Which are the best countries in the world to visit?

Given my travel history, I regularly get asked which is my favourite country in the world….. Honestly, that’s easy. New Zealand every time!

However, I do have a list of places that I highly recommend, many of which I  would go back to (or have gone back to) over and over again. Here it is:

Africa highlights

1. Mali

I totally lost my heart to Mali. Hiking in the Dogon was one of the highlights of my life. No hot water or showers, few cold drinks, filtering my drinking water from the wells, sleeping on grubby sheetless mattresses in the dusty wind on the roof of the chiefs house in every village, and dinner of gritty couscous and mystery meat most nights. I went in summer and sweltered doing 30k hiking days in 40 degree heat for six days (we had to lie down on the shade from 11-3 every day). I would recommend going in December when it’s cooler. But I loved it!!!! The scenery in the Dogon is amazing, the welcome incredibly warm and the history was fascinating. (Djenne was lovely too) I can’t recommend it highly enough

Blog posts here

Djenne mud mosque
Djenne market
Yougoudougourou Dogon

2. Ethiopia

I am torn on Ethiopia. Addis is a crap hole full of touts. And there are more and more busloads of Italian tourists. And whenever you stop to pee, anywhere in the country, you will be surrounded by kids while your pants are down asking for a pen or a sweet. However, there is nothing like going to Bet Giorgis in Lalibela at dawn for the services, or climbing up to the ancient monasteries in the Gheralta (although some are men only, like Debre Damo). I loved it, and have developed a real love for Injera. I have been back several times, most recently early this year.  Blog posts here

Hubby’s photos here.

Yemrehanna Kristos
Woman worshiping at Bet Giorgis (not allowed inside)
Church Guardian
Bet Giorgis

3. Namibia

Sossusvlei alone merits a visit to Namibia. Big red dunes, amazing old trees, and stunning sunrises – if you have extra cash take a balloon ride at dawn. With more time, you can fly up the skeleton coast, cruise around Windhoek (which wins my vote for the most zen capital in Africa), and go on safari in Etosha. Originally colonised by the Germans, the efficiency and organisation remains!

Dead vlei
Desert flowers


4. Myanmar

We went before it got touristy (luckily we did the same in Cambodia). I hope it still retains its charm. Getting up early to see the monks collect alms, watching the sun set over what seems like hundreds of miles of temples, and spending time with very friendly locals. You do need to offset that against a truly oppressive political regime.

hubby’s photos from his recent trip here

Monks going for morning alms
temples in bagan
happy monks


5. Bolivia

The first off the beaten track place I went in South America 20 years ago. It was a lifetime highlight, cycling from La Paz down the death road to Coroico, seeing a black jaguar swimming across the amazon while I was in the rainforest, freezing my butt off at 4,800m while being amazed by the salt plains in Uyuni, and horse riding in the footsteps of the Sundance kid in Tupiza. Often overlooked for neighbouring Peru, I would take Bolivia every time, even when I remember the 24 hours I spent lying on the bathroom floor in La Paz with altitude sickness barfing into a less than clean loo. I recently revisited with the husband, and there were a lot more tourists but it was still amazing

blog post here

hubby’s photos here

Cholita La Paz Salar de Uyuni

Laguna Colorado

Laguna Blanca

Cholita La Paz

Europe/Middle East

6. Georgia

Tbilisi is a trip, great food (Khinkhali and kachapuri) and some terrific architecture. But the joys of Georgia can be found out of town. Apparently it has changed since I went and there are now some posh hotels, but I have amazing memories of hiking in the Kazbeg and loving the locals in their skodas. I also enjoyed David gareji – the ancient monastery. It’s safe, friendly and stunning.

Tsminda Sameba
Ananuri Fortress
Bustling metropolis of Kazbeg
Old town architecture Tbilisi
The new Tsminda Sameba in Tbilisi

7. Uzbekistan

Ok it has a totalitarian dictatorship and the food isn’t amazing (plov!). However, the Silk Road architecture is incredible – Khiva, Samarkand, Bukhara. I have been three times and will go again. The first time I went there, ten years ago, there were no tourists to be seen. Last time there were busloads. Try to go off season but pack warm clothes

my husband went recently and took some amazing photos. link here

Tomb of Tajikistan’s most loved son
Chor Minaret – Bukhara

The Minaret late afternoon – Bukhara

8. Afghanistan

It’s little visited and had a horrendous war torn history but the mosque in Herat and the shrine in mazar are breathtaking. The people are amazing! Hubby and I both loved it, and I can’t wait to go back to Bamian.

blog posts here 

hubby’s photo’s here

Kabul Sakhi Tomb Kabul Playground Kabul Friday Mosque Herat Circus school Kabul Hubby at hazrat Ali shrine Hazrat Ali Shrine Mazar i sharif

For a splurge

9. Botswana

For eye watering sums of money, in my view, there is no better place to see big game. You might find leopards more easily in Kenya, but within ten minutes you will be surrounded by other vans bursting with camera toting tourists. Find a leopard in Botswana and chances are you will have it all to yourself. We went top end and stayed at Mombo, and I don’t want to remember what we paid but it was worth it. Flying in the tiny planes between camps, and scanning the runway for elephants before you land also created memories for a lifetime.

Job done!
The baboon tree viewing gallery

Elephants in the Okavango

10. Bhutan

Expensive but worth it! I saved Bhutan for country 182. I spent more in one day in Bhutan than I did in a month of over-landing on a truck in west Africa the year before. I tried not to think about the cost too much and just enjoyed every minute. A highlight of my travels – the most astoundingly friendly people, a culture which is cherished and preserved, and obsession with improving gross national happiness rather than GDP. Add that to outstanding landscapes and stunning monasteries with great hiking and it is my perfect travel destination. And for my husband – the five star hotels with world class food were a big draw! Save up and go!

blog posts here

Tigers Nest Monastery
Archery in Paro
Monks in Punakha Dzong
Paro Dzong

Off the beaten track countries I wouldn’t go back to, but are definitely worth a visit

11. North Korea

Ok this is a controversial one as the oppression is horrendous. However, I can think of few other places as unusual and where you are so tightly scrutinised! The questions the guide asked me made it obvious they had investigated me before arrival. So, the sights aren’t great shakes, you will get heartily sick of the propoganda and bullshit, and you will struggle not to pee your pants laughing when you hear about how the ‘great leader’ solved all the worlds problems. Recommended if you want to see what life without freedom looks like, it’ll make you thankful for whatever your political system is at home.

blog posts here

Pyongyang metro

12. Eritrea

Very hard to get into, and hard to get around without lots of paperwork, but worth it. For any Art Deco fan, the architecture in Asmara is worth making the trip. The coffee is good, the donuts better! Tourists are so rare that you will be warmly welcomed by everyone you meet, and I found it difficult to pay for my coffee at any cafe.

blog posts here

Bowling alley
Famous fiat garage

13. Yap, Micronesia

Ok it’s blimmen hard to get to (and united just made it harder by cancelling the weekly flight) and you aren’t allowed on any of the beaches without the local chiefs permission. And yes you have to carry a leaf when you wander around the island to demonstrate you are not a threat. And women aren’t allowed to wear shorts. And if you want to go to the national festival you have to go in local costume (that means topless!). But Yap has a charm that I rarely found elsewhere, largely because of its isolation. The stone money and paths are amazing. If you are a diver, apparently the manta rays are extraordinary. And I also suspect the excellent Oceania hotel I stayed in in Colonia made all the difference. However the Chinese government had just started big net fishing on their reefs, so I hope their idyllic lifestyle survives.

blog post here

Ancient stone paths
Meeting house and stone money
Stone money
Meeting house

13. Sudan

Far more interesting than its Egyptian neighbour, Sudan has the stunning pyramids at Meroe, the nile, the lion temple at Naqa and the whirling dervishes at Omdurman. It’s hard to get into, completely corrupt and you can’t get cash when you are there. But the entrepreneurial Greek brothers at the acropole hotel (a Khartoum legend) can sort you out.

Women at Omdurman during the Friday service for the whirling dervishes
Meroe pyramids
Meroe pyramids
Meroe pyramids
Naqa Lion Temple

14. DRC

a terrific place to see gorillas, and support the conservation of them.  its cheaper and less touristy than Rwanda, so you might well have the whole family of gorillas to yourself.  And while you are there you can climb Nyiragongo.  Its easy to get to Goma through Rwanda and you can book everything direct with virunga.org

blog posts here


It’s hard not to keep adding countries, as I have had wonderful experiences at most places in the world (largely as a result of the people I meet), so just because I didn’t put it on this list, doesn’t mean I didnt love it.  Honestly, I love France so much, I made it my second home, and everyone should go there, but I reckon most people will go there without my recommendation.   I also love a tonne of other places, too numerous to list. 

I also don’t think my list is for everyone, it’s entirely subjective and solely my opinion. No gripes if you don’t agree, just write your own list!

Happy trails!

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!


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)


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)


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.

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


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!




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

Mali – day 1 in the Dogon, Kani Kombole, Kani Bonjon, Koro and Djiguibombo (20k, 38 Celsius)

After just one afternoon I was in love with Dogon country….where I was the first tourist in six years to visit one of the more remote villages! I can’t recommend a visit more highly!


Classic Dogon door Kani Kombole

The Dogon is a world apart from Mali, even more traditional, and I suspect many customs haven’t changed in hundreds of years. I am lucky, as I will get to see all of the tourist highlights of the Dogon during my trip…. four days, 125 km of hiking. Not much by my standards but the average temperatures at the moment are in the 40s so I expect it might be a bit more challenging. It is a huge shame that tourism has all but stopped here since the war broke out in 2012, and the foreign office still advises against all travel here. I was lucky I had had some friends who had visited earlier in the year and assured me it was extremely safe and one of their highlights of west Africa! They weren’t wrong!



Cows and carvings – Kani Kombole

I came into Mali over land from Burkina Faso, a border very few tourists cross. It was weird entry, they didn’t believe the visa stamp I showed them was actually from Mali and they kept trying to point to the Turkmenistan stamp. After several people scrutinised it, including the station chief, then decided it was ok. Oddly, they then didn’t give me an entry stamp.



Mud Mosque – Kani Kombole

We were the only car on the road between Koro and Kani Kombole, the start of the hike. There was a smattering of motorbikes but most people were in wagons drawn by donkeys or emaciated horses. It set the right scene for arriving in the Pays Dogon.
I met my charming guide, Mamadou (‘Man’) in Kani Kombole, a decent sized village with 4wd access to the highway. Man has an enormous friendly grin and legs as long as a giraffe. By all accounts he is the strongest walker in the Dogon, and seems happy to do some decent distances (significantly more than most tourists do).



Cliffside houses – Kani Kombole

We had a quick look around the village – my first sight of the houses built into the cliff side. As the dangers from animals and people have receded the villagers have started moving down to the base of the cliff.



Cheeky kids – Kani Kombole

In Kani Kombole the village in the valley was lovely with a lovely mud mosque, some wonderful carvings and beautiful baobabs.
We headed off on our hike. Luckily it was not too hot i.e. It was only 37 degrees. When there was a breeze and I had my umbrella up it was bearable on the flat, but climbing up the cliff in the full sun without a breeze was a killer. On the way I learnt the Dogon way of saying hello. It’s basically hello, how are you, how is your father, your mother, your children, your goats, your cows etc etc, with a full set of responses, finished with a ‘everyone is good’. It’s long winded, but sounds very musical, and they have made it efficient as you don’t have to stop when you talk, you just keep walking.



Sacred baobab – Kani Bonzon

We hiked up the cliff to Kani Bonzon – the very first village built in the Dogon in 1100. It is not on the tourist circuit and they hadnt seen a tourist for six years. The kids were terrified of me, but eventually warmed up. The village folk are principally animists but the three Muslim families had joined together to build a mosque. Sadly there was no well or pump, so I had to eke out my 1 litre of water for the next 7k.
I was extremely happy to arrive in Koro as was out of water and my lips were dry. I am not at all acclimatised to the heat!



Traditional weaving – Kani Bonzon

Apparently most tourists use porters to carry their mineral water, but it has created a problem where every village has kids asking for the ‘bidons’ – the bottles, literally the greeting is ‘ca va, bidon?’. I am carrying all my own stuff and so am drinking treated well water. But unfortunately my water treatment bottle cracked and I have no chemicals left, just as well I bought a back up sawyer filter. Fingers crossed for no giardia! The village kids watched in awe as I sucked down 2 litres in ten minutes.


View of the Gondo plain from the plateau

They were not expecting us in Koro – there is no phone signal here. Man gracefully let me know lunch might take a long time and will be very simple. I assured him that I was happy that we would get food, whatever it might be, whenever it might come, and would not be surprised if it took 2 hours. Apparently he has had a few tourists who were surprised to show up in a remote village and not be able to order from a menu. I have been in west Africa before and am just grateful that there might be some food.

Male barns – Koro

I was given a seat of honour outside the village chiefs house and was surrounded by kids and and eventually by most of the adults in the village….., We sat in the shade and were entertained by the kids until a pretty decent pasta lunch arrived. We shared from one bowl and ate Muslim style with our right hands after having a quick wash in the bucket. And then we waited 40 minutes for the kettle to boil to make tea :-), and good tea it was, though in African style it had a bucket of sugar in it and we shared one cup between is (although being the guest of honour at least I get to go first :-))

the cool boys of Koro

From Koro it was a short stroll to Djiguibombo, 5k took us an hour and it was blissfully cool (about 32 degrees). Djiguibombo is lovely but has definitely seen a few tourists as within about five minutes I was surrounded by every kid in the village asking for bonbons. I had some fun chasing them up the street, and then played the usual game of taking their photos and showing them to them. This is genuinely the easiest way to entertain west African kids who never get to see photos of themselves.

Koro girl

I stayed at the chiefs house, as that appears to be the custom. I had the luxury of an African shower (half a bucket of water and a cup – which is all you really need). The chief is a lovely dude with two wives, twelve kids and too many grandkids to count. He is also the local healer and while waiting for dinner he treated a variety of local kids to some traditional healing (to an outsider it looked like he was stroking them and then spitting on their chests). Man had a go too, but I wasn’t in need of any healing.

Koro church

After a dinner of rice and fish sauce, and the best mango I have ever eaten, I climbed up the precarious Dogon ladder to sleep on the roof. There are a few mozzies about so Man had marshalled a small army of kids to use all of the available furniture to configure a mozzie net for me on the roof. I am being totally spoilt! It is only 8pm but we are leaving at six tomorrow and besides there is no electricity here so not much else to do once the sun goes down. I went to bed hoping I wouldn’t need to pee too much as the ladder looks dodgy enough while awake!

Nap time in Djigibombo

May 17, 2017 Djiguibombo