The Journey

Anomabo

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On arrival in Accra, we checked into a hotel and had our first  proper shower and ablutions in a week – how things we take for granted can suddenly become luxurious!

 Afterwards, we took a drive to the Accra Mall, complete with Shoprite, Mr Price, Game and a host of other local upmarket shops, and spent a leisurely afternoon there. Upon our return, we bumped into Peter, an American businessman who had spent 8 years living in Stellenbosch, and he insisted on taking us out to dinner. Together with his Ghanain business partner, we proceeded to put a large dent in his expense account, mainly due to the copious amount of wine we drank. At the price of R250 per bottle for second rate wine, the whole exercise seemed even more extravagant. Well the price we had to pay was a serious hangover either caused by the amount of wine or the traditional food at the chop bar we frequented.

 Peter from US &  A typical shop name (like the wine/christian combo)

The next morning Stewart set off to the mechanic, who managed to not only give Stan a full service, but found the fault with and repaired the diff lock, which had not been working since Brazzaville, and even found the time for some rudimentary panelbeating to the damaged wheel arch, a legacy of the road from   Cameroon to Nigeria.

 During this time Stewart received  a call from Germany, offering him a job there as from the 1st of September. It was what we’d been hoping for, but the reality was a bit more frightening to both of us. Living in Germany for a year was certainly going to be another adventure – as was the fact that we were now going to drive there!

 
That afternoon we arranged for our Mali visas, and spent the evening in the welcome company of Petra and her family, where she loaned us the use of her washing machine  and tumble dryer to wash the last of our dirty clothing – THANK YOU PETRA!! Just amazing how the definition of “luxury” changes in Africa, luxury is having a toilet with a seat, ultra luxury means that it flushes, luxury means having a shower, ultra luxury means that it works and that the hand held shower actually produces hot water, luxury means having a place to do your washing by hand ULTRA luxury and instant bliss means having access to a machine.

 Anomabo resort   Elmina village

After handing in our visa applications the next morning, we had a few days before we could pick them up and leave for Burkina Faso, and so on the recommendation of Petra, we headed  west  for a 2 ½ hour drive  along the coast, where we booked into Anomabo Beach Resort, a series of chalets set among  hundreds of palm trees just off the beach, with a beautiful raised restaurant built overlooking the beach. A real tropical paradise if there is one!!! Contact them on 042 91562 or 021 221111.  They also offer camping and the price for a chalet that sleeps 2 is $38 per night during the week and $50 over the weekend. Well worth it as it is clean, great bathrooms and one of the few places that are actually on the beach.John the surf is waiting for you

 Anomabo  is only 10 km from the Cape Coast, the old British administrative centre of 19th century Ghana. Close by is the town of Elmina, which together with the Cape   Coast , have  fully preserved castles dating back 100s of years, testimony to the slave trade in the area before it was abolished  in the early 1800s.

 Ballerina Stewart. A very NB sign as Ghanians seem to think you can do it everywhere!

Before we visited the coastal castles, however, we visited Kakum National Park, about 35 km inland from  the Cape Coast.(Turn off at the first traffic light on the bypass) This National park is famous for its canopy walk, consisting of a series of narrow suspension walkways  built between 7 or 8 massive jungle trees, upwards of 40 metres above the ground.

 A guide threaded us through the forest path, giving us some historical information about the Park and the walkway. The canopy walk itself  was quite amazing, although the lack of animal and bird life in the canopy, testimony to the continued problem of poaching, was disappointing.

 Trying some of Ghana's biggest export cocoa, sweetElmina Castle

 

We then retraced our steps down to the coast and headed to the village of Elmina to see the castle, one of the well known slave trade landmarks, now a museum in rememberance of the slave trade.Originally built by the Portuguese in the early 1600s,  then taken over by the Dutch who used it for over 200 years  to protect  their trade routes, and as  a prison and market for the slaves shipped out of Ghana, and finally sold to Britain  after slavery was abolished and the Netherlands could no longer justify the expense of its occupation.

The castle and the oath the locals took to ensure such attrocities will never happen again

 

As an architectural site, the Castle, named St Georges castle by the British, is truly remarkable. However, with the informative and interesting tour guide spelling out its notorious history of slavery and subjugation, we left with a sense of sadness at the horrors fellow human beings inflicted on each other at that time. This was even more evident as our group consisted mostly of African-Americans who were visibly affected by the brutality of the history.

 Final walkway to the gate of no return. David of Black Star bookstore

We then visited the Castle at the Cape Coast, the English equivalent  of the Elmina castle during the slave trade, but as Stewart did not have the stomach  to revisit the horror of the slavery, we had a meal at a nearby restaurant, wandered through the quaint town of Cape Coast (discovering a magnificent bookshop, Black Star Bookstore -  as well as Global Mama's a “Fair Trade” clothing and  trinket store), and then headed back to Anomabo.

 

We spent the next day lazing on the beach, and replanning our route through Africa  and Europe so as to make it to Kassel in time for “work” (what a strange concept that has become!), before leaving for Accra the next morning.

 

We have no idea what lies ahead, all we know is that we have learned to let go and follow the path that we need to follow. The where and how will become clear as long as we open our spirits and listen, not only with our ears, but most importantly with our souls.

 
It is not always easy to let go of the past, but once you succeed, even in a small way, you open yourself to new experiences and make them your own, and they become your present. We have taken the first few steps on this journey and must continue to the end, wherever that will be. At times it is extremely hard, especially for me being an eternal home maker and always wanting to be part of my sons’ lives, but for now, this is the path I must follow.

 
We all have “giving up” moments in our journey (as per Paolo Coelho in “The Zahir”) and believe me; I had many on this trip. I also know I will have many more in the future, but what is important is to continue after that, to take what is good, start afresh and move forward.

 

We are looking forward in sharing the rest of our journey with you and value your loving support.

 

 

 

 

 

Tamale to the border

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We luckily left Accra at 5.30 in the morning as the road out of Accra to Kumasi is a nightmare at the moment due to roadworks. Once you get out of the madness of the city though, all is well and we enjoyed the nice soft landscapes of Ghana. One of the books we had  read describes Ghana as “Africa for beginners”, and rightly so, as Ghana is a kind country, developed, friendly and easy as long as you stay in the towns and cities, and not in the villages as we did! The country is overrun by aid workers (mostly female though who seem to meet and hook up with local guys fairly quickly) as well as tourists from all over the world, and in our opinion offers some of the best experiences Africa can offer.

 

Even though we had a great time here, it is now time to move on as we are ready to absorb all that the rest of the countries that we will still travel through, have to offer. We drove for 10 hours and spend the night in Tamale in the north.

 

Before we got there though, I (Annaliese) had to live up to Stewart’s opinion of my “fast” driving and for the first time on this whole trip, I was stopped for speeding….I am sure by the only camera in Ghana!! I think I was more surprised than the cop, who could not believe the right hand drive car and to top it all, a female driver! But all was well when I humbly apologized, promised to never do it again and we were send on our way with a “have a safe journey”

 Kumasi capital of the North  Shea trees, the seeds are used to make shea buttter , the stunning body cream.

The first difference you notice as you enter the Northern region is the amount of mosques as well as the increased amount of people of Islamic faith and “Arab” look. Also the vegetation is different and the amount of agriculture is noticeable. Interestingly this area is one of the few in Ghana which actually suffered due to political unrest based on ethnic conflict. This was in 1994,  the same time as the  Rwanda massacres and South African Elections, so it went unnoticed by the world, but at least 2000 people died and 150 000 were left homeless in refugee camps. This could be the reason for all the foreign aid at present, as the organic farming of mangoes as well as the produce of Shea butter is booming and clearly noticeable as you travel through the area. It seems all the political problems are sorted as well as confirmed by the locals we spoke to. Another interesting thing about Tamale is that Bafana Bafana was based here for the Africa Cup and therefore has a lot of local support!

 

Noticeable too are the amazing amount of cell phone towers everywhere. Reception is brilliant here and you can see the most primitive village with 2 or 3 towers surrounding it. What we do not get though, is that these villages do not have electricity so how they charge their phones, is a mystery to us.

 

We spend the night at TICCS Guesthouse (Tamale Institute for Cross Cultural Studies), cheap, basic accommodation for 16 cedi’s (about R150) for the night. You can also have supper at the local Island Bar if you are lucky enough to convince the waitress that you actually would love to eat and drink and not just sit there for the view!!

TICCS guesthouse in Tamale    Check the cell tower!!

After a nice breakfast for R40 (VERY cheap by West Africa standards) we tried to spend our last cedi’s at the petrol station, a bit difficult though as the conversation went as follows:

Stew: Good morning

Attendant: Good morning

Stew: Do you have diesel ?

Attendant: Yes we do

Stew: Can I have some?

Attendant: No

Stew: Why not

Attendant: We have lysou

Stew: LYSOU ? I do not understand…….

Attendant: We have lysou, go to the other petrol station!

 

Well, took us a few minutes to understand that “Lysou” means,” lights out”which in turn means “We have no electricity” !!!! Stupid stupid us

 

With those famous last words, we were on our way to Burkina Faso

Ouagadougou

We reached Ougadougou (pronounced “Wagadougou”) in good time, despite the potholes, livestock and other drivers driving more or less in the middle of the road, irrespective of which direction they were traveling.  Burkina Faso is a much poorer country than Ghana, although its name comes from a local language meaning “Land of the Honourable”, which hints at the fact that this small country still has much to offer the traveler.

 

The difference from Ghana was immediate – much less development and agriculture, more basic housing, an even greater Moslem influence with the smallest villages sporting the most beautiful mosques , and of course, French speaking. We realized that we will not hear English out of choice again on this trip, only French, Spanish and German! So out with the dictionary and “petit petit” French was again the order of the day.

 Village

We drove through a countryside green from ongoing rains, with many of the surrounding countryside standing in water. The vegetation is thick savanna where not cleared for agriculture, reminding us of the Northern province in South Africa during the rainy season. The reappearance of Baobabs added to this feeling.

 

We passed many bicycles along the road, as well as the usual overloaded taxis. It appeared that the local variation here is that the “conductor” sits outside the taxi whilst driving, either clinging to the back, or sitting on top, probably to allow for another fare-paying customer to squeeze inside.

  No concern for safety !!!

On the recommendation of fellow Africa travelers, we booked into the OK Inn, just south of the city centre. With a swimming pool, internet, a self contained bungalow with a hot bath WITH A PLUG, it was luxurious.  Annaliese had “the best bath since Cape Town” (I won’t tell you how she really described it, as there may be children reading this!!)

 Our abode at the OK hotel

 Despite our tight schedule, we decided to spend another day and night  exploring the eastern part of Burkina Faso, visiting some of the more traditional villages and markets there, before heading into Mali, and so the next morning we headed east on a road less traveled.

 

 

 

Kaya , Ouahigouya and Border

We left  Waga  after Stewart had changed some US$ at the local Chinese Shop ( yes, they’re here too!) and got a full tank of diesel (Still horrendously expensive), and headed first north through the outskirts of the city, and then east towards Kaya, a  village    the “Rough Guide”  advised us we would find some good Burkina leather work.We finally got out of Waga dodging the ever present scooters, bikes and cycles typical of the “French” African countries.

 Ouaga traffic Kaya and the grand statues!!

Despite a scenic drive to Kaya, and  a rather grand entrance,  the village was a massive disappointment, with the village market consisting almost solely of cheap Chinese imports. So we drove onwards, veering north on a good gravel road towards the northern  town of Ouahigouya.

As we drove northwards, there was evidence of much recent rainfall in the countryside, with shallow dams of muddy water being used as a welcome break from the heat by the local children.

Burkina laid back life.The passtime of the menThe working women whilst the men....REST?Kids having a jol

The fields were being ploughed, mainly by hand, and young fields of millet, beans and groundnuts were everywhere to be seen. There was even evidence of rice being grown in some of the flooded fields.Once again it appeared that the women and youngsters bore the brunt of the work, with the men folk taking it easy  all day! One of the "magic moments" of the trip was stopping in the middle of nowhere  in the shade of a tree ,smelling the freshest air  and having a freshly bought  baguette for lunch. The quietness is just so magic that you feel peaceful immediately.

 Lunch under the trees And village life

We reached Ouhigouya late in the afternoon, but after being shown the local hotels, decided to push on, as the town had a dirty look and feel to it as well as overprice accommodation. So we pushed on northwards on the deteriorating gravel road, stopping at the Burkina Faso border post, only to discover we had our first puncture of the trip, where a large rusted bolt had gone right through one of the back tires.

 Rice paddis

Although we managed to change the tire relatively easily, the heat was still oppressive, and the time spent meant we could not make the first Mali town of Koro for that night.  So instead we drove for another 20 minutes without finding the Mali border post, and then drove off the road into the  bush, where we set up camp for the night.

 

Despite the lateness, we were now far enough north to still have an hour’s sunlight, so Annaliese, still full of energy, decided to do some clothes’ washing!!. And so as Stewart put up the tent, rigged up some washing lines and got the fire going, Annaliese   proceeded to do  a weeks’ worth of washing.

 Washing "up" a storm I truly did !!!! Our campsite

That night , after a great meal of boerewors rolls and salad,  we were treated to a fast approaching electric storm, which had us quickly taking in the washing, and climbing into our tent – not a moment too soon, as the rain arrived with a vengeance, and continued all night.

Border to Bankass

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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.

Dogon country

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Our time in Mali started on a very sad note, with life proving hard for many loved ones at home, which in turn saddened us a lot. Dear little Kloe was run over by a car and ended up in ICU for several days with her life hanging by a thread, Zack’s shoulder operation turned out to be a much bigger one than we thought, and he had a real hard time organizing medical aids, payments and hospitals, I (Annaliese)lost my cousin whom I have not seen for many years and who died a sad death. Needless to say, our skies were grey and out hearts heavy; only the wise words of Rudolf gave us some peace, he said that we can only help them if we do not return to Cape Town to help as they (him and Zack) need to learn to live and deal with life. We have always been there to help them on the way and now is their time to do it on their own. So, we listened, and realized that once again we can only learn; from Africa, from life, from our kids and to borrow the words from the Dire Straits' song “Why worry”:

Why worry, there should be laughter after pain

There should be sunshine after rain

These things have always been the same

So why worry!

There is so much to share about the next few days of our trip that you guys will just have to bear with us, we will share a little bit of history, a little bit of tradition and a little bit of our personal experiences.(Read it in instalments if you have to!!!)

The escarpment, we arrived from the bottom and climbed to the top.

The Dogon live mostly on the Bandiagara escarpment which is a 200 km wedge of sandstone cliffs running from Ouo in the southwest to the Honbori mountains in the southeast. Below the cliffs the sandy Gondo-Seno plains stretch southeast to Burkina Faso, whilst the rocky cliffs themselves rise over 100 metres to the plateau above. We left Bankass early in the morning, to make the most use of the cooler morning weather. After a 2 hour trip through the plains, we approached this majestic sight on our little horse cart and the first sight of the villages truly took our breath away.

Our first means of transport(Amber the horse!) Second, hiking in the blazing sun!

Archeological research has uncovered caves dating to the 3rd century BC dug into the cliffs. However, there seems to be a large historical gap between this culture and the next known inhabitants of the cliffs, the Tellem, who arrived in the 11th century. Often referred to as “pygmies” due to their small size, they built distinctive cellular houses in sheltered crevices and beneath overhangs on the cliffside, where the sun and rain were least able to penetrate. Some of their architecture is still visible today, impossibly high up in the cliffs. Nobody is 100% sure how it was possible to build these, but the most logical theory is that the forest reached so high and they therefore reached the cliffs via the treetops.

Totally in touch with themselves, young and old An old timer

It is thought that the Dogon people arrived in the area in the 15th century, and probably lived together with the Tellem for a few hundred years, before the Tellem migrated to the area now known as Burkina Faso. The Dogons had, and still have, a strong religious culture, and their appearance in the area was probably to escape Muslim expansionism as they were animist. Their distinctive stone villages and tall granaries are scattered over 3 distinct areas, the cliff itself, the plateau and the plains. They started off living in the cliffs where the houses are still today being used for storage as well as ceremonies. So the fetishes, masks and “religious” objects are all still clearly visible. Later they moved down to the plains as according to our guide, there was no reason to stay on the cliffs as the threat of war disappeared.

Proud home owner.Some of the graneries

Despite the unbearable heat (40 degrees in the shade) and the struggle to keep walking whilst you are covered in perspiration, we were impressed with this ancient culture in so many ways. Firstly, the granaries are different for men and women, The female version has 4 compartments and a middle section for storage of jewellery and other personal valuables. The male version is only one room! It seems they knew women quite well! Furthermore, their culture is so truly in tune with nature that we think is the reason for the survival of it for so many centuries. They built low stone divisions to prevent erosion (the rocks have to be broken by hand and then carried for kilometers to build these walls), they plant windbreaks to protect the crops, they rotate their crops of millet with beans and peanuts which maintain the nitrogen levels in the soil. The workload is equally shared between the sexes and for the first time in a Francophone country we saw the men actually working in the fields, and we mean , working hard!

The inside of the "Female" one Meeting place and underneath are the sacred drums used to call the meeting. Sadly for men only!!!!

The Dogon believe in a single god, Amma, who created the sun, moon, stars and the earth, and the first human couple, who produced 8 children, the Dogon ancestors. These ancestors did not get on with Amma and were sent back to earth, but the 7th came down before the 8th whom was angry as a result, turned into a snake and did his best to upset the work of the other 7. He was eventually killed by the people and that is why today, the place where the elders, strictly men only, have meetings and discussions (present in every village) The Togu-na, has a roof of 7 layers which represents 7 ancestors.

We interacted with them as much as we could and handed out Colanuts ( a Dogon delicacy, and apparently quite addictive) to the old men, which is all they wanted in return. They go about their daily lives undisturbed by the visitors, and the general feeling is one of peace and being in tune with their environment. Unfortunately , as in all cultures, the youngsters are not upholding the traditions on a daily basis, only for ceremonies and festivals, so it seems that sadly, even this ancient culture will not be around for many more years.

Malian Maltese Cross?Overnight hut and Village

We climbed up the escarpment once it was a bit cooler in the late afternoon and despite my fears, my back behaved well and we made the 6km walk in good time. The landscape changed to one similar to the Cedarberg, and we marveled at the stunning vistas. The houses in the village on top of the escarpment were mostly built of stone as soil seem to be on short supply. We settled down for the night on the rooftop of our hut under the stars until at 3 o’Clock we were woken by rain! Our trusted guide, Samba, however, made sure we had shelter and we spend the rest of the night in a hut.

Dogon hunter and some of his kill Our cow cart!!

We left early the next morning for the final stretch to Ende, Teli the oldest village and then finally Kani-Komboli, where we observed the market. We walked the first bit which was easy in the fresh morning air, took a cow cart for 5 kms, walked again for 5kms, which was truly hard as it was boiling hot with no movement in the air, so the next stop could not arrive soon enough! In Teli, we saw the ancient houses and granaries and were told about the “Sigi festival” This is the most important of the Dogon festivals, and celebrates life and new generations. It takes place every 60 years, as the Dogon believe that this is a lifespan. So you should never attend this festival twice. The next one will be in 2027. Samba also pointed out the burial places of the dead. The corpses are hoisted up the cliffs and then laid to rest on a level between the Tellem/Pygmy houses and the granaries, under heaps of stone. Well, all I can say is they have a stunning view, so they must enjoy their resting place!

The 3 layers, Pygmy houses, burial places and early Dogon houses.Uhm.. as I said , no vanity left (Stew insisted on this pic as payback for his Benin Shower Shot!!!)How is this for colour coding?

Our taxi and the spring chicken driver!!!!

After lunch and a welcome break, we made our way to the end of the trail, spent some time at the market, and took our final means of transport, a local taxi, filled with at least 20 yakking females driven by a 14 year old boy!! No problem……we made it back to Bankass in one piece, albeit filthy and exhausted.

Izak, ek het duisende pics, laat weet of ek moet mail want dit sal wonderlike skilderye maakxxx

Mopti

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After an uneventful overnight stay in Bankass, we left for Mopti the next morning, driving through the same area we had hiked, before climbing up and over the escarpment. We were heading for the Dogon town of Bandiagara, as we had met another Dutch traveler the night before, Gimon, who was leaving the next morning for the Dogon hike. He had all his worldly possessions in his rucksack, and so we offered to drop off his excess baggage at a hotel in Bandiagara,  to allow him to  enjoy his Dogon hike with a lighter load.

The road to Bandiagara was glorious, climbing up to the escarpment, and then wending its way through cultivated Dogon fields of millet, beans and nuts interspersed with villages.

Just short of Bandiagara, we were stopped by a policeman, who wanted to fine us for not wearing seatbelts. Our usual ruse of throwing up our hands and saying we knew no French didn’t seem to help. However, once Stewart insisted on a receipt, he decided just a warning would suffice. Some things never change in Africa!

 A Malian bookclub?? Our guide in Bandiagaras

We found Bandiagara on a market day, noisy and overcrowded. We had to give a local a lift on Stan’s bonnet to find the hotel to drop off Gimon’s bag,   and then left for Sevare and then Mopti.

 

Mopti is an old town on the banks of the River Niger, and we arrived there quite late in the afternoon. After driving into town, we located the Hotel Ya Pas de Probleme , a beautifully decorated  Dogon/French run establishment, run by another Olivier! After checking in to the large, air-conditioned room, we relaxed by the swimming pool, before taking a drive along the Niger River to sample Mopti’s sights, which include boat-building on the banks of the Niger, and a busy port, once the busiest river port in the French Sudan, exporting white egret feathers to the couturiers of Paris.

 Scenes from Mopti      

 We had a quiet dinner at the tastefully decorated restaurant on the roof of the hotel.  We planned to leave the next morning for the town of Djenne, famous for its huge Mosque , and then, on the advice of Samba in Bankass, on to Segou, another old river town further up on the Niger River.

 

 

Djenne

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The river town of Djenne was founded in 800 AD as a fishing village, with the Bozo tribe predominant (no, not clowns, fisherman!). It is now famous for its Grand Mosque, a mosque having existed there since the 13th century. The current Mosque and surrounding town has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988.

 

 Djenne is situated on the northern side of the Niger river, and requires a compulsory ferry crossing. We arrived late just before noon at the river, where we met a local guide who promised to show us around the town. Having been warned that guides were necessary to get the most out of a visit, we agreed on a price with our guide, who went by the name of   - wait for it - John Travolta!! We also met “Mamma Africa” – a man – on the ferry, and felt like Alice in Wonderland would pop up any second!

 John Travolta (left) and Mamma Africa                 Bozo fisherman onj the Niger River

After crossing the river on the ferry, we drove for about 5km to Djenne, built on an island on the Bani River, a tributary to the Niger, and after negotiating our way through the narrow streets of the town, parked Stan in an area clearly designated for visiting tourists, and proceeded with John Travolta on a walking tour of the town and its famous mosque.

 Many of the guidebooks recommend a visit on market day, a Monday here, when the normal 20 000 population doubles with traders. But having experienced market day in Bankass, we were glad that we were there on a non market day, as we found the town overcrowded even then.

 One of the Mosque towers The Mosque us at the mosque

The Mosque dominates the town, capable of housing 5 000 worshippers.  The rounded lines of the façade are dominate by 3 towers, each 11 metres high, and topped with a ostrich egg. The protruding wooden beams serve more than an aesthetic function, they are also essential for the upkeep of the building. Each year, rains wash way the building’s smooth banko (mud) outer layer, and the townspeople work to restore it in the dry season.

 

We circled the Mosque, also being shown up to the roofs of neighbouring homes to view it better. Whilst walking through the streets, John also pointed out some of the many Madrassas, which serve as a reminder of Djenne’s days as a renowned centre of Islamic scholarship.

 One of the Madrassas              Local bride avoiding the mud

We also came across a local wedding ceremony, with the bride and guests all dressed in the best, including the children, as they sang their way through the streets.  How the bride, all dressed in white, and with shiny silver stilettos, kept clean from the muddy streets was a minor miracle.

 

We also visited the cloth workshop of Pama  Sinatoa, a local woman who has centralized the manufacture and sale of  bogolan, or mud cloth. Although we couldn’t buy any more cloth, having stocked up in the Dogon country, it was well worth the visit to see all the different types of cloth.

 Pama's cloth                     

After walking through the narrow, twisting streets of Djenne, however, our overriding impression of this town was of the open filth that lay everywhere, with each street  having an open drain down the centre, carrying untreated effluent down in to the river – where the fisherman, washerwomen and bathers went about there business!! John explained that, since being declared a World Heritage Site, the number of inhabitants had drastically increased, but no alterations or improvements to the town were allowed. Despite this explanation, we found the townspeople’s lack of worry about the epidemic waiting to happen on their doorstep, not to mention the smell, off-putting to say the least.

 typical Djenne street!!    Rubbish dumped in the river

We left Djenne late in the afternoon, retracing our steps over the Niger in the ferry, spending the time waiting for the ferry bantering with the child traders, going by such  names as  “Mrs Good Price” and the like. Annaliese ended up bartering half her wardrobe and a bagful of sweets for a few pieces of jewellery.

 

 

Segou

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The town of Segou lies on the banks of the Niger River, and is also an historically significant town , for being the centre of many ancient empires that relied on the river as a trade route.

 We had left Djenne later than anticipated, but made good time to Segou, and drove into town in the early evening. Our progress westwards was evidenced by the lengthening daylight hours in the evenings, as it was still daylight when we arrived at 6.30.

 The Niger river and scenes from Segou

We found ourselves at the Hotel Auberge, where we checked in for the night. Stan was the centre of attention for the locals ,many of whom earn a living taking tourists off the beaten track, and so were mighty impressed with Stan’s travels. We also met another couple from the Netherlands (what is it with these Hollanders in Africa?), Reinout and Renate, who were on their way back to Bamako and home. We enjoyed spending the evening with them, comparing Mali notes and listening to their tales of public transport in Africa. They were brave enough to take public transport from Timbuktu to Mopti together with goats, chickens, bags of torn millet that poured out with every bump in the road; a journey that took 10 hours and a taxi that had to be dug out several times! All part of daily life in Africa.

 Our new friends, Renate and Reinout from Vriesland in the Netherlands

The next morning after breakfast, we took a slow Sunday morning walk through the streets and along the river bank of Segou. The town has a sleepy, villagy feel, and we loved the sights and sounds, the women doing the washing in the river and at the same time having no problem with stripping in full view of everyone and washing themselves, the kids running towards you and being happy with touching your white hand, the fisherman going about their daily chores. Segou is also home to many artists and we just loved chatting to the locals and looking at their stunning works of art. Even Stewart finally decided to get a souvenir and haggled a long time only to walk away smiling with an ancient Tuareg sword in his hand.

 Pottery market with Bobo huts in the background

There is an impressive pottery market on the riverbank, and the many old crumbling former colonial buildings and tree lined streets recall an earlier era. However, the local architecture was equally impressive and beautiful with little mud (Banco) houses rubbing shoulders with more modern brick houses and the grass huts of the bozo fishermen. As always in Mali, the colours  are always vibrant, lively and in perfect harmony with nature.

 

We left about lunchtime for the capital, Bamako as we still wanted to visit the museum there which would be closed on Monday.

 

 

 

Bamako

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We arrived in Bamako on time to go to the museum after we impressed ourselves with our navigation skills by driving straight to the hotel despite the normal African city madness of Bamako. We checked in to Hotel Tamana in the hippodrome area (still to this day have not seen the famous hippodrome…does it actually exist?) and got into a taxi to take us to the National Museum of Mali.

Thank goodness we did that as all of the sudden it was as if all hell broke loose in the streets of Bamako. Due to the eternal English/French problem we were unable to ask our taxi driver the reason for the 10’s of thousands of scooters and motorbikes with screaming drivers and passengers that swamped the streets. That was until we reached the football stadium on our way to the museum. We, for the first time saw in real live Football (or Soccer as we know it) African style. We thought it was the national team playing as there were thousands of people in the stadium which was bursting at the seams, that is besides the people hanging on to the floodlights, the fences and sitting on the cliff sides around the stadium and those queuing to get in or arguing with ticket sellers!! To our surprise we heard that it was only 2 local Bamako teams playing. Well, here comes 2010 SA, be prepared!!  

 The cliffs around the stadiumEntrance to the museum

I have been addicted to museums ever since I have been a child in Luderitz and I had to wait every Saturday for my parents to finish their tennis games/socials across the road from the local museum. I spend hours there and I am sure this was the reason for my Archaeology studies as well as my constant search and visit to every museum I could find all over the world. The Mali National museum is small, but the masks and various items are well displayed and I am sure the descriptions explanatory if we could just read it as they were all in French! We were also so proud to find that one of the special exhibitions was of paintings/drawings by a South African artist from Soweto Titus Matiyane . The drawings are huge pieces, some up to 12 metres long, of 3 dimensional views of cities all over the world, New York, Dar Es Salaam, Durban, Pretoria etc. What a nice surprise.

 Bamako riverside, Africans clearly do not use their rivers for relaxation and tourism!!

We spend the next day getting our Mauritanian visas at an astronomical price, going to the German Consulate to try and extend my Schengen visa or at least get some info on how to be able to stay in Germany for a year. Despite the lady assuring me that I have an excellent command of the language, they were not prepared to help…..because the rules you know!

 

We thankfully met up with our friends Renate and Reinout again and spend our last (or so we thought) night in Bamako having a great supper and lots of wine and Flag beer (Stews new favourite)

Our sadest moment

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I have no idea how to convey the next day and every word I write is hurting my heart, but there is no other way to convey the information, so here we go.

 

We left Bamako in high spirits, excited to get to Senegal and Dakar, the Western most point of Africa. We heard the roads are good, at least on the Mali side, and decided to do a few bushcamps on our way until we get to Senegal 2 or 3 days later. We said goodbye to our new found friends Renate and Reinout after showing them the inns and outs of Stan and discussing all the little “protection” trinkets, collected on the way and given to us by fellow travelers.

 

The road was indeed one of the best we have had on the trip since Namibia and the going was good. I took over the driving and the road changed drastically just after the town of Kita where it turns into gravel. I was still driving and unfortunately I cannot remember exactly what happened …..all I know was that I lost control, started skidding all over the road, tried to over correct and the next minute I felt the car turning, skidding and rolling. We ended up on the other side of the road with the car upside down and the 2 of us hanging in the air tied to the car by our safety belts. Thank god we were wearing these as there is no doubt that they saved our lives; we would have been thrown out of the front windscreen and crushed by the car.

        

How do you convey the pain of the realization that your action just ruined your dream, the fear that the love of your life is injured, the scene of the world turning upside down whilst your only home is rolling (a scene that is still repeated in my mind night after night), there are no words, but there are also no words to describe the thankfulness and joy when you realize that we both got out of the car alive. That we still at least had each other if nothing else. Those few seconds when we comforted each other in eerie calmness whilst the car was rolling must truly be godsend. Stewart was a pillar of strength as we crawled out of the car(he on the drivers side as his side took the worst blow) and realized that we are in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone reception. My back was injured and we had no idea of what to do next, To make matters worse, the skies opened and the rain came pouring down, tropical African style. To try and stay calm,we tried to get valuable things out of the car and the rain and Stew loosened the few screws that still kept the roof rack attached to the car. We knew immediately that the damage was bad, very bad.

 

I finally cracked when the only person who arrived with his bike was unfortunately not a typical example of Malian hospitality. To this day I still have no idea what lesson there is to be learnt from this, but he was the most unkind person we met in a long time. We were still visibly shocked by the experience and all this guy did whilst we were trying to explain we need help, was to point his finger into Stewarts face  screaming” You, you,MONEY MONEY!!” Over and over and over. He wanted 100 000CFA (About R2000) on the spot before he was prepared to call for help. All I did in return was shout “Bad heart, bad heart” Well, we had no option but to pay, at least we got him down to half the amount specially when we realized that he was only prepared to get a truck to turn the car over and then leave us there. I am not sure, but I think the rest of the guys that arrived  spoke to him and he agreed that the truck could tow us the 30 odd kilometers to the nearest town.

 Getting ready to be towed to Bamako and the bathroom in our"abode"

We were towed to a place that once , many years ago was a hotel but has since downgraded substantially to a whorehouse. There was (once again) no running water, no window panes, no mosquito net and 1000’s of mosquitoes buzzing away, used condoms on the floor all over the room, the walls covered in dirt and bedding that I cannot describe. At least it was safe and there was nowhere else to go. The only option we had as we had no contacts in Mali, was to phone the Tamana Hotel in Bamako where we stayed as we remembered that a staff member could speak English. We got hold of him, he contacted the Lebanese owner of the hotel and he came back to us with an offer that he can arrange for a truck to transport Stan to Bamako for an amount of R8000! That was absurd and after arranging with the owner of the brothel to bring someone that could speak English, out interpreter helped us to arrange with a local businessman transport to Bamako at half the price.

 

After a sleepless night, our “tow truck” arrived in the guise of an ancient taxi! But believe it or not, he did the job, we loaded the ruined roof rack and tent on the roof of the taxi, attached the towing pole and off we went. The trip of 250 kms to Bamako was not easy as Stan had a much lower profile since the accident with the result that Stew could not sit up straight behind the wheel and to make matters worse, we were covered in insects, dust and all kinds of “flying things” when we finally arrived.

 

 

Bamako again

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We made Bamako in good time and thank goodness, found a great hotel at a special price with a very helpful manager. The best part of arriving here at Hotel Chaumier was to see the friendly faces of our friends Reinout and Renate again. They have been incredibly supportive and helped us in any way possible. They were shoulders to cry on, sympathetic listeners, they cried with us and laughed with us. Thank you so much guys, you were rays of sunshine, we felt even more lost after you left and will keep your kindness in our hearts forever.

 Our last supper with Reinout and Renate in Mali with our Ghanian friend whom we met in the restaurant

Thank you also to our dear friends in SA who were pillars of strength all the way. We are so sorry that we are testing your friendship to the hilt and like my sister says, we truly are keeping all of you on your knees. I would love to mention special people who kept on sending sms messages and phoned all the time regardless of the time and cost, but you know who you are and you will all receive boundless good karma, we know. Also to my sister Joleen, and Bianca and Leigh who took such good care of our precious Zack whilst in hospital with his operation (this happened at the same time) we do not have words to thank you. Also, for still looking after him at home. Caron, thank you for arranging the basket to ensure him of our love and support and to all of you that went there, thank you so much. The fact that life goes on for all your loved ones is part of what makes a trip like this hard, but as always there are shining stars that lighten your load and just step in without expecting anything in return.

 

So here we are, still in the same place and with no idea what to do next. This is a time when all our philosophies of “Why worry” , “good will come out of this” , “at least we have each other” and “worldly goods mean nothing” are all truly tested. There is no way we can lie and say that it was easy to accept what has happened and to move on, it was, and still at times is, hard, but we are getting there and we do say thank you all the time for the fact that we were saved, the fact that we have each other, the fact that we have support and loved ones, the fact that we got so many invites from friends and family in CT to come and stay for as long as we like.  

In the words of Pieter vd Westhuizen "nothing wrong with no money and a tin of tuna for supper, it is the company you keep that matters!"  At least we had wine to go with it!

 

The factual situation is that the Stan is only insured for balance of 3rd Party as no SA insurance company wanted to insure it for West Africa, the car seems to be a write off even though mechanically it is still perfect, to have the wreck send to SA cost R50 000(which we do not have), it seems highly unlikely that we will be able to fix it here as true to form, the OFFICIAL LANDROVER DEALER was ONCE AGAIN NO help, they were not even prepared to look for a replacement windscreen!!! The other problem is that all the cars here are LHD, so basically we are hoping for a miracle that someone will buy it “:as is” for a ridiculous amount. If not, well, we will have to deal with it. But we just cannot afford to have it shipped to Cape Town. As sad as we are to say goodbye, Stan will have to stay behind in Mali. We will truly miss him as he has been the most important part of our journey, he has been our home for the past 4 and a half months, he has provided shelter, heartache, laughs, pain, frustration and when most needed, has been as strong as an ox and got us through the most atrocious roads in Africa. Thank you STANRUZA. At this stage, we have no idea why our beautiful journey had to end like this, we wish so much that it was different, but we have to accept that we are not always in complete control. All we can hope for is that one day we will understand.

 

In the meantime, after lots of enquiries, we managed to find a company that can freight our personal goods to Johannesburg. Once we found this, our minds were made up and we immediately bought plane tickets home to Cape Town.

 Buying recycled metal crates to frieght our goods in( felt like getting in myself!)

 The best of all is that we will fly to Dakar and spend Tuesday afternoon and evening there. Yippeee, at least we can finish this part of our journey at the western most point of Africa!!!! Well, our means of transport will not be the same as originally planned, but at least we will be there for a while. We do not say that our journey is over as both of us have been fully converted into true travelers.We know this, as one of the solutions we were seriously considering was to see if we cannot swap Stan for one of the local taxis and use that to at least get to Morocco!!!! Mad or what….??? but that is what Africa does to you , you become an addict and we know that this is the way it will be from now on. The world is huge and there are vast areas out there still to be visited and explored!

 

We will report further from Dakar where after we will keep you informed of our future plans before we say goodbye from this part of our journey.

Dakar

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Despite our baggage being woefully overweight, the flight from Bamako to Dakar was uneventful.  We had eventually made it to the westernmost point of Africa, although  unfortunately not under our own steam.

 
We had decided to book into a hotel as close as possible to the airport, as we were leaving early the next day, but the Airport Hotel still provided a stern challenge  in transporting all our bags, especially  with the high humidity and the heat. Fortunately, a local taxi driver befriended us, and assisted with the bags in exchange for a guaranteed ride into town, albeit trying his luck with charging exorbitant prices!! Luckily we were seasoned travelers by this stage and were able to negotiate him down substantially!

 Streets of Dakar

Once booked into the hotel, we left the airport with our driver, who took us on a short tour of the outer area of Dakar. We quickly realized that Dakar was clearly a lot more sophisticated than much of the rest of Africa, with a “European “ feel  to much of the  shops and businesses. We were so sad not to be able to spend more time here as it looks like very interesting city, vibey, full of life and energy.

 Local "chicks" on the beach      locals relaxing by the sea
We drove along part of the shoreline, and on the driver’s recommendation, stopped off for the evening at a local beach and spent some time with the locals relaxing there, before finding a nearby restaurant to have our ”last supper” .

 Fresh seafood, cooked on the beach  Dakar beach

Although Stewart was less than impressed by the tasteless local beer, we had a lovely meal overlooking the sea reminiscing about the past 5 months in this, the mother of al continents and wondering where life will lead us next. To say we were truly sad, is an understatement, as we both realized that our appetite for traveling has as yet not been satisfied. Only problem being that our only means of continuing, was abandoned in the neighbouring country and with no immediate solution in sight, we had to make peace with the situation.

 

We left for the hotel and after a few hours of fitful sleep, got up at 3.30 due to the incredibly bad smell in the room as well as the noise levels in the hotel. We  arrived at “Departures” all dreary eyed and despite our best efforts to spin a suitable sob story, we had to pay  for the overweight luggage. We were joining a SAA flight from New York which had stopped to refuel at Dakar, and so after a last look at Dakar from the departure lounge, we were on our way back to South Africa, feeling a bit displaced but still with a song in our hearts as we were on our way to see our beloved sons, family and friends.

So long to West Africa......for now

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So, here we are, back “home “again, feeling somewhat sad, somewhat overwhelmed, somewhat excited, somewhat lost ….a whole combination of emotions somehow reminiscent of our time spend traveling…..no middle road, always extremes. But that is the path we took, and despite the toughness, the life we chose to embrace, so now is the time to “walk the talk”

We arrived back in Cape Town feeling like someone abruptly removed us from having the best party of our lives and dropped us in the middle of nowhere. Do not get us wrong though, there are no words to describe the joy of once again experiencing the loving embraces, caring and unconditional support of our beloved sons, family and precious special friends, no words to describe the emotion when you realize that even Themba still loves us and welcomed us home ! Despite that, I have to be honest and admit that for the first few days, my family renamed me Kermit the Hermit, as I developed a fear of people and preferred to stay within the safety of Rudolf and Chrizel’s home. The beauty of this was the fact that we both realized that we truly became fully “in sinc” with each other as Stewart just naturally took over the social role, answered the phone, made the appointments and gently coaxed me to start facing life again, one step at a time.

The constant flow and as the sun sets a new beginning starts the next day

We spend the best time with Ruds, Chrizel and Zack at Pringle Bay (thank you Kevin) and just reveled in the absolute joy of having a washing machine, a stove, electricity, to be able to play cards with our kids, to have a “braai”, to laugh at the fact that our “artist soul” son Rudolf is now the only steady one in the family with a job, a house and a steady income and who is now looking after all of us. Spending time here made us realize that life, just like the ocean, has an ebb and flow, a constant movement and that badness will always be replaced by goodness, sadness by joy, death by life . There is always a new beginning and all we have to do is to be open to possibilities, to get rid of negative feelings and to embrace life from deep within our souls.

Good old South Africa! Cheers to our new beginning!!

It is too early to say or to expect absolute clarity about our future, but for the time being, we are filled with peace and are looking forward to our new beginning. We are truly lucky to be loved, truly lucky to be able to live our dream and still have the security of knowing that we are supported by our loved ones. All we can do in return is to say THANK YOU from the bottom of our hearts to all of you, thank you for the support, the meals, the accommodation, the trust in us, the love and caring. We do hope that we will never disappoint your faith in our journey, but this much we can say, the past five months compares to five years of life experiences and in that way we vow to ensure that we will never again go back to being the same as we were before we started the journey, we will continue to see the good in life, continue to try our best to “pay it forward” and continue to try in our own small way to touch the lives of those we meet in a positive way and to make a difference.