Lovin’ it in Lahore

There have been multiple terror attacks in Lahore this year, and the week before I arrived there were clashes between anti government protestors and the police.  My first day in town it was the prophet’s birthday – Eid Milad ul-Nabi – and there were 15,000 policemen on the streets of Lahore to prevent any violence…… so, I was a little bit more reticent than usual about visiting.  It turns out I have never had such a warm welcome to a big city.   My most amusing moments were being surrounded by young girls and their teachers who wanted to ‘selfie with me’.   I was also invited home by pretty much every woman I met, including the lovely woman who sat next to me on the plane on the way over.   The pakistani/british women on my connecting flight through Karachi on the way home, also took charge of me and hustled me to the plane along with them at Karachi and made sure I was fine and safe.  I can’t imagine feeling safer or better looked after!

Jinnay Lahore nu nahi takkeya, o jammeya e nai – He who has not seen or visited Lahore, is nor born yet

Lahore is a delight, and there are lots of things to see and do.  I only saw four other tourists in the three days I was in town, so now is a great time to visit.    My favourite things from the weekend……

Badshahi Mosque

The mosque is built out of Jaipur red sandstone, which apparently is baking hot in the summer.  The locals have tried to replace the red stone in the courtyard with a cooler marble, but the heritage officers won’t let them.  Its a truly enormous space which can apparently house 100,000 worshippers.  I can’t imagine the bathroom queues!, and am glad I didn’t visit on the prophet’s birthday as it would have been crazy.

the mosque in the Lahore smog
Contemplating life
A couple enjoying the morning light
the old classrooms of the mosque glowing in the morning sun
Lahore fort

The fort was lovely and well preserved.  Unfortunately you are no longer allowed to approach the elephant gate, but you can see it from the entrance of Badshahi mosque.  There was plenty to occupy an eager history buff for an hour or so, and I thought the hall of mirrors was extraordinary!

Elephant Gate at Lahore Fort

 

School girls lining up to visit the fort
yes I look like a dork….the guide made me do it
hall of mirrors at Lahore Fort
some of the many girls who asked if they could ‘selfie with me’
having a chat on the mobile at the fort
minar pakistan

The’ tower of Pakistan’ was constructed during the 1960s on the site where the All-India Muslim League passed a resolution calling for a  separate and independent Pakistan on 23 March 1940

the Eiffel tour of Pakistan, on the site of where the document founding Pakistan was signed

 

Jahangirs tomb

Jahangir is the father of Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal).  He is buried in Lahore as this was apparently his first capital city.  The tomb is set in enormous walled gardens, and was lovely.

Gateway to the tomb
Jahangir’s Tomb
Jahangir’s Tomb
The actual tomb – decorated in the same lapis as the Taj Mahal
Asif Khan’s Tomb (brother of Noor Jahan). Next door to Jahangirs tomb its materials wer sacked by the Sikhs for use in the Golden Temple
delhi gate and old city

No visit to Lahore is complete without visiting the bonkers walled city.  I narrowly avoided getting hit by a motorbike and head butted by an ox.  There isn’t a great deal of personal space in the old city, but it was a fascinating walk.   In spite of having a substantial lunch, I couldn’t walk past the five men making buttery naan in a seamless manufacturing process, and it was delicious.

Delhi gate – to the old walled city of Lahore
the honey and spice traders hard at work in the old walled city
making naan bread
smoking ‘strong tobacco’ from the tobacco vendor’s hubbly bubbly pipe
traffic jam
Lahore styles
wazir kahn mosque

This lovely little mosque is apparently the most beautiful mosque in Lahore, and it reminded me of the ‘rose’ mosque in Shiraz, Iran.  Walking into the courtyard from the hustle and bustle of the old wall city, to find people peacefully praying in the late afternoon sun – it was delightful.  This was probably my favourite moment in Lahore

Prayer time in the late afternoon sun
Prayer time in the late afternoon sun

Atchison College

Atchison College is the ultra-posh school where fine young elite Pakistani men are educated.  The architecture is lovely, and that is why it has appeared on tripadvisor as a place to see.  The twist is the you need to email the principal of the school to ask for a visit – but lucky for me he said yes.   While the architecture was the reason for visiting, it turns out that I was most fascinated by the overwhelming British poshness of it all.  From the 200 groundsmen, to the fully kitted out stables for the equestrian lessons and polo ponies, to the three swimming pools.  They have thought of most things – they even have a Sikh temple and a hindu temple to compliment the mosque – so that everyone can worship.  I also was amused by the irony that there was no way I would have been able to visit the British equivalent of Atchison (Harrow? Eton?) so easily.

Administration building
Sikh temple for the students
Main building
Flowers arranged in a bed with military precision
trucks

I love trucks in Asia.  They are more ornately and lovingly decorated than the women, and that says something.  Truck owners invest extraordinary amounts of money (several thousand USD by all accounts) on dedicated truck artists.  I couldn’t resist asking my driver to pause at the truck stop for me to check some of these out.

the drivers requested I take their photo

Gorgeous truck

Shalimar garden

I ended one of my Lahore  days at the lovely Shalimar Garden.  While there was nothing amazing to see, it was peaceful sitting in the shade having a chai, watching the sun go down

 

additional notes
  • Many people visit the Wagah border with India (24km from Lahore) to watch the elaborate daily ceremony where the flags get lowered and the border closes.  I didn’t go, as had seen it 20 years ago from the other side of the border.  Its worth a trip
  • I stayed at the Residency Hotel which was excellent – free airport pick up, drop off and breakfast, and a great gym.  I rented a car and driver for one day to get around town – it was 30USD all in, including kms.    I also simplified my life and organised a guide for one day, as hadn’t had time to do any planning
  • Women – I would recommend long sleeves, a tunic and trousers or long skirt.  A shalwar kameez is best if you have one, but a tunic and jeans worked for me, with a loose head scarf
  • The food is fabulous…. I could have eaten my bodyweight in paratha, Dahl and chicken handi

 

Lahore, December 3, 2017

Bullet holes in Bissau

My first attempt to visit Guinea Bissau was thwarted a couple of years ago by the collapse of Air Senegal.  I had paid 300 euros for a visa (including the agency fee to get the visa processed in france as there was no UK service at the time).  When I made it to Dakar airport at 4am to check in, there was no plane, and after 6 hours at the airport, it was evident there wasn’t going to be a plane. I ended up paying egregious sums to get back to London from Dakar. It took a couple of weeks to find out that the airline had gone bust.  Oh well, such is the joy of travelling in Africa!
Plaza of heros
Things weren’t looking much better this time around!  Multiple failed attempts to submit the e-visa on the crashing website!  Then they didn’t process the visa or let me know they hadn’t done so, until I emailed to query what passport I had put it on.  Tried again, fingers crossed!  Ok.  Then Air Maroc cancelled part of my flight back.    Hmmmm, not looking good.   So, I was pleasantly surprised when my flight departed Lisbon airport more or less on time.   I love flying to Africa – you can always tell you are Africa bound by the amount of luggage on the plane.  Almost every person boarding had their ‘carry-on’ taken off them…. .  We eventually all made it on board, and I am guessing Guinea Bissau is slightly posher than the places I usually go, as there are actual tourists on the plane, as opposed to just aid workers, chinese business men and the military.
Cathedral
We landed in the balmy evening in Bissau where a nice man sorted out my visa after chatting me up in broken french. I eventually found the driver I had booked to take me to the hotel after being propositioned by several taxi drivers.  My room at the ‘luxury’ Azalai is more shabby than chic, and I did have to squash a few cockroaches before passing out after 12 hours on the move.
Main street
In the morning, fortified by some fresh pain au chocolat and the appalling nescafe that passes for coffee in most of West Africa, I headed out to conquer the town.   Bissau Velho – old town – is a gunshot peppered, run down, shabby colonial city with lots of charm and friendly people.  Probably too friendly!.  I don’t know what it is with African men – so many of them try to hit on me, its not personal, they hit on anything that walks by.   Sometimes its quite half hearted, but today I had a persistent one who followed me around for half an hour trying to talk to me.  I do my best ‘I don’t speak any language you speak’ smile, and walk on……, but it is a bit annoying.   One day I am going to sit on a plastic chair on the side of the road in a West african city, with my belly hanging out of the top of my pants, and I will hiss at passing men and see how they like it 😃
At the port
The sights of Bissau are not numerous…., the day passed sweltering past the Presidential palace (lots of bullet holes), the cathedral, the bank (where i finally found a working ATM guarded by 8 security guards).
the remains of the fort
I wandered round the fort, and got a proper telling off from the military as I took a photo.  Oh well!.  At least they didn’t detain me.  The port was fascinating.  Then I saw a terrific monument which I think was a fist – hopefully it was an African fist rising up against the horrendously corrupt government here (they are all pretty corrupt in this neck of the woods).   Continuing in the revolutionary spirit, I wandered up to Che Guevara square.
the fist
I took a pause at the Pastry shop at the Imperial – astoundingly good tarts and decent espresso.  I love the countries that were colonised by Portugal, Italy and France – you can tell in the pastry shops (which contrast profoundly with the bread in the countries colonised by anglo nations)
I kept strolling in the heat, and made it up to the National Ministry of Justice which was lovingly adorned with multiple signs saying ‘made with chinese assistance’.  It was an architectural horror!
Ministry of Justice
I passed a smattering of lebanese restaurants.  While I have frequently mentioned how chinese influence is everywhere in the world! – I have neglected to mention the widespread lebanese dominance of grocery stores.
Everywhere from Kenema in Sierra Leone, to Nzerekore in Guinea, to here in Bissau, you can find Lebanese families running the grocery stores who have been here for generations.  I always wondered if it is because the Lebanese are the arabs without oil, they had to find another way to make money 🙂
the pub
More wandering, more old buildings, most of them look derelict with peeling paint, sagging roofs and absent glass in the windows…. but a surprising number have people living in them.   Lots of bullet holes as a reminder of the not too distant past – if Guinea Bissau is famous for anything it is coups and cocaine smuggling.
 
After strolling for hours, I took a nap by the pool and headed out again for fish.  Spicy fish and palm oil and rice.  It wasn’t terrible :-), but the cakes were better.   A glorious day in Bissau!
Bissau, Monday 6 November, 2017
by the port
My least favourite ad in west africa – with maggi, every mother is a star….. (they are still in the 1950s)
I really liked the curves on this building

 

Bissau, November 6, 2017

Sunshine and rhythm in Cape Verde

Now that I am working full time, I thought I would find it quite tiring to fit in a bonkers adventure to a new country each month.  And I do!  But its worth it!  I feel like I unleash my ‘kiwi backpacking’ alter ego when I hop on a plane, armed solely with my tiny 16 litre backpack (all you need for four days on the road), and plenty of optimism about what awaits.  I love it, it feels like being across between an explorer and an undercover agent.  Very few people in my office know I am on a mission to visit the whole world.  And I certainly don’t say anything on Monday morning when I turn up still buzzing from the weekends adventure…. They would probably think I was nuts.
Farol Dona Maria
And I did feel a bit nuts at 3.30am when I hauled myself out of bed on Black Friday to head to the airport for a 6am flight to Praia via Lisbon.  Theres nothing like Heathrow at 4.30 am!   For once I had a happy transit experience.  I only had 50 minutes to get from one flight to the other.  And of course, our flight was 15 minutes late…., hmmmm.  I reconciled myself to potentially a 16 hour wait for the next flight to Praia, and was happily surprised to find a man at the bottom of the plane steps to take me and two other passengers directly to the next plane.
Presidential Palace
I landed in Praia at lunchtime in the baking bright African sunshine.  Cape Verde is physically almost half way between Africa and Brazil…..and spiritually feels like the perfect blend of the two!  As usual I was cunningly off the plane and in the visa queue first.  After five minutes of processing, I turned around to see the queue of 30 people behind me, and felt gleeful as I departed the airport in a cab less than 12 minutes after landing.
Ethnography Museum
I am staying at the lovely Oasis Praia overlooking the sea.   I couldn’t resist lying by the pool for a couple of hours to recover from my four hours sleep the night before, and then I went on a long stroll around town.
Our Lady of Grace
The light here is beautiful.  The buildings are various bright shades contrasting with the nut brown to dark ebony of their inhabitants.  I wandered to the famous light house, and accidentally interrupted about 40 men having an afternoon swim without much on.  Oops.   Then I wandered up to the plateau for an icecream and a look around the old buildings (the ethnography museum, presidential palace, colonial bank and the Church of our Lady).  The colonial architecture is lovely.
National Archives
I was feeling grumpy walking around town at all the men hissing at me, and trying to chat me up in various languages, but felt mildly better when I realised they were hissing at every woman that walked by.   I hit a wall at around six local time (having been up for 17 hours, so staggered back to the hotel, had a bag of crisps for dinner and passed out.
Praia High School
Reinvigorated the next morning by 9 hours of solid sleep I was awake at 5 and first into the buffet at 7.  I loaded up on local maize and bacon and then negotiated with a dodgy cabbie to take me out to Ciudade Velho.
St Philip’s Fort
View from St Philip’s Fort

First up a lovely restored fort overlooking the sea, originally built with Portuguese stone.  Then the old town with some eye wateringly bright colonial buildings.

Igreja Nossa Senhora Rosario – Cidade Velha

I found my way to the Lady of the Rosary Church – the oldest remaining building in the town, and apparently one of the few examples of gothic architecture in Africa.  And from there, I wandered through some cows and goats and found the Convent of Sao Francisco, founded in the 17th century.

Sao Francisco Convent – Cidade Velha
Honestly, although the town has Unesco status, the buildings were not spectacular but were lovely to stroll around.
Boys playing football – Cidade Velha
Back into town, and a bit more wandering around the new town (which is still quite old), for a bit of ice-cream and to see the lovely colonial architecture in different light.  Its loud here!  Lots of rocking African beats pulsing out through windows.  I was amused by two guys who were shouting in the street, I though they were fighting, and it wasn’t until I listened carefully that I realised they were selling squid walking through the streets and shouting to any potential buyer.
Presidential Palace
I had another ice-cream and then treated myself to these outstandingly good cheese puddings – they are like cheese cake, but so much better.  The base is caramelised coconut!  Honestly amazing, and I ate all three almost without pausing for breath.
Pudim de queixa
Wandering back to the hotel, I couldn’t help but notice there are 4-5 new hotels going up along the sea front, all being built by the Chinese.  Its lovely here at the moment, as there aren’t that many tourists, but I have not doubt it would be better for the locals if they had more visitors (=more $$).  Come now before the hordes
And then it was time for a bit more relaxing by the pool.  The couple next to me on the loungers had been here for a week and still hadn’t made it to the Ciudade Velho…….   And time for a snooze
Praia, October 15, 2017

Independence in Iraqi Kurdistan

I have felt for the Kurdish people for a long time – one of the largest groups of people in the world without their own homeland. The Kurds in Iraq have managed to carve out a relatively autonomous ‘country’ with clear borders with Iraq and Turkey. However, none of their neighbours want them to be independent – the Iraqis want the Kurd’s oil reserves, and the Turks and Iranians don’t want the numerous Kurds within their borders seeking independence. It felt like an interesting time to visit – a week before a referendum on independence for Iraqi Kurdistan. Independence the Kurds believe they are entitled to, not least for their recent efforts in battling IS, and for providing shelter to 850,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees who were fleeing IS (a huge number of refugees for a country of 4 million people). I wasn’t sure what to expect!

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I flew via Vienna, and was unsurprised to find the plane filled with aid workers and military personnel. My plane neighbour (Lars from Norway) has lived in Erbil on and off for over a decade. At the beginning he says he was more hopeful and he worked in humanitarian work with living humans. Over recent years, he has found it more challenging to be hopeful and has shifted his emphasis to working with the deceased – specifically identifying the DNA of bones in mass graves. Horrible work, but one that gives family members relief as they can finally know if their loved ones are dead or alive, even if it isn’t the outcome they hoped for.

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Central Bank

Erbil airport was a surprise. Aircon, plentiful cash machines, and a nice cafe. Only the VIPs 4WDs were allowed to approach the main terminal, the rest of us were herded on to an old bus to the pick up area about half a km away – I am assuming for security reasons.

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Muzzafariya Minaret

I stayed at a great hotel in town – the Erbil View. They picked me up from the airport, and I dropped my stuff off and headed out for a long walk around town. It is fair to say there aren’t many jaw dropping sites in Erbil. In the 40 degree heat, I strolled slowly through the streets (not much in the way of paths) and tried not to melt, and visited the Citadel and the Muzzafariya Minaret and the Hot air balloon in Minaret park.

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Hot air balloon in Minaret park

I noticed hordes of people with Kurdish flags heading in one direction and an overwhelming number of soldiers with guns. This is normally a good signal to high tail it in the opposite direction. Today I decided to trust my instincts and follow them – there were plenty of women in the crowd, every body was drinking sprite or Fanta, and I felt really safe when someone gave me a flag and the next person gave me a hat with the Kurdish flag on it. It turns out I had accidentally happened upon the big Independence rally in Shanidar park. I don’t like crowds at the best of times, and I like political crowds even less. But these were some of the friendliest people I had ever met.

People kept inviting me to dance with them and offering me food! It was like going to a super friendly wedding. I stayed for a couple of hours until the music stopped and the speeches started, and headed back to the hotel for dinner.

The next morning, I got up early to try and see a bit more before the heat got overwhelmingly oppressive. A long walk out to Sami Abdul Rahman Park to see the park and the monument to the the victims of a 2004 suicide bomb attack. It is aptly inscribed with the phrase ‘freedom is not free’.

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Freedom is not free

From there I strolled back to town, and wandered around Shar Garden Square and the Qayssarria Bazaars, endeavouring to resist the huge array of fluorescent coloured sweets. It was hot as all hell, and I retreated into a shady tea shop full of old men (you never see women in these places, they are too busy working), where I had tea so sweet it almost hurt my teeth.

From there I wandered up to the Kurdish Textile Museum – probably not a global museum highlight – and then strolled around the citadel. And then I kept walking until I ran out of steam. If I had more time I would have gone to Lalesh, which was recommended to me on the plane. Next time! And then, after an all too brief visit, it was back to work. I would happily recommend a visit to Erbil for an offbeat weekend – it really isn’t that far away. People are extremely friendly , democratic, non secular and they deserve their own democratic leadership just like the rest of us.

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View from the citadel

Erbil, 17 September 2017

Note a week later – the referendum was held. Nine out of ten people voted for independence. Turkey threatened to cut the pipeline that allows Iraqi Kurdistan to export oil to the world. Iran and Iraq banned flights to Erbil, and most Western airlines have ceased flights (a challenge for the western military troops who are deployed against IS, as their base is near Erbil). The ban continues two weeks later when I am writing this, and rumours continue that Baghdad will try and retake Kirkuk

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View of the citadel

From the Observer – While all this may sound rather complicated, in truth, the current problem is straightforward. The Kurds of northern Iraq have proved loyal allies of the western powers since the era of Saddam Hussein. Unusually in a region riven by bigotry and hate, they share the secular, democratic, gender-inclusive and humanitarian values espoused by western society. Whatever the view of Britain and its partners on the wisdom of holding the independence vote, they now have an urgent duty, moral and practical, to robustly support and defend the Kurds as the dark forces of regression and reaction gather.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/30/observer-view-on-kurdish-referendum-independence

My thoughts are with the Kurds and I hope we in the west support them to their rightful independence!

A weekend in Baku

Baku – the best and worst of Dubai and Moscow….it made for fascinating weekend.

I’d been to Azerbaijan before but hadn’t formally entered the country….hmmmmm, so I thought I better make a return visit.

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Local Bus in the Old Town

After a 4.5 hour Friday overnight flight on Azerbaijan Airlines with not much sleep, I arrived in Baku at 6am local (3am London time) on a bright Saturday morning.   The airport is stunning and modern.  I hitched a ride to town to the cheap but central Bristol hotel.  Too cheap to spring for the early check -in, I hit the streets for a six hour 18km stroll around the sites.

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Maidens Tower

First up the old city with Maidens Tower, the Palace of Shirvanshahs and the old city walls.   It was wonderfully deserted at 7am.  The old city is a UNESCO world heritage site which is extremely clean and tidy, almost like it has been recreated by Disney!  Punctuating the views of the old town walls and houses, were glimpses of the huge ‘flame towers’  through the gaps- these are the colossal skyscrapers which overlook Baku from the hill.

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View over Baku

I wandered up to get a closer view!  I hadn’t realised there were so many steps in Baku, and was amused to see a free funicular and some escalators for the less fit visitors.   The more energetic locals were doing Rocky-like stair runs and push ups at the top.  It was a stunning view!

IMG_1003-3.jpgAfter checking out the towers, I strolled along the poignant Martyrs Lane.  The memorials are for those who died when the Red Army attacked in 1990.  I sat in the shade for a few moments and made a new friend – Abdullah – a retired colonel from the army.  He sat down and chatted to me for half an hour, extolling the virtues of the openness of the Azeris.  I hope his word choice was an english error, versus an intentional choice, as he was describing how jews and christians were ‘tolerated’ in Azerbaijan.   The graves were sombre, but I couldn’t resist admiring the array of moustaches on the headstones.

I kept strolling along the ridge line to check out the huge Nariman Narimanov statue overlooking town and then strolled down the hill back to town in search of coffee.  I re-caffeinated at one of the fine establishments on Fountain Square and rested my weary feet.

IMG_1056.jpgAfter that, more strolling along the waterfront Bulvar park.   I strategically stayed in the shade as it got hotter and hotter on the 4km stretch to the modern art museum.   I did opportunistically pop into two nicely air conditioned malls on the way to cool down.  There are lots and lots of posh shops in Baku, staffed by very thin unhappy looking women, catering largely to Arab and Russian tourists.    I didn’t get much more than a passing glance from them as I wandered through in old shorts and flip-flops.

IMG_1078-1.jpgI eventually sweated my way to the Modern Art Museum.  It was fabulous – lots of great Azeri art and a few Picassos.  And they had some lovely beanbags to lie in and look at the art….

I wandered back to town, and finally checked into the hotel and had a wee nap for an hour.   After that more strolling and an icecream.  Fountain square was quite lovely to watch the people walking by.

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Nizami Literature Museum

I managed to stay awake for an early dinner at Firuze – excellent kebabs and Qutar (bread like pancakes stuffed with meat and vegetables), and then passed out to the sounds of revelling in the streets outside.

Dragging myself out of bed for Sunday morning, and after an uninspiring breakfast I headed out the extraordinary Heyday Aliyev Cultural Centre.  I spent a couple of hours walking around the site.  The police blew a whistle at me more than once, I guess because I was walking on the grass.   Unfortunately the interior was closed for a private event, but the outside is amazing. The grounds have a weird collection of rabbit and snail sculptures and some wonderful fountains.

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Heydar Aliyev Centre
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Heydar Aliyev Centre

I wandered back to the old town for another stroll and stopped off for a few coffees.  Having seen all the main sites, it was just nice to wander around and people watch.   Some of the buildings were lovely – I really liked the Nizami Literature Museum.  After just one more kebab, I headed back to the airport- another extraordinary building.

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Old City Metro Station

Baku was fun!  Highlights were the modern architectural monuments financed by oil money!  It was a lovely town to wander around, good food, reasonably friendly people and good icecream.  Whats not to like!

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Seedy Baku Bar
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Nariman Narimanov Statue

Stayed at the Bristol Hotel, ate at Firuze and Kafe Araz plus a random kebab shop.  Flew direct with Azerbaijan Airlines from London.  Easy to get a visa online for $25, but remember to keep the paperwork for your exit – as they asked me for it at the airport on the way out.

Mali – Advice for trekking in the Dogon

I would rate trekking in the Dogon as the very best thing I did in West Africa, and probably in the top five things I did in the whole of Africa. I cannot recommend it highly enough.  The sights were amazing and the people were wonderfully friendly and welcoming…… my top tips!

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Yougadougourou

My favourite places to visit

 

  • Yougoudougourou – best up close tellum houses and a fabulous gorge to traverse
  • Youga Piri – lovely setting and view with great tellum houses
  • Kani Bonzon – historically interesting and little visited, the first village settled in the Dogon
  • Ende, Ireli, Kani Kombole – nice well kept valley villages with good hillside ruins and nice mosques
  • Begnimato – plateau village set in spectacular rock scenery
  • Koro, Youga Na, Soninghe and Tiogou – little visited by tourists, these offer an entirely authentic village experience (no cokes to be found)

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Favourite hiking sections

  • Natural tunnel path from Soninghe to Ende,
  • Ascent from Djindalou to Aindelou through a hidden chasm in the rock
  • Climb from Youga Na to Yougadougourou through the narrow canyons and round to Youga Piri jumping over the insanely deep crevasses

In my view the plateau in general is better hiking terrain than the valley, and I really like going up and down the cliff rather than just walking along the valley, it is much more interesting (albeit more strenuous)

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Getting organised/guides/transport etc

Mali is one of the few places I have been where I prebooked everything. As far as I could tell it would be easy and safe (if time consuming and uncomfortable) to get round the country with bush taxis. I didn’t have a lot of time and had overly heeded the warnings of the foreign office and so arranged private transport everywhere (which was expensive but worth it).
I cannot recommend more highly the services of Monique Teggelove at Papillon Reizen. She was amazing, crafted a great itinerary for me, made sure it all flowed seamlessly, and paired me up with the perfect Dogon guide for my fitness and interest levels (Mamadou Traore from Bandiagara who was hands down the best guide I have ever had in my life!!!! – thoughtful, lovely, kind, fit, wise, delightful and he knew everybody). I even got to have a divine lunch with her and her partner Ibrahim on the river whilst I was passing through Segou! I found Monique through friends who had also worked with her and were equally complimentary. If you want to go to Mali, definitely give her a call.

6174638336_img_0544.jpgWhen to go

I think you would need to be a masochist, a desert nomad, or in training for the marathon des sables to come in May when I did (temperatures in the 40s). I loved it, but suspect it would have been easier in November/December when the days are sunny and warm and the nights are cool. I didn’t see a single tourist in five days as it was the hot season, but given current politics I don’t think you risk being overrun with tourists even in December.

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A couple of suggestions

  • Dogon villages have been hit hard by the lack of tourists in the past five years, some more so than others. As a result I spent more money than I normally would buying drinks and souvenirs, and I honestly didn’t even negotiate unless the price was insane (I was once asked for €140 for something which I had already been told was €10). Ask your guide which villages would benefit most from your custom – Yougapiri and Yougadougourou stood out to me as places where living was difficult – and buy your souvenirs there
  • Villages which have seen frequent tourists are evident from the kids asking for bonbons and bidons (lollies and bottles). The locals hate the tourists for creating this dynamic. Remember that in Europe a stranger coming into town giving away sweets to kids would be arrested for being a paedophile. If you want to do something nice for the village, go give some money or supplies to the chief or the school teacher
  • Your guide will likely be a devout Muslim. I only mention this as I think it is good manners to bear in mind that he (and it will be a he) will need to pray during the day. I let my guide know I was always happy to stop whenever for the 5-10 minutes that takes. I had a drink and he would pray. If your guide suggests a five minute pause, he probably wants to pray and doesn’t want to say so, so take the five minute breaks when offered
  • Facilities are basic, obviously don’t expect running water or electricity or much in the way of sanitation. You can wash, but remember that a women or girl has carried the water up to a kilometre for you to do so, and that the wells aren’t always reliable in the desert, so use water sparingly.

6241675440_img_0154.jpgItems I would definitely pack again

  • Sawyer water filter and platypus…. pump water was high quality and mineral water is rarely available, definitely not available in remoter villages and most people porter it in. It’s faster, cheaper and better for the environment to filter your own
  • Nuun zero electrolyte tablets – a must given how much salt and minerals I was sweating out
  • Lightweight trekking Umbrella – without question the thing that saved me from heat stroke. Hats only shade your face and I also find they make my head to hot. I would have not made it without the umbrella
  • Blow up sea to summit pillow – I can’t sleep without a good pillow and this is the business
  • Silk sleeping bag liner – helpful for a few cold nights and when the mattress wasn’t super clean. In December you would want a summer weight sleeping bag. Note I considered taking a thermarest and am glad I didn’t as never needed it
  • Robust battery pack – it might be possible to charge devices occasionally off the solar panels at the camps but I found it easier to carry my heavy but robust battery which can charge my iPhone nine times
  • Apart from that I took just two changes of clothes, basic toiletries, toilet paper (not available) and a few snacks. I rinsed and dried my clothes each night (using less than a cup of water). Snacks are not necessary to bring as there were places to buy peanuts and fruit in most villages, but do try and take lots of small money with you otherwise you might need to wait an hour when you buy something for them to find change.

Bandiagara, Mali, May 21, 2017

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Mali – in the ancient town of Djenne

Djenne a home of the world’s largest mud mosque, a famous Monday market and protected from the surrounding flood plains by a virgin sacrifice! What’s not to like!
Djenne is famous for having the worlds largest mud mosque! It’s a lovely small town set in the middle of flood plains so depending on what time of the year you visit, you might drive in or you might take the ferry, as Djenne becomes an island in the rainy season. The locals say Djenne has never flooded though as a younger girl was sacrificed to ensure this would never happen (‘of course it had to be a girl I said to my guide’). You can visit her tomb on the edge of the village.


The town is lovely to walk around, with life very much conducted in the open. Doors aren’t closed and everyone knows everyone’s business. Kids run from house to house, dodging the gunk and water in the open drainage system which runs in the middle of every alleyway. Given its the height of the summer it doesn’t always smell great but at least the sewerage systems are all self contained in each house (effectively they just dig the deepest hole possible for the toilet and use a pump to empty it out every ten years).


People here are incredibly friendly and we’re helpful with directions every time I got lost! And kids ran after me saying ‘toubab, photo’ most of the day. None of them wanted money they just wanted to check out what they looked like on screen. And, thankfully, no one asked for bonbons.

 

Fully loaded truck arriving at Djenne market
Djenne also has one of the liveliest markets in Mali every Monday, and luckily I was there to see it. I was up early and started wandering around town around 7am. Spaces were filling quickly and enormous overladen trucks were arriving bursting with sacks of goods, with passengers packed on top, and various carts and stall fixtures hanging off the side. It took a good hour to unload each truck (and there were many coming from all directions).

 

 

Wholesaling mangoes
Young local boys were marshalled with their hand carts to take goods into the centre of the market for the stall holders. Often in the rainy season this process takes even longer as the trucks must stop at the outskirts of town, unload onto donkey driven carts, which are then transferred onto handcarts. It’s an opportunity for everyone to make a little money.
At the same time the bush taxis arrived disgorging their passengers, mostly women buying and selling. Bush taxi conductors are good business men who are geniuses at space optimisation. Everything and everyone fits in. More importantly he always remembers who has paid and who hasn’t. It is typical for people to pay for the transport at the end of the day, after their sales have been made. If they have had a bad day, they can normally pay the following week – the conductor won’t forget.

 

 

Kids practicing their Quranic verses
Against this frenzied back drop, local life goes on and I watched the young boys and girls in their separate groups at their pre breakfast Quran lessons, memorising passages from their tablets (the stone version not the electronic kind).

 

 

Market stall
The goods are typical of a west African market and each category has its section – live sheep (typically run by men), chickens, abundant displays of fruit melons, mango and cucumbers, staples like rice, beans and millet, spices, herbs, fresh fish, smoked fish.

 

 

Smoked fish
Then of course you have the obligatory clothing section which is probably half football gear – everyone wears football shirts here, from the 2 year old to the 60 year old lady, and they all love Messi and Barca. Then the second hand European clothing stands – if you ever wondered where your charity shop donation of the Zara tshirt went, you can rest assured it is probably getting a useful second life in west Africa somewhere.  

 


Finally the Chinese tat section – plastic sandals, mobile phone chargers, cheap electricals etc…. the locals say that the Chinese perfectly understand the African mentality to buy cheap, even though they know the products don’t last. Adjacent to the market are the services… skinny men under a tarp with ancient foot operated singer sewing machines, the bike repair men and the ever present mobile phone vendors. Dotted throughout the market are women selling water, drinks and deep fried donuts (the perfect sustenance for a hot day).

The highlight of town is the grand mosque, which they ‘re-mud’ every year before the rainy season. It is a spectacular building which changes colour during the day with the light. Historically non muslims are not allowed to enter. However, I was approached by the son of town chief who told me they need money for ongoing repairs, and if I was willing to make a donation he could show me around. I passed.

 

The Grande Mosque is the backdrop for the market
It got hotter and hotter as the morning wore on, and even observing the action from a shady bench was a sweaty endeavour. I had a wee break in the blessed AC in my hotel, and then joined the lovely Ibrahim, his wife and daughter for lunch in their house. Local river fish and rice, followed by more mango….. it was delicious. The highlight of lunch was their 10 month old daughter who was gorgeous, however whenever she looked at me she started crying….. she hadn’t seen a toubab before.

 

 

View of Grande Mosque from neighbouring building 
Later in the afternoon I wandered back to the market. ‘La pluie est le poussiere menace’ I was told…. ie there was a storm coming. The dust started blowing and people started packing up earlier than usual. I bought a few supplies – some local biscuits, more mangoes, a melon and some water bags. The long winded process of the early morning happened in reverse with everything being stuffed back into trucks and buses.

 


The poorer kids in town were crowded around the fruit stalls gorging themselves on the rotten mangoes which wouldn’t sell another day….. apparently they often get quite sick doing this but still can’t help themselves. The pile of rotten discarded mango skins was almost obscured by the flies. By late evening there was little evidence apart from discarded plastic that anything had happened at all in town that day, and Djenne would stay her sleepy habitual self until the next Monday.

 

Dried onions
Additional notes
I stayed at campement Houber which is located in town and very close to the mosque. It is basic but clean and had AC. Don’t expect water all day as there are regular shortages.

 

I had a local guide when I was there, arranged through Papillon Reizen. You don’t really need a guide, but it isn’t a terrible idea as I would have gotten pretty lost in the windy alleys without him, plus he took me to the great viewpoints and fed me s delicious lunch

May 22, Djenne, Mali

Mali – Day 4 in the Dogon, Neni, Ibi, Koundou, Youga Na, Youga Dogorou, Youga Piri, Yendouma (28k, 38 degrees)/ Day 5 to Tiogou, Sanga (13k, 40 degrees)

I got up early with the rain plopping gently on my face at five am. I hoped it would pour but it didn’t! The sky was dark and grey, the air heavy with humidity and not a breath of wind. I was so ready for the rain to come but it just wasn’t happening.

Sign proclaiming that the village no longer practices female circumcision

We set off for Youga Na after breakfast (which I found out later our host had gone off on his bike at 4am to get bread for as there wasn’t any in the village – such is Dogon hospitality). The grey clouds providing some respite from the sun but the humidity more than making up for it on the sweat factor. It was an easy two hours to do the 10k to Koundou, stopping to chat to various locals on the way through the small villages.

Chief of Koundou outside the talking house

We passed several signs exclaiming proudly that the villages had ceased conducting female circumcision. I asked if this was true. Man said no, but you get money for putting the sign up ! And then we started talking about aid in Africa, which we both agreed was largely useless. Some good things happen, particularly building wells and practical infrastructure.  But largely aid is perceived by the locals to be white people driving round in nice 4WDs, giving money to a select few, and nothing actually changes for the lives of most people.

Koundou talking house

We stopped for five minutes (aka half an hour) in Koundou. It has the loveliest hotel/camping along the valley and they haven’t had more than a handful of toubab clients for years. It is really heartbreaking to see these villages having invested in building tourist infrastructure that they can no longer use. It is not as if tourism was making locals rich, but in most cases it was elevating these villages slightly above subsistence level. I hope the war sorts itself out soon, or people come back in any case as the war is a long way north from here. Dogon country is honestly fantastic, though perhaps I would like it less if it was inundated with French tourists :-).

A lady I chatted to while waiting for change at Koundou

Another five km stroll along the valley and we arrived at lower Youga Na, our lunch spot. We dropped our bags and climbed up the hill to upper Youga Na, a lovely animist village which hasn’t seen a tourist for a few years they told me. After that, it was 11am i.e. time to lie down and sweat quietly until lunch.

the kids of upper Youga Na photo bombing my shot of the talking house

Lunch was more couscous with onions and chilli powder, followed by more heart stoppingly strong tea! And back to lying down…. no shaded rooftop today, but there is a patch of shade under the porch, sadly in view of most of the town…. nonetheless somewhere to wait out the heat. There is not much of a breeze here, so I lay as still as possible trying to stay cool, with the village orchestra in the background – goats bleating, women pounding millet, kids laughing and the old men gossiping in the Toguna, and I could see the heat shimmering up from the plain.

Youga Na ladies pounding millet

At three it was still baking but the itinerary said we had 15k to go, so I roused Man and off we went with a local guide. It was a steep climb up to Yougadougourou, fine in normal circumstances but a sweat fest in the heat. Most of the climb I spent worrying about a dodgy Dogon ladder that I was going to have to pass to get to the top of the cliff – more on that later. I have figured out now when Man needs a break on the way up a hill, as he always stops and says nice view 🙂 and sits down. It is always a nice view 🙂

Spectacular Tellem houses of Yougadougourou set high in the cliff

Yougadougourou is one of the most famous of the Dogon villages as it is here that the Dogon discovered the Dog Star – Sirius B which appears every sixty years, and all of their rituals run on a sixty year cycle. Western astronomers are at a loss to explain how the Dogon knew of the star hundreds of years before westerners could verify it on a telescope – they deduced it was there in the 50s because of the irregular behaviour of Sirius, but only verified it on a telescope in 1970.
For me, Yougadougourou was fascinating as it was a chance to get up close to some eleventh century tellum houses without having to climb down a rope. The village is poorer than most around here and doesn’t have easy access to clean water which makes things challenging.

Yougoudougourou Eleventh century Tellem Houses

Climbing up from Yougadougourou to reach the clifftop required navigating some narrow canyons, steep rocky bits and a dodgy Dogon ladder (basically a tree stump with a few steps for tiny feet cut into it). After all the fear it was actually fine as some kind soul had constructed a barrier to stop anyone who fell off the ladder falling down the canyon. When the worst that can happen is that I break my leg, I tend not to worry that much. It was such a non event after all the worry that I even forgot to take a photo.

Climbing from Yougadougourou to the plateau
View down to the Gondo plain from the plateau

We hopped along the clifftop and then navigated the steep descent to Youga Piri. Like the previous village they hadn’t seen a toubab for two years, so I was quickly surrounded by kids shouting ‘jiggy bara’ – white man in the the local dialect – oh, yes there are 10 languages and 600 dialects in the Dogon so I seem to be learning lots of ways of saying white person. The village of animists was also built right below the historical Tellum village, and it was wonderful to walk under the 11th century ruins.

Ancient houses of Youga Piri

The going was steep and rocky to descend, but as I hopped from rock to rock I reminded myself of the women who have to climb up and down every day with 30kg of water on their heads.

Kids at Youga Piri calling me a jiggybara

From the cliff base we waded through the sand across the valley to Yendouma, our stop for the night. As always, I am the only guest (the first toubab in three years) so was quickly installed with a Coke and a seat on the roof. Within five minutes I was being stared at by kids on every surrounding rooftop…. all excitedly yelling down to their friends that there was a toubab in town. I like these kids though, none of them have asked me for anything so far.

Youga Piri viewed from the cliff base (its pretty well camouflaged)

We are staying at chiefs youssefs house. He has 14 kids (two wives), but found it hard to have them all under the same roof so wife number one lives in a different town with the first seven children. He did laugh when I asked if he could remember all their names. He has a booming voice and commands things from his roof top…. the Coke arrived after he yelled down at one of his kids to go get one. Long and loud conversations happen with his neighbours around me…..sound carries easily here.
It was another wonderful day, I love this landscape even if the heat is sweltering, I can only imagine how lovely it is in the cool season. Yougadougourou is stunning and worth making the trip for even if that was the only thing you came to see.

Tiougou lady who asked for a photo

After an excellent dinner of spaghetti and chicken, and more mangoes, I was in bed by 9 listening to the village slowly quietening down around me. I decided Man needs a break so we are sleeping in tomorrow until 7.

Tioguo ladies who got me to help them do some pounding

I woke up baking at midnight, the clouds had rolled in and there was no breeze! I went to the loo, passing a bunch of guys marshalling their donkeys with torches (not sure why given the hour) and found they had locked the loo for the night (it was adjacent to the village square). Hmmmmm. Oh well, I found a quiet alley and peed as fast as I could before the guys with the torches came back. I couldn’t get back to sleep so found our left-over hand wash water from last night, dunked my tshirt in it and put it back on. It helped. I finally fell asleep around three and then woke up again at five to find most of the village staring at me from the surrounding rooftops. Good thing they don’t have cameras.

Tioguo ladies who got me to help them do some pounding

We set off at 7am to Sanga, our final destination, just a few hours walk! It was baking hot, and the fried donuts I had eaten for breakfast were rolling around in my stomach threatening to make a reappearance. We had a brief pause in Tiogou as we climbed back up to the plateau, were some ladies invited me to pound some millet with them. With the sun pounding down and not a lick of a breeze, I was grateful when we made it to the outskirts of Sanga to meet Amadou and his air conditioned 4wd 🙂 at 9.30am.  Onward to Djenne
May 20-21 2017, Sanga, Mali

Mali – Day 3 in the Dogon, Konshugo, Dourou, Nombori, Idyeli Na, Komokani, Tereli, Amani, Ireli (31k, 44 Celsius)

I woke up at three a little bit chilly, and I didn’t have a blanket so I grabbed another mattress and chucked it on top of me and went back to sleep until five. After breakfast of mango jam, laughing cow and bread we wandered along the stunning rocky escarpment to Konshugo.

Dourou well

This is a bit the conundrum of the Dogon – the landscape on the top of the escarpment is incredible, wonderful rocky formations and mini canyons everywhere with hidden features, but the downside of taking the literal high road is that you don’t get to see the cliff itself with the wonderful tellum houses clinging to the side. Walking in the valley gives you that and it is flat, but the path is sandy and hot and without the endless views over the plain. We are doing a good job of mixing up the two….

Near Dourou

After an hour and a half along the clifftop we reached Dourou – a large and not particularly lovely village, but we stopped to chat to a few locals and then walked some more through the surreal rocks. We eventually started the descent to Nombori. It was hot and I was struggling to concentrate. Unbelievably it was hotter than yesterday. As I was navigating my way down two ladders hanging on the hillside thinking ‘shit this is a bit steep’, Man put things into perspective by telling me this is the route the village women take to come up to the market carrying at least one child and with a 30kg load on their heads. Yup – time for me to harden up.

Descent to Nombori
Descent to Nombori

We reached the bottom and I had to have a shade break. I’d had the umbrella up since 6.45am, but I needed both hands on the way down the hill and by the time I reached the bottom I thought I was going to melt. Even the locals aren’t moving much today! Most of the men we are passing are horizontal in the shade even at 9.30am (of course the women are still working). Ten minutes of sitting, and my core temperature had dropped below 100 and I was ready to go again. We took it ‘deggy deggy’ (Dogon for slowly slowly) and ambled along the side of a dried up river bed with beautiful red dunes on one side and the red Dogon cliffs on the other. Beautiful.

Along the dried up river bed

We made a couple of my friends along the way who treated us to some baby mangoes. We ate as we walked with juice dripping down our faces! Honestly the mangos at home don’t taste anything like this. It is almost enough to stop me dreaming about ice or cold drinks (not quite).

Lunchtime nap spot

We made it to Komokani around 10.45 and decided to stop as the next village is an hour away and it is already baking. I had two warm cokes with salt mixed in and a litre of electrolytes and lay down in the shade. They are experts here at figuring out the coolest place to rest, so I am on the roof under an awning with a mattress. Luxury, although I am still sweating buckets lying completely still.

Heading to the Tereli market

Lunch was more mutton, but this time with couscous. It tasted great but like most meals here was pretty gritty, and there were lots of bone hunks! After a bit more lying about sweating, we managed to rouse ourselves out of the heat stupor at 3.15 to head 4K to the market in Tereli.

Tereli market

The market was lovely, but I must confess that the most exiting thing about Tereli was that it had a fridge and so I had my first cold drink in three days. A coke and a sprite in quick succession. I hate coke, I never drink it, occasionally having a Coke Zero if I am super thirsty, but here it works magic to keep me hydrated and not thirsty if I throw some salt in. The chief of Tereli spent a good 20 minutes trying to persuade me to have kids…. his logic being that we all need someone to leave stuff to. I told him I wouldn’t care when I was dead, which he found extremely perplexing :-).

Ireli – the conical cliffside houses are just visible midway up

After chatting with the locals at the market in Tereli, we headed off to Ireli. It was a long 7k on the sandy track which made it feel like every step took twice as much effort as normal. Ireli is also an exceptionally long village, and it was 2k from the beginning of the village to where we are staying – it felt like a long way at the end of the day :-).

Sand dunes across the river bed

Ireli is perched on a hillside, with the new huts cascading down the hillside under the ancient cliffside houses that the Tellum used to live in. The houses are carved out of the side of the cliffs in ridiculous places and they used to climb down ropes from the cliff tops to get to their front doors. It is really stunning. The only downside is that as we are at the bottom of the hill, as I wrote this I had a large group of kids standing up the hill, on a rooftop looking down on me, chanting ‘ca va, la bonbon’ (basically asking for lollies) for a full ten minutes. There are upsides and downsides of being the lone tourist…. sometimes the attention is lovely, sometimes (especially when I am hot and tired) it can be a bit overwhelming.

Clouds threatening at Ireli

We stayed with the Chiefs son in a lovely large compound which actually had a tap with hot water to wash in – amazing. A couple more salty cokes, some delicious couscous and even more mangoes later and I was ready for bed.
However it was a bit of a challenge deciding where to sleep. The sahel winds had whipped up a sand storm off the Gondo plain and it was impossible to be outside with all the dust, we were also possibly expecting some rain, but I just couldn’t bear to sleep in the room as it was a baking hot sauna. So, we waited it out in the chiefs living room which at least had a breeze until 8.30 when I really wanted to sleep. The room was still a furnace so I took my chances on the roof with the dust, but left all my stuff in the room as the chief was pretty sure it was going to rain. I had to stop writing on the roof as couldn’t see anything with the dust howling in my face and getting in my eyes.

May 19, 2017 Ireli, Mali

Mali – day 2 in the Dogon – Soninghe, Ende, Yabatalou, Doundjouro, Aindelou, Begnimato (30k, 42 Celsius)

The donkeys started braying at 4am and the cocks joined them soon after. I hadn’t slept brilliantly but at least I was cool and had no mozzie bites. It was blissfully cool this morning. I started packing up at 5 as breakfast was scheduled for 5.30, and we were supposed to hit the road by 6 west African time. So, we did pretty well heading out at 6.30.

 

Chief in the Togu na (talking house) Soninghe
While it had felt blissfully cool, the moment we started walking I started sweating, and didn’t stop all day. After an hour or so we arrived in lovely Soninghe, a tiny village with no road access. I went to visit the chief, and the various talking houses (togu na) where the locals resolve disputes….all manned by old men with pipes and wonderful wrinkled faces. We also visited a lovely Animist temple. I love how the muslims, christians and animists can all get along peacefully.

 

 

Animist priest in front of temple at Soninghe
We strolled along the escarpment saying good morning to the women pounding the sorghum, one got me to have a go – it’s a decent arm work out.

 

 

Pounding sorghum in the early morning- Soninghe
After an hour we descended down a steep canyon and through a natural tunnel to get to the valley. It was stunning, like Utah but with a few more trees. I was lucky, most tourists aren’t agile enough to come this way apparently, it was steep, rocky and baking hot but worth it.

 

 

Men in front of the Toguna in Soninghe
We stopped for an hour in Ende. Man caught up with his relatives and I climbed up the hill with a young guide to check out the amazing village wedged in the side of the cliff. The views were stunning and it was worth the baking heat to get up the big hill. Ende is a big village with road access, and you can see they are still hopefully awaiting the return of the tourists, they still have souvenirs shops.

 

 

Beautiful dogon gate – Ende
A few women tried nicely to sell me some things but I politely declined…. given I am carrying everything myself I don’t want to add to the load. From Ende we set off up the valley in the baking heat along the cliff base.

 

 

Traditional house paintings – Ende
Animal teeth embedded in the walls of the cliff houses – Ende
By the time we had arrived in Yabatalou (20k from Djiguibombo) at 11.30 I had drunk 6.5 litres of water and electrolytes and was still thirsty…. not surprising given it was over 40 degrees. I poured a cup of water over my head, blew up my pillow and lay down in the shade to cool down and wait for lunch. Lunch is a long affair as they have to make a fire, and we aren’t in any hurry as Man doesn’t want to leave until 3 at the earliest as neither of us want to bake in the heat of the day!

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Lunch was preceded by the wonderful local tea. It’s so strong I am pretty sure it is thoroughly cleaning out all my pipes, and so sweet it sets my teeth on edge. I find it amusing to share the same glass with everyone in the courtyard, and it is obligatory to drink three cups, I hope I am not giving them any germs!
Lunch was another good greasy salty pasta, just what I needed. Followed by another astoundingly good mango. Then Man sorted out a mattress on the roof in the shade and sent me off to lie down and do nothing for a few hours. Doing nothing still made me sweat :-).

 

Doundjouro Market
We summoned up the courage to leave the shade at 3pm. Man had tempted me by talk of a colourful village market at Doundjouro, 2.5 k further on. It was fantastic. I got mildly freaked out by the stares at the beginning, and then realised it was my shorts that were causing the problem (even though they went past my knees) so I whipped out my head scarf and tied it round my waist to cover any inkling of my lady bits and the locals became much more friendly. After a couple of just ok meals, Man used this as a good opportunity to make sure we had a good dinner tonight. Fresh mutton! So fresh they offered to throw in the head too. Hmmmmmm. And some more mangoes.

 

 

Aindelou village from above- with the animist temple to the left
Man gave me the option of a steep uphill climb to the top of the cliff to the next village, or an easier route to our eventual destination. Up the steep hill we went. It was a stunning well hidden path from the valley to the top of the escarpment through a narrow cleft! And Aindelou was worth the climb, a lovely red village!

 

Benigmato village camouflage in between the rocks – the one on the left represents the catholics
From there we wandered through the surreal rocky landscape to the village of Begnimato. The village has three sections – christians, muslims and animists. And there are three towering rocks in front of the village to represent each religion. We stayed with Daniel the village chief in the Christian section. By the time I arrived I had already drunk 11 litres of water and was still thirsty. I had sweated so much that my tshirt was white with salt, and I hadn’t peed for four hours. Luckily Daniel sells coke, so I had two with salt thrown in which seems to have helped.

 

 

Monkey skulls on the animist house at Benigmato
I had a chat to a few local women. Like much of the world the women here work harder than the men! They dont stop from when they wake up to when they sleep – carrying water, gathering wood to cook, managing the garden, cooking, cleaning, going to market. These women are as strong as oxen and I saw many of them breastfeeding on the go, while carrying substantial loads. The men here work quite hard too, and most men were busy a lot of the day, but the definitely had time to lie around drinking beer and smoking their pipes in the village talking houses.

 

 

Men walking home from the market
Dinner arrived eventually around 8.30. The stew was delicious, the mangoes even better. By nine pm I was on a mattress on the roof ready to snore! I lay there watching the stars and the lightning far in the east and tried to ignore the donkeys. What an amazing day!
Begnimato, May 18, 2017

 

Benigmato at dawn with the ladies carrying the first water of the day