Top Ten Countries Countdown. Number Eight: Mali

Now, we are up to number 8. Mali is an amazing country located in West Africa. Land-locked, dry, terrorist activity in the north in recent years, it has had its issues that’s for sure. In fact, when I went there back in 2007 it had its issues – my flight was cancelled a few days before because they had decided to close the airport for a week to re-seal the runway! I can assure you that that is the only time I have encountered that particular problem.

The Dogon Country. Hot and wild

The Dogon Country. Hot and wild

I flew into Ouagadougou, the capital of neighbouring Burkina Faso, and made my way to Mali by land. I had a little less than two weeks there, I had left a couple of days later because of the new flights, and lost 2 days crossing to Mali, but I still managed to pack in a lot in those 12-ish days.

After crossing into Mali, I went with three charming people (two I met on the crossing) to Dogon country. We overnighted in the town of Banfora, before begin a trek in one of the most remarkable, remote places on Earth. The Dogon Escarpment is sort of like a big rock, well it’s a big cliff really. It goes on for 150 kilometres, and is up to 500 metres high.

A couple of likely lads from a Dogon village!

A couple of likely lads from a Dogon village!

It’s a popular trekking spot in this part of the world. Trekkers walk in the mornings and late afternoon to avoid the searing heat – I was there in November and it was over 40 each day at the peak. There are villages on the lower plains and on top of the escarpment, the trek goes through quite a few, and you stay at one on the lower plain the first night, atop it the second. We slept on a rooftop looking at the sky. Now THAT was brilliant!  As was seeing village life in the villages. Although there is a dependency on the trekkers and the tourist dollar, they still function a lot as they have done for hundreds of years. The only lighting is from car batteries.

Girls beating millet in a Dogon village

Girls beating millet in a Dogon village

Climbing the escarpment was a challenge, but not as hard as I had expected. On top we visited a village and saw a local school, being mobbed by children. This is only the simplest of possible summaries for this 3-day trek. Three of the best days of my life.

Around Mali there is a lot to see as well. In the region no countries has as many highlights as Mali. Taking a boat on the Bani River at Mopti, a big riverside town, lovely spot, was one highlight, but only Dogon country rivals Djenne.

On a boat at the confluence of the Bani and Niger Rivers at Mopti

On a boat at the confluence of the Bani and Niger Rivers at Mopti

Famous for the biggest mud-brick structure in the world, most of the island town is made from mud. It’s an amazing place to spend a day, with passageways, beautiful houses and more. The mosque there is crowning glory of this town, a UNESCO-protected site, rising up in the middle. Today tourists are not allowed inside, but from outside it is still breath-taking. To get to the town you have to get your taxi onto a boat to get across the river. That’s part of the fun too!

The mosque at Djenne

The mosque at Djenne

Segou is another pleasant river-side town in Mali. I only spent a day there, a very brief day, but life on the Niger River was a buzz, as were the donkeys and it seemed like a very pleasant town. We walked along the river in the afternoon as the sun beat down and saw the life-blood of this whole region of Africa – that’s the Niger river which stretches through many countries.

River bank at Segou

River bank at Segou

The last stop was Bamako, the capital city, a sort of sprawling ‘splat’ on the map in some ways. Capital cities are rarely a highlight in Africa, and Bamako didn’t reverse this trend, however it still was an interesting and lively place. If you want some decent food, or to do proper souvenir shopping or visit the best markets Mali has to offer, you come to Bamako. Or indeed, if you need a flight in or out of the country! It’s worth two days.

Bamako Street

Bamako Street

And so that’s my experience of Mali. Be aware that earlier this year there were major issues in the north and Timbuktu – oh yes, if you’ve ever wondered where Timbuktu was, wonder no longer, it’s in the north of Mali! Well the French Army was fighting there earlier this year, fighting terrorists and extremists who had taken over the place. Mali is a wonderful place, but, good idea to check the safety situation before you go!

A young lad at the Artisan's Market in Bamako

A young lad at the Artisan’s Market in Bamako

So far the top ten has had two countries in Europe, and one in Africa. Next time we journey to another continent. Which one will it be?

10 – Slovakia

9 – Romania

8 – Mali

7 – ????

 

Kindle Writings on Mali:

Dhaka to Dakar  – Chapter Nineteen: Mali

Dhaka to Dakar: Across Africa

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