Border to Bankass

in

We left our campsite which we thought might be in Mali, still in search of the border post. We finally found it just before the village of Koro and the mysterious Mali captured our imagination right from the start. Nowhere else have we seen such rich, diverse landscapes, people, vistas, colours, smells and ancient cultures. The place just blows your mind and it was an instant love affair for me. Now it finally makes sense that this has always been one of my dream destinations. “I want to go to Mali!” was one of my main wishes with regards to traveling….”Are you sure you do not mean Bali?” “NOOOO, Mali in West Africa!” then the standard reply “But who goes to Mali? There is nothing there, only desert!”

 Mali version of Boababs. We later learnt that the shape of the trunk is due to them cutting strips off to use as rope

Wrong, there is so much and more. Our first stop was Bankass, where we were hoping to organize a hike into the Dogon Country, a culture that I studied and became totally intrigued with ever since I can remember. To truly immerse yourself into this ancient way of living and get to know some of their beliefs and customs, you have to walk from village to village and employ the services of a guide as it is easy to offend if you do not act in the right way.

We found a stunning place to stay for CFA16 000 (R320) per night called Hotel Campement Le Nommo, just off the main road (Tel: 00223 448 0965 or 00223 925 6086  e mail: moussaouedrago1@yahoo.fr),not in any guidebook yet. Friendly staff, clean rooms with fans and they can even do your washing! We found a stunning guide, SAMBA (Tiamba) Dianda and can highly recommend him. He can be contacted at 00233 928 1476. He is an official guide and can do the trek from either Mopti or Bankass. The fact that he is experienced and a bit older (38) ensures that he has a lot of authority in Dogon country and always managed to get the best spots and food for us. We agreed to do the tour with a combination of Ox and Horse carts and walking and after agreeing on the price and time of departure, decided to explore the town of Bankass.

 My Dogon outfit!! Pounding Millet their staple Modes of transport

We arrived in Bankass on market day, which is a huge happening in Dogon country. It takes place every 5 or 7 days and every village has a dedicated day. This is where meetings take place, where stories are shared, news discussed and as an afterthought, goods and food bought! It is a colourful, vibrant experience and we marveled at the weird foodstuff sold, anything from onion balls to spaghetti to fruit and fly bedecked meat! We did however try the “Patatas frittes” (sweet potato hot chips) and they were delicious.

 Scenes from the marketSelling cottonKola nuts. These are the favourites of the old Dogon men and as a guest in their villages, you are expected to hand out some to al the old timers.

At the edge of the market are a few mosques, miniature versions of the huge one at Djenne and I got into a lot of trouble by just taking pics without asking permission from the mosque “guard”! We also saw for the first time some “Fulani” women with their black tattooed mouths. The Fulani’s are nomads, kinda like our bushmen and have no permanent abode, but move all over the Dogon area with their cattle. As it is now the rainy season in this area, there were many in town and the black tattoos are signs that the woman is married and a Fulani.

 Fulani womenHe cried when he saw us!

Even though Mali is French, we had no problem finding our way around as there are a lot of locals that speak English due to the huge tourist market. Despite this, it was unreal to see how many kids burst into tears when they saw us as they are scared of white people! As Stew says, not a bad thing in Africa! Maybe they should rather be scared of Chinese people now.

 Market and mosques      

For supper we had the standard Mali fare, being chicken and beans with cous cous or rice. Only problem is that they have to kill a whole chicken every time and these chickens are truly “free range” as they are the toughest I have ever had! And finally (NOTE George in Ghana) we saw white Guinea fowl!!! We were told they existed in Africa and did not believe it, so here they are!!

They posed perfectly for the shot! Poor STAN.....

After having far too much wine at supper, we made our way back to the Hotel, reversed in and boom! The back wheel disappeared into a huge hole that was covered by sand!! Turned out to be part of the sewerage tank that has never been filled properly and that we can assure you, was the last problem we felt like dealing with after wanting only to tumble into bed at 10.30 at night. Alas, it was not meant to be and after a lot of digging, filling holes, using the jack to lift the car as well as Reiki, we got the car out of the hole only to discover that the doorlock to the room broke as we tried to unlock it, so there we were, tired, dirty, killing ourselves laughing at our weird luck, stuck outside our hotel room. Well, nothing is ever too big a problem in Africa and within 30 minutes a “locksmith” arrived, fixed the lock whilst all the time bemoaning the poor quality of Chinese goods that flooded Mali (and Africa) We could not care less at that stage and fell into bed.