Tuesday, 27 October 2009

He Says - Chill out time

26 – 27 Oct 09
The 4x4 taxi that picked us up drove the complete opposite of the Mercedes taxi, he was slow and careful and avoided as many obstacles as possible. As a result we got back to the Auberge Kanasay at about 1700h. Irrelevant of the money savings we decided to continue to sleep on the roof. During our trek we found it to be the best way to keep cool, it being cheaper was only a bonus. The views alone should have made this the more expensive option. The first night the plan failed us. There was no wind and it was a hot night, however from that night on it was the best option by far.

The success of the trip put me in a festive mood, and on that first night back, I was craving a beer so I had one then another, two beers and I was drunkish ! Not really drunk but “happy” as they say. Tiemo came by to say hello, see if we were settling in okay and get the rest of his money. Although I felt like the latter was almost embarrassing for him. We gave him a 20k CFA tip (so 1 day for 1 person or 10%) and this he really did seem to be embarrassed by (but happy too). We chatted for a while and he asked us to go for dirt ride (motorbike) on Sunday to two cool villages. I was not sure if this was as friend or as guide.

The next day (Saturday) was chill out and chores day, Tam spent morning in river doing laundry Mali style and had a little helper. In true Mali style Tam’s little helper did not want payment or anything, just helping the crazy (and probably only) white woman to ever do the laundry in the rive was enough. However when we offered him a “sucery” (coke/fanta..) his eyes became the size of Anubis’s headlights and said yes. Once he got it he almost ran a way, got a couple of friends or maybe his brother and sister and shared the drink. It was like mana from heaven. We saw him a couple of times after that and each time he grins a huge grin and waves like we are Santa Clause or something. The rest of the day was hanging out just relaxing and recovering from our trek. That night Tiemo came to the Auberge to see if we still wanted to go for the ride. He made it very clear with out us asking that it was as three friends going out, this really made me very happy.

The next morning arrived and I had the issue of how to get Anubis down the 4 steps, to get him in we had the help of many men. But now there was but one. I knew also that this time I have gravity on my side. So I used it. I jumped Anubis out of hotel. 4 stairs no problem! The ride was a lot harder then I was expecting and I was struggling with Anubis’s and Tam’s weight on the soft sand and even on the harder rocks.

I though it was simply that it was hard, I was still tired from the trek and I had not done a lot of two up dirt riding in years. I am sure some of this is the case, but I was also coming down with something as we got to the first village I was dizzy and feeling very ill. 30k of off piste riding and I was sick this was not a good thing. I put on a brave face hopping it would pass as we walked around and relaxed a bit but I was constantly feeling like I was going to vomit. I was getting worst by the minute (this btw will be the first time Tam knows how bad I felt, I did not want to ruin it or worry her). It was a shame as the village was not on the tourist trail and as such the people were great. For the first time we were invited in to eat and the “to’” it was amazing (unlike the restaurant to’ we ate). We sampled a bit of food eaten in the traditional style (sitting on the ground eating with right hand). It was great tasting but unbelievably hot on the hands. Although ill it was so good that both of us could have eaten our fill, but as this was unplanned, we assumed that there was not really enough to feed us. So after a polite amount we excused ourselves.

Unfortunately I was feeling really bad by time we headed out and towards the next village. The to’ had some positive effects though and I was a bit stronger I was finding the riding a lot easier. The sand traps (in general were no longer stopping us and we only had one or two kick outs). I was feeling extremely shaky and was not sure if it was a good idea to push my luck with the 30k return trip and an other 10k to the next village. Then Tiemo’s bike broke down. It was the end for me. Although we got it running, I said no more. We were too far out to get help if we need it. It was too far to push the bike and I was getting worse by the minute. Fortunately, we got home with out issue, but I was dead for rest of day. I can only remember little bit of the day from that point on. I remember laying on palm wood chair in the Auberge’s bar, Tam making me eat some spaghetti, then some how we moved up to our terrace. I was not asleep during any of this time, but not really awake either.
The next day I felt marginally better, we headed out to the local market for some local breakfast of mutton curry with pancakes. It was great and something I could eat every day.

Just out side market guy came up to me and wanted a high-5 but grabbed my wrist instead. He then held on to me as hard as he could, I could tell he was trying to hurt me. I broke the lock easily, to which he responded by kicking me in the shin as hard as he could. It was not a good kick and did not hurt I could see the disappointment in his eyes. I think he wanted me to go down. Was he trying to mug me? The years of martial arts practice came back to me (despite the more years of not practising). I went into fight stance with out thinking. I scoped out his body position,
I planned my attack. I felt that I was sort of back in control of the situation, but I stopped myself from going on the attack. I just stared at him. I did not know what was going on… the guy looked like he wanted to fight a few people around started to shout (not sure what) and I kept starring at him. I was not going to attack nor would I risk turning my back on this person who attacked me for no reason. I was a good head taller then him but he looked fit. His grip and kick were not powerful, but I was not sure that I could take him. I may remember the stances and moves but after 15yr of not practising could I really defend myself like I once could? I did not know if I could take him with minimal force, so all my instincts were yelling “if this turns ugly, treat this as life and death, do not try to subdue but try to take down permanently” It was a scary bunch of thoughts that I have not had in years. From many a door way the local’s shouts were getting angry, but no one moved.

Then he left. With as little warning as the first attack, he just turned and left. I did not understand what happened was it some kind of cultural misunderstanding or was he mentally unbalanced or was he a nut job drug head. I did not know. I was glad it was over, but I was angry. I spent the next 3 hours feeling like a Gecko brother.

I, in retro, realised he had a mouth full of yellowish crumbs, that we have seen on a lot of the really older people. If it was only a cola nut or more I don’t know. We headed again to the market for lunch. We sampled some more of the local foods and enjoyed ourselves being the tourists that we are. I purchased a huge watermelon and headed home. We saw the attacker 2 more times, I don’t know if he saw us but he did nothing. I did observe him steal some food from one vendor, yelled aggressively to a few other people, and hit (or tried to) yet an other person. Although I cant be sure, sometimes the Dogon language sounds harsh to me but the reactions of people around me told me that at very least he was a bully. The rest of day was trying to get me over my fatigue that seemed to be getting worse not better. Tam did some more laundry, as she attempted to clean our very ripe bike gear.

That was our last day in Bandigara and for all in tense and purposes our last day in Mali. The next day we arose early and started to pack up our gear, although I was still extremely tired. At about 0730h I looked over the edge of our balcony to see Tiemo waving from the end of the street. I got Tam up and we went down to say our goodbyes and thank you. I was great that he came to see us off. That was his express reason for being up so early too. Thanks again Tiemoko you are a friend.

After a quick breakfast Bouba, asked us if we kept track of the food and drinks that we have had. He was very happy that Tam was keeping track as he could only remember about half of it. Ironically the 4 days there and all the food and drink we wanted was still cheaper then a couple of days in other hotels alone. We went out to the bike to be cheered on by what seemed like the entire staff of the hotel as well as much of the town. So if you ever find yourself in Bandigara, Mali I whole-heartedly suggest the Auberge Kansay!!!

On our way out of town we passed the attacker from the day before. Now we were in full bike gear with helmets on and visors down so there is no was he could have know who it was and yet he struck out at Anubis. I gunned the engine leaving him a cloud of smoke and flying rocks and sand. I am more convinced then ever that he was either on drugs or mentally unstable. Either way he is lucky that it was us that he was playing with, many people I know would not have walked away. I also think that he is not doing the town any favours and one day he will annoy enough people and they will do something. If he is on drugs I don’t care what they do to him (kill him for all I care), if mentally unstable I hope they can find him some help. Unfortunately I feel that it is most likely that he will come to an unpleasant end.

From Bandiagara we headed back to San, the turning point for Bamako or Burkina Faso. This included a 10km stretch of rough piste that was a detour. We had taken it once before on the way to Djenne but it had degraded a bit in the last week, probably due to the rains. About half way though the piste both Tam and I noticed a lot of banging and knocking coming from the rear. Once we were safely off the piste we examined the luggage rack and found that it had sheared off the main mount point for the panniers. Knowing the rest of the route was good bitumen I was not too concerned about it and would deal with it once we were at the hotel. The remainder of the ride was uneventful. We enjoyed a roadside lunch in a tin shack lean to in San. After which Tam would not agree to carry a watermelon the 1k (on the bike) to the hotel. Disappointed, we went back to the hotel, and although my illness was not over, I had to fix the bike. So I spent the next two hours MacGuyvering a new bracket. While Tam stayed in the room working on the computer, although this seemed extremely unfair at the time it turns out that she was coming down with the illness that is afflicting me. We had an early night as tomorrow we hit country number 9: Burkina Faso!

Mali has been a great place, it started out great, had a low in Bamako and finished on an awesome high in the Dogon valley. The people (as a general rule) are nice and helpful. They have the balance of working with tourist and not thinking of them as walking wallets about right. Unlike some places they still make friend with their clients and form relationships that are not only finical. It is a friendly place, it is place where I feel like I have made friends. I have noticed that of all the African countries so far Mali has had the most aid from foreign countries. I don’t know if this helps them or hinders them. I don’t know if all the pressure to be like Europe or the US is a good thing. I do know that there lives are based on hard physical work and labours, I do not think if this is a bad thing, I do not know if it is a sad thing that many want the easily life they think that we have. There is a beauty and simplicity of many of the rural Malian’s lives that I envy, there is many things that I don’t know. But I do know that Mali has become a place that will remain in my heart for many years to come and that I have left a bit of myself there.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

He Says – Dogon territory

20-24 October
The room was bloody hot and the fan did little to dispel the building heat. We had the door and window open. Tam slept near naked despite the risk of being seen. We woke earlier then we needed to. Truth is I did not sleep, there was still too much to do. Although we packed the gear that we were taking with us the night before, the rest of the bike gear and travel gear was unpacked and unstowed. We broke our fast on the typical African hotel breakfast of a baguette, jam and Nescafe (Tam did get tea). Although filling, it is not the most exciting of breakfasts day after day.

Shortly after Bouba the Rastafarian hotelier arrived and showed us where to stow the gear. All was working out and Tiemoko was not due for another 10 minutes, even the taxi, which was to take us to the trek starting point, was there. We sat down to wait. 10 minutes and no Tiemoko. Now I was worried. I was worried that we was not a real guide and had fled with our money. After all there was the “oh my licence is in Mopti being reissued, but I do have this “ as he shows us a dodgy pin thing. But last night both Tam and I decided we don’t care if he is real or not we liked him. 15 minutes and just as I was about to get angry, Tiemoko arrived. It turns out his mother was very sick and he had tried to call but no one answered the phone at the hotel. I did hear the phone going several times too, and this is Africa 15 minutes late is well with in being early. Hey a couple of hours late is considered on time here. With in a few minutes we were off.

Tam pointed out that 10 years ago almost to the day we were setting off on a trek in the Himalayas, and now were are doing something similar again. History does repeat itself.

The Taxi was a very old model Mercedes, I don’t think it had any breaks and the driver drove it like he was in the Dakar rally. There were no seat belts and you could feel the springs though the seat covers. I had lost count of the number of time the car bottomed out. The man was simply insane. Despite our impending deaths, Tiemoko was giving us bits of information as we went with out any prompting. So far it has been a good start to the trek. Forty-five minutes of teeth shattering bumps later we arrived at a little village of Djiguibombo. Tiemo (as he prefers to be called) took us directly to see the chief of the village and introduce us to him, and we had a cold drink and sat for a while. I had no idea what was going on, Tiemo disappeared a few times and was speaking the local dialect. A bit confused I grabbed my camera and started to walk around taking pictures. Tiemo then remembered that he had photos to disseminate. He pulled out a stack that was about 10cm thick. It was suddenly Christmas here people appeared from all over the village to see if they had any photos of themselves or of loved ones. This lasted about 45min.

We then started out tour of the village (only 2 hours late, so on time?). The people were so photo genic and were for the most part happy to be shot. Many of the old people where given gifts of cola nuts. (Yes the “drug” that was originally in coke a cola). Tiemo filled our heads with facts and dates, and explained many of the traditions; he also tried to teach of some of the local language.

I decided at that point that I was having a hard enough time with French I was not even going to attempt 15 different dialects of Dogon. During our walk Tam wanted to try pounding millet, so Tiemo asked an old lady if Tam could try. The woman thought Tam was nuts, as did I. “Why would she want to work hard in this heat” was the look on her face as Tam took the 2m long pounding stick. Tam was working had but was too slow so shortly after the old woman joined back in.

At about 1100h as the heat was building to its peak we headed out of the relative coolness of the village and in to the dry and desolate plateau of the Dogon escarpment. It was hot but there was a nice breeze and for the first 3k. We all found it relatively easy walking. I was worried about Tam, I did not want a repeat of the desert collapse, but she was fine, even bouncy. About a 2k into the walk Tiemo had flagged down a guy on a motorbike and asked him to warn the café and have some food ready for us. I though this was a brilliant plan, and although the guy said he would do it. He never arrived.

It also turned out that only parts of the plateau were dry, there was one amazing waterfall and a small valley that was almost tropical. It had plenty of water and trees and was simply amazing. From there we reached our second village. This was a small place and was predominately a place for lunch and hiding from the worst of the heat. We lazed about for a few hours, at which point Tiemo disappeared to take a nap. With in seconds people appeared from what ever mystical place they hide and Tam and I were asked to buy this, donate money to that, sponsor this, they even wheeled out the local handicap kid o display for us before asking for money. It was done with little pressure but annoyed me none-the-less. If it was legitimate why wait till our guide was not around?

At about 1600h we walked though the town and saw out first Tellum houses, tucked in the high cliffs of the escarpment. There was also a smaller version of the Djenne mosque. We continued to walk to the last village of the day. Teli. It was a hot 4k though sandy tracks and millet fields. We arrived at about1730h, which gave us only about 30 minutes before darkness, meaning that we really only had time to set camp and order food. The food was amazing, the “officially worst guide book ever” describes the food “as basic”. I supposed it could be called that we had couscous and with chicken and vegetables in a wonderful spicy sauce, sure the menu was limited but the tastes were not. Tiemo did not ever let us go hungry if our plates were every ¾ empty he would put more food on. We slept on the roof with only a mosquito net and watched the stars, until sleep took us. Early the next morning, we headed up to the old town. It was a hard 600m slog up a 45° hill. It was incredible; you could see the Dogon houses and granaries as they were 6000 (and only 60 yrs) ago. Above them sat the remains of the Tellum houses perched high in the cliffs. The Tellum people were ousted by the Dogons, their cliff side villages abandoned and now used as cemeteries by the Dogon.

It was a magical experience, we explored for an hour or so before heading back to the new part of town. We explored for a further hour or so seeing the traditional crafts and trades. We headed back to the encampment to collect our gear and prepare for the next leg. With in seconds of Tiemo leaving us to pay the bill and take care of other business maters, the touts and “please give us money” people arrived. I simply ignored them but Tam donated money to a woman’s group. As soon as she did this it was like opening a door and there was no longer a soft sell but now the hard sell. Just before I got really annoyed Tiemo returned and the people vanished like ninjas.

We had a hot 5km to do before the next and only village on our list today. The “officially worst guide book ever” describes all the walks as up and down the escarpment, but it was a long flat walk. It was hard going sometimes as the ground was uneven and could be very deep sand. Tam struggled a bit was but doing great and my fears for her were slowly evaporating.

We arrived in Ende just before noon and just before the heat got to be unbearable. We had some lunch and simply waited for the heat to die down. Four hours of sitting was not my idea of fun and as before any time Tiemo was gone the sellers or beggars would arrive. The encampments would be wise to stop this as it always made me feel uncomfortable and I would not recommend any of them. It was not until about 1600h hours did we venture out into the village. Ende was a big village. I did not like it at all. It had all the hassle and dirt of any big city but not much else. Tiemo took us to the “artisan” quarter, which is really just tour talk for “place where your are shown stuff to be pressured into buying” quarter. Every tour has one of these and I don’t like it much at all. Tam wanted to go and get some indigo dyed cloth as a present for someone. We walked in to one of the dyers and she was swamped with woman trying to seller stuff. She found one she like and bought it suddenly all the woman who were vying for her attention left with out so much a thanks or goodbye. The rest of the “artisans” quarter was no better, if you said you did not want anything they would either move to hard sell time or look at you like you were scum of the earth. Ende was closer to Morocco then anywhere else in Mali. I was not really happy with the buy this buy this, and told Tiemo it was time to head to the old village and see the stuff we liked. He agreed readily (although warned that the artisan quarter maybe closed by the time we get back—Thank god I thought). We walked up the 700m of steep cliff to find the least magical place ever. UNESCO decided that it would rebuild everything, remove anything that was ugly and install some fake altars. Tiemo was as unimpressed as I was, it was no longer a historical site but a movie set or museum replica. We only spent about 30 minutes in the old village, as there was nothing really to see or shoot. This meant that we could see more artisans!! Yippee! We headed for the sculptors quarter, I was expecting more of the same buy this attitude but I was wrong. The sculptor was happy to just sit there doing his thing. He thing was carving small statues with a hatchet and he could make the most intricate cuts with a few thawacks of his hatchet. I was majorly impressed. He asked once if we wanted anything and when we said no continued to chat and cut away. He was one person that was the saviour of Endie.

We slept on the roof again at about 0300h I was wide wake having gone to bed at about 2100h As I lay there star gazing I see a fast moving satellite shooting across the horizon. It suddenly hit the stratosphere and burst into flame as it headed towards us. I then realised that it was a meteor. It was huge and close enough as it flew over head to see the rock itself, as well as the wall of gas behind it that burned a bright yellow and the vapour trail in its wake, it then left our stratosphere and left for places unknown without any sign that it was there. I noticed Tam was awake too she had seen it. This was the second big meteor that I have seen in my life, and both have been shared with Tam. I really like that.

We headed directly out that morning. Headed for a small village where once again Tiemo handed out more photographs to more excited people. Tam was surrounded by children who grab her hand tightly and walk with her (until she could untangle them). We spent some minutes watching a blacksmith do some woodcarving with fire. We both also had a go at using the ancient bellows, these were basically a bowl that has a leather skin tied around them that when pulled up and down pushed the air, simply yet effective. Tiemoko found a couple of carvings that he liked and engaged the blacksmith in a heated bartering session. Unfortunately he never got a good price. All the guide book say never bargain with a guide present, as the shop owner will be expected to tip the guide. Well it should also note that the guides should never bargain with punters present as the shop owners assumes that the object is really for the punters and wants tourist prices. Tiemo left empty handed and we headed to an old village that was once again was real and really old.

The path up to it was barely there and the climb was the hardest and steepest yet. It really felt like we were true explorers bashing our way thought the undergrowth to find the ancient village and not tourists. Once we finally made it to the top, sweat was pouring from all of us like it was raining it was hot, but wonderful. There were pots and broken pottery everywhere, the doors hung off their hinges and rope still sat there from the last sacrifice. The feeling in the place was as if we were the first people to have seen this since its abandonment. Much of the village was considered sacred so we were unable too explore it in its entirety but what we could see will stay with me forever. We still had a long and steep walk to do before we arrived at our final place to sleep.

It was a 4-5k walk up to the top of the escarpment to Begnimato, it was hot and getting hotter. The first bit of the walk however was nice and flat so we were fooled into thinking that we could make good time. What we did not take into account was the talcum powder soft sand, it was slow going. Eventually, we made it to the foot of the hill and started our climb. It was not that bad. A cooling breeze had come up, we were walking in the shadow of both the escarpment and the trees. Tam had flash backs of Nepal with its 1300 steps. We were slow but steady. When we reached the top we were greeted with a stunning view along the valley. Almost with out having to discuss it, Tam and I both agreed that at least for the first time we would meet Sam’s challenge of “when we find a spot that we love raise a beer to him in the north and “Cheers” him”. So Sam there you go! (we will likely do it again but here is one). We spent the next hour or so watching the sunset and relaxing.

Tiemo, decided that he would really really like to extend the trip for one day and 4 more villages, and did his best to convince us. We were unsure, but eventually decided to do it.

We again slept on the roof under the stars. I did not sleep well but was once again getting used to it. The next morning we walked around Begnimato visiting people and the famous Dogon hunter. We had a M.Palin moment when one of the hunters fired off his gun with its accompanying cloud of smoke and debris. It was a great experience. We had 7k to go before lunch and an additional 5 to go after that. So we left the village and started to walk. It was the hottest day yet but worse of all it was also humid we were all walking slow. We had to take several brakes, something we have yet to be force in to. The walk was on top of the escarpment, it was over hard blackish rocks or hard packed ground, there was little to no shade. It was hard going. We made it to the ½ way point and stopped for drink and some shade. After about 15 min rest we took a 1.2k side trip to look down on a village. Life there had not changed in thousands of years.

The rest of the journey to our lunch stop was relatively easy going if not extremely humid and hot. We made it and settled in for a well-deserved rest and meal. All the while just knowing that the hard 5k was still to come. At about 1530h it started to rain. We would have to either cancel the last day or walk in the rain. We all agreed that it was the walk! Tiemo told us that it was a 5k walk down hill, it was more like 3k flat easy going, 1k at about 60° and then 1 k hard going though soft sand and river fording. The 3k flat was dotted with stunning rock formations, which kept your mind off the grey clouds and tired feet. It ended in a valley with walls looming up on both sides. That was breath taking and had an ethereal feel. I asked Tiemo if it was sacred and he originally said no but then went on to explain that many villagers though it was haunted and need to make a calls as they passed though t protect themselves. The valley floor then dropped away at 60° moving us further down the escarpment, it was a hard walk but not a hard climb. The views were such that you never even realised that you were working so hard.

We eventually exited the crevasse and upon looking back it was almost invisible. It was as if you did not know that this was the pass you would never find it. The rest of the walk brought us unto view of the last village Nomburi. It towered over valley with Tellum buildings reaching for the sky and the Dogon village perched half way up the rocks. It was late and we were very tired. So we headed for camp. We spent the next couple of hours watching at last three species of bat (two micro and one mega) emerge from the cliffs and houses above. Tam was giddy with joy. There was a pack of French tourists already there (having taken a different route) and had paid the local to dance and sing for them. It was nice too watch although one French tourist in particular was firing shot after shot of flash photography in the faces of the people and anyone else in range. After about the 300th I was sick of it. I could only imagine how the dancers felt. Tam and I were asked to join the dance and where both tempted but it was the others that paid for it so we felt that it was wrong of us to do so, however Tiemo joined in the dance. I wish we could have as well.

The next day was a hard slog. We all woke up tired and we all knew that today’s plan was to walk up the escarpment around for a couple of k’s then down again and back up the way we came 24 hours earlier. We were all walking slow, it was very humid and was threatening to rain again. There was no wind and the temperature was climbing faster then we were. It was a climb up a rough and rocky track that once again was invisible if you did not know it was there. The number of stops we took to “enjoy the view” was increasing with every metre that we climbed, (although the view was the same). Finally after what seemed to all to be a 10k walk we reached the top. We wandered though a little village that was stunning but there was little enthusiasm. Enthusiasm took more energy that anyone had left, the only thing increasing was the temperature and the humidity. For the second time in as many weeks I was dripping wet with sweat. We left the village and headed for a mango grove that wound its way down the hill. On route Tam found more evidence of bats living in the Telium houses and we spent a few minutes fantasising about research project that could include anthropology, ecology and archaeology.

Just then the grove got very thick a small stream pooled up and was filled with sacred fish. It was a cool and tranquil place and the water was refreshing. It was almost magical as we all seemed to perk up after a splash of water on our arms and heads. The truth was the heat and humidity broke as it started to rain. We made it to an encampment in the valley below before the rain got too bad. We waited out the short but soaking storm. As the rain died off we head back out to the valley and the climb back up the hidden path that we climbed the day before. It did not lose any of its magic as we traversed it sheer steeps. Amazingly though it was a long steep climb we all felt that it was easier then it should be. Psychosomatic, I am sure, but the beauty of the place and the cooling effect of the rain made the hard walk enjoyable. Back at the place we had lunch the day before we waited for a taxi to come and end our trip. I was very physically tired and happy to know that the hard work was done but I was very unhappy that our Dogon adventure had come to an end.