Mali: Sahel Journey
Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours


Dispatch 9 - Bandiagara


Last night many of us slept on the roof. We knew morning had come with the cacophony of village chickens and donkeys rose to a crescendo.

Bicycling in Dogon Country, MaliAt best the road out of Niongono is a track. A kilometer east of the village what is definitely the wider track heads north but we dove into the bush on a single track and headed east. The story here is the wide track is the new road for the donkey carts and the trail is in place of the old road. We took the old road because it is much shorter and less sandy. Though at least a few donkeys clearly use this route, because the cart no longer use it initially it has little resemblance of a road and the farmers plant crops all across it. I can tell you why the donkey carts don't like it - it is strewn with rocks. A poll of the group indicated that 92% thought we weren't on a road - the leader was the dissident! As we wondered - presumably systematically - through the grain fields and scrub occasionally there was a definite swath cut through some brush and the pentimento of a road - parallel straight lines of stones 15 feet apart marching off into the distance and marked what was intended to be the road edge. After the initial trek through the farming area, the track climbed a little to dry less fertile soil and the route gets much better and much more visible because it is not being plowed every few years to plant crops. For a time it actually looked like a real clay road. But it had lots of other personalities as well, rocky, gravelly, sandy and when it dropped back into lower areas that are farmed it became camouflaged and required an expert to ferret out.

[Ed: Fortunately, the following information is amusing for historical reference only.  The situation described below is vastly improved.]

Bandigara is made from the same DNA as Mopti (see day 4). In Bandagara, we encountered a new 1000 CFA person fee this year. We were given a ticket for this, but it still seems like an opportunism fee with no relationship to services. While we were at the roadblock a Malian tourist guide who had come with his group from the eastern end of the escarpment was incensed because they had driven straight through Bandiagara without stopping except at the roadblock and were expected to pay a tax to Bandiagara. I am waiting to return next year to find that each hamlet like Diombololeye, Kori-Kori and other village with barrels across the road so the can be part of the tax-the-tourist bonanza.

To quote the director of Bicycle Africa, "The Mopti-Dogon Area is the most unpleasant area I visit each year because of the nature of the tourism/guide industry one encounters there. My most succinct description of the structure is "a cartel with the main purpose of maximize income and minimizing effort." The prices for "guides" are the highest I encounter in Africa, especially when compared to the poor quality of their service and the lack of their knowledge. And it gets worse each year. But to be fair, I will also be noted that my recent experience in Djenne has been almost completely opposite. It has matured into a pleasant place to visit."

Photographed in Bandiagara after arriving from Niongono. 
Write your own caption.

Because you unlikely to get this one:
The top of the bus is packed with goats, most in bags.




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