Day 81: Back to school
We cross this brand new sparkling bridge into Mali where we went to the police office to get passports stamped. The bridge and road were recently finished and so the police hadn’t settle in yet. We are registered in the big book (no computer system in Africa) but they don’t have the entry stamp yet! They direct us to the village of Kenieba a further 30 km’s. When we drive through Kenieba there is no police post. We guess the police must be somewhere inside the village, probably along the former main road through town. We ask multiple people and everyone tells us to drive straight on to the end of the street. After driving two times along the ‘main street’ (potholes, chickens, running children) a girl finally takes pity on us and climbs in the car to show us the way. Two stamps later we are back on the perfect tarmac to find a place to sleep. In Africa it goes from daylight to darkness in about 45 minutes so we had very little time. After some desperate attempts to get off the road and almost running the car in a ditch we just stop at in a random village and ask a guy sitting in front of his hut if there is a place in the village where we can sleep. He instantly gets in hyperactive mode and gets the village chief and the director of the school to open up the school gates for us to stay there. Their French is as bad as Tomas’ so they don’t understand we only need a secure parking place and not a roof over our heads. Finally when we pack out our tent they seem to understand but they still insist to open up one of the class rooms for us in case we get cold. The next day the whole village comes to say hello, which makes us feel a bit odd. We bought some school supplies in Europe to give away and that this is probably the best thank you present we can give to them. We take some photos with half of the village and we wave goodbye to the kids coming through the gates to start their lessons as we drive off.
Day 82-84 Bamako and around:
The road stays perfect all the way until Bamako and before we know it we are back in the chaos of an African capital. So nice we have OSM (open street map) on our GPS now, thanks Wendy and John; it makes our life much easier and we don’t have a single fight anymore about wrong navigation! We navigate smoothly through the narrow streets to search for the Burkina Faso embassy. We were not smart enough to put in the GPS coordinates and we therefore driving around in circles through the embassy district. Finding embassies is almost a mission impossible even if you have an exact address so sometimes you have to be creative and so we decided just to look for the Burkinese flag. The woman in charge of the visa section was the first rude and unfriendly person we met in Africa. She just pointed at a sign and said “tomorrow”. We were in no stress and drove the other side of the river to Le Cactus, a camping/auberge run by Canadian Joan and Gilbert. They were 70+ and in Africa for over 30 years. Amazing that you can run a guesthouse without electricity and running water at that age, respect! Joan was full of local stories and the biggest gossip, talking about other guests behind their backs (they were indeed a bit nutty). The next morning we go back to the friendly lady at the embassy who is now willing to accept our passports. We can pick them up at the end of the day so we go into town to do some souvenir shopping and visit the national museum. There is a artisanal market but the traffic is hectic and no place to park. As Tomas hates souvenir shopping anyway he decides to stay with the car while I get 30 minutes to do my thing. I get some key chains and look for a tablecloth to cover up our ugly camping table but the guy is trying to totally rip me off. It is starting to get a bit ugly and I’m alone so I leave to find Tomas. As I get to the car Tomas is having a problem with the alarm. As soon as he tries to start the engine the alarm goes off. We are in the middle of a busy crossing and the police are hovering around us and tell us the leave. Now also the aggressive guy from the tablecloth shop shows up telling me I have to pay him. Luckily Tomas manage to switch of the alarm (he was pushing the wrong button all the time..) and we speed away from the madness. The National Museum is an oasis of tranquility; very European with a nice park were we sit in the shade, have lunch and finally relax. They have a nice temporarily photo exhibition and we spend the whole afternoon there just hanging around. When we are about to leave the carpark we meet 4 Dutch people. They have just been to the north of Mali and assure us the Dogon region is absolutely safe. We get the number of their guide, as it might come in handy. I want to pass by the Dutch embassy to try and see if we can get an invitation for the Sinterklaas party (a Dutch holiday, something like Christmas). We tell the guard that we want some more information about the situation in north Mali and if it is safe to go there. We are let in but the Dutch embassy employee doesn’t even want to come away from her (probably bulletproof) glass, not the welcome we would have expected. We get the protocol embassy warnings that the whole Mali is very unsafe and to not go any further north then Segou. Guess we can’t really blame them after a Dutch guy got kidnapped 1 week ago.. We pick up the visas and go outside of Bamako to a nice lodge for Tomas’ birthday. Again we are the only ones there with 10 staff people, feeling like royals. The surroundings are very beautiful and we don’t do much more then reading at the pool and going for a refreshing dip once and a while. Tomas gets to beat me in table tennis and badminton (his birthday present) and that evening we are invited to go into the wine cellar to choose a bottle of wine to accompany our steak and frite dinner; a perfect two days!
Day 85,86: North Mali
After lazing around in Bamako, we spend a whole day in the car to make it all the way up to Djenne. AQIM (the African branch of Alqaida) is not known to operate in that region so we decide to go there and feel the vibe. If it doesn’t feel safe we go to Burkina, if it does we head on to the Dogon country and thereby ignoring the embassy’s advice. The road is in usual African condition, dodging potholes here and there and almost running over goats and donkeys. There is an occasional police check point, asking who we are and where we were going, but still allowing us to carry on. At dusk we arrive at the end of the Djenne road. Apparently the town is situated on an island and we have to take a ferry over. Instantly there are people crowding us trying to sell their jewelry, key chains, wooden statures etc. They probably don’t get many tourists here after the recent kidnappings and it is sad to see how desperate they are. In Djenne we stay at Chez Baba where we are allowed to camp next to the well, again we are the only guests. We are having some beers after dinner when suddenly another guest arrives; a guy 30+ in linen trousers and shirt with a suitcase on wheels. Not a typical African traveller, we think. After putting away his things he comes down for a chat and of course he is Dutch! Dennis has travelled even more then us and has even better stories, a very good drinking companion! It even turns out that Tomas plays rugby with his cousin; it’s a small world! We wake up early to see the mud and stick mosque, the main site of Djenne, at dusk. When we crawl out of our tent there are already 2 guys waiting for us, competing to be our guide. We just want to shoot some pictures and buy bread for breakfast, LEAVE US ALONE! Of course they don’t listen and follow us around the main square and even when we go back to make breakfast and pack everything up they hang around watching us and arguing who gets the guide us, aarggggg. At least one gives up and the other one is not so bad so we let him takes us to a rooftop to get some good shots of the mosque. The mosque is made of mud and sticks and is the biggest structure of its kind in the world. Because it is made of mud it has to be renovated every year after the rainy season. It is indeed a very different and beautiful type of architecture and we take some time to look from every angle. In the meantime people from all over the region are building up thuer stalls for the weekly the market that fills up the main square in front of the mosque. It is a very colourfull mix of merchandise and people (some coming all the way from Ghana and Burkina) and we buy some eggs, a watermelon and Kola nuts for the Dogon people. Dennis had just came from there and assured us it is safer than safe so we decided to go there today. We already have the number of the guide we met at the national museum in Bamako, so for once we are organized and we agree to meet one of his guide friends in one of the hotels in Bandiagara. First we have to arrange some money in Mopti. The people there are just as desperate for tourists as in Djenne. We try to ignore them and head for the bank but just follow us around on scooters with all their bronze statues and god knows what more. As usually, the banks only accept Visa cards and as none of the Dutch bank supplies Visa cards we had to get one in Sweden. The problem is that we have to transfer money to that account and that it 5 days for it to get there.. so no money. We are a bit pushed on time and so we head for one of the big hotels to exchange Euro’s. We shake off the souvenir sellers and meet Ibrahim to arrange the tour. The bargaining game starts: He wants us to pay 25.000 CFA per person per day ( in total about 100 euro’s). We know that we have the advantage of a buyer’s market with the little amount of tourists coming this way and tell him that 50.000 is our highest price. He cannot do anything else but accept and we leave straight away. The Dogon region is a special area in Mali because of the remoteness, the culture and the specific architecture. The people built their houses on a steep vertical cliff that protected them from attacks in the old days. Now that the danger of war has gone, they have replaced their villages at the bottom of the valley but you can still see the remnants of the old Unesco protected cliff mud houses. We first stop at Teli, the most beautifull village, to climb up the escarpment to see the old settlements. It is remarkable how people could live here before and carry up all provisions every day. We spend the night at one of the village campements and try to do the traditional sleeping on the roof. The next morning we wake up at 5 AM to climb the 700 meters to the top of the escarpment. The walk is very scenic and our guide has loads of information about the Dogon culture. The view from the top is outstanding and Ibrahim tells us some freaky stories about human sacrificing that some villages still perform. Too bad we don’t have more time in the Dogon, you could easily spend weeks here! At lunch we treat the whole family to a big watermelon and say goodbye to the best guide we had so far. We continue our way south to the border of Burkina Fasso
Note: If you want to go and visit the Dogon country, which we can highly recommend as it is one of the best places we have been, and you’re looking for a good guide (English and French speaking) try to give Baru (+22366842469) or Ibrahim (+22376352030) a call, they are the best!!
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Day 81: Back to school