So Mali - land of legend, the mythical crumbling city of Timbuctou, the great mosque of Djenne and the famed Dogon escarpment.. Immediately on crossing the border the differnce between Burkina faso and Mali was evident - we crossed from a relatively non touristy part of Africa to what is billed as the most touristy part of northern Africa after Egypt and Maroc.... A definate noticable difference in atmosphere - sadly with tourism you get an increase in hassle - Cadeaux (gift) is a word learnt by all kids probably before they can walk! this is quickly followed by bon-bon, sava, bonjour, hand holding, crying and anything else they can theatrically perform in 5 minutes! Luckily we are well worn to their ways and ignore them..
The arrival of Mali also heralded for the first time on this trip the use of a local guide - invaluable if you want to be able to efficienly travel round hassle free. So enter Grand Pere -GP (no idea of his real name)Cowboy,Playboy,Comedian, Alcoholic, Encyclopedia, and Jim'll fix it! His knowledge was second to none but you had to tie him down to retrieve it. In actual fact he did an amazing job (when sober)and we saw a much better side to Mali than most visitors.
With GP came the rest of Mali - we started by spending our first night on a roof under the stars - unfortunately it was accompanied by a carcophany of the global braying donkey population and 15,000 dogs fighting for the dawn chorus with 25,000 roosters! This was follwed by 3 very leisurly days gently sailing up the River Niger towards Timbuctou in a brightly painted wooden narrow boat, camping under the massive skys of the desert and sitting on deck watching small villages drift past, overladen freight boats and lazy hippos lounging in the water. We had to nearly get out and push a couple of times as the water level is very very low at this time of the year.
A magical way to arrive at a magical place - that mecca for all travellers Timbuctou. A city of dreams and legends and an international Airport, Massive hotel and many many tourists! Timbuctou is actually an amazing place, the asthetics are fairly typical - dusty and dirty, the architecture is nothing special but what makes the place is the energy in everyone there - its not even a fight for survival like many other places we have been to more a joie de vive. Naturally eveyone is fighting to sell you something and show you something but they kind of get away with it, eyes twinkling and lots of smiling!
Next stop Djenne and the worlds largest mud structure the Djenne Mosque. Unesco has declared Djenne a world heritage site and it doesnt disapoint. The whole area is made of mud and the streets are amazing. Narrow alleys and small market stalls. The monday is famous for its market and its a total utter medly of colour, smell and noise! Wonderful!
All these different places were basically putting us into training for the highlight of the trip - the infamous Dogon Escarpment - 3 days 2 nights of walking!
Accompanied by only mad dogs and englishmen oh and GP we set off at 2.30pm in searing 40 deg heat. The Dogon region geographically is stunning - a massive 300m escarpment pushing out of the desert - home in ancient times to the pygmys of west Africa and now home to the Dogon tribes. We treked by day and spent the night under the stars.
Enroute we stopped at villages and ancient burial grounds. We were shown what has to be the best cultural dance I have ever seen by the Dogon warriors clad in massive masksThe heat was relentless but it was an amazing time. The people we met en route were amazing and the hospitality was second to none. Interestingly we survived and apart from the odd blister unscathed (and quite a lot fitter)!
From the Dogon it was back to Tonka and Bamako the Mali capital. We camped by the River Niger in the grounds of a hotel that is famous for its football team - Hotel and team Djuliba. While we were there they managed an infamous away win so everyone was in extremely good spirits! Bamako is nothing remarkable busy noisy and modern with the usual traffic jams and sheep wandering the streets. Most of our time there was spent aquiring Mauritanian visas with a little light relief visiting the local night hot spots!
What is amusing is that after the 40 plus degree heat we are now on the coast of Senegal and its cold! Its 26deg here and I am wearing a jumper! Anyway Mali was amazing and I will leave the border and the journey to Mauritania to the next instalment in a couple of days time x