Mar(k): Travel, Hiking, and "Doing Good"

musings on our life of travel and volunteering

Archive for the ‘Mali’ Category

Mystical Djenne

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From Mopti we journeyed to the World Heritage listed town of Djenne, situated on an island in the Bami river. To get there, we had to cross on a small ferry whose passengers included 4WDs like ours, donkey carts, horses, foot passengers and livestock, although we did see a donkey being transported individually in a boat no wider than a bathtub.

Djenne is most famous for its spectacular mud brick mosque, the largest such structure in the world. The whole town is made of mud brick dwellings, which have probably not changed in centuries, and is breathtakingly beautiful. Unlike Mopti, Djenne is relatively small and laid back. Djenne was also an historically important place of learning for Islamic scholars, and that tradition continues today.

At the end of a walking tour of Djenne, we encountered a lively football match played on a dusty patch in the town’s square. The less than ideal conditions did nothing to thwart the enthusiasm of the participants who were in their late teens and early twenties. It seems football (ie: soccer) is universally enjoyed in this part of the world. Back home in Ghana, everyone is justifiably proud of the Black Stars qualifying for the World Cup. Not sure how we will fare if they are unexpectedly beaten by Australia!

Written by Mar(k)

January 22, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Posted in Mali

Morphing along to Mopti

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there were a LOT of fish!!!After leaving Dogon country, we headed south to the town of Mopti, which is at the junction of the Bami and Niger rivers.  For thousands of years, Mopti  has been the major port for transport of goods to and from the fabled Timbouctou and beyond.  Tourism in Mopti is described as a contact sport and we were not disappointed!  There are probably more touts than tourists.  The hustle, bustle and frenetic activity was almost overwhelming. 

The market in Mopti is situated around the port, and it is here that all activity is centred.  Mopti has been referred to as the “Venice of Africa”, no doubt because the custom made pirogues (gondola equivalents) are propelled by a standing ‘polesman’ who punts his way up and down the river.  

The highlight of our day in Mopti was a sunset cruise on the Niger river (Africa’s third largest river) to some small fishing villages.  The volume of fish pulled from the river is truly astounding.  After drying and smoking, huge bales of fish are transported from Mopti all over West Africa.

We welcomed in the new decade here and were treated to a lively performance of traditional music featuring djembe and balafone, and an exuberant display of African dancing.

Written by Mar(k)

January 15, 2010 at 10:57 am

Posted in Mali

Doing the Dogon

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After spending a leisurely Christmas in Ouagadougou, we headed north to Mali, or more specifically, the Dogon Country which extends along an impressive escarpment for 100 km or so.  Enroute, we encountered a large crocodile, sunning himself beside a small pond, and numerous dromedaries, which gave the surroundings a very north African feel.  The Dogon landscape is very reminiscent of the Kimberley in north western Australia, for those who have travelled to those parts.  Not surprising, given the identical geological history! 

The Dogon people have a rich and fascinating culture and live in mud brick encampments at the base, or sometimes precariously perched, on the escarpment. 

One delightful attribute of the Dogon people is the extended greetings that go well beyond cordial.  A typical encounter (seriously) is roughly translated as thus:

‘good morning’

‘good morning’

‘how are you?’

‘not bad, thanks’

‘how is your health?’

‘no use complaining’

‘how is your big brother?’

‘he’s pretty good, thanks’

‘and your  little brother?’

‘also well!’

‘so…. how is your father?’

‘never better’

‘and your mother?’

‘just great’

‘and everyone else in the family?’

‘fine’….

This ritual was repeated each time our local guide would come across an acquaintance on the walk!

We spent two days hiking in the visually stunning Dogon country.  We were based at the small village of Ende.  The small hotel was set up in traditional Dogon style (ie: mud brick huts surrounded by a mud brick wall).  In this remote area there is no electricity, and all water is taken from a nearby well, a task which befalls the women and girls, a situation which repeats itself across West Africa. 

After an early breakfast, we would head off on foot to explore the fascinating Dogon area.  As you can see, life here has changed very little over the past few centuries.  The Dogon people cling tenaciously to their culture, which the rest of the world has only become aware of in the last fifty years.

The skyline of the villages is dominated by thatched roofs which are the women’s granaries, divided internally into four compartments to store their basic foodstuffs.  

After two or three hours walking, we would lunch in a village and spend a few hours at leisure (out of the heat) and then recommence our trek in the late afternoon back to our humble abode in Ende.  Hot and exhausted, but enriched by the experience!

Written by Mar(k)

January 9, 2010 at 9:58 pm

Posted in Mali