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Sahara

Day 42: Djenné

Djenné, Mali 
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Architectural star of the Sahara. The Great Mosque at Djenné, the largest mud-brick building in the world. The projecting wooden posts are for the masons to stand on during the yearly re-mudding of the mosque.
Michael Palin - SaharaOf all the cities on the edge of the Sahara Djenné is the one I'm most excited about. Ever since I first saw pictures of the mud-made Great Mosque with its distinctive conical towers, pierced by wooden beams which jut out of the walls as if the building were undergoing acupuncture, I've had it marked down as somewhere unique and exotic.

Obviously others have too, for my night's sleep at the tourist campement is constantly interrupted by sounds of flushing, washing, coughing, farting and footsteps. This journey has been so far off the beaten track that I'd forgotten about tour groups. These are the first we've come across since Marrakesh. One group is British. I know I shouldn't feel this way, but when I'm asked if I've ever been to Stoke-on-Trent all my romantic illusions of desert travel begin to wilt.

Watch brilliantly coloured geckoes darting about the garden until our guide arrives. He's an energetic, eloquent, persuasive local man called Amadou Cissé but known to all as Pigmy, because by Malian standards he is compact. I instinctively feel I shall be all right with Pigmy. He's steeped in local life and has a twitchily restless urge to show me the town. He wears a loose brown robe, one of the wide-brimmed, triangular Fulani hats with a bobble on top that remind me of Moroccan tagines, dark glasses and a big silver Rolex. It's going to be hot he says (what's new?), so we should get out early. It's also market day, so the town will be full, and what's more, it's the market day before the festival of Tabaski, so it will be full of sheep. As head of a household he is expected to make a sacrifice and a decent-looking ram is top of his shopping list. We launch into the crowd, most of whom Pigmy seems to know intimately. Barely breaking his stride, he networks his way forward, grabbing hands, kissing cheeks (of men only) and tossing tantalising morsels of information over his shoulder.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 42
  • Country/sea: Mali
  • Place: Djenné
  • Book page no: 128

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