The heat in the Dogon Country is intense. With the exception of a few of occasional Baobab trees, there is very little shade as you walk through the Seno Plain at the base of the towering Bandiagara plateau. To avoid the worst of the heat we set off early; around midday we’d collapse in a village and have some lunch, followed by a siesta until the heat was more tolerable.
If the heat saps your will to move, at least the Dogon Country is easy to navigate. If you’re heading east, keep the Bandiagara plateau on the left and you can’t go wrong. All the villages are within a short distance of the cliffs, so you’re guaranteed somewhere to stop and rest. As you walk through this barren landscape, there are always people moving between villages…bright specs of humanity dotting the parched and sun-bleached earth of the Dogon Country, many of whom were happy to chat and have their photo taken.
We were lucky in our travels because we arrived at one small village – in fact, not even a village, more of a convenient junction between trails – where a hectic market was taking place. The arrival of a few Mzungus* seemed to pass unnoticed as people carried on buying, selling and bartering. It was fun to wander around taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the market. People were selling cotton and maize, onions and millet, and lots of food was being cooked on the spot.
Our ultimate destination was Begnemato, a small village on top of the cliffs where we’d spend the night before heading back towards the road where, hopefully, our 4×4 would be waiting for us. To reach the cliff top we walked up through a natural gap in the plateau, where, in the shade of the cliffs, farmers were cultivating onions, made possible by a spring nearby. Children were watering the onions from clay pots. It was a rare blaze of green amidst the dry brown landscape.
We reached Begnemato just before sunset, and had time to put our things on a convenient rooftop (where we’d be spending the night) before heading to the cliffs to watch the sun turn the cliffs an incredible bright orange. Below us the vast Seno Plain stretched as far as the eye could see, and the sound of the wind created an eerie soundtrack as the sun sank over the horizon.
It would be fair to say, the sunset from the Bandiagara plateau is truly magnificent…and, with that as a memory, we were off to Djenne and the world’s largest mud building.
* Mzungu is an East African term for white people from the Bantu language. Its not really legitimate to use it in relation to West Africa, but since its literal translation means “to wander around aimlessly”, it seems a perfect fit for our hike through the Dogon region.