Dogon Country

The Dogons live along the Bandiagara Escarpment, which is essentially a cliff that separates two relatively flat regions of different altitude.  One of the best known things about the Dogons is their ancient knowledge of the stars.  From the Lonely Planet Guide: "(the Dogon Agrarian Calendar) has an eerie Twilight Zone mystique to it: it's thought to be based on the orbital cycles of a white dwarf star that is invisible to the naked eye. It was only discovered in the 1960s by a high powered telescope, despite the fact that the Dogons had been using the star as a seasonal marker for more than a millennium."

Even if you have never used a guide in your travels before, you will need a guide (preferably Dogon!) who can navigate you through the confusing taboos.  One rock may be just an ordinary rock, while the rock next to it is very sacred and you break taboos by touching (or sitting on) it!  And there is no way someone who is not of that village would know the difference.  Photographs of places and objects are generally allowed, but people can only be photographed with the permission of each individual - you will therefore see few photos of Dogons in the following.

Of course, first we had to get there - which was no simple task.  Below is the road we had to travel to get to our destination city of Songha, and one of our stops along the way.  We developed brake problems with one of the Toyotas.  The fellow standing on the right is the Master Mechanic who directed all of the apprentices(?)  Only once did he actually touch anything, and that only after it had been fully prepared for him.

Eventually we reached our hotel in Songha.  The next morning we started a walking tour just as the sun was rising, to avoid the heat of the day.  We started from above the escarpment and had the services of a local Dogon guide in addition to Youssouf:
Despite appearances in the photo, he was a very friendly guy and shared a beer with us at the hotel at the end of the day.  One of our first stops was at a Divination Table and the "seer"(? - don't know their official word) who interprets the results.  The square within the rocks is somehow laid out with "questions" before night fall.  When "the foxes visit" (maybe because of food placed there???) some of the sticks will be knocked over or otherwise moved, and from these the answers can be divined.
Eventually we reached the escarpment and followed a trail down towards a village and the valley.  The photo on the right is of some ancient Dogon dwellings when they were living in the cliffs to avoid invaders.
Eventually we came into the village from above.  Photos had to be chosen carefully to avoid people (easier than asking permission)
The next part of the trek was a long walk across the lowland desert to another village where we would have lunch.  This is one last backwards view of the village in the photos above:
Along the walk we came upon some rock cutters, who allowed us to take their picture (for a price).  Part of a rock wall they were building can be seen in the background:
By the time we reached the village where we had lunch it had gotten quite hot in the mid-day sun.  After the meal we were surprised when they brought out sleeping mats!  We all napped in the cool shade while waiting for the mid-day heat to dissipate.
Around mid-afternoon we got up and continued our trek, which led back up the escarpement.  A stone staircase made this part of the trip easier:
Back at the hotel our Dogon guide joined us for a beer and merriment.
The next day was mostly returning over roads we had already traveled.  We did take one side trip down the escarpment again and climbed up to a rock formation.  The road down the escarpment was amazing - concrete supported by hand-built rock walls - extending for several miles.
But one of the more memorable events of the day was the failure of the brake system on the same vehicle that had been worked on previously.  This time it was determined to be the master cylinder that failed.  The photo on the left shows the master cylinder being rebuilt on a rock - the mechanic is on the left with Youssouf and the drivers standing.  The photo on the right was in one of the two auto parts stores we had to look in to find the right parts.
These folks don't mess around with any parts catalogs.  The mechanic brought the old parts along and they just started popping open boxes until they found parts that matched!  Toyotas are so well used that most parts are not that hard to come by, even in the rural areas.

That pretty well wrapped up our trip.  We did visit a few more attractions on the way back to Mopti, such as this weaver and rock paintings, but mostly we were horses to the barn on our way back to Bamako.

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