My two traveling companions and I started our three-week trip to Mali in Djenne. Djenne is the oldest known city in sub-Saharan Africa; it is located on an island between the Bani and Niger rivers. On Monday, visitors can stop by the weekly market, where merchants have walked for days to sell their fruit, vegetables, and fabrics. We arrived in Djenne toward the end of the dry season and the Bani River was almost completely dry. I love the color of this boy’s outfit against the background.
On Fridays in Djenne, everyone goes to the mosque – in fact, the Djenne Mosque is the largest mud brick (also called adobe) building in the world and Djenne’s most famous sight. The mosque was originally built around the 13th century but the current structure dates from 1907.
Most Malians spend a good portion of their early years attached to their mother’s backs. It’s amazing to watch the women going about their daily tasks and the babies sleeping or watching the activity from their comfortable spot.
In April, Mali is extremely dry, which brings out the most gorgeous hues of orange and yellow in the landscape. It is much different in the rainy season, when it is completely green – I can’t wait to go back and see it like that!
Children strolling down an alley in Djenne.
I was very happy with how this photo turned out – the vibrant colors captured in the reflection of a motorbike side mirror.
From Djenne, we headed to the Dogon Country. We did a 3-night trek through the Bandiagara Escarpment, stopping to visit villages along the way and sleeping on the roofs of people’s homes. Here is a picture of a young boy napping next to the toguna, the central meeting place for the village.
The Dogon people arrived at the Bandiagara Escarpment in the 14th and 15th centuries – after refusing to convert to Islam, they fled their homes along the Niger River. When they arrived, they displaced the Tellem people, whose cave-like homes (shown above) are still intact, high on the cliffs above the Dogon villages.
A typical morning in Dogon Country: women and children heading out to the well to fetch water for the day.
We met this delivery boy at the top of the Bandiagara Escarpment and helped him strap wood to the back of his bicycle.
After hiking in Dogon Country, we headed to Mopti to rest for a few days before boarding our private boat for the trip up the Niger River. The water levels are extremely low in April: these boys were able to walk across the river. At other points in our journey, we saw donkeys strolling across the river.
Here is a picture of me relaxing on the pinasse (boat) we took on the Niger River. It was great to have several days to enjoy the breeze and see the villages, horses, cows and other boats as we floated along the river.
There were also plenty of hippos enjoying a refreshing dip.
We stopped in some villages on our trip up the Niger River to Timbuktu. The kids were all very friendly and curious about us – they came up to our boat and wanted us to play.
Our guide, Madou, was one of the best guides I’ve ever had. He is Dogon and extremely knowledgeable about the history and politics of his country. He was also a gifted artist and musician – he spent hours on the boat playing his harmonica and showing us how to play the drum that I bought in Dogon Country. This photograph of Madou playing the harmonica is really one of my lasting images of Mali.
After three days on the boat, we were very excited to arrive in Timbuktu! While there, we rode camels into the desert to visit some Tuareg villages. I was completely amazed that the traditional salt trade still exists – traders spend months transporting salt by camel across the Sahara Desert.
I was astounded by the beauty of the people we encountered. We met this woman in a village that we visited on our camel ride. In fact, she thought I would look good with some eyeliner like hers, so she used a metal stick and charcoal to put some make–up on me!
The last stop of our trip was in Mali’s capital city, Bamako. We were lucky enough to attend a soccer game when we were there: Mali vs. Tunisia. “Mali, Mali,” the crowd chanted enthusiastically, rooting for their country – I loved that! We cheered for Mali, too, because we had grown so fond of the country on our trip.
Interested in visiting West Africa? Learn more about our customized journeys to Mali. If you want to send me any comments on the photo gallery or have questions about the destination, feel free to send me an email!