Dogon cliffs, Mali
May 16, 2010
Hotel: Le Kambary, Bandigara, Mali
Distance: 360 kms
Woke up at 5AM this morning, skipping breakfast yet again. The bus station was just far enough away to catch a taxi.. we caught one off the street in front of the hotel. The cars had been getting in worse and worse condition as we headed north; this one was a battered 1980's Corolla with overly squishy seats and no window handles. I wasn't sure if the car would make it across the street, much less to the bus station. Luckily it was only a few blocks or I think we might have caught carbon monoxide poisoning as more fumes were coming inside than through the muffler itself! The old STMB bus actually left on time right at 6AM.. took about 3hrs to reach the town of Ouahigouya (wa yee go ya).
Dogon village, Mali
From here, supposedly minivans and a bus went through to Mali. We couldn't find the bus, but there was a Mercedes minivan waiting to go to Koro. We bought our seats, then waited.. and waited... most minibuses in Africa only go when they are full. And by full that means packed to the gills. That can take hours sometimes... about 2.5 hrs in our case. By the time we left there were 23 people squished in the back of the bus, sitting on long wooden benches; luggage piled on the roof.
The paved road ended in Ouahi, so the next 4 hours seemed like an endless, bumpy, dusty ride, stopping 3 or 4 times at checkpoints, or to have our passport stamped, or for no reason at all. Everyone gets out of the van, stands around awhile, then gets back in and we'd bump along another 20 minutes before the next stop.
Beater taxi, Mali
The border crossing to Mali here is quite remote. The harmattan winds had also blown in from the Sahara, causing the sky to turn hazy with suspended sand. Everything went smoothly, just seemd to take forever. We finally reached the town of Koro, hoping to catch onward minibus or shared taxi to Bandigara. What luck, we get there just before one was getting ready to leave. What bad luck, it was already full! We didn't want to wait around again for hours waiting on the next one to fill, so we negotiated another private taxi for 39,000 CFA to take us the 65 miles to Bandi. We ended up in a Peugeot 504 that had been a broken down rusted out shitbox 20 years ago.. now it was barely a pile of scrap on wheels. No window or door handles, panels, or mirrors.. the window held in place with a screwdriver and a piece of wood.
We bounced along through the red dust for several hours... driving off the road more than on it at times. I had bought a scrap of cloth for using as a turban/mask for sand.. and made good use of it. It was also a blazing hot afternoon.. the humidity had been left behind in Benin to be replaced with roasting, scorching dusty heat here in Mali. At the end of the dry season, there is no grass, the creeks are empty and the land is parched.
At the town of Bankass we headed north up through the Dogon country. We had originally planned on visiting several Dogon villages and doing an overnight hike.. with the heat though we decided to maybe just do a single day trip out to the villages. The road slowly climbed the cliff, cemented in the steepest parts but still mainly gravel.
Sahel-style mud mosque, Mali
Some great views out over the surrounding countryside. We passed by a few villages with their distinctive conical roofed-granaries. We hoped to see more of these tomorrow. We arrived in Bandi around 5:30 PM, going to the Hotel Le Kambary on the edge of town. What a neat place, the rooms are all in these beehive shaped brick domes.. we opted for an aircon room with an extra bed. It turned out we were the only tourists here! But I can see why.. the brick walls trapped heat, even with the aircon blasting away inside, the walls just radiated heat like an oven.. it felt like we were in a tandoori.
We had also arranged an English-speaking Dogon guide previously via email.. the hotel also had their own guide, and of course both guides show up at the same time. We arranged our trip for the following day then had an excellent dinner of beef kebab at the hotel restaurant.