Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Mali – the country of legendary Timbuktu, mysterious dogons, one of the most powerful African empires in the past, rich in cultural and ethnic diversity.
We passed the border Senegal- Mali relatively quickly and smoothly. The funny thing here was that there was no border post and we had to go around the village to find the police to give us stamps. Besides the long lines of trucks, there was nothing showing that we are entering another country.
We traveled with Michael and his Land Cruiser down to Bamako, where we stayed together at a camp for two days. At the campsite we met a large group of Italians with a truck and a camper. Their truck was huge, 15 tons and carrying a lot of things for Africa - computers, clothes ... They were going to Burkina Faso.
Bamako was a nice city on the Niger
River . It looked pretty neat and orderly compared to other capitals we saw. We walked around for one day and we hit the road again. We had only 15 days visa for Mali and we wanted to see the most interesting places in this mysterious country. We had no time for Timbuktu, which is now not so hard to reach as it was in the past - there  is even an airport! Actually the most interesting thing in Timbuktu is the desert festival, which takes place right now ... but the ticket is around 150 euros for 3 days ... so maybe we'll visit it some other time in this life ...

shitting boys
Distances here are huge and we waited a long time at the beginning. First a local guy took us to the first post to pay (in Mali roads are paid). Then we got a ride with three other locals for another hundred kilometers. Overall the hitch-hiking went well and nobody wanted money (which happened in Senegal and we had to ask every time before we go is it free). Finally a 4x4 filled with overflowing luggage took us both in the front seat. Although in the beginning we refused as we saw there is no place, but he insisted we went. On one of the police posts, however, police stopped us and made a major problem for being 3 people in font.After a long discussion, checking our visas and passports, they let us go for 5000 CFA (almost 10 euros). We were very surprised how all the cars and buses were packed with people and animals, sometimes they had people on the roof, and they stopped us for this. The Malian explained: Everybody pays here.

In the evening we slept near the road for Djiene – a village, all built of mud, with the largest mud mosque in the world. (And generally the largest mud building).In this part of Mali, most villages were built of mud and after every rainy season people had to rebuilt them.
In the morning hitched two Germans with a guide and we went straight to their hotel in Djienne. We asked if he could put out tent on the roof and they agreed, but the patron wouldn't tell us how much it costs We spent the day with the Germans and their guide, who showed us around. The mosque was impressive and the small alleys and mud houses looked like from a fairy tale. Everything was, however, many touristic and there were no cheap restaurants and shops. Because of the dry season and the desert wind - harmatan air was filled with sand and dust. Sometimes it was difficult to breathe. There was no sky - everything was wrapped in sand.

market day in Djiene

The biggest mud mosque in the world

No bridges. To come to Djiene you have to cross the river.
second hand
In the evening in the hotel refused dinner – we asked for rice but there was only couscous, which was not our favorite, and was also very expensive. We put our tent on the roof and rested from the long day. Later one guy from the hotel came and brought us a bowl of spaghetti and two fizzy mango. He said it was free, he cooked it for himself. He apologized that there was no rice for dinner. We accepted with pleasure, but he didn't even stay to talk. Do not know why you were so kind to us at this hotel. We asked the owner many times how much to pay for the tent and he finally said it was free.We were not asked for any money and in the morning they gave us two loaves of bread! We were charmed by the kindness of Malian people and started to like this country more and more. We left with the Germans back to the main road. They went to Bamako, and we stayed at the road in the opposite direction - to Mopti. We had confirmed couch-surfer in Bandiagara - the village from where the trekking in Dogon country starts - the most beautiful and extraordinary place in Mali.

Kola nuts-bitter fruit that elder people eat for energy,
in Dogon country is a mandatory gift for people in the village

Traces of tears in the dust

Not long after a Malian family with a little boy picked us up. They drove all the way to Mopti with the music of Burning Spear, Alpha Blondie Bob Marley turned to the maximum.
In Mopti we ate had a breakfast and after headed to Bandiagara. As we walked on the road, people came to us, offering us guide, bus or taxi. When we said that we are hitch-hiking, they laughed and said it was impossible.We waited a lot and finally a Mercedes stopped. Just after we put our backpacks in and got in the car, the same two Malians who wanted to offer us a bus or taxi came to us with a motorbike and started shouting something to the driver. After a brief squabble the driver set off, trying to avoid the motorbike, with witch they were blocking our road. Finally he hit the motorbike and continued. 500 meters further down we stopped to pick up another hitchhiker-military guy and again the men with motorcycle came. This time they were furious and blocked our way with the moto so that we can not go from nowhere. Finally, our driver stepped on the gas and maneuvered off the road, running over the motorbike. Luckily we did not hit the biker, he only fell down. Apparently they didn’t like him giving us a ride. The whole episode was pretty brutal, but the Mercedes was a solid machine and went through the whole bike without problems. Luckily. We were afraid that they will chase us again, but fortunately they gave up and didn’t follow us anymore. The Mercedes left us at the first police post in the middle of the road to Bandiagara. There we waited a bit and a brand new Audi took us to Bandiagara together with the military hitchhiker.

In Bandiagara, however the phone to our host John was off. All day he rang, he wrote text messages and even found other Americans, volunteers from the Peace Corps, but even they refused to help us. In the evening we decided to go walk to the Dogon country and sleep near the road in the woods.
ora]: The next morning I felt pretty bad. I had a little fever, I was cold and had diarrhea. For several days I was quite weak and because of the numerous mosquito bites in the last week,I immediately decided it was malaria. Other people we met traveling longer time in Africa said that if they had fever they start drinking antimalarial pills without even going to the doctor. We also bought the pills from Dakar, but we still decided to go back to the hospital in Bandiagara to make a test. For the first time since the beginning of our journey I felt bad, hardly carrying my backpack for five kilometers to the village. The hospital was fairly good - almost like Bulgarian hospitals. The doctors were very nice, although I do not understand much French. They made me tests for typhoid and malaria, and waited until the afternoon for the results.
Fortunately, the results were negative
and they prescribed me some powders for stomach and said that it is because of the water or the food. I drank one and I felt better immediately and the same day I was fine.We set off again on the road to Dogon country. I was still extremely exhausted and I hoped someone to pick us. The road was very bad - sand and stones – only for bikes and 4x4 but almost no vehicles passed. In the morning we saw only bikes. Luckily, however, almost immediately we a jeep took us to the next village 5 km. And even more luckily just when we reached their village they received a call from a car that was broken on the road more 5-6 kilometers ahead and we continued. There we thought to stay somewhere to sleep near the road, but two guys with motorbikes stopped and offered us a ride to the next village- Duru. For the first time we hitch a moto and it was great fun with the big backpacks on the dirt road. In Duru we knew there camping for 1euro per person. We spent the night there, we left one backpack in storage at the campsite and we went on trekking through Dogon country.

It was very beautiful from the beginning - rocks, trees and yellow dry grass. We were the only tourists without a guide, we photographed a small map of the area and thought we could ask the locals if we got lost. We understood immediately, however, that local people deliberately give us wrong directions to get lost and then ask for money to show us the path. The road was not easy, constantly had to climb high cliffs and valleys with orchards, up and down, and here were many confusing paths between gardens and villages. From the beginning, when we asked about the first village they answered: "Oh ... you are lost, it is not this way" But we had a map and a compass, and we believed them. It was very funny how everyone was trying to give us wrong directions, and children ran screaming after us: "this is not the way" without even knowing where we are going. Finally, we reached the first village - IdeliNa and in the next-Komokani we stayed to sleep in a „campoman“- that is on the roof of one Dogon house.

on the way to Dogon country


Dogon Country was actually a number of villages high in the rocks, completely disconnected from the world without water and electricity, but with a rich culture and knowledge. The mystery about these tribes, except colorful dances with masks and houses-caves in the rocks left from the Telem people, is their ancient astronomical knowledge. Dogons knew about the rings of Saturn, the moons of Jupiter and the spiral shape of our galaxy centuries ago - things that can not be seen with the naked eye. And most puzzling – the sacred for them star Sirius B, which was completely unknown to astronomers until 1862 dwarf star, composed of extremely dense matter, they think that it is the most heavy metal world. Ancient star maps painted on the rocks show exceptional astrological knowledge of these tribes of primitive and isolated life. There are different theories, some say that aliens have brought this sacred knowledge, but the mystery remains unsolved. .

Obama - my dream

With much effort to maintain the gardens in dry season

типичните стълби тук

Obama is a big star here – there are T-shirts, hats, stickers, even underpants with Obama

We could not find this knowledge in today's Dogons. The only thing they said to us was 'donner mois cadeau' (give me a gift). It is sad how traditions and culture unchanged for centuries now break under the tourist influx. There weren't in fact many travelers along the way, all the campsites were empty and very rare we saw white people on the road. But their attitude towards us was tiring. When we pass by a village, we were immediately attacked by both children and adults - they want gifts, money, pens, to carry our backpacks, to become our guides ... sometimes thy followed us for kilometers. To talk normally to someone local was almost impossible. Perhaps the reason was that we did not have a guide, but we couldn't learn a lot about the true nature of there people.
Otherwise the place was indeed magical. On one side, cliffs with villages, on the other side - the red dunes and then the endless wild savannah. The villages high in the rocks appeared in front of the eyes like magic. The bent little graneries made of mud, looked like melted chocolate into the hot sun. The caves in the rocks, inherited from the Telems, were sacred now and we were not allowed to see them from close. They breathed cool air and mystery. The small thatched houses called graneries served for storage of things. There different graneries for men and women. People live simple lives and far from civilization. There were no cars, no shops and we could not even find bread. Four days we ate only rice and we dreamt of some fruit or vegetable.

houses actually have flat roofs and you can sleep on the roof. The graneries are for storing miel....


Telems' rock houses

On the second day, when passing by another village, we were again attacked by the local crowd. They asked where is our guide, shouting that we should have a guide and will now bring us one of the village. We tried to go forward without listening, but they began to pull us to dlock our way and become rude. We explained that we do not want a guide, but many people had gathered and didn't let us go in any direction. One went to the village to seek a guide, another offered us for 3 euros to take us to the next village (which was very close). Finally we said we wanted to talk to the chief of the village and that is it is not forbidden to walk on the road without a guide. We went all to the village, but when we ask where's the chief, they wouldn't tell us. Suddenly, after about an hour quarreling they let us go. We cotinued along the road trying to figure out why so suddenly they decided to let us. We walked as quickly as possible away from this village. To avoid the fuzz in the villages, we decided to climb the dunes at the other side of the road and spend the night there. The place was really strange - red dunes, and behind them an infinite flat savannah with few small trees. We put our tent on the sand and even made a fire and cooked rice. It was the most beautiful camping so long. In the morning we watched the sunrise, packed our backs and went down to the villages again. We stayed on the campsite in a village named Ireli. There we took a guide for 3 euros to show us around the village and climb up the rocks. The village had a church and a mosque, but most people were animists. There is a place for sacrifices. The guide give us his address and asked us to bring him a woman from Bulgaria and a pair of shoes size 40.People here had no shoes, children ran barefoot on the stones up and down, only some had flip-flops.

The most wonderful camping

The next day we decided to go back up on the dunes and walk through there.There was strong desert wind blowing and the sky was brown from the dust. Up on the dunes the wind was even more brutal. We went for hours without stopping through sand and thorns. At dusk we reached the last village, climbed the rocks and stayed there to sleep. Without a tent, only with sleeping mats on the rocks. It was beautiful night. We were only 5 kilometers from Duru (the village where we left one backpack). On the next morning we reached Duru and again we were attacked by locals. More than 10 people were walking after us and more and more were joining the crowd. Everyone was telling us that this is not the path, but nobody told us where is the path. Finally we went through some rocks just to escape the crowd and they left us. There an old man came and seriously started telling that we shouldn't walk here. He led us to the campsite, but he stayed there explaining to the boss that we have entered a prohibited place. He said that the rocks, where we passed were a holy place and now we had to get two chickens to sacrifice for this. We tried to explain that we are against killing animals, especially in our honor, but the man was really angry and said he would complain in Bandiagara and will make a big problem if we do not take two chickens. Also he said it would harm us if we do not. We had to pay for our mistake. We apologized and gave him 5 euro for two chickens. He was happy and went to make sacrifices. 

Two days before our visa expired we started for the border with Burkina Faso. We had to walk 5-6 km through the rocks to a small road, marked on the map. Again, climbing and descending over rocks and valleys, again locals refused to show us the path. Finally, thanks to a good teacher we found the road. Before our eyes revealed a beautiful but frustrating sight - a desert with and endless desolate track in the sand. There were more than 50 km to the border village of Koro, which we had to walk through the sand with backpacks. The road was only for 4x4 with and enthusiast rally driver. We had not yet gotten off the rocks on the sand when we saw exactly such 4x4. We could not believe our eyes. We ran down, waving and the... stopped. They were two very nice Frenchmen who helped in finding and drilling for water in the villages. They had lived many years in various African countries and had much experience here. They themselves also could not believe seeing hitchhikers on such a „road“.We flew with 70-80 km/h over the dunes like in a real rally. It was great fun and even a bit scary. Pretty quickly we got to Koro and they left us there.

It turned out that from Koro to the border there are 15 km, which we walked. After we exit Mali, it turned out that there are another 20 km to the entrance of Burkina. It was almost getting dark and the border worked till 18h. It was impossible to get there today. We decided to walk until dark and stay to sleep between the two countries. Throughout the day not a single car passed by us. Shortly before 6, however, a white van with white people appeared on the road. We thought it was a tourist bus that will cost money, but it proved to be a group of Europeans who came under a program for greening of the Sahel. We crossed the border with them and they left us in the first city in Burkina Faso - Uahiguya.

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