Cultural West Africa - Mali and Burkina Faso

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Day 1: Arrive in Mali

You are met upon arrival at Bamako (Mali) airport and transferred to our hotel. We meet for dinner and orientation as a group this evening. Overnight in Bamako.

 

Day 2: Bamako City Sightseeing

This morning we visit the superb Musee National, Mali's National Museum in Bamako. Lunch is in a traditional African restaurant. Then we enjoy the sights of Bamako with a city tour. Overnight in Bamako.

 

Day 3: To Segou

After breakfast, we depart for our drive to Segou with tribal village stops en route. Overnight in Segou.

 

Day 4: Segou to Djenne

We depart Segou to the ancient town of Djenne via Massina. Established in the 9th century, Djenne is one of the oldest towns in West Africa. On our way we will stop and visit some of the local villages with adobe mosques. Today we will learn how the Bambara people of this region use their Chiwara masks, which represent antelope, in dances and initiation rituals associated with agriculture and coming of age for young men. Overnight in Djenne.

 

Day 5: Great Mud Mosque of Djenne

We take a walking tour in the city to visit a madrassa school and a women's co-operative. We climb to a rooftop for a close up view of the famous Djenne Mud Mosque, a classic example of mud architecture and a UNESCO World Heritage Site - unfortunately we are not allowed inside.

In the afternoon we journey to Mopti, known as one of Mali's liveliest trading centers. Its harbor has hundreds of pirogues (traditional boats used on the Niger river) coming into the port daily. The pirogues are the predominant means of transporting both goods and people along the Niger river from neighboring villages and towns; a voyage which can require several days of travel. Overnight in Mopti.

 

Day 6: Begin Safari on the Niger River

We drive to Konna where we begin our basic river safari on the Niger River. This relaxing voyage down the timeless Niger is like going back in time along an ancient highway; passing pirogues with sails or being poled along, the banks lined with villages and livestock. Overnight in basic camp in Yovaraou.

 

Day 7: Niger River Safari

We continue our river expedition, stopping to visit Bozo (fishermen), Fulani (nomadic cattle herders) and Songhai villages (traditional mud houses) along the way. In the late afternoon we arrive in Niafunke (home to the late African bluesman Ali Farka Toure) where we bid farewell to our "pirogue". From here we drive in 4 x 4 vehicles to the fabled city of Timbuktu, arriving in the evening. This city was the crossroads of the West African trade route in the 16th century. During this time salt was as valuable as gold. The camel caravans and commerce led to the establishment of one of the best and oldest universities in Africa. Dinner and overnight in Timbuktu.

 

Day 8: Timbuktu, Grand Mosque

In Timbuktu we explore many famous sites of this UNESCO World Heritage city. We visit the Municipal Museum containing Bouctou's well, the market and we also view, from the outside, the Grand Mosque and visit the Ahmed Baba Center.

In the early evening we embark on a camel journey into the desert to visit a Tuareg camp where we enjoy traditional music and ceremonial dances. Overnight in Timbuktu.

 

Day 9: Timbuktu to Mopti

Today is a driving day as we begin our travel in the early hours of the morning travelling through the Bourma region, home to Mali's only surviving population of Sahelian elephants, and on past Tuareg, Bella and Songhai villages. Overnight in Mopti.

 

Day 10: Mopti to Dogon Villages

This morning we explore the market of Mopti. This is a great place to shop for local handicrafts. We then depart Mopti for Dogon country. We stop en route at the village of Songho, which is famous for its cave of circumcision and rock paintings. Overnight in the village of Sangha.

 

Day 11: Dogon Country - A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Our journey along the Bandiagara Escarpment gives us a rare chance to explore the ancient culture of the Dogon people. We see famous West African sites today, including villages with Dogon mud houses and granaries which are adjacent to the cliffs with their carved out burial caves, some of which are still inaccessible today.

Following breakfast, we journey to the Village of Bongo by 4x4 up and down through the desert to Banani. We stop to visit the village of Ireli and Amani the sacred crocodiles. In the afternoon we explore the village of Tirelli before witnessing one of the most invigorating tribal dances anywhere. The vibrant color and energy of the drums and dancers, the significant spiritual and symbolic meaning of each mask, combined with the visual background of the escarpment, cliff-side graves, granaries and abandoned 800-yearold Tellem mud houses, will leave you spellbound.

After our farewell to Tirelli, we return to our hotel for dinner and an evening visit to admire one of West Africa's oldest baobab trees. Overnight in Sangha.

 

Day 12: Dogon Country to Burkina Faso

After breakfast we continue along the escarpment to the Burkina Faso border. En route we travel through lesser visited Dogon villages, eventually leaving them behind as we approach Ouahigouya, the capital of the Mossi people of Burkina Faso. We further our exploration of the Mossi people (5 million strong) with a visit to the local King's Palace and a chance to hold audience with the Moro-Naba (King) himself in Ouahigouya. Overnight in Ouahigouya.

 

Day 13: Ouahigouya, Ouagadougou

Today we head south to Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, via Kongoussi, situated on the shores of Lake Bam (Burkina's largest lake). We then continue south to the Museum of Manega, a private cultural museum which was established in the early 1990's as a repository of Mossi culture. Overnight in Ouagadougou.

 

Day 14: Ouagadougou

This morning explore for handicrafts at the local artisan's village and see the superb musical instrument collection at the National Musee de la Musique. Afternoon at leisure to enjoy the pool by the hotel or explore the city on your own. Overnight in Ouagadougou.

 

Day 15: Ouagadougou, Tiebele

Today we drive to the southern region of the country where we find the Kassena people, one of the groups comprising the Gourounsi (whose land straddles the border with Ghana). This tribal group is noted for its mud-brick compounds that are decorated with geometric relief patterns, and highlighted with natural paints - a characteristic that gives this region its better known name: "The Painted Houses Region".

The morning drive takes us to more fertile land as well as areas of rich mineral deposits. We may have a chance to see traditional transient gold miners. Staying in the only available local accommodation (basic) in "The Painted Houses Region" affords us a first hand experience of the Gourounsi way of life. Overnight in Tiebele.

 

Day 16: Tiebele, Nazinga Park

Traveling westward we note a dramatic vegetation change from Sahel flora to dry tropical forest. This forest once covered much of West Africa and harbored the plant and animal life which nourished the rich cultural development of the region.

Park Nazinga was initially established as a hunting ranch; as such, many of the "game worthy" animals are rare or absent. However, the reserve is home to 485 elephants and does allow us the opportunity to explore by 4x4 a more natural West Africa. Overnight in bungalows.

 

Day 17: Nazinga Park, via Leo to Gaoua

Today we travel to the far southwest of the country via Leo, into one of the best culturally preserved areas of West Africa. Due to their past war-like practices, secret societies and general antisocial nature, the Lobi people have retained a way of life similar to the time of early European contact. Overnight in Gaoua.

 

Day 18: Gaoua

Our exploration of the Lobi people starts with a visit to an area seldom revealed to foreigners - authenticity seekers will appreciate this unfiltered reality. During our visit we have the opportunity to explore a local chief's fortress-like, multiple dwelling compound, observe potters at work and view colonial period photographs and indigenous artifacts at a local museum. After lunch we drive to Loropeni, one of only a handful of stone ruins surviving in West Africa and a UNESCO site. Set in the middle of a quiet forest glade, the most impressive thing about these ruins is their scale. Overnight in Gaoua.

 

Day 19: Gaoua, Boni, Bobo-Dioulasso

Leaving the Lobi behind, we head north and westward and enter the Bobo region. While other tribes have integrated elements of the Muslim faith, the Bobo are noted for remaining true and pure animists. This morning we visit the village of Boni where we have a chance to share with the village elders a traditional mask performance by the local male dancers. After lunch we drive to the former capital of Burkina Faso and the current regional capital of the Bobo people, Bobo-Dioulasso; a bustling trade town due to its proximity to the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Mali.

This evening we walk to the Mud Mosque and through the old quarter. Overnight in Bobo.

 

Day 20: Bobo to Sikasso, Mali

The political borders (better referred to as frontiers) are quite arbitrary between countries of West Africa, having little to do with tribal territories, natural geographical structures or, for that matter, past colonial rule. We will see this first hand today as we cross from Burkina Faso back into Mali.

The drive takes us through more verdant lands than we have been used to seeing in Mali. There's even enough moisture in the region to support Mali's only tea plantation. We will visit the tiny water falls at Farako.

We arrive in Sikasso, in Senoufo country, the largest town in southern Mali and an important trade crossroad with the neighboring countries. Every day is "market day" in Sikasso. This afternoon we visit the Center for Research and Conservation of the Senoufo Culture and Language, a fascinating research center run by a Spanish priest since 2005. Overnight in Sikasso.

 

Day 21: Sikasso to Bamako

Our morning drive via Bougouni takes us through Senoufo territory where we visit a seldom seen by outsiders. We will enjoy an early afternoon arrival at our hotel where we can relax by the pool and wind down after our trip. Overnight in Bamako.

 

Day 22: Depart Bamako

This morning we visit the small Musee du Bamako filled with ethnic artifacts and contemporary Malian art. Then it's off to the local handicraft market for some last minute shopping. We may even visit the world's largest recycling market to complete our visit in Bamako. We have lunch in town and then there is some free time to pack up, before we enjoy an early dinner and transfer to the airport for departure flights.

 
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