A Week In Mali - dswphoto
Day 4.

Udo slowly awaking at dawn on the morning of day 4.

After arriving in darkness the night before, I was eager to explore the village now in the morning light.

After the relatively modern city of Ségou it is was great to see the traditional mud brick buildings and rock wall architecture of Begnimato.

And to see the dramatic and breathtaking rocky cliffs of the Bandiagara Escarpment.

A rocky chasm next to the village extending out towards the cliffs.

A natural rock pillar rising high beside the village. There are dozens of other Dogon villages located along the rocky cliffs of the escarpment.

The mud buildings of the village blending in with the surrounding red and brown rock.

Some low morning clouds drifting over the village.

The Dogons arrived at the Bandiagara Escarpment in the 14th century close to the neaby the village of Kani Bonzon and originally to avoid conversion to Islam. From there they spread over the plateau, the escarpment and the plains of the Seno-Gondo.

A panorama of the village showing the surrounding unique and beautiful landscape.

Looking south to the cliffs of the Bandiagara Escarpment and the Seno Gongo plain which stretches to Burkina Faso in the south-east.

Begnimato center in the middle distance with the crumbling rock of the escarpment in the foreground.

The cliffs of the Bandiagara Escarpment stretch for over 200 kilometers with height varying from 100 to 300 meters.

Since 1989 the Bandiagara Escarpment has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The three different sections of the village visible from above, segregated based on Christian, Muslim and Animism beliefs.

And in the village where we were served a tasty breakfast of bread, nutella, fried donuts, omelette and Nescafé.

A carved wooden Dogon door. After breakfast we went for a stroll through the village.

A Christian woman wearing a cross around her neck.

Women pounding maize to make flour.

Two pigs in their sty in the Christian section of the village.

Another ornate carved wooden door.

An elderly Dogon man posing with his cane.

We then walked to a large open area for the start of a performance of a Dogon masked dance.

The beats from the drummers providing a steady rhythm.

And the masked young men dancing just behind.

Some of the masks were decorated with cowry shells, apparently used centuries ago in West Africa as a form of currency and hence highly valued.

The dancers snaking out along a long line.

The dance put on for us today was a condensed version of a funeral ritual intended to urge the reluctant dead into the afterlife, where they can assume useful roles as ancestors.

A dancer wearing a Kanaga mask.

The Kanaga mask is topped by a vertical double cross that represents a bird and also refers to the arms and legs of the Dogon creator God, Amma.

While ours lasted about 30 minutes, a proper Dogon funeral dance, honoring important elders, can go on for days.

A tingetange dancer on stilts, which represent the long legs of a waterbird.

Just behind was a dancer wearing an impressive five meter tall sirige mask. The mask’s straight lines are believed to connect the celestial world of the living with the spiritual world.

The dancers resting at the end of their very energetic and entertaining performance.

It felt like quite an honour to a get a brief glimpse of a centuries old tradition.

A village elder wearing a cowry shell necklace.

And a drummer wearing traditional Mali dress including his Bògòlanfini shirt and which we would get to see how it was decorated later in the trip.

After the Dogon mask dance we made the short walk to the edge of the escarpment.

At the edge of the cliff looking down at the trees and Seno Gongo plain below.

Ibrahim relaxing on the edge.

Piotr (center) and Udo (right) pausing to take in the expansive and breathtaking scenery all around us.

And myself nervously posing for a photo a few steps from certain oblivion!

Back in the village where we visited the home of a Dogon Dozo, or traditional hunter.

An array of baboon skulls and other dead animals on the wall.

And some tasty press coffee for morning tea before packing up our gear and getting ready to leave Begnimato.

Saying farewell to the village kids as we prepare to depart.

We then began a hike through the rocky landscape to the nearby village of Inndarou.

Sanny trekking through a gap between two rocky cliffs. A friend of mine once did a mind-boggling 125 kilometer trek over four days in the 40+°C heat of summer in Dogon country.

Luckily today though our trek to Inndarou was only a few kilometers and we were luckily to be blessed with overcast weather and temperatures in the low 30's (celsius).

Passing some basket carrying locals.

After the short hike we soon arrived at the Dogon village of Inndarou.

Like Begnimato, Inndarou also consisted of Dogon architecture with the distinctive mud-brick buildings and rock walls.

A man smoking a pipe as he applies mud plaster to a granary that will be used to store food.

A lady wearing a yellow dress and a colourful headscarf.

And the kids coming out to see the new visitors to the village.

The village blacksmith toiling away.

Goats sheltering in the shade of a rock wall.

In the center of all the huts was the village Toguna. Used as a general gathering and meeting spot, Toguna are purposely built with a low roof to force people to sit and to avoid any aggression when discussions become heated.

After walking through the village we climbed up to get a better view.

Looking across the village with Begnimato in the distance in the upper-right.

And down at the village of Inndarou below.

The steep cliffs of the Bandiagara Escarpment to the right.

To the south with the Seno-Gondo plain beyond.

The village of Dioundourou on the plain just below.

And our time at the Bandiagara Escarpment unfortunately coming to an end with our driver arriving to pick us up after getting the clutch pedal fixed in Bangiagara overnight.

Back in Bandiagara where we stopped for fish and rice for lunch.

The plan for this afternoon was to head to the city of Mopti via a brief visit onroute to the village of Songo.

After a short drive we arrived in Songo. Outside the beautiful village mosque.

An old lady carrying a bucket of wooden branches.

Men resting in the village Toguna.

A girl collecting foliage to feed the family goats.

A man weaving cotton fabric.

Looking down on the village as we walk up a steeply rising butte.

Ibrahim then took us up to the rock shelter where Dogon cave paintings covered the wall.

The rock shelter is where ritual circumsion is carried out by the village blacksmith for boys as they enter adulthood.

Although Songo is now Muslim, the Dogon initiation still takes place every three years with boys coming from the surrounding countryside.

The paintings refer to “the life of the world”: astronomy, masks and sacred paraphernalia, spirit figures, totemic prohibitions and ritual cycles and are used to educate boys about adult life, behavior and responsibility.

The wall continually evolves every three years as it is selectively repainted. Some symbols are freshened up, others are left to fade and occasionally new things are added.

We then drove on to the city of Mopti and checked into Hôtel Doux Rêves.

And our room for our one night stay.

After a quick shower we headed out for a walk through the city.

Outside the Grand Mosque of Mopti, which was built between 1936 and 1943.

The mosque design was based on the much bigger Great Mosque of Djenné (which we would visit tomorrow) and was constructed using sun-dried mud bricks covered with a layer of banco, a mixture of mud and grain husks. Also known as Komoguel Mosque, it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in 2009.

Continuing our walk through the city.

The local kids definitely weren't camera shy!

It was great to be greeted by smiles and laughs rather than by stares and suspect looks.

Women carrying bundles of colourful fabric.

Boats on the banks of the Bani River. Mopti lies on the right bank of the Bani River and a few hundred meters upstream of the confluence of the Bani with the Niger River.

Two ladies waiting for the next departure.

We then went on a boat ride on the river to watch the sunset.

Sanny and Ibrahim enjoying the beautiful view.

The sun now getting closer to the horizon.

And cruising up to the confluence of the Bani and Niger Rivers.

Back on land again where we went to a local restaurant for fish and chips with some Castel, Africa's most popular beer, for dinner to end day 4.

Day 5.

Nescafé and more baguette for breakfast at the beginning of day 5.

Fuelling up at the local service station where Udo convinced a local kid to wash the windscreen before he gave him some candy.

Today would be a long travel day, heading first to visit the town of Djenné before making the journey back to Ségou.

About 100 kilometers south of Mopti we turned off the main road and headed west towards Djenné.

On the way we stopped at the village of Tonbonka to check out the local mosque.

A boy posing in front of the banco coated walls.

A short drive later we arrived at the banks of the Bani River. We had to wait a short while for the ferry to cross back over so we had to fend off several ladies and kids trying to sell us various necklaces, bracelets and earrings.

I eventually gave in though and bought a couple to take home for Rianda.

The ferry soon arrived and our driver attempted to drive up on to it. The van initially got bogged down in the mud and sand but after a bit of a push made it safely on board.

Making our way across the river with some of the local kids catching a ride with their stacks of firewood.

After reaching Djenné we drove into the center of town to the Great Mosque of Djenné.

Along with the Old Towns of Djenné the mosque is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

On Mondays the large courtyard in front of the mosque is filled with stalls for the weekly market but today it was empty except for kids playing.

With our local guide briefing us on the history of the mosque.

The first mosque on the site was built around the 13th century and the current structure dates from 1907.

We then walked to a nearby building to get a better view of the mosque. A little girl greeting us as we walked up the stairs to the roof.

Looking down on the mosque. The mosque was built using mud bricks and reinforced with bundles of rodier palm that stick out of the building's facade. These extrusions are called 'toron' and serve as both decoration and as a type of scaffolding for workers.

Every year after the rainy season, men from the town climb onto the mosque's built-in scaffolding and ladders made of palm wood and smear mud and grain husk plaster over the walls to repair erosion caused by rain and cracks caused by changes in temperature and humidity.

A local man sitting on a mat on the north-eastern corner of the courtyard. The mosque is the largest mud-brick structure in the world.

The mosque was originally open to everyone but after French Vogue magazine organised an ill-advised fashion shoot with short-skirted models posing inside in 1996 it has been closed to non-Muslims.

However our local guide managed to convince the local Imam's son to make an exception for us for a reasonable 10k franc ($17) each.

The mosque custodian at the main entrance.

The prayer hall with the forest of ninety massive rectangular pillars reaching to the ceiling. It was quite a sight to behold and unlike any other mosque I had ever seen before.

Looking up at the pointed arches above.

The citizens of Djenné have resisted modernization with only minimal electrical wiring for loudspeakers and no indoor plumbing in favor of the building's historical integrity.

Sunlight coming in through a door to the mosque interior courtyard.

The interior courtyard surrounded on three sides by galleries.

Goatskins used for prayer mats on the sandy floor inside the western gallery which is reserved exclusively for use by women only.

And thanking the Imam's son for the privilege of seeing inside the historic and unique mosque.

Our local guide then took us for a walk through the old town. Workers mixing mud and grain husks to make the banco that is then plastered over the mudbricks.

With the mosque and town designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, all building work must be performed only with traditional mud bricks and plaster.

A Fulani woman posing for a portrait. In Mali, Fulani women tattoo their mouth and lips, a tradition known as “Tchoodi” and is performed just before they are married.

The tomb of Tapama Djenepo, who was sacrificed by being buried alive in mud in the 13th century to appease the gods, ward off evil spirits and allow the construction of Djenné.

Two boys drawing water from a well.

Cooling off from the summer heat.

A wooden window frame with octogram cut-outs.

Outside a local Madrasa, or religious school.

After the walking tour we retreated into a local restaurant to escape the midday heat, rehydrate and have some sticky rice and mystery stew for lunch.

Squeezing past a cart and donkeys as we make our way out of Djenné as our visit to the historic town comes to an end.

And about to drive up onto the ferry to cross the Bani River. Luckily no issues this time getting stuck in the muddy sand.

The karaoke still going strong thanks to more cheap rum while we take a break.

Making good time on the road with the sun beginning to set as we head towards Ségou.

Back at Hotel L'Auberge in the city.

And enjoying some more pizza al fresco after a long but unforgettable day.

Day 6.

Another generous serving of baguette and instant coffee at the start of day 6.

After breakfast we made the short walk down to the Niger river. A herd of goats ready for sale for upcoming Eid al-Adha.

Goats are often sacrificed by Muslims during Eid al-Adha in honour of the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God.

About to board our boat ride for this morning. The plan was to cruise over to village on the north side of the Niger River.

Laieta and Sanny enjoying the view of the river rom the front of the boat.

Men diving for riverbed sand to sell for construction material.

Enjoying some traditional Malian tea onboard. Very strong and very sweet!

We then docked on the river bank, ready to disembark to explore the small village.

A boy maneuvering a river boat loaded up with wood.

The village kids eagerly greeting the visiting Toubab.

Medicines for sale at the village 'pharmacy'.

Two men affectionately embracing.

Another riverboat ferrying wood across the river as we made our way back across to Ségou.

Once back in the city we headed to a local Bògòlanfini craftshop.

We were then seated for a short lesson on Bògòlanfini. Made by the Bambara people of Mali, Bògòlanfini is derived from three words in the Bambara language. ‘Bogo’ which means mud/earth, ‘lan’ translates to with and ‘fini’ is cloth.

To produce the Bògòlanfini fabric, cotton cloth is first soaked in a dye bath made from tree leaves. It is then painted black with special fermented mud which reacts with the dyed cloth, resulting in a dark bown color when the mud is washed off.

We were each given a small piece of cloth to try for ourselves. My meagre effort of a slightly out of proportion Kiwi.

Colourful handpainted Bògòlanfini fabrics for sale.

Some beautiful table cloths and bed throws.

And a simple hand scarf I bought to take home for Rianda.

Back into the city for lunch with pasta, beef stew and fried vegetables.

We then started the ~3.5 hour drive from Ségou back to the capital Bamako.

Stopping for another double shot of espresso as we passed through Konobougou again.

Mingling with the chaotic city traffic as we arrive at the outskirts of Bamako.

And checking in back at Hotel Les Colibris.

It was our final night in Mali so we headed across Martyrs Bridge over the Niger River to the northern side of the city.

And at Restaurant Le Loft, the top-rated place on Tripadvisor to eat in Bamako.

A surprising upmarket and fancy establishment with a clientele that seemed to be a mixture of French expats, UN employees and wealthy locals.

A bottle of Castel and some French red wine to drink.

After ordering we went around the table, each giving our highlight of the trip. There were alot of memorable moments but one of my favourites was exploring the dramatic sandstone cliffs of the Bandiagara Escarpment.

I had quite abit of francs left so decided to chance my stomach on the riverfish carpaccio for the entrée.

Followed by the delicious duck confit for the main.

And the decadent chocolate fudge pudding with cream for dessert. A great meal at probably the best restaurant I had eaten at so far in West Africa!

Day 7.

Omelettes and baguettes for breakfast at the hotel again. Our flight today was until 10:45am so we had nothing planned apart from making our way to the airport.

Back at Modibo Keita International Airport and where we finally said goodbye to Ibrahim and thanked him for the memorable and amazing trip.

Airside with my two boarding passes through to Dubai. Our plane was coming from Dakar and hence we had open seating for the first leg to Addis Ababa.

And about to board the Ethiopian Airlines 787 at the end of an incredible week in Mali!

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