Dehydrated in the Dogon country

Bandiagara Travel Blog

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Hotel Le Kambary, Bandiagara, Mali
May 17, 2010
Hotel: Hotel Le Kambary, Bandiagara, Mali

Our guide had wanted us to leave for the Dogon village hike this morning at 6 AM. Since we'd had an early start the previous two days we decided to sleep in a bit and told him we'd rather leave at 8AM. We still woke up at 6AM anyway though. We had a good breakfast, baguettes with butter and mango jam and picked up a few bottles of water. The price for the whole day was 20,000 CFA including the guide, driver and lunch, which was in line with the all-inclusive price the book quoted.


The sand haze had increased overnight and visibility was pretty poor this morning. Our guide was waiting with the driver in an old Mercedes just before 8AM. We had to push start the car to get it running, a common occurrence here in Mali. The ride out to the villages was a bumpy, dusty 1.5 hrs to go 20kms! We passed lots of people with huge bundles on their heads on their way to the market in Bandiagara.

Even though it was 9:30 it was already blazing hot and dry, the haze obscuring objects in the distance. I soaked my turban in water, breathing through this helped cool the air a bit. The car stopped about 1km from the closest village, we would hike between three villages where the car would pick us up for the return trip. The first part of the hike was level along the well marked path.
The Dogon cliffs are sandstone, carved by wind and sun into domes and pillars. As we entered the first village we passed a few blocky brick buildings, the local school. Our guide was explaining some of the Dogon history, how they had lived in the cliffs for protection similar to Mesa Verde. Now most villages were located at the top of the cliff as it was easier to get to the fields and water.

The Dogon granaries are unique, square shaped huts with conical roofs. Men and women have their own, men's granaries are simple with a single room but women's may have multiple compartments. They're raised several inches off the ground to protect against rainwater and termites. We wandered through the village, seeing the local blacksmiths at work, and the local healer.
Dogon carvings on school, Mali


The next part of the hike was down to the next village bottom of the cliff. The air was just so dry it was sucking moisture out of us, I'd continuously squirt water on my head just to keep cool. At least the trek was downhill, for now.. I was dreading the climb back up the top of the cliff. Our guide kept saying, just a little bit further.. It was more a scramble than hike really, climbing down the steep rock gorge in the cliffs. I had bought a solar charger to help recharge the GPS, but the iGo cable that connected to the GPS had gotten bent, so that it stopped working sometime during the climb.

We finally reach the sandy bottom of the cliffs. Here we noticed several trees with odd bands around them. The guide mentioned that people strip bark off the trees to make rope and thatch for the roofs.
Dogon village, Mali
Finally we reach the rest point and plop onto chairs under a tree, totally exhausted and dehydrated. The guide came out with a bucket of water and poured it over our heads.. wonderful! That helped immensely, and we were able to buy a couple cold Fantas here to drink. I refilled my water filter several times as I refilled my water bottle and resoaked the turban.

I thought we'd be having lunch in the village at the base of the cliff, but no, it's in the next village some 1.5kms away. Well that was 1.5kms back uphill.. not an easy task. We're not in the best of shape and the heat didn't help. But somehow we made it.. it surprisingly wasn't as far up as I had expected. We had lunch at this village, couscous with chicken, with another couple Fantas. We had a bit of a nap and a rest under the shade of the buildings.


After our nap, we took a tour of the village, climbing up onto a sacred hilltop (for men only) which gave a great view out over the village and down the valley. There were several bags hidden in caves and crevices in the rocks, the guide said these were the masks used during traditional dances. It's possible to arrange dances for tourists, but it's a bit pricey. Our guide mentioned that during the height of tourist season, usually there are 30-40 tourists spending the night in the village. We hadn't seen a single tourist since Pendjari!

Time to head back, we started walking down the road to where (I thought) the car was parked.. well apparently it wasn't on that road, and I found out why our previous climb had seemed a little short.. our guide turns off the road and starts walking up another path up a cliff! Ok.
. it didn't seem too far, until we got to the top only to find out it was a false summit. Three or four more times this happened, reach the 'top' only to find out there's still a long way to go. Ugh! But we did make it finally, then had to push start the car to get it running. Another 1.5hr ride back to Bandi, getting there late in the afternoon, arriving exhausted and parched.

Even with the exhaustion, I thought the hike had been worth it.. though I think going during the rainy/cool season is a much better idea! The total distance walked was about 7kms.
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Hotel Le Kambary, Bandiagara, Mali
Hotel Le Kambary, Bandiagara, Mali
Dogon carvings on school, Mali
Dogon carvings on school, Mali
Dogon village, Mali
Dogon village, Mali
Tree splitting a rock, Dogon count…
Tree splitting a rock, Dogon coun…
Dogon village, Mali
Dogon village, Mali
Old Dogon cliff village, Mali
Old Dogon cliff village, Mali
Dogon adobe closeup, Mali
Dogon adobe closeup, Mali
Dogon village, Mali
Dogon village, Mali
Bandiagara
photo by: hauteboy