A Travellerspoint blog

Here for a good time, not a long time

So have a good time, the sun can not shine everyday

rain 23 °C
View (Into and) Out of Africa on binderblog's travel map.

June 10th marked our entry into Cameroon, the 12th country encountered thus far, and it made for an interesting installment to say the least. Our driver, Chris, had heard of a supposed hippo trainer so we thought we’d check it out. We managed to find the guy and off we went to the river bank on a whimsical excursion. None of us had any preconceived notions of what to expect and I don’t think anyone realized just how ’hands-on’ it would be. We were first led to the river bank where I happily took photos of the raft of hippos off in the distant waters. The hippo-trainer then got into the water and waded out to meet the beasts; at this point we were all pretty convinced this guy was mad. Our impressions were premature however, as an assistant came around the river bend with two dodgy pirogue canoes. I was a bit weary but thought ‘awesome, I’ll get to see the hippos from a closer distance’… the first canoe was poled over to the shallow bank in the middle of the river, and while I boarded the next I was flabbergasted to see those in the first boat getting out for a better vantage point - IN the river. I followed suit somewhat apprehensively while 10 hippos circled around, surfacing closer and closer. I kept thinking back to what I know about the blubbery mammals, namely that they account for the most deaths of any animal in Africa and wondered if it was due to gullible tourists vying for a too-good-to-be-true adventure. Keeping a “safe” distance, the lot of us looked on with a mix of petrified and stoked faces as the massive animals came within five feet of us while a crazy man in his knickers hand fed one. As it turned out, only ONE of the hippos was ‘tame’, and the other members of the family were just as close (including a male, the biggest hippo Chris had ever seen, who kept submerging). For the brave at heart we also had the opportunity to feed and pet the tame hippopotamus. When it became my turn a calf turned up for a feed and the trainer still tried to direct the mother in my direction. I managed to pet her but if there is one golden rule I know of any dangerous animal its not to get in-between a mother and her young, so I happily backed off and we set off to shore. It was certainly a once in a lifetime opportunity that would never be advertised in any other African country and not something I ever thought I’d get (or want) a chance to do, but definitely in my top 5 best moments! The days excitement didn’t stop there though; at our bush camp later that evening we were swarmed by flying termites. Apparently the event only happens two nights a year during the breeding period when hundreds of thousands of winged termites swarm, drop their wings, and pair up. While it was quite a spectacular event to see, it was a shame I was on cook duty that night! Lets just say everyone had an extra serving of protein, and it was best not to eat with a torch on. Clean up was at the height of the infestation and we were left covered in bugs; we also spent a good portion of the morning cleaning the remnants of thousands of dropped wings out of the food lockers.
The next five days were spent in transit towards the capital, Yaoundé, to collect visas for Gabon, Congo, and DRC. We passed through in the height of the rainy season, a much different climate to muggy and stinking hot Nigeria. The road through is a particularly rough logging road making for some uncomfortable days in the back of the truck. The heavy rains also cause the rain barriers to become set down, though they were easily avoided with cigarette bribes or exaggerations of acute illness. The state of our radiator didn’t make the journey through any easier, nor did our missing headlights; so travel was only made before nightfall and frequent stops were made to mend the rad. Before arrival in Yaoundé we bush camped for nine days total, all without showers, and within very close proximity to each other. That length of time was difficult to be in such a confined space and I think a lot of nerves began to fray. You can try to take everything with a grain of salt, but at the end of the day we sweat an awful lot! All in all, it was a difficult travel period but managed successfully and made for a well deserved break entering Yaoundé. The scenery passing through northern Cameroon was absolutely stunning. It was my first visit to rain forest area apart from the temperate rainforests of BC, and is by far my favourite biome visited. The morning fog veiled the forest canopy below at one memorable bush camp, making for a scenic restroom. Driving closer towards the capital we came across sugarcane fields which were a complete change of backdrop and also very picturesque.
The town of Yaoundé is 750m above sea level and composed of a series of hills dispersed amongst the valley. We stayed at a Presbyterian mission there that was unfortunately suffering a water shortage so I instead opted to ‘splurge’ on a hotel down the road with showers, TV and wifi - it was a very appreciated luxury after so many days on the road. Most everyone made frequent visits to the local French patisseries for cheese pies, croissants, and cakes; the long days on the road through small villages often leave us with only packs of biscuits, bread rolls, laughing-cow cheese, or tinned goods for lunch if we’re lucky. it also seems fresh produce is quite sparse in the markets, surprising given the seemingly fertile land.
Apart from having hot showers and internet access there wasn’t much to see and do in Yaoundé, but I managed to make the most of it anyhow. Lene and I had a memorable day in Mokolo, the grand market, clothes shopping. It seems all of the hundreds of stalls are run by men and are very infrequently visited by white women. Much laughter and amusement was had by the two of us as we were completely swarmed by exceptionally forward locals making advancements, and fighting amongst themselves for our attention. It’s not uncommon to attract a lot of fascination throughout west Africa, nor do I principally enjoy it, but this particular market was a level beyond belief and made for a very funny afternoon. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to purchase much since it was all a bit too overwhelming...
Leaving Yaoundé, finally, we ventured off to Kribi after losing 5 Mt. Cameroon climbers. Of course, the road in between isn’t sealed and the recent rains left us stuck in the ditch in no time. The locals passing through were all too keen to help and after hours of digging there was little progress, in fact, the truck became increasingly inclined and rutted farther into the mud. I’m not normally too phased by such predicaments (as I’ve been known to have been in a few of my own :S) but the angle of the truck was starting to make me nervous and I’m surprised it didn’t end up tipping. By 9:00pm there was no hope of digging it out and a dump truck passing through finally came to the rescue and pulled us out. By this point we had set up camp at a church down the road so we parked up and went on our way in the morning before encroaching upon the Sunday service.
Entering the coastal beach town of Kribi we were greeted with a tropical rainstorm. One night in a tent was enough, and for the bargain price of about $2 each, Lene, Martin, and myself were treated to ‘the beach house’ - of course, this IS Africa, and the water pump was down, as was the electricity 90% of the time so water was fetched from the well and candles were lit. In Kribi I was also able to make use of some fabric purchased in Nigeria; by just bringing in a few meters and a drawing of what I wanted, the very talented seamstresses conjured up a custom African dress for a bargain price. The weather managed to calm down over the few days beachside, so the clean warm ocean water was visited frequently. Lene and I befriended a cook from the restaurant we frequented, who got us a bargain deal on 5 crates of beer for the truck, the supplies of which had run out quickly in the long and grueling Cameroon drive days.
Leaving Kribi, we ventured back to Yaoundé to pick up our Gabonese visas along with Sarah (who had fallen victim of malaria), Ben and Gary. On route we were fortunate enough to visit Mefou national park, a tucked away sanctuary for chimps, lowland gorillas and other primates. Being able to observe the extremely endangered gorillas from such a close distance was a special experience for everyone who partook, and the sanctuary does a good job of providing a large enclosed space for the animals severely targeted by bushmeat hunters in the area. We were also visiting during what the UN declared "year of the gorilla" in an effort to boost conservation and awareness. All-in-all it was a favoured activity and we all had to be dragged away from the magnificent and curious animals with whom we share so much. Looking into their human-like eyes you can feel an instant connection and feel as though they can read your thoughts just the same. In the case of the chimp enclosure, I felt as though I was visiting an insane asylum!
From Mefou we headed to the Gabon border via Ebolawa. Most were quite happy to leave Cameroon after finding the people unfriendly, I however consider it my favourite countries visited so far in terms of scenery and city ambiance. It is a rather French-feeling country, and people are fairly standoffish but the nightlife and people, once you get to know them, more than make up for it. Our last night in Yaoundé was a prime example. Six of us met a few locals outside a supermarket make-shift bar and ended up going to the local hangouts with our new friends Francis, Renée, and Renaldo, who insisted on buying all the rounds, much to our dispute. It was a prime example of the hospitality and generosity of the people throughout many countries visited and the sort of night that’s always one of the best. It also exemplifies one of the downturns of this sort of travel, as we are never really in one place long enough to get to know the friends made and are constantly leaving for a new destination.

Posted by binderblog 06:53 Archived in Cameroon Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Don't call me white

Could it be semantics generating the mess we're in?

sunny 34 °C
View (Into and) Out of Africa on binderblog's travel map.

The country of Nigeria can be summed up in one word as welcoming. As we entered the Chikanda border post, our journey into the second English speaking country of the trip became immediately memorable. This particular route was noticeably unused and home to the friendliest border crossing guard anyone had met. “Welcome to Nigeria” has been the catchphrase throughout the country and uttered at least fifty times in our first twenty minutes through the gate. The next greetings were screams of “whhhittttteeeeeeee” as I walked into the village centre along with observations that I walk like a soldier… As it turns out we were the first whities through in twenty years, according to a village elder. This wasn’t hard to believe when Lene, Martin, and I ventured into the market to grab lunch and walked straight into a sea of the most stunned faces I‘ve ever seen. We turned around from a market stall and were instantly swarmed by at least sixty people just staring in awe. It was if some of the children had seen a ghost, and since I’m the whitest person most of the people on the tour have seen I can’t blame them. The people were friendly but too shy to speak to us and when we left our entourage of twenty kids followed us back. The remainder of the day was a typical drive day but agreed as one of the best days experienced by everyone aboard. The people of Nigeria are some of the most excited people I’ve ever come across and everyone waved feverishly as we drove through. Women carrying 20L pails atop their heads and a baby on their backs ran alongside the truck grinning ear to ear and doing the two-handed wave. This was all without the usual screams for “cadeau”, “money”, or “gift”. Children screamed with glee and danced along to my ipod mix; luckily some passengers were able to capture the sights and sounds on video. We were equally full of glee reminiscing over the days events when we set up camp early due to a loose hub seal. It was such a sincere experience overall and never to be forgotten.
As we made our way south the next big stop was Abuja, the political capital of Nigeria and the first modern city visited in some time. We ended up staying for nine days while securing visas for Angola and Cameroon. The contrast to most other campsites was vast considering we holed up at the Sheraton hotel (parking lot that is…). We were very fortunate to have been able to stay (for free) and have use of the facilities while sorting out pertinent, and hard to get, visas. Everyone made the most of their time showering, lounging by the pool, doing laundry, visiting the bakery, and making use of happy hour. A few of us made friends with the expat casino managers and were treated to a South African braai and air-conditioned alternative to our tents! There are certainly some interesting patrons frequenting the Sheraton and the amusement was never-ending. If someone thinks your clothes are too dingy for the hotel ambiance they will tell you and then buy you new ones (as Rob found out). It was at times easy to forget we were in one of the poorest countries in the world and though it was nice to have some luxury I would definitely like to revisit Nigeria again someday to experience it further. Nonetheless, our time in Abuja was thoroughly enjoyed: visas were obtained, new friends were made, and forgotten western amenities were relished.
Poolside at the Sheraton

Poolside at the Sheraton

Somewhat reluctantly, we left the comforts of “Ajuba” and made headway to Jos, a city where recent fighting between Muslim and Christian groups had only ceased months before our arrival. I heard harrowing stories from expats who had ventured unto the chaos, but luckily our visit was uneventful. Continuing on we stopped at Wiki Warm Springs where our leisurely wallow in the springs was contrasted with a pesky baboon trying to steal food scraps. The rest of the days were spent in transit and bush camping, nothing too exciting save for a few trivia nights. The last bush camp turned somber when Fatima Couscous, one of two pet tortoises acquired in Marrakesh, went missing amongst the mango trees. Hours of search brought little hope so we carried on and wished her well. The following day we made it to the Cameroon border post after meeting up with Gary who had stayed behind in Abuja to pick up the last of our visas.
Overall, Nigeria has become one of my favourite African countries. While in Ghana locals told me how awful the people of Nigeria allegedly are but I found it to have a much more sincere feel even if locals don’t go as out of their way to greet you as was the case in Ghana. Nigeria was also our last chance to converse freely in English for sometime. From Cameroon to DRC it is back to French, and Angola is predominately Portuguese…. Namibia will be a welcomed change but too far off to look forward to yet!

Posted by binderblog 05:14 Archived in Nigeria Tagged luxury_travel Comments (0)

Everyday is a winding road

I've never been there but the brochure looks nice

all seasons in one day 32 °C

Our fourth African country visited is Burkina Faso. We bee-lined straight to the capital which has the coolest name, Ouagadougou. Here we sent in our visa applications for Nigeria and waited around a few days to pick them up. There wasn’t too much of interest to do in the city so most time was spent lazing by the pool and hand-washing laundry. The applications took longer than expected so the group took off leaving Gary to sort them out and meet up with us at a later date. Our next destination was Bobo-Dioulasso after a stopover at a refreshing set of waterfalls for the afternoon. That evening we had our first taste of African tropical storms. While a few of us were still up and watching a local band practice a fierce wind blew in. We knew it was serious when the locals packed up and took off running! The rains follow about 10 minutes after the wind starts so we all took off to secure our tents. Not all were so lucky and two tents blew away in the short time between the start of the storm and the run to the soccer pitch. Luckily for me my tent-mate was (being the keyword) asleep and thus holding down the tent. The lightening storm was fantastic and I watched as long as I could before the rain got too heavy. In the morning I reluctantly opened the tent which now felt like a waterbed to find with relief it had not washed away. The group did a search for the 2 missing tents and while one was recovered the other was nowhere to be found. The ground dried out quickly and the drive to bobo was clear and blue. One observation along the way was the presence of manicured lawns, or even lawns for that matter; it is clear we are in a different biome and transitioning into the rain forest that lies ahead. Next on the itinerary is Ghana, our first English speaking country of the trip! The border crossing was painless and we had our first and only bushcamp of the country the first night. Ghana is the most densely populated country in Africa and immediately different from its neighbours. The Christian influence is clear and islamic insignia is replaced by a vast array of signs, billboards and shop names such as “god loves you hairdresser”, “heaven gate no bribe furniture store”, and many amusing ones such as “have patience restaurant” (nice honesty, but I did not eat there!). The next day we visited our first national park, Mole. We camped on the grounds where the cook group had to deal with a pesky baboon which stole food and wreaked havoc. In the morning I did a walking safari, coming within 20m of huge Savannah elephants! I had a sore back and unfortunately did not take my camera after advice to bring a telephoto lens from the group who went the day prior and weren’t nearly as lucky to be so close. It was nice to just experience the walk itself and soak it in rather than fiddle with a camera so I wasn’t too phased by missing the opportunity. Next up we stopped at Kintampo waterfalls which was reminiscent of fern gully, absolutely gorgeous. We also made a brief visit to Volta lake, the largest man-made reservoir in the world. The dam wasn’t very impressive given the shear volume of water but interesting nonetheless.
We made a visit to the Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary next for a guided tour to see black and white columnus monkeys as well as mona monkeys. We later arrived in Kumasi where we stayed for a few days before heading to the beach. We stayed at Green turtle lodge in dixcove, a bit of a pretentious hippie beach lodge that pledged to be ecological but was in fact no different from the rest of the resorts around… Cynacism aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the niche and made good use of lazying around the beach for 3 days. Ended up catching a nasty stomach bug making its round through the group so it was especially good to be stationary for a few days.
Once we left our beach paradise the truck headed straight for another at Brenu beach after a stop in Elmina to visit St George’s castle. Cape coast was visited next, home of the lasgest slave-tradig castle in West Africa. A few of us headed off to Kakum national park to do a canopy walk, it was roughly 40m above ground and made a few very uneasy. That night we stayed at Hans cottage botel… where they had a lake full of crocodiles surrounding the restaurant (apparently they often come on deck and inside!). Our next destination was Big Milly’s outside the capital of Accra. It was a chilled out and very popular tourist desitnation popular with the local rasta crowd. We stayed here for a few days while obtaining togo and benin visas. It was enjoyed by most, in general it was just nice to be able to relax in an English speaking region and converse with the locals. Many deep, interesting, and amusing conversations were had – a nice change from struggling to converse with my pigeon French. Our time at the beach came to an end for a while here, and we stopped at another set of waterfalls (Wii falls) before entering into Togo. It was a 7km hike in and definitely worth it. I felt like I should have been next to David Attenborough observing the thousands of nesting bats right next to the highest waterfall in the west of Africa. A few people weren’t so fond of the water after I commented on why the soil was so soft… being next to a massive bat colony and all...
Our entry into Togo made me slightly contemptuous after paying double the visa fee for entry than anyone else (even the Americans). My disillusion was unwarranted, however, seeing that the Togolese people were extremely friendly; in fact the principle of the school we stayed at the first night wanted to meet the sole Canadian on the truck because his brother is in Ontario. I did ask him why his country had it in for us but he didn’t have any answers. The mountains coming into Togo were gorgeous, I would have taken photos but it was only at the border crossing where they were in clear view and I didn’t want to cause any undue trouble. The coutry itself is only 50km or so wide so we stayed only 2 nights before entering into Benin, another country hardly more than a pinpoint on a map.
I will leave it there for now – I’m just checking out of my hotel with free wifi in Yaounde, Cameroon. Next up we head into Gabon, then Congo, DRC, Angola and Namibia. I likely won’t have much internet for the next 6 weeks so I don’t expect to get many updates up but we shall see.

Posted by binderblog 01:31 Archived in Burkina Faso Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Hard Sun

Trek through the Dogon country

sunny 43 °C

When I last left off I was still in Mali having just arrived safely back in Sevare after our trip to Timbuktou. After a halfs day rest we took off to Bandiagara to begin our trek into the Dogon villages. Our tour leader Speedy brang us to Songo on the way to gain additional insight into the Dogon culture. The dogon people are of animistic religion, and resisted Islamic missionaries centuries ago. Their calendar follows a 5 day week and astronomy is important and well known in their culture, particulary the star Sirius. We also learned of ceremonial circumcision methods. The following morning we put on real shoes and socks for the first time since the Atlas mountains and began our journey. The first day was a leisurely walk down the Bandiagara Escarpment of which the high vantage point above the valley offered the most incredible scenery thus far on the trip. Along the way we visited Begnimato, had the chiefs son show us the traditional hunting methods (followed by a few girly kiwi screams when the rifle went off), and stopped in the colourful market of Dourou after lunch before taking a midday siesta to beat the heat before heading into nambori by dusk to set up camp on the roof to sleep beneath the stars. We were able to witness the ‘womens dance’ that evening as well which is performed at the end of the harvest season. The next morning we took off for the second leg of our journey, and were lucky enough to have porters and a donkey cart provided to lug our gear in the 42 degree heat. In the afternoon we had the extreme privilege of watching a traditional dogon mask dance. We all agreed that it was the highlight of the trip by far (and writing this 2 months later I can still attest to that). The ceremony was approximately 45 minutes and was vibrant beyond belief. Some masks towered 14’ high while other dancers walked on stilts secured to their legs which would at the very least break their legs if they fell. The dance is not performed regularly, we were only so lucky to have it organized for us due to the size of our group. It was the first ceremony for many of the young boys dancing and as so an important rite of passage.
The mask dance also made Sarah’s birthday the best ever, and we continued to celebrate into the evening after continuing our trek for the day at the village of Ireli. After another night under the stars (not quite as picturesque when you imagine 26 people snoring in close proximity…) we took off for the last leg of the journey which meant an uphill climb back up the escarpment. Some wussed out and took a mototaxi ride part way back while about half of us completed the journey to the top on foot. We were also able to visit some of the old abandoned cliff-face dwellings traditionally inhabited by the dogon people; an animal is traditionally sacrificed before visiting which we saw evidence of. It should be noted that it is not possible to traverse the entire route by vehicle and so everything brought in (i.e. coca cola and beer) is carried in. Along the trail there is also limited electricity making the region much more authentic and the drinks very warm. Overall we traversed approx 30-40km, hard to know for sure as our leader speedy was known the fudge the distances in an attempt to ease our minds at the task at hand in the blistering heat. After a very uncomfortable exhaust infused van-ride back to bandiagara we were greeted to a buffet and live mali music. In the morning we took off for the Burkina Faso border. All in all Mali has become the favorite African country of many. The dogon trip was the highlight for sure, and something I’d do again in a heartbeat. The people of Mali have been most welcoming and will be missed. Alas, the journey must contimue and there are still 20 odd countries to explore!

Posted by binderblog 01:18 Archived in Mali Tagged foot Comments (0)

Permanent Vacation

Life's a journey, not a destination

sunny 42 °C

Well.... I must start this off by apologizing for the extreme delay in this post. The internet here in Africa is few and far between due to the nature of our trip. Most time is spent on the road, in rural villages, and camping spots - and in the couple hours we do have in bigger centres every so often usually ends up spent cursing a rididuclously slow connection that cuts out 5 times while you try and upload photos or send an email.... With that said it is refreshing to not rely on the world-wide-web.... however... I have made communication and life on the road slightly more plush by purchasing a laptop so hopefully contact and blog updates will be more frequent.
Since I last left off I have been through 5 countries. I'll try and fill you in on all the highlights but I know cramming a months worth of travel into one post will hardly do it justice. Anywho; when I last left off we were setting out into the Atlas mountains.. there wasn't enough snow for an African snow angel unfortunately, but considering the state of all the southerners on the truck it was probably for the best. Our leader met a Moroccan man, Abdullah, last time around and he offered to cook for us and let us stay at his berber house in Todra Gorge, so we picked him up in Tinerhir and set off. The drive there was amazing with oases starting to spring up amidst the terracotta backdrops, absolutely gorgeous, and soo lush. We meet Abdullah's mother and father, his sister and some of his 9 brothers (Mohammed, Omar and Ismael). They cooked a traditional meal and played drums for us late in the evening. Most people had a go on the drums, with a few of us staying up late chatting with Abdullah and Ismael. We slept underneath the stars on the roof of the guesthouse. All in all it was an absolutely amazing authentic expereince to have organized for us - something that few other overland trips of this sort do. Abdullah stayed with us a few more days up to Marrakesh. We stayed in Dades Gorge along the way, and kept dry the next night by setting up our beds in a restaurant floor. Marrakesh was next on the itinerary; a few of us stayed for a few nights in Marrakesh at a hostel overlooking the main square. If there is one thing I wished I could take away from there it's the sounds of the city at night. There is so much going on -- we opted to try the local foods of snail soup and goat brains.. not the most tasty peice of meat thats for sure. After many souvenir purchases we took off to Essaouira, a quaint sea-side town.
Entering the Western Sahara we more or less bush-camped among the dunes for a few nights, and officially crossed the tropic of cancer (the 1st of 2 times on the trip). Mauratinia is a dry country; however a few rested easy when we got through the border crossing without a truck search. Mauratania mainly gave us an exorborant amount of practice with the sand-mats. Our first trial was 2 hrs of catterpillering across a 50m riverbed. Most everyone banded together for the task at hand and for a fleeting moment the new activity was a bit of fun... The real fun had yet to begin as we made our way to the illusive village of Oualata. With just a dodgy donkey trail to follow and no gps coordinates we set off through the desert to see an esteemed old salt trading city few have ventured to. I think we managed three tire punctures the first day.. and encountered a few more chances to practice our new skiills of sandmatting. The second day en route we found ourselves in a 3 foot rut that took us over 6hrs to get out of. Luckily we managed to get stuck in a tiny village right next to a well. I'm sure we gave the villagers stories to tell for years to come, and we were glad to keep hydrated while digging out the truck in 40+ degree desert heat. The next day things were looking more grim as the already ambiguous road became less and less clear as sand dunes blew across he horizon, so a decision was made to turn back before we ran out of water and got ourselves into unnecessary trouble. We took a break during the heat of the day and dug ourselves out when the sand cooled, and drove until we found ourselves stuck again around midnight. Getting back to Nema took 2 days - but the (2wd) truck managed to perservere through the riverbed this time around! Getting out of Mauratania meant one night camping in no-man's land, and entry into Mali the next day!
Once over the border and into a town most made a beeline to the bar for a well deserved beer after a week of sandmatting in a dry country. Some also had an interesting time collecting firewood that afternoon after 1.5 beers.... no names need to be mentioned! We got across the border quite late in the day so Bamako, the capital, was a bit farther away than expected. A swing vote gave the decision to push on through the night to Bamako rather than bushcamping. The incentive was a pool, air-con rooms, and a stocked bar -- SOLD! I was up for cook group that night, but it managed to go well and no one fussed over an 11pm dinner. We spent 4 nights in Bamako, most hardly making it into town. You hardly needed to with poolside shopping service. Everything you could possibly want to buy (dresses, masks, jewellery, suncream, etc) was brought poolside... a lot of money was spent by some (none by me). I was given the mali name of "Howar" here also, by a man named hakuna matata. At the camp we also did a spitroast of goat. I of course went to go with to pick it out and watch it get butchered, it was a superb dinner complete with a mali band playing alongside, and a night out to expereince some more mali music (although it turned out to be more spanish.. random). Our luxury could only last so long and we soon headed out for Sevare to begin our trips to Timbuktou and the Dogon villages. Oh ya, one visit worth mentioning along the way is the city of Dijenne.... this city was particulary interesting to me because concrete house construction is illegal! All houses and major buildings are constructed out of mud - however the slabs and foundations of these houses were clearly concrete... It also houses the largest mud mosque in the world which we checked out. Next up we took off on a 3 day pinasse trip down the Niger river to Timbuktou. It was a fantastic means of travel and the scenery (particularily the sunset the first night) was incredible. However, 3 days on a boat caused a fair bit of cabin fever for most, and a few dodgy tummies.. Did I mention there was a man whose job was to bucket river water out of the leaking boat? Oddly enough, the same bucket and water the cook used to prepare our food and tea! A few hippos were spotted along the banks and amazingly no one managed to get knocked over board on the 2m wide boat.
Tombouctou itself doesnt hold very much... It's a drab, very sandy, windy town. It was very interesting to meet some Tuareg people from the area though. On my camel ride to a Tuareg camp the guide Yousef told me all about the Tuareg culture - From 5-10 the boys attend school to learn the karan, from 10-15 their grandfathers teach them the stars/constellations, from 15-20 they travel the desert with their family members tending the herd of camels and at 20 they tend the herd independently for 3 months and if no slabs of salt are broken nor are any camels missing they have a big party through for them, and at 25 they marry their first wife of their parents choosing. Their nomadic lifestyle is certainly respectable still much alive.
After a stamp claiming entry into the elusive villa of Tombouctou (french spelling), we headed out in our 4x4s, of which ours had to have the clutch repaired - 12 hours later we made it back to Sevare. The week was quite busy as we headed straight for Bandiagara to begin our 4 day hike through the Dogon villages. I'll have to give this experience it's own post because Im getting tired of staring at a computer screen and it most certainly deserves it.
We are currently in Ghana, after a week at the beach and a week beforehand in Burkina Faso. Tomorrow we leave for Togo (the country which hates Canadians... double the visa fee from everyone else, even the americans!). I will try and get a proper post of these past few weeks soon, but this should suffice for now. I've also uploaded photos from Morocco up to the Tropic of Capricorn, hope to get more soon as well.

Until next time..

Posted by binderblog 18:49 Archived in Mali Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

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