Marching into Mali
Today Mali isn’t really the first place you’d go in West Africa. It’s had militant problems and Islamists controlled part of the country for quite a while before French intervention, but I have been on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree forum and I see the odd tourist is still going to Mali. It’s quite sad because it really is the absolutely most interesting country of the West African region in my mind. There’s the Dogon Escarpment and the Mosque at Djenne which are both amazing places, and Segou is a very pleasant city as is Mopti, and if you’re wondering where the hell Timbuctu actually is, well, Mali is the answer.
Back in 2007 I made my way with my friend Paul and a couple of Irish girls we had met in Ouahigouyah into Mali in a bush taxi. It was about the dustiest crossing you could imagine and the passport office was tiny, where we all got our passports stamped and took photos covered in dust. It was really something else!
The ride continued on, and our goal was to get into a Dogon Trek the next day. No rest for the wicked. Because we had come from Burkina Faso and not flown into Mali, we went to Bankass, south of the Dogon Escarpment. On the bush taxi we actually met a guide from the area who spoke English, and we engaged him to take the four of us into the amazing Dogon Escarpment before we’d even arrived in Mali.
There was surprisingly little for him to organise for us. He made a few phone calls, there was a jeep that would take our bags on to the night’s stop along the route as carrying big packs was not going to be fun in temperatures in the low forties and also would inhibit our abilities to interact with the people along the way.
What do you need for such a trek? Long sleeves and trousers are a must to keep the sun off and respect local customs. Water water water – but your guide will probably look after that mostly, but we were carrying two or three bottles each in our day pack. A big hat. And a decent sleeping bag for sleeping under the stars. It doesn’t get REALLY cold at night, but it is significantly cooler than day time, probably under 20 degrees.
Food is provided at the villages you sleep and stop at. There’s a fair bit of culture to soak up as well as one of the most amazing places on Earth. In Bankass we stayed in a basic hotel with a generator that ran out of juice at around 11pm. We had goat for dinner and relaxed, excited though for the three days that lay ahead.
But that sounds like something for NEXT Saturday. Until then, May the Journey Never End!