Mali & Burkina Faso December 2009

December 19, 2009 - January 3, 2010
Saturday, December 19 - Bilbao - Madrid - Casablanca
Sunday, December 20 - Casablanca - Ouagadougou Gaoua
Burkina Faso
Monday, December 21 - Gaoua Ouagadougou - Banfora
Tuesday, December 22 - Banfora - Bobo-Dioulasso
Wednesday, December 23 - Bobo-Dioulasso - Mopti
Thursday, December 24 - Mopti
Friday, December 25 - Mopti - Timbuktu
Saturday, December 26 - Timbuktu
Sunday, December 27 - Timbuktu - Sévaré
Monday, December 28 - Sévaré - Djenné
Tuesday, December 29 - Dogon Country
Wednesday, December 30 - Dogon Country
Thursday, December 31 - Dogon Country
Friday, January 1 - Dogon Country - Ségou
Saturday, January 2 - Ségou - Bamako
Sunday, January 3 - Bamako - Casablanca - Barcelona - Bilbao

The plans are in motion...
We wanted to do another Africa trip because of the wonderful impression we had last time we went. But, this time we wanted a more "be close to the people" type of trip. Since we'd already used up some of our vacation days going to Jordan and Syria, we needed to find somewhere in Africa where we could go on this type of trip and still have enough days to enjoy our time without rushing everywhere.

Satcha started looking into different destinations and thought Mali would be interesting. He talked to his brother, Ivan, who had been there some years ago and he said it was definitely a place in Africa that should be visited. Mali is a big country (1,240,000 km²), but since a lot of it is the Sahara desert, the majority of towns to visit are in the south. We started reading and watching documentaries about Mali and looking at different routes and decided that since we're there, that we should and could visit Burkina Faso, also. Now that we've decided on going to Mali we're hearing about others who travelled throughout Africa and said that Mali was the most beautiful country they'd visited.

One day we were talking with Satcha's sister, Tirma, about our plans for this trip and she mentioned that she and Raul were looking at going to Mali this year, too. So, we decided to all go together!!!!

We put together an itinerary of the towns we wanted to visit and started contacting different travel agencies because we wanted to have a guide and driver with us in these two countries. In the end we've decided to go with a local travel agency from Mali.

This is going to be a really fun trip; the four of us are going to have a great time!!!!!

To be continued...

We're back!!!! What a trip!!!!
We flew from Bilbao to Madrid on Saturday so that we could take the Royal Air Maroc Madrid - Casablanca - Ouagadougou flight at 8:45pm that same night. We arrived to Madrid and when we checked in we were told that the flight was delayed until 11:30pm. That was a problem because we only had an hour and half layover in Casablanca to catch the 11pm Ouagadougou flight. Basically, we were going to miss our flight from Casablanca to Ouagadougou and not arrive since it was the last flight of the day to Burkina Faso. We were still hopeful though because as we were waiting and watching the departures board the departure time changed to 9:00pm, then 9:30pm, then our hope started to disappear because it went back to 11:30pm and finally 00:00. We got to Casablanca around 1:30am. We were told that we'd missed the flight to Ouagadougou and that we'd be put on the next one - 9:30pm Sunday night. Royal Air Maroc would put us up in a hotel for the night and asked us if we wanted our luggage. We said yes...WOW...we waited 3 hours in the airport for our luggage. After a lot - A LOT - of confusion (especially at that time in the morning), we finally got our stuff and a bus took us to a hotel. We got to the hotel around 5:30am and slept. It was a waste of a day. The hotel was outside of the city, so we couldn't go anywhere, not to mention that we didn't feel like visiting Casablanca, because we just wanted to get to Burkina Faso. A bus picked us up around 7pm to take us back to the airport to take our 9pm flight from Casablanca to Ouagadougou. Well, what would you guess...that flight was delayed!!! We didn't leave Casablanca until 01:00am on Monday. Incredible!!!!

We finally got to Ouagadougou at 6am on Monday. We picked up our luggage, there was a driver waiting to take us to meet up with Tirma, Raul, Kaou - our guide and Vann - our driver who were driving to Banfora that morning, so we got in the car and went. Because of all the delays, we'd missed the day in Gaoua. We met up with everyone in Banfora around 1pm and we started our group trip!!!!

Banfora, Burkina Faso - Karfiguela WaterfallsVisiting Banfora is unforgettable. The first thing we did when we arrived was visit the Karfiguela Waterfalls. They were beautiful. As we hiked to the waterfalls we heard the sound of water hitting the rocks and boulders. We got to the area and it was breathtaking. We went swimming in the pools of water and it just felt like our vacation had truly started.

The Great Mosque of DjennéThe rest of the trip we visited a lot of the same landscapes: the traditional mud architecture where the dwellings, mosques, etc. are made of mud and have to be rebuilt every year after the rains, local markets where the people buy and sell everything from clothes to food to anything you can imagine, Mopti - Bani River Bankthe port towns of Mopti and Segoú on the Niger and Bani Rivers where you see people washing their clothes, pots and pans, themselves, cars, goats, etc. in very, very polluted water and lots of sand since the Sahara desert is in the north of Mali (it covers around 65% of the country).

Ecole de base Mitiki Grade SchoolWhile we were in Timbuktu we visited a grade school – Ecole de base Mitiki - where we met the director, some teachers and a few of the kids. We took school supplies, clothes and toys to donate. Families have to pay $5 a month to send a child to this school, since it's private. That might not sound like a lot of money, but keep in mind that about half the population of Mali live below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day. We asked the director why families would pay this money to send their children to a private school when it's so hard for them to earn and save this money and there are free public schools. Ecole de base Mitiki Grade SchoolThe response was that in the public schools there are around 150 kids per class whereas in this school there are 40 to 60 kids per class, each class having one teacher. Each grade is in a classroom that doesn't have electricity and is in a mud built room or a hay hut. The classrooms and desks were not in great condition. The government doesn't give any help to the private schools, so they have to get all the materials and pay the teachers salaries with the money that's paid each month. A lot of times the teachers don't get paid because families can't pay the monthly fee and the director doesn't want to remove these kids from school. We asked the director what the school really needs. He responded that they need desks, chalk boards, world maps and French school books. It's really hard to get these materials and they're expensive. If anyone is interested in donating materials to this school, it's possible to contact the director, Almoustapha A. Dicko, at (he only speaks French) or Ann Van Malder from Tounga Tours at (she speaks English and French).

Mopti Old TownThe people were incredible, especially the children. The adults seem like very serious people, but the minute you say "Bonjour, ça va (Hi, what's up?)", they smile and answer. The children loved to wave, say hello to the toubabou (white person), hold hands and play. It was very fun. It's wonderful to hear their laughs, see their smiles and innocence in such a poor place.

Dogon Country (Pays Dogon as it's locally known) left me breathless (literally because of the traveler's diarrhea that I got on the second day!!!).

Dogon Country is known for its culture and the trekking of its beautiful landscapes. It is a beautiful combination that has managed to stay fairly untouched by tourism.

The Falaise de Bandiagara (the Bandiagara Escarpment) is a sandstone cliff that rises about 500 meters (0.3 miles) above the plains and has a length of approximately 150 kilometers (93 miles) ranging from south to northeast. Today it is home to the Dogon. Before the Dogon, the cave-dwelling Tellem used to live in the slopes of the cliff where they used caves that they carved into the cliffs to bury their dead high up. During the intents to convert the people of West Africa to Islam a thousand years ago, the Dogon refused and fled to the escarpment where they built villages in defensive positions along the walls. No one is sure of how the Dogon were able to occupy the escarpment with the Telem dwelling in it at that time. Some say that the Telem left peacefully and some say that the Dogon committed genocide.

Dogon Villages
Along the escarpment are the unique villages Dogon Country - Teliof the Dogon built below, into and on top of the edge of the rocky cliffs. The villages are hard to see. The falaise is a red-brown color rising from the plains. The Dogon build their houses out of mud, so they blend into the background perfectly. Walking along the escarpment you see villages that are just clinging to the steep slopes propped up by logs.

Dogon villages are made up of three primary buildings: granaries, houses and the toguna.

Dogon Country - TeliThe granaries can range from 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 16 feet) high. They are box shaped, about twice as high as they are wide. There is one small square door entrance and the roof is made of straw. They are lifted off the ground, perched on top of stones and branches, which keeps the items inside dry so the humidity of the ground floor doesn't produce mold. The walls are made of mud and straw. Men and women have separate granaries. A man stores the grains that are used to eat during the rainy season when it isn't possible to harvest the crops in his and the woman stores the grains and spices used for everyday cooking and her jewellery in hers.

The houses are made out of rocks and mud bricks. They are one story, have various box shaped rooms and the roofs are flat. When tourists visit the villages they are allowed to sleep on the roofs of these houses.

Dogon Country - Djiguibombo toguna and baobab treeThe toguna is a small shelter at the center of the village where the men get together to talk, discuss and solve the problems of the village. Women aren't allowed in the toguna.

Dogon Country - TeliThere are also mosques, churches and animist fetishes (a fetish is a stone that's holy to followers of the ancient animist belief system of the Dogon) throughout the villages. The majority of Dogon practice an animist religion; although some practice Islam and some have been converted by missionaries to Christianity. There are many villages split up into different areas depending on the religion, but the live peacefully together. Some Dogon practice multiple religions. It's possible for one to be Catholic and also an animist.

The animals (donkeys, chickens, goats and cows) roam around the village, the women spend the day pounding the millet and the children smile and play in the dirt.

There are no roads, only sandy trails where the donkey and cow carts can travel between each village. There's no electricity or running water. The water has to be brought to the villages by women who carry jugs of it pumped from a well on their heads.

Dogon Greetings
The people still speak their language, each Dogon village having their own dialect. The Dogon are famous for their greetings, which go on forever. A typical greeting is:
'Ohh seh-weh mah?' (How are you?)
'Seh-weh.' (I'm well.)
'Ohh mara seh-weh mah?' (How is your family?)
'Seh-weh.' (They're well.)
'Ohh seh-weh dege-mah?' (How was your day?)
'Seh-weh.' (Good, thanks.)
'Ohh mara seh-weh dege-mah?' (How was your family's day?)
'Seh-weh.' (Good, thanks.)
Many times the greeting goes on so long that the person ends up shouting at the person they're greeting, who's far away, but the whole time is answering 'Seh-weh', and of course with a smile.

My Experience
We trekked for 3 days through different villages sleeping on the roofs in different camps every night. It was rough. It sounds romantic and fun to sleep on the roof, under the stars and moonlight, but between the donkeys yelling, cows mooing, roosters singing and the dirt you swallow because of the wind, in reality you don't get much sleep!!! On top of that I got sick...

Dogon Country - NiongonoThe first village we visited was Niongono. This one was the most impressive. As we were driving from Djenné to Bandigara, all the sudden out of now where, there was a village built on top of a rocky cliff. We climbed the rocks to walk around this village and take in the views of the plains from above. There were beautiful views.

From Bandigara we drove to the second village Djiguibombo. Here we saw our first toguna. Instead of talking and solving problems of the village, the men were sitting and falling asleep inside.

From Djiguibombo we drove the sandy trail to Teli. Teli was also beautiful. The current village is built on the plains and the old village into the escarpment. The afternoon we arrived we just walked around the village and hung out in the area where we were going to eat and sleep. This village was the most modern of them all. They had a "bathroom" for the guests. It was a toilet that was over a hole in the ground (no plumbing or running water). This was going to be our first night sleeping on the roof...under the open sky, the stars and the moon. How exciting!!!! The sun goes down around 6-6:30pm in Dogon Country. We ate dinner and then a local boy came over and played a guitar-like-instrument for us. After, we climbed the tree-trunk ladder to go to bed. Dogon Country - Teli. Sleeping on the roofKeep in mind that the houses and their roofs are made of mud and rocks, and we were provided with a thin mattress to sleep on. This and my sleeping bag didn't prevent me from feeling all the rocks on the roof poking into my back. As I got used to the rocks, I lay and listened to the donkeys and the American group yelling (It sounded as if the Americans were playing a drinking game as the rest of us – probably 20 others - tried to sleep). Eventually the Americans went to sleep also. But, just as I was falling asleep, a donkey would yell, then a rooster, then the donkey, then Satcha snoring, then a cow, then the donkey, then Satcha coughing, then a donkey,... It was non-stop. I consider myself an animal lover, but this night I wasn't liking any animals (Satcha, I don't consider you an animal!!!) It was so loud!!!! I think I got a total of 4 hours of off and on sleep, because, of course, at 6am the sun is coming up and it's time to get up!!!

That morning we climbed to the old village of Teli in the cliffs. We saw the granaries, the houses and the Telem houses. From there we walked to Endé. It was about a 2 hour walk at a slow pace. We got to Endé where we had lunch, relaxed and waited until it was less hot to trek to the next village.

We left Endé around 3pm, in the end we didn't wait until it was less hot which would've been around 4pm because we were ready to walk, and headed to Yabatalou. This was a beautiful walk. We started by walking an hour on the sandy trail, and then Kaou led us to the rocks where we had to climb. We climbed the rocks, beautiful landscapes, to get to Yabatalou which was perched in the middle of the escarpment. This was the most rustic village we stayed at. We were the only tourists there besides a French family. The "bathroom" was a hole, there was a "shower", which was a rusty barrel full of water (probably rain water) that was supported on two wooden beams and had a shower spout coming out of the bottom. The shower spout was so low I had to squat. The walls were up to my head and there was no door. I did shower here...after trekking in the dust and being so hot it felt good showering, even if the water was rusty!!!

Dogon Country - YabatalouThe chief of this village was an old man and was very fun. He showed us his picture albums which were full of pictures of him and the tourists who'd visited the village. Since Satcha had his portable printer, we told him that we'd take a picture with him to add to his collection. He went and put on his best dress, rifle and all, and Tirma and I took a picture with him. When he saw Satcha print it out he was amazed!! We ate spaghetti with an unknown sauce for dinner that night. I don't know if it was the sauce or what, but after dinner it hit...I started to get really cold and I was shivering. When we went to bed I had really bad pains in my stomach. I didn't sleep the whole night because of these pains (another sleepless night, but this time not because of the donkeys). I got up around 5am and had to run to the "bathroom" - the hole in the ground. It wasn't good. I was feeling horrible. Horrible...Horrible. And not in the best bathrooms to be able to relax...I won't go into details. I couldn't eat any breakfast, so everyone convinced me to drink the glucose-salt-water mixture to keep me hydrated.

There was a Dogon market this day, which is something very unique. It's something that most tourists don't get to see, so we were going to trek to Begnimato, which was at the top of the escarpment so we would have to climb rocks, then trek back down to the market and finally trek back up to the top of the escarpment to Indelu to spend the night.
Dogon Country - Begnimato
Even though I wasn't feeling well I wanted to trek and see everything. So, we started out and I went at a slow pace. But, we got to the middle of the climb and I had broken out in a cold sweat, thought I was going to throw up and needed to sit. I knew then that I would not be able to do the treks the rest of the day. But, I had to continue since there was no car access to these villages. So, we kept on and once we got to Begnimato Kaou got me a mattress to lie on and I rested. While I rested the others went and walked around the village and saw some beautiful views of the landscape. I wish I could've gone with.

After lunch Tirma, Raul and Kaou trekked back down the escarpment to the Dogon market and Satcha and I went with our own personal guides to take an easy route directly to Indelu. We took our time and got to Indelu in 40 minutes over a flat trail. When we got to Indelu we sat in the shade and invited our guides to a Coke and Sprite and to just relax. I couldn't move much because every movement caused pain in my stomach, so we sat at the village the whole afternoon. Satcha explored a little and was able to see a little bit of a mask dance, but otherwise we just sat.

That night (New Year's Eve) it was really windy. There were rocks on our mattresses on the roof so they wouldn't fly away. I didn't have an appetite or any energy that night, so I went to bed early. I think this is the first New Year's Eve that I din't make it to midnight. I was in my sleeping bag by 8:30pm. It was so windy that night. The wind kicked up the dirt and sand and it was blowing all over me. I tried to get as far into my sleeping bag as possible, but somehow the dirt found its way in. I don't think I've swallowed more dirt in my life!!! The bags and my sandals that we had on the roof were flying away, so I had to use rocks to keep them down. Between the bathroom runs (well, not so much a bathroom as a bush runs) and the wind it was another sleepless night.

Three sleepless nights in a row!!! Yeah - I was in a great mood that morning!!!

Dogon Country - SongoThat morning we went to visit Songo before heading to Ségou where we'd stay in a hotel with a shower and bed, it's amazing how much you appreciate these two basic things after not having them for 3 days! Songo is the village known for the circumcision ceremonial paintings on the cliffs. The paintings were interesting and they were in an area where there were great views of the village from above.

At the time I did not like Dogon Country at all. I feel bad now because I know that I had that feeling because I was sick and was lacking sleep. Now that I look back on the experience and remember all the wonderful sights, Dogon Country is beautiful. It's very rustic and natural, it just seems like things have been left the way they should be – untouched. It was a wonderful experience to be able to be in this magical place.

I guess I would say that this is the first trip I've come back really tired from. It was a difficult trip, but definitely worth it. There's something about Africa that makes you want to see and feel more. I can say without a doubt that this will not be our last trip to Africa...there's much more to discover there!!!!

We did this trip with Tounga Tours ( They were very helpful and a very professional local travel agency to work with. Ann helped us with a lot of the questions and doubts we had while planning the itinerary, and Kaou (our Bambara, Dogon, French and English speaking guide) and Vann (our driver) were excellent travel companions during the 2 weeks we were together. I would definitely recommend planning your trip to West Africa with Tounga Tours.

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Anonymous said...

Christine, Great stories from your trip. It sounds like you got to see and experience things that few others are able to do. Glad that you're home safe and sound, see you in Dublin and then Pamplona!!