Secondhand Knowledge

I have to apologize, readers. I’m sure friends and family out there have been looking forward to hearing about Christmas and future travelers want to know the details of the Dogon trek. Well, I missed both and while I have tried to interview some individuals about the details, I’m finding it very difficult to write a travel blog about things I took no part in. So, sorry if this is a skimpy entry.

(Warning: The following paragraph contains material that may not suitable for…well… just about anyone.)

Why was I absent for 2 of the biggest events of the trip thus far? A major revolt was launched on my digestive system. I was attacked from multiple angles and rendered tent (or toilet) bound for the better part of a week. I could go into detail. That would be completely appropriate conversation for us on the truck. I realize that for you….. not so much. I often have to remind myself that giving thorough accounts of your bathroom adventures is not something considered normal. Bowel babble is usually a phenomenon restricted to travelers and health care professionals. Here, it is not unusual for someone to raise a question such as “ How many of us have soiled ourselves on the trip so far?” at breakfast and get honest answers. The answer (at least the last time it was asked) was 4. That fact that this was not accompanied by any incredulous gasps of shock or disapproval for such a topic being discussed was probably because we all know, probably from personal experience, that this stuff does happen. These kind of risks are inherent in traveling places like these, traveling the way we do. Further proof that, at least for those who are inclined towards such adventures, it must be well worth it. It would have to be in order to put up with ….well…. you know. Anyway, back to the point: I won’t give you a play-by-play of MY Christmas. But here is what I do know about the rest of the gang:

We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas at the Tagona Hotel just outside the dusty “town” of Bandiagara, Mali: A one-pig town. I can’t say one-horse town. I saw no horses. Just a very happy pig enthusiastically doing his part to clean up the city. Even though Tagona was a nice place to stay, Bandiagara was a strange place to spend the holiday. Sweating profusely while doing nothing more physical than sitting in a dusty environment, with a background soundtrack of goats and Bantu language and screaming parrots doesn’t fit in with the theme of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, sleigh bells and stockings hung by the chimney with care. But the troops did their best to cultivate the holiday spirit, complete with a Christmas playlist on the hotel speakers and decorations hanging from the truck.

The big night was Christmas Eve when the drinking, dancing, and gift exchange happened. No surprise, I missed out on that. I did venture out at one point. As I did, Chris M. just happened to be asking Gav about the little monster in his toilet. According to Chris, as he flushed he saw a tail wriggling inside the rim of the bowl. We checked it out. Gav extracted a sizeable gecko that had taken up residence in Chris’s porcelain throne. Can you imagine what could have happened had the lizard decided to defend his territory?

On Christmas day, we had the chefs at the hotel roast us a pig. Not that I could eat much but it was incredible! Kev, Jeremy, and Phil cooked the accompaniments: Potatoes, squash, fried bananas. Yum! This was a major accomplishment. This southern part of Mali has been absolutely pathetic in terms of the vegetable selection. Potatoes and onions are no rarity but squash and bananas? Nice work, boys!
Lucy and Chris also put in a good effort and cooked some fruitcake in the camp oven. Not a simple task. By the end of the evening, everyone was well fed and had their strength up for the upcoming trek.

The majority of veteran Trans passengers say that Dogon Trek is a Western highlight. So far, I don’t think that there are many on this truck who are going to disagree. Dogon Country or Pays Dogon is home to, if you can believe it, the Dogon people. The Dogon people are confined to this area of southern Mali. Because finding such well preserved culture – a culture that has resisted the influence of outsiders, is rare these days the Dogon homeland has been given World Heritage status. Tourists have the chance to see the unique Dogon way of life by visiting the area. Multi-day treks are a popular option and that’s exactly what the troops did. Some opted for the 3 day trek and others made it a 4 day journey.

The trek took the gang through Dogon villages, onto escarpment cliffs, and over dusty goat tracks. They would set off in the morning, stop for lunch in one of the villages, and arrive in another hamlet late afternoon where they would sleep on the roof of one of the archetypal mud buildings. The meals got rave reviews: Short on the meat but big on taste.

It was not the easiest hike any of these guys have done. The killer heat (35*C) and occasional climbs took its toll. Fortunately, the awesome guide, Speedi, had that covered. He’d hired a donkey cart to carry supplies and weary trekkers. It was a rickety contraption but it could do the job of carrying bodies to recovery.

Everyone seemed to have loved the trek. Some funny tales were certainly recounted upon the troops’ return: Everything from the confusion of locating the hole that was the toilet in one village (It was covered by a large decorative “lid” in the form of a statue) to Mayumi mistaking a donkey for Phil. Everyone was glad they had gone.

We’ve moved on from Mali. We spent New Year’s Eve in No-Mans’ Land between Mali and Burkina Faso. I haven’t decided yet if what happens in No-Mans’ Land stays in No-Mans’ Land or if I should give you a juicy report.

We’re currently in Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso, where we’re getting our visas for Ghana. Monday was a national holiday. Ouaga isn’t a bad place to be though we have been a bit stuck – unable to spend the duration of our 7 day transit visa anywhere else of note. Always with the holidays!

Ghana should have a lot to offer. I’m certainly looking forward to hitting the first national parks of the trip, Mole and Kakum, where I’m sure we’ll see some exciting new species. We’ll also see some of the old slave forts of the Gold Coast and visit the biggest market in West Africa. I’m sure there will be a good story or two to tell coming up very soon!

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