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Old 08-02-2011, 04:20 AM   #16
asilindean
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Keep it coming!

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Old 08-09-2011, 03:17 PM   #17
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Mauritania - Stretching

Lonely Planet calls it "a place apart", "a Muslim country with a black African twist" and the new traveler's Shangri-la. With a population of only 3 million people (Moors of Arab descent ad black Africans) and with a surface exceeding 1 million sq. km, Mauritania is certainly a place we would return to sometime, well deserving more exploration.



Only recently opened to tourism, the country is still largely rural and half deserted, with population concentrated in the capital of Nouakchott, the port of Nouadibou and a few more trade towns. The nomads with their camel herds and blue and black clothing unfortunately are history, but we caught glimpses of that past while riding the south roads. There the bobo (the mauritanian typical menswear: a cotton or silk robe, with huge folds and opened on both sides to ankle line) changes fashion, an indigo blue, reminding the blue men of the past, is preferred to the regular white or light blue. Also homes are rarely of brick and mortar and many people live or spend their day under an open or closed tent (which sometimes is actually a covered platform placed near the house).
Entry to the country is not easy in any sense. The Mauritania visa is a bit of a hassle. We applied in Rabat and got ours 48 hours later, but be prepared to face unfriendly staff and long waiting hours. The one month visa/ one entry is 340 Dh (30 Euro), and you need 2 photos, a photocopy of your passport and the form given at the embassy. Applications are received M-F 9-11 a.m. and passports are picked up daily from 12 to 13. After the smooth exit from Morocco, we rode the no man's land that leads to the Mauritanian border, a dirt road with huge potholes and sandy patches, littered with car wreckage and exploded tires. A number of "helpers" assaulted us within minutes, offering to take care of the border formalities for us, to sell insurance or change money. We calmly refused or ignored them and walked straight to the police office on the left, cutting the line as everybody does, sure that we'll get noticed. The police officer introduced our passport data into the computer using a fiche, then we walked into the building on the right, which is the customs office. There we were issued against 100 Dirham the Autorisation de circuler de vehicule etranger valid for one week. After that we walked further to the left side of the road again, into another building, where we waited for our passports to be scanned and were asked to provide with a local address. Finally, at the barrier another officer will check the passport and visa. Mauritania is 1 hour behind Morocco, so little after 2pm we were off to Nouadibou. Try to make this border in time, it closes about 4pm.





Nouadibou lies on a narrow peninsula, in the beautiful Baie of Levrier, where some of the most fish abundant coastal waters in the world have generated a big fishing and industry operation. The road to here is crossing a former minefield which has been largely cleared, you are advised though to stay on the tarmac. The tracks of the longest train in the world, that carries iron ore - a major income source here, run parallel to the motor road. The last carriage of the 2,5 km long get quickly filled with passengers and make quite the scene.
Exhausted after the long ride through blazing hot desert and a little stressed by the definite change in pace and atmosphere, we rolled into the main street of Nouadibou, Le Medien, under the strong impression of shabby garages and shops, the piles of dirt lining the street and the inevitable heat stricken dead donkey.
Confusion once dissipated, also did all sort of internet rumors. Contrary to all information we could find online, there is a working ATM at the Societe Generale bank on the main street. Roaming did not work, but cheap public phones are everywhere, and soon we were talking to our contact in the city, a Romanian family residing here for 20 years. During the following week, the Romanians proved instrumental for our initiation into the mellow, chillout life of Nouadibou. The main shops, banks and activities line the Medien which leads to the fishing and industrial ports situated in the south. East of Medien is the stadium and the artisan port (with traditional wood boats being repaired or built, fish being sun-dried and fishermen going about their daily work); to the west you'll find the fresh produce market, the mosques and the main chinese supermarket. Fishing industry and mining are the main business here, so most vegs and fruits are imported from Morocco, Spain and France. We found a mango bonanza here, savoring delicous fruits from Mali. We sampled on the fresh Mauritanian dates, just in season in Atar and the south. Not so sweet and less suitable for drying, these are fiberless and tasty.





Busy to get know better our new friends, we enjoyed a relaxing week, filled with fishing trips, a swim in the turquoise waters of the golf and with gourmet dishes. Our host cooked the most amazing meals, a fusion of spanish, french, asia, romanian and african inspiration. We ate trout ceviche, octopus spanish salad with smoked pimento, grilled camel meat, Romanian polenta, garlic squid, Senegalese tchebu chien and countless types of fresh fish fried or curried.
To the end of the peninsula we rode through Cansado, a small dormitory-town built in the seventies, housing the families of the port staff. Mauritanian women in vividly colored transparent scarves were walking the quiet streets and at corners tons of kids were playing football. Further to the south, the very tip is reached is an offroad piste. After a triangular intersection you take the first right turn, than keep right as tarmac becomes a bumpy ride, with big areas of sand and some rocky plateaus. We rode this piste without the alu boxes, but still took a small tumble and lost the safety pin of the new chain somehere along the way.
The mirage of white sand further behind the deep red ore-colored landscape is Cap Blanc, our destination.













A beautiful and tranquil place, the cape is both a magnetic field anomaly and an ecological wonder. Here sometimes birds get lost; also here the Canary current meets the golf current causing rich nutrients to infuse an extremely fish abundant water. The Satellite Reserve of Cap Blanc, with 4.2 km of coast and an area of 210 ha (including a fringe of 400 m sea water where fishing is prohibited), is one of the last 3 protected areas in the world that are home to the most endangered mammal in the world, the monk seal. The other 2 are the National Park of Banc d'Arguin and the Islas Desertas (Madeira). Our Romanian friend is one of the main people who work in the reserve. Here only about 180 monk seals live in a breeding colony that is isolated demographically and genetically. We weren't lucky to spot any seal during our 2 trips at the Cap Blanc, but we were rewarded with hoards of gulls and pelicans and privileged to see from 2 m a probably dissoriented Rupel's african vulture.










Time flew by and soon we were saying goodbye, heading for the grueling ride through 500 km of scorching desert from Nouadibou to Nouakchott. The route is dotted by over 10 police checkpoints, ensuring safety after the past attacks and kidnappings that marred it. Everybody we met told us to never stop along the way, unless at a roadside tent that serves drinks and food or at police control. The most difficult part was indeed a 100km ride starting about 150km from Nouadibou. There the hot harmattan becomes unbelievably hotter and you can feel your own skin mummifying under the suit. At less than 1 Euro/l, gas is available in Nouadibou, 45 km outside the city, than 80 km further and finally at the 250km mark, where there is also the main pit stop, with a caffe and restaurant where we recuperated for an hour. The Fiche d'Etat Civil is essential in Mauritania, saving you time and hassle at the numerous police checkpoints.
Looking like preserved lemons, we showed up in Nouakchott, where pools of water from the day before downpours were still rendering some street unpassable. The main streets are Kennedy and de Gaulle, with the market at the carrefour, where also many changers are to be found. The restaurant and street food scene disappointed us. Most places are westernized, selling fast food of fried chicken and fries, or shaworma and similar quick eats. The market is quite basic, with many imported fruits and a few vegetables on sale. Here we discovered that Guinea mango is superior to the Mali variety, with an orange and intensely flavoured flesh.





Our meal of choice in Nouakchott was the diminutive restaurant Chez Astou, where Astou herself serves everyday from 2 to 4pm a spicy thcheb, the national dish of Senegal. To find this not so spotless but yummy and authentic place, take left from de Gaulle at the grand market, then again left.





Tchebu chien is a rice and fish dish, with fish fried with spices, then curried with vegetables, while the rice is hydrated over the cooking vapor, then finished in the pot. We become friends with the family, discussing recipes and enjoying strong green tea prepared with great artistry by the Astou's father. According to the Mauritanian custom, one must accept the first 3 glasses of tea, but the subsequent ones may be refused.



Hedi is 25 and she helps her sister at the restaurant

Center image is Babs, one of the girls' brother, who runs a Senegalese shop and plans to go work in Burkina or Mali


If you miss the 2-4pm tcheb interval, you can still pass by the restaurant, where in the evenings Astou serves sandwiches of baguettes with a beef stew, hot sauce, fries and salad for only 300 ouguiya. At the outskirts of the city we saw similar shops with senegalese food, but we didn't try them.





In Nouakchott we bunked at Auberge Menata, where we placed our tent on the roof and spend the days walking the streets or riding around. The must see in the capital is the fishing port (port de peche). We arrived there after driving through a maze of decrepit shanty towns (bidon villes), some still flooded. The tarmac stops in front of a large covered area called etalage de poisson, where fishermen unload the days catch or where other men are cleaning the fish. The image of the wooden fishing boats riding the waves in the afternoon soft light is what captures your eyes. It's a spectacle from another time, animated and colorful. Women and children are sitting on the beautiful clean beach resting or watching the show. On the sides are already arrives boats, piles of nets and weights, fishermen in rubber boots, wooden cases filled with crushed eyes for the fish and lots of people. Too bad we were a bit paranoid about freely shooting photos.
From Nouakchott we drove the 600 km to Kiffa in one day, an exhausting ride that left me weakened and dehydrated, so instead of leaving the next morning to Ayoun el-Atrouss, we had no choice but to spend 2 nights in Phar du Desert, a scruffy but very expensive auberge.



Hitting the 20k mark.


This part of the famous Route de l'Espoir is all tarmac, passing over 18 police checkpoints and the Pass de Djouk, where mountains interrupt the seemingly infinite dunes. In Kiffa gas is only available in one place and the next station is in Mali. 12 km outside Kiffa the tarmac stops and the road is a work in progress with multiple detours, which in some places are full of baking powder (so really challenging for our 2up fully loaded Tenere), but after 40-50km the road turns back to a potholed tar.











People in Mauritania are hard to get close to. We found the street vendors more friendly and honest in Nouadibou, whilst in some southern villages at every stop at gas stations hordes of kids surrounded us aggressively. Sometimes the begging becomes demanding, and sometimes they threw rocks at us. We were actually warned that kids can be more dangerous than adults. Many Senegalesa reside here, selling homeland articles; also Guinea and Burkina nationals are employed by Mauritanians or expats as servants or cooks. The society is strictly confined to a cast system and the two ethnic groups (black and white Mauritanians) rarely mix. Girls are not allowed to leave their home until they get married, around age 16, to a husband selected for them, and who seldom is a cousin. Outside big cities women dont go to school after age 12-13 and rely on men for food and housing. A men will offer his sister a room in their home and food to eat, and a married daughter can continue to live with her husband in her parental house. The bride's parents receive 2-3000 Euro for the wedding party. Men clothing is both functional and a social statement, the apparently simple bobo can cost hundreds of Euro. Women are draped in brightly colored clothing, that can be quite transparent, but do cover their hair. Mauritanian men greet each other with even more elaborate rituals than their neighbours in Morocco.
Food in Mauritania is not a big event. Aside from senegalese women selling sandwiches, muffins, biscuits and small donuts, street food is nonexistent. In Nouadibou seafood is avalable, while in Nouakschott fast food are predominant. Snacks of peanuts and Adrar dates are offered everywhere. Fresh produce is imported, meat is available at scruffy butcher stalls. Bread in Mauritania is the french baguette.





Bottled water is selled in epicerie shops at 200 Ouguiya/ 1.5 l bottle. The general level of cleanliness is not great, the Kiffa hotel being the worst of the bunch. After seeing the kitchen there we strongly advice you to source your own food. A local treat is camel meat and fat, delicious grilled. A strong green tea is served after a meal, with first 3 glasses obligatory. Coca Cola and Marlboro are huge stars here, and most people dispay serious tooth decay (they clean their teeth with a special twig, sold by street vendors).
We never bushcamped, and heard that police doesn't allow tourists to drive at nightime. SIM cards are available countrywide at 2000 Ouguiya from Chinguitel or Mauritel. We haven't bought a modem for Internet, and in Menata Auberge we used the hotel wifi connection.
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Old 08-15-2011, 09:39 AM   #19
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Bamako - Street Food Bonanza

Sometimes borders are just lines on maps, but Mauritania - Mali frontier divides two very distinct worlds. The malian Sahel is vivid green and teeming with wildlife and cattle at watering ponds and instead of the bobo-wrapped touaregs and moors we meet ebony skinned people in Made in China footballers' thirst. Border control is smooth and fast, but we have to deal with the customs in the first malian town, Nioro de Sahel, where, because it's weekend (bad timing in Africa) the price for Laissez passes is double (10000 CFA)


Later we save some money camping in the police station compound and of course using their backyard as toilet. Too bad our Morocco stash is already history.
Overnight a very windy rainstorm shakes us dearly, filling our tent with dust. It merely cools the sticky hot air a bit, and in the morning we do our best to content our muddy misery and hit the road to Bamako.







We are rewarded with e wonderful ride throough a fertile hilly landscape, dotted with scenic villages and lush gardens. A group of Fulani people passes us by: the women are topless and have intricate hair braids and jewelry and huge moonshined packs of tree branches are tied to the donkeys. We are happy we have arrived here in wet season!
Bamako is a sprawling metropolis, with scooters and cars entangled together in big traffic jams, with bridges thrown over the mighty Niger river which divides the capital in two. The shanty towns are on one side, immersed in a sleepy rural life, while on the other side of the water there are concrete and glass administrative buildings and offices and some expensive hotels (with good wifi connection). Here it rains almost daily and only some of the streets are tarred. Bamako is a welcomed pitstop: we rest, wash our pathetic scruffy riding gear, we go for a visa and ATM run and Skype our families. The Burkina visa breaks our bank: 80 euro/pers!, recently doubled cause of french propaganda.
Bamako's heart beats in its colorful markets: near Place de la Liberte & Cinema Vox, in Grande Marche, in the fetish market we find innumerable stalls selling anything from fruit and vegs to clothing and plasticware made in Nigeria. Men are generally sporting generic Chinese designs, but the elegant women of Bamako wear traditionally inspired dresses and elaborate hairpieces and metes. People are warm and friendly, except for the usual guides, touts and beggars, with tricks that we are too familiar with from Romania. The sad thing is that they believe that "les blanc donnent des cadeaux", so who's to blame for that?


A Malian lunchlady in a typical Bamako street restaurant: a wooden bench + many pots

Bamako is famous for live music; as we are nearing Ramadan, women are celebrating and dancing in the streets.


A Malian hipster: different continent, different vogue

Great street food is a no brainer in Bamako: rice with sauce, chicken in lemon and ginger sauce, fried fish, grilled goat or mutton (brochetes), yam stews, cow heart and liver sauteed in a spicy onion sauce, frufru (mini rice or millet pancakes), mango, local melon (meh, but excellent as a salad with lime, fresh chili and olive oil), corn on a cob. Many favorite snacks are black eyed peas based: doughnuts served simple or in a millet congee fro breakfast. Boulageries with fresh baguettes are widely available, so are breakfast stalls with eggs and instant coffee with milk or tea. In the evening the streets are filled with stalls with bubbling pots: fish or meat stews, rice, chickpeas, fried potato/yam/plantain or even couscous.


Rice with peanut & baobab sauce (rise arachide)


Rice with fish sauce and African eggplant


Favorite soft drinks: lime lemonade, hibiscus juice (red) & spicy ginger lemonade


Our usual breakfast: bread with soft cheese and savannah flowers wild honey (with a smoky, sunny flavor) and tea-tree tea


Africa is crazy about mobile phones


The intricate Malian hello takes minutes


Flowers in the inner yard of Mission Catolique where we bunked for a few nights

Soon we had to leave the buzzing Bamako behind to head south-east to Sikasso, the vegetable garden of Mali.
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Old 08-15-2011, 09:41 AM   #20
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Sikasso - Rural Mali


My mom is venerated in this malian village :)


We stopped over for an African lunch


Beef with onion and fried beans with chili




A typical pirogue driven by less typical paddles


Dragrace - 2 donkeypower vs. lots of diesel horses

The first night in Sikasso we camp in the backyard of a local family. We quickly become the village attraction, every detail of our tent pitching and logistics being scrutinized, analyzed and discussed with load enthusiasm. Later at night we are invited to join the family (husband, wife, 3 boys and a toddler + uncle) for dinner: boiled yam with a dash of oil, eaten by hand from a big pot. We offer some almonds from Morocco and then enjoy the ritualic 3 glasses of African tea artfully brewed by the woman. Only Bambara is spoken so we cannot communicate easily, and under the star-covered sky the silence in this village where there is no electricity nor running water is broken by some music coming from an old radio.


In the morning we eat a typical breakfast: millet congee with bean doughnuts


We are the village freaks: we have fun with the kids eager to mount the bike and we teach them some Romanian childhood games


Sikasso is the center of the 3rd Malian region; here are grown for local consumption and export: mango, bananas, nuts, millet, rice, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, pineapple, avocado. The market is bountiful so we enjoy a fabulous fruit and tea picnic later, near the Burkina border.



The rear tyre is almost done and we have a nail in, so I m contemplating switching to the knubbies. Also rumors are that the roads to the north are not tarred so…We bushcamp in a cute little spot and rain falls the better part of the night and all morning, when I am happy that I haven't rushed into changing the tires, as the tarmac is excellent up to Koutiala and then to Djenne.


Breakfast served in bed, under the cover of rain: avocado and tomatoes salad


This baobab was home to a large bird colony




Morning dew in the field of our next day bush camping spot


And on our tent


Another memorable breakfast


Critters



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Old 08-16-2011, 12:42 PM   #21
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Djenne - Mall of Africa

After the fertile landscape of the last 3 days palm trees start to show up again, the weather gets hotter and the mud-brick villages have only weekly markets where fresh produce is increasingly hard to find. Small patches of water are the only mark of the wet season.
At the last left turn to Djenne, we pay the tourist tax (1000 CFA/pers) at the checkpoint, where the police are happy to chat about the bike. So far in Africa people are wildly enthusiastic about it, but the general idea is that our motorbike is more expensive than a 4x4, so that gets a bit in the way of making friends. We quickly learnt that we cannot explain what a personal and financial effort is this trip to us to people to whom the idea of traveling equals luxury (cause their priority is to survive).


Cattle lazily crossing the plain



Djenne is an island on Bani river, and also an island of medieval civilization in the north-west of Mali. Legend has it that a virgin was sacrificed to the water genie by the Bozo fishermen, and that the victim's blood was mixed with mud to make the bricks for the first houses in Djenne. UNESCO pomps serious money into the conservation of this gem of a town with narrow unpaved streets radiating from the famous biggest mud building the world - the mosque.


All buildings in Djenne are exclusively made from bank (mud). The iconic 1907 mosque is a replica of the XIII century original. At the end of each wet season a massive operation of retouching takes place.







The Monday market in Djenne is legendary: this is the most important and biggest market in West Africa. Vendors and buyers travel from all regions to fill up the square in front of the mosque and to sell and shop everything from local art, bogolan - typical cloth decorated with mud mixed with medicinal plants, amber jewelry, food, spices, baskets, plasticware and livestock. As this is an authentic local market, the people are not fazed by tourists so we are taking a breather from the touts and faux-guides harassment to enjoy the unique atmosphere.






The mosque is just the decor for the real show that is taking over Djenne


Sideboob


Handmade baby sling




Mama Africa




Djenne teenagers

Unfortunately Djenne is a way too touristy place to allow personal interactions and with inflated prices for the whites, so after 24 hrs we move on.
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Old 08-16-2011, 01:28 PM   #22
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Very nice!Keep going!
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Old 08-16-2011, 02:49 PM   #23
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WOW

Great RR and pictures, keep them coming.

Drum bun !
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Old 08-16-2011, 03:24 PM   #24
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You are a gifted photographer. Absolutely wonderful Ride Report.

More ! More ! More !
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Old 08-16-2011, 05:17 PM   #25
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Simply stunning, both photography and words. I hope to look at your videos a little later as well :)
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Old 08-17-2011, 04:41 AM   #26
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Great ride report. I followed the same route in 2008. Brings back a lot of memories!!
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Old 08-17-2011, 06:28 AM   #27
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Thanks for the kind words guys!!!

We'll update things as the internet connection allows us. Morocco was worlds apart regarding internet speed... having video skype in the middle of nowhere was really amazing. Not to mention updating our vimeo video channel. Now things are a little bit different.

We are closing in to Nigeria which I hope we'll cross safely. From the forums and news channel the situation there is a little more complicated. But same info we've found on Mauritania and Mali and in reality things were different.

Cheers from Ouaga,

Ana + Ionut
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Old 08-23-2011, 12:56 PM   #28
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Dogon Country - We go back in time





In northern Mali the sale scratches a sandy plain up to Burkina Faso. Here some 250 kilometers of falaise are home to the Dogon people, an ethnic group that lives generally undisturbed by civilization like they have been for a millennia, since they have settled here trying to escape Islam.
Risking to be forced to shorten our trip later on, we decided to invest an initially unplanned and quite significant amount of cash in a 3 day tour through Dogon Country. We teamed up with 2 swiss overloading by 4x4 and hired a guide to one of the best preserved ethnographic regions in Africa.


First we had to survive the road to Mopti, through the most dramatic sand storm so far.



The particularly strong lateral wind was blowing in sequences, we rode at less than 50 km/h. The wind preceded the rain, which was lucky, cause keeping a steady balance on a very wet road would have been difficult.



In Mopti we stock on food and water for the next 2 days and we negotiate the guide's fee.



Mopti is a semi-industrial fishing town and a tourist stopover, with shady touts and an unpleasant vibe to it. Give it a miss, except for the scenic port



Our itinerary was: Bandiagara, Djiguibombo, Kani-Kombole, Teli, Ennde, Indelou, Begnimato, Yabacalou, with 2 days of trekking and 1 day on our own vehicles.





All Dogon buildings are made of mud in the plain villages and of stone up on the cliff. The room on the right is the kitchen, the pots are actual chimneys.

Spices are dried on the terrace.


Typical Dogon ladder
Tree trunks are used for draining rain water.




The Dogon are a distinct ethnographic group, originated from the Siby area (Pays Mandingue) and settled here in the IX-XI cent., after the demise of the native pygmy population (the Tellem). The Dogon culture was first contactated by a french ethnologist in 1931. There is no Dogon alphabet or written documents, they record their history through elaborated mask ceremonies (the most important is organized every 60 years, the equivalent of a centenary, as the Dogon observe a 5 days week); the Dogon are animists and practice polygamy.













The Dogon elders enjoy chewing on cola nut (from Cote d'Ivoire); this is a bitter stimulant and appetite suppresser and the shape of the nut can be interpreted by the initiated.


Ropes are made from the bark of the baobab




Our guide in traditional attire, near a door decorated with animist symbols (the sacred animals are: the cayman, the turtle, the fox, the snake)


Some window blinds are decorated with elements from the Dogon cosmogony (the 8 ancestors, the fox divination etc)




Traditional stool








Dogon art is manipulated to ornate functional details or to mark a sacred spot




Dogon kids




The Kani-Kombole mosque. Even if some Dogons have embraced Islam, they keep their fetishes and rituals swell.






The pot where women make millet flour.






The ancient Tellem houses are used for cereals storage. The Dogon women keep their valuables in the newly built grainiers. The number of these building indicates the number of wives one has.


The bushcamp - amazing view of the Bandiagara cliff




The traditional hat can be worn in 3 different ways according to use








Togouna - some sort of covered agora of the Dogon people, exclusively used by men to discuss public issues under the guidance of the eldest member of the village (the hogon). It is only 1,20 m hight, thus preventing any attempt to stand up and quarrel.


A Dogon pepiniere




The house of the hogon in Indelou


Sometimes the elders are just chillin' in the togouna


Animist altar: the stone represents Amma, the divine god


School in Teli, on thé board a quintessential African line: "Elle porte des oefs sur sa tete"


Almost every village has a water source financed with European money




The climax of the tour was arriving and overnighting in Begnimato, a magical village up on the falaise








Natural togouna in Begnimato




Landscape artists are are jobless in Dogon Country




Ana the hunter and his big guns. He has 20 kids, is a christian and the brother of Begnimato chief


Our guide


Nadin


Ana & Roger looking into the abyss




Food for the tourists: chicken with rice. The Dogon believe that the whites survive on a diet of canned foods and spaghetti. We had to insist to even taste their food: to (millet mash with baobab leaves)





We say goodbye to the fabulous Bandiagara cliff and set off to Burkina.
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Old 08-23-2011, 01:28 PM   #29
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Amazing story & excellent photography.
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Old 08-23-2011, 02:57 PM   #30
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Great pictures! Thanks for sharing this great country side and it's people.
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