Where am I?

Created this blog to document my travels, experiences & thoughts thru Central & South America but hell plan to blog my travels to where ever. Goofy harmless Free Spirit hoping to spend most of my time with locals & enjoy the world! So hang on as I travel, drink cervezas, raise a little hell, maybe piss off a few people & hopefully not give Canadians a bad reputation! Of course don't do these things on purpose but while having a good time well "Shit Happens"!

Monday, April 12, 2010

So what and where the heck is Dogan Country? Well its kind of like another world

Dogans are people who originally lived just south of Bamako in Mali and I m not talking about the slang word for Catholics. I’m not sure when it happened but they moved east to an area around Mopti. Apparently when they first moved to the land there were other occupying the place and living in houses built in the cliffs. These people were sort of pygmies (small or dwarf people) who had never seen large people while the Dogans had never seen pygmies. So this caused some animosity between them so there was a lot of fighting. But eventually they became friendly and then the pygmies moved to another part of Africa. So the Dogan people grew to become approximately 145 villages and called Dogan Country. A lot of the villages are built on or near a high rocky cliff where some of the villages are built.

In order to see Dogan Country travelers require a guide! This is cus there are a lot of different villages and it would take a long time to figure out where a person is going in the desert and rocky hills. Also the Dogan people would not accept u into their villages without a guide to talk to them. It has become a profitable venture for the Dogan people so they are paid to put up with visitors to their villages. They also have built some places for the visitor to stay and also cook meals for the people. Cus most people wouldn’t be able to eat their food so we’re told.

So when we got back from Timbucktoo, well Bruno, Adrian and I negotiated with a guy who could speak English, French and the local language and guide us to the Dogan Country. The normal cost is about 20,000 or $50 a day per person for transportation, accommodation, food and guide to Dogan country. But we supply our own water. This was very expensive so we decided we would only do it in 2 days and 1 night as that should be enough to visit about 6 villages and experience how they live. Now we had or I should say Bruno and Adrian had the benefit of a vehicle to drive us most of the way and we’d walk from there. This was a great negotiating tool so we could get it down to 23000 or $57 for 2 days and 1 night rather than 40000 or $100.

So we decided to go to this other town called Bandiagara and spend one night. Then we could get up early the next day and drive the 1 hr and get into Dogan Country. We spent the night at an Auberge/cheap hotel which had a nice restaurant and bar. There was also an Overland truck with about 8 or 10 English tourists staying there. This overland truck was travelling for a month starting in Acrra in Ghana to Mali and end up back in Acrra. There are various Overland Trucks that have routes all over Africa and some in South America. They give people who want to experience the countries but don’t want to go alone but want to travel in a group. These groups are pretty expensive but they supply everthing. They do a lot of camping and stay in hotels along the way as they cook or eat in restaurants. It’s a good way if you have a good group but I would find it too restrictivs I like to do my own thing. But the night we were at the hotel there was a live band of local Mali playing. So we all mixed, drank beer and talked and they seemed like pleasant people.

We left early the next morning when the Overland group were still getting set up to cook, etc. The road to the Dogan Country was like a dam wash board so travelling was a bit slow. But we got to the first village with it’s funny name Djiguibuombo. We found the houses made of mud with funny looking roofs. They had houses for the men and women to store their food and other things. Why they had separate places I still don’t understand. They also had a special house for women and girls to stay when they were having their monthly menstrual periods. They had to remain in there for that time and would go in when it was dark so no one could see them. Sounds a bit archaric to me. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of the people except when we went to see one of their schools and got pics of the kids.

One thing that I found visiting these villages was how the people all stared at me! Actually that’s was probably the case in most of West Africa. Like haven’t they seen an bald, short, stubby, older, Japanese Canadian guy with piercings and tattoos before? In one village we stayed in they mentioned that I should stay with them. Shit man that’s probably the first time anyone wanted me to stay cus usually most people are happy to see the ass end of me as I leave!! One guy wanted to know if I was a real person, give me a break! Hey I’m just a normal guy travelling around West Africa like all the Europeans even the arrogant French speaking tourists!!!

The next village we visited was rebuilt on the desert floor but had originally been built on a cliff. But apparently it was hard to carry water up to the houses all the time so they rebuilt the village on level ground. But it was interesting to climb the cliffs to see the old village. It was very cool in the houses in the cliffs as compared to the level ground. We also got a great view of the surrounding village and desert. We didn’t stop to visit all the villages along the way but one of them which was also built on a cliff the people still lived in them.

We were able to drive to the 3rd village where we stopped and left the camper in a secure place. Then we got lunch which was like all the other meals I’ve eaten in Mali, spaghetti! We were able to buy bottle water and if we wanted soft drinks. I told myself once I leave Mali it’s going to be a long time before I eat spaghetti or drink a soft drink again.

It was like really hot in the desert to walk 5 km to the next village. So we rested until about 4 pm when it was a bit cooler. Then we walked thru the desert and up this steep cliff to get to the next village. It had a great view of the surrounding desert and hill side and deenisert. This village seemed like quite a prosperous village compared to others we had seen.

We were to have our evening meal here and we had a choice so of course it wasn’t spaghetti but couscous! I was also having a bowel problem cus of all the spaghetti I had eaten over the past 5 days. So walking in the heat and up the cliffs it seemed I was carrying an extra 10 kgs. But I had probably lost a bit of weight in the past month cus of the heat and sweating. I know Adrian said he had lost 10 kgs and Bruno about 5 kg.

This was also the place where we were staying the night. We got to take a shower which consisted of a large barrel with a tap to let the water flow. But hey it worked and it got us wet and cooled off!

Later we got to see the village and see this one dude’s house who was supposedly the resident hunter. When I had a quick look I thought I saw human skull hanging on the wall. They were small but they turned out to be baboons not traveler who pissed them off. They also had a monkey as some kind of pet or maybe it was to be the meal for their next visitors or the other way around ha ha.

We also noticed the entire village seemed to be congregating in this one area. We found out that they were celebrating the birth of some babies. They make beer out of millet and some out of this tree or something. So they were all drinking and having a good time. Sort of like Happy Hour in Dogan Country. They invited us to join them for a beer so we did however the beer wasn’t too appealing cus well to me it was too warm. It may be fine for some English who like warm beer but I like my cold or at least cool! The millet beer wasn’t too strong so could have drank a bit of that. The other beer was good but a bit sweet for beer to me.

We got to sleep on the roof that night and it was so nice to sleep under the stars. There was no electricity in that village so of course it seem to magnify the number of stars. It was also kind of nice to sleep in cooler weather. The other 2 got kind of cool during the night and ended up with a sheet covering them but it was just right for me.

The next day was going to be a visit to another village about 5 km and then another 5 back. Then we had to walk back another 5 km to get back to the camper to get out of Dogan Country. Well ordinarily this wouldn’t be far but we found out later that 15 km in 40 C is like double the distance. The walk to the next village was over some pretty hilly terrain with nice views. The area seem more like the Moon than something here on Earth! It was nice to see the terrain but the village was like all the other villages we had seen so couldn’t understand why we walked 10 km in the heat to see. But hey we wanted to visit Dogan Country so there we were doing it!

I found the last 5 km so hot that I was starting to feel a heat stroke. I had torn my hat so I was only wearing a scarf on my head so the heat seeacmed stronger. We had to walk down the cliff and across the desert back to the camper only a distance of 5 km. Each 5 km took us basically 1 hr to walk in that terrain. So we walked 3 hrs in that 40 C heat and boy I was starting to really feel it when we got back to the camper.

Once we got to the camper I was feeling really nauseous with a headache. Bruno and Adrian were driving south to Bakino Faso after Dogan Country. While the guide and I were returning to Mopti so we needed to wait by the side of the main road for some type of ride.

We got stuck in the sand getting back to the road so we had to push. But the side of the van was like a hot plate so it was hard to push. But luckily there were a bunch of kids around who also gave us a hand to push the camper out of the sand. It took us another hr to get back to the main road where we parted company and said our goodbyes to Bruno and Adrian. I enjoyed my time in the past week hanging out in Mopti, D’Jenni and travelling to Timbucktoo and Dogan Country with the 2 of them. Meeting them made my trip to those place both easier and cheaper to visit cus there were 3 of us. So appreciated their company and a lift in their camper.

So the guide and I sat by the side of the main road for over an hr until a local van came along. We got kind of over charged for the lift back to Mopti but what choice do u have after sitting in the hot sun, feeling a bit sick. But the price wasn’t outrageous but more than I would have offered if I were feeling better. The bus was a real classic thing to ride in. The back door (the only door) wouldn’t close and we sat right by it. It shaked and sputtered going down the road plus we had to stop every 5 km or so to put some water in so it wouldn’t overheat. So after riding a 3 hr ride we got to this town about 15 km from Mopti the driver said he couldn’t drive there. So we had to catch a shared taxi back into Mopti. They pile 10 people into a little taxi which was also ready to fall apart but hey it beat walking but not by much! Then we had to walk a couple km back to hotel which was a bit of a treat after the 2 shitty rides we just took.

I wasn’t in a day hurry to get back to Bamako cus it was hot and polluted there so stayed another in Mopti. This gave me a chance to hang around the pool and read a book which I never do but shit going to Timbuckoo, D’jenni and Dogan country was a first too!

Well then another 10 hr bus trip on a hot crowded bus was another treat to look forward to! I decided to take the 7 am bus back but decided to stop at Seguo which was about 7 hrs. I heard it was a nice town and quiet.

I met this Swedish guy also catching the bus and we chatted. He told me he was living in Bamako as his wife had a job with the Swedish consulate commercial branch or something. They had a 3 year old boy and had lived there for the past 1 ½ year and were planning to return to Sweden in Dec. They had a house paid for by the Swedish government which had air conditioning and large. So this guy would look after his son and take him to play school and work from home on the internet. But he told me that he found it very polluted in Bamako so they stayed indoors most of the time. He also found driving in Bamako to be very stressful as the drivers didn’t follow any hrules plus there were so many motorbikes driving all over the roads carelessly. He told me that there were about 7 people a day get killed in accidents in Bamako. So I got the feeling he was looking forward to return to Sweden in Dec.

The bus trip was long, hot and crowded but I got off at Segou thinking I'd rest a day before heading to Bamako. But when I got to Segou every hotel, Auberge and even the Catholic Mission there were overcharging for a room or didn't a dorm bed. So I said fuck it and got a bus ticket for Bamako. So after getting on the bus at 7 am in Mopti, stopping for a hr in Segou trying to get a cheap place to crash well I ended up in Bamako at 7'30 Pm. The bus trip from Segou to Bamako was a bus trip from hell cus it was it was overcrowded so I had to sit over the engine compartment squeezed between 2 oversized Mamma Africas. Yeah so when I got to the Catholic Mission in Bamako I tod myself well I'm just going to complete my travel blog and read a book that I was reading. I was basically going to chill in the hot sun!

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