Elephants & Dogon Country

Exploring new grounds is something I always enjoy and even after more than a year in Mali and several visits to Dogon Country I still find myself in awe with the atmosphere, experiences and surroundings, amazing Ibrahim every now and then with a ‘wow’.

The Northernmost population of elephants in Africa
It’s near the little village of Hombori where you’ll be able to spot Mali’s elephants. That is, if you find yourself a good guide, who has earned his credits with the locals living in the area, since they are the only ones who really know where they are at that moment. Currently there is only one guide who has dedicated his time entirely to the elephants and it is with him we went searching.
We left the car in the middle of nowhere and continued by feet, making sure to stay downwind of the area where the elephants were last seen and making as little noise as possible. Frequently our guide kneeled down, listening carefully, slowly turning his head from one side to the other, rising again, pointing in a direction, continuing our search.

‘Elephants do not like white and red’, he had told us when we took off. Sure enough both Ibrahim and I were wearing red t-shirts, so we had to keep on our long sleeves the entire journey, making me feel quite warm.
‘They also do not like perfume’, he added. No problem, I thought, I’m not at all using that. Not realizing that even the (natural) soap we use for showering and cloth washing is already being picked up by the elephants. Only the local Peul (Fulani) herdsmen, living in the area can get up close to the elephants, since their smell is entirely in tune with nature.

Torn branches and elephant excrements are being investigated by our guide, to get an idea of when the elephants were at that particular spot. And even more than that, our guide is carefully listening for the sounds of goats, since they follow the elephants, eating whatever is left of leafs and branches when the elephants drop it.

All in a sudden I see some huge grey legs in between the trees and an enormous elephant slowly steps forward, not even a hundred meters ahead of me. Shortly after followed by some more. In awe I watch them, reminding myself that I should take some pictures for the Papillon Reizen website, before they are hiding in between the trees again.
Seeing the elephants up close in their natural habitat is quite impressive. Even now, writing about it, my heart starts shining again!

Being in Hombori, we grabbed the chance to also visit the uphill ‘old town’ and I just loved it. Even though most villages in Mali have a lot of things in common, almost every village has something unique that gives me that happy feeling, making me want to stay a bit longer. In Hombori it’s the narrow streets, partly roofed over to make optimal use of the limited space, creating an intimate atmosphere. With the ancient rocks and the beautiful late afternoon colors on top of that I thoroughly enjoyed being there.

Dogon Country
As many of you may already have noticed I just love Dogon Country. And I feel very lucky and grateful that Ibrahim was not only born in Dogon Country, but also knows it very well. For our 2011 journeys we have programmed trekkings that leave the beaten tourist paths, taking you into the villages where strangers are not often seen, offering the chance to experience and see real daily Dogon life. Having already found such a beautiful area didn’t hold me back from exploring some more of Dogon Country, relying on Ibrahim’s extensive knowledge of the area.

So, off we took to explore the area around the three Youga’s, situated at an ‘isolated’ rock plateau. When I had mentioned that I would like to see the Youga’s I had not realized it was a bit hard to get there. Returning from Hombori, shortly after Douentza the road changed into a sand track, or actually several sand tracks without any signs. Not only the lack of signs, but also the state of the track made it quite an interesting journey through a beautiful area.

I just loved being back in Dogon Country, loved the atmosphere of the ancient rocks and the from time to time challenging hike. This part of Dogon Country is not for everybody, I realized, walking along the steep and deep gorges, that have to be crossed a few times by handmade wood/rock bridges, but it’s beyond beautiful! The beauty is making up for it being more touristy than some other parts. Having said that, I do not envy returning to Sangha, where children surround you, constantly demanding for sweets, ballpoints, water bottles, money and gifts. If only all those well-meaning tourists would be aware of what they are creating by giving…

It’s time to reflect a bit on all what I’ve seen and experienced and to let it click into its right place. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the time out in the fields, even though I was beyond tired. Catching up with friends, encountering a Dutch/Malian couple to talk a bit about all the challenges of daily life in Mali, taking in new experiences and being away from all the work in and around the house was just what I needed. With refreshed energy and a bit more empty head I’ve returned to Ségou, back to lots of work, emails, electricity failures and exploding water pipes…

How easy life can be in places where you have none of that… 🙂

About MoInMali

Monique is the founder of Papillon Reizen, a Mali based travel agency specialized in inspiring journeys in Mali, Burkina Faso, Togo and Benin. Fair-trade and with a heart for people, environment and culture. Small-scale group journeys as well as family trips and journeys tailored to your wishes. We love to share West Africa's beauty with you and take you on a journey to experience rather than to see. Monique lives in Mali with her Malian partner and shares some of her daily life experiences with you through this blog. For information on Papillon Reizen: www.papillonreizen.com
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