on the UNESCO World Heritage list due to their unique nature. After taking a few photos we made our way to the opposite side of town where there was another ferry. This time the fare was only 5,000 CFAs and there was no "misunderstanding".

While we were waiting for the ferry, we had some villagers come up and ask us if we could change money for them. Many of them had been paid by foreigners in foreign currency and now had money that was worthless to them as there is no foreign exchange bank in Djenne. We agreed to change the dollars of the first person who asked and then were deluged with requests. We finally had to draw a line when one woman wanted to change a 50 euro note (who gave her that?) When all was said and done, we finally had changed almost $100us worth of notes to CFAs. Hopefully we’ll still have enough CFAs for ourselves!

Passing through the town of Sevare, we headed off to the town of Mopti, once again on the Niger River where we hoped to get a nice fish lunch. This is one of the main river ports on the Niger with people, salt and goods travelling up and down river, some boats going the rest of the way to Timbuktu.  Once again we went to the number one recommended restaurant where it took two hours to receive our fish. Apparently the waitress didn’t understand our order so she just decided to forget about it. I don’t think we’ll eat out anymore.

After wandering around the market and watching the boats, we attempted to negotiate a price to spend the night in the parking lot of a hotel. Eventually a price was agreed on and we spent several minutes negotiating the truck around to where they wanted us to park. Following our new rules about paying right away, Don went to the office where he was promptly told that the price was now double what was agreed on. See a pattern here? We just as promptly left and continued back down the road to Sevare where we had passed a sign for a hotel with WIFI. We were warmly welcomed by the two owners who let us park in their parking lot across the street for the price we originally negotiated in Mopti. Their WIFI worked great and we enjoyed catching up on the news and our mail.

Dec 14, 2008

In the morning we availed ourselves of their breakfast and took our time getting on the road. After filling up with water, we headed into town and bought a few things at the supermarket. We also wanted to find some fresh vegetables but decided to wait until we passed a market on the road. We were heading off into the Dogon country and we didn’t know what kind of resources we would find.

We finally got on the road and started up the Dogon escarpment just before lunch. Reaching the top we entered an area of beautiful rock formations. We pulled off for lunch and marveled at the view and the beautiful scenery. We thought we might just spend the afternoon there, but two herders decided to take up residence outside our door, so we decided to continue on.

We continued to the town of Songho where according to our guidebook, we could hire a guide to show us around. We turned off the road toward the town which is nestled in a valley between three rock outcroppings, and a few minutes later were passed by two men on a motorcycle. They then pulled over and flagged us down. One of the men was the director of the school and spoke a little English. He asked us if we wanted to visit the town and when we said we did, he said he would find us an English-speaking guide. We parked the vehicle near the school and waited for the guide. It only took a few minutes and we were on our way. We paid a "tax" to the town and spent the next 2 hours walking through the village.

Our main reason for coming to this village is that it is possible to view their circumcision site and be told about the ceremony. And we weren’t disappointed. After visiting the village, we were led up into one of the outcroppings and coming around a corner were confronted by hundreds of pictographs drawn over the years by the boys who were being circumcised. Our guide then gave us a detailed description of what takes place and how long the boys are sequestered before running a race to determine who receives a bag of millet and a new bride. All very interesting.

As it turned out, the day was just about over, we were tired from hiking in 100+ degree heat and we were only about 5 miles from our great lunch spot. So we retraced our steps where we spent a quiet night among the rocks looking out from the escarpment.

Dec 15, 2008

The next morning we travelled on to Bandiagara where the market was going on and we were able to stock up with everything we needed. As we drove into town, we could see young men jump on their motor scooters and begin following us. In other places this would be scary, but here we figured that they were either tourist guides or touts for guides as Bandiagara is the jumping off place for tours and multi-day hikes through the Dogon Country. One of the guides helped us find a parking space which was a bit more difficult than usual as we arrived in town on market day. For the first time, we allowed a guide to help us as we wandered around town, and it actually was an interesting and easier process (especially for figuring out the money), we even managed to find the "meat" section and score some nice lamb.  Our guide, Mamadou, spoke English and was very knowledgeable. We considered using him as a guide in the Dogon, but changed our mind when his price for a two-day trip was going to be about $140.00us. We went back to our original plan, which was to just try and do it ourselves. We did use some of the information that he gave us and decided to head out toward Begnimato which was also described in our guidebook as being a village where three different religions live in harmony.

We found our way out of town and onto the rough, rocky road that would eventually end at the edge of the escarpment. Near the end of the road, we reached an intersection and weren’t sure which direction to go. Out of nowhere, six little girls appeared and pointed us down the correct road. The term road is actually more of a misnomer here, we had long ago left the "road" (read: main path) and were making our way following barely discernable tracks. Because we were driving so slowly over the rocks and uneven ground, the girls were able to keep up with us. We finally reached a spot where we no longer wanted to drive the vehicle, so we parked and allowed the girls to lead us down over the edge of the escarpment toward Begnimato. As we walked, we found that the "road" only continued for about another 100 yards.

After a hike of about ½ hour following goat paths down off of the escarpment, we reached the village. We headed toward the town sign and were immediately greeted by an English-speaking villager! We couldn’t believe it. He asked us if we had a guide with us and when we said no, said he would get one for us.

A few minutes later, Justin introduced himself and we began our tour. First we visited the Christian sector of the village and were shown the church and the hunter’s house. The hunter’s house was covered on the outside with monkey skulls and pelts from the animals he had killed. The hunter provides for the entire village and it is a hereditary position. The other buildings in the yard had very interestingly carved window shutters.

We were then led over the rocks and shown where the artisans carve their masks and the stilts for an elaborate celebration that is held at the end of the harvest. We then visited the animist sector of the village where the town pig was proudly housed (Muslims don’t eat pork, but apparently it’s OK for the animists). Then it was off to see the incredible view at the edge of the escarpment. Eventually we headed off toward the Muslim sector where we were shown the mosque and where the village elders were sitting in front of the tongu-na where they discuss village issues.

By this time the sun was setting and we still had to get back up the escarpment to where we had parked the car. The time had flown by and we hadn’t brought any flashlights. We hurriedly paid the 1000CFA "tax" each for the tour and an extra 1000CFA for Justin (a total of about $6.00us) and made our way back to the car just as it got dark. An interesting side note, when we asked Justin if we could give him the money to pay the chief for the tax, he said it was OK as he was the son of the chief. Not only that, he is next in line to be chief of the village! Cool no?

Dec 16, 2008

The next morning we took our time getting moving and then made the rough drive back in to Bandiagara. We followed our guidebook’s instructions on the best way to make our way toward the border with Burkina Faso which was supposedly a paved road. Hah! It was a horribly washboarded (corrugated) road with lots of holes and dips and covered with some sort of really dusty red material. We drove until about 5:00 and found a great bush camp with a view of the escarpment.



Dec 17, 2008

Today was more of the same type of road, with the added stress of it being a border-crossing day. The stress came from not knowing if we would in fact be able to get a Burkina Faso 7-day transit visa at this particular border. Our guidebook talks about it and we had heard that other travelers had been able to secure one, but never specifically at this border. And if we would have to turn around and go back out on this lousy road we would be most unhappy.

We arrived at the customs office in Koro and got the car signed out of Mali in less than five minutes. We then drove another 10 miles to the actual border where a policeman tried to tell us as we were leaving Mali that our vehicle insurance wasn’t valid. Don told him the insurance was just fine, in fact, it lists Mali right on the document. We figure this was just an extortion attempt. It failed. We then got our passports signed by an English speaking gentleman who also informed us that we could get a Mali visa at the border when we return. Hmmm, good news for Mali and maybe for his counterpart down the road in Burkina?

Another thirty miles, past the actual border which isn’t marked, and we finally came to the customs and police stop for Burkina Faso. After flipping through the pages of our passports and asking us if we had a visa, we were informed that yes, we could get a transit visa and get it extended in Ouagadogou if necessary. Yeah, we won’t have to do that terrible road again!

We continued on and finally the road reached pavement in the town of Ouahigouya. We continued on for a little ways further and found a nice bush camp for the night next to a waterhole than provided lots of birds for us to watch.

Dec 18 – 19, 2008

The next morning we arrived in the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougo, where we found a real western style supermarket. Feeling like kids in a candy store, we stocked up on things like cheese and pickles, while of course picking up the basics as well. After grocery shopping we went in search of a bank and found an upscale hotel with free wifi. Great, in a couple of hours, we were able to get everything done that we needed to do. We then followed directions across town to the OK Inn, strangely located behind a truck park, but having a large parking area with free camping for overland vehicles. Turned out we had use of their pool, more free wifi, and a source of water to refill our tank. Nice to have a day off, so we did some laundry, a few minor repairs, and had a swim in the hotel pool. Nice when the day’s temperature exceeded 100 degrees!

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