west africa’s gift

mali camel rideSince Jacquie Burnside joined Intrepid as a group leader many moons ago, she’s seen the company grow to be one of the world’s most respected adventure travel operators. You can pack of whole lot of amazing real life experiences into twenty years, and as Jac has just discovered on her latest adventure, it’s amazing how much fun you can cram into 26 days in Ghana and Mali

“In 1988 on my very first big trip overseas, I took a five month overland safari from Egypt to Tanzania and then up through Central Africa and across the Sahara to Europe! This was at about the same time that Darrell and Manch were travelling with friends on the southbound route from London to Nairobi, when they conceived the business idea that was to become Intrepid Travel. I joined this fledgling company some 5 years later.

It seems fitting somehow that on this the year of Intrepid’s 20th anniversary, I find myself back on another (slightly more sophisticated) overland truck, this time exploring West Africa on our Best of Ghana and Mali trip! Alive with local colour, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Mali have exceeded all expectations and I have found it surprisingly easy to slip back into the routine of truck travel. Market shopping and camp cooking, tent set up and pull down and the joys of travelling through remote African villages, kids waving and shouting as we drive past with looks of amazement at our alien selves and our big truck motoring on by!

Mali in particular has been on my travel ‘wish list’ for some time now and it surely didn’t disappoint! A special highlight was our three day trek through Dogon Country. Located below the steep Bandiagara escarpment, the Dogon live simply in mud houses, but are known for their art, sculpture and Mask Dance, which we were privileged to witness. Traditionally a funeral dance, the succession of ritual dances performed by village men in various masks and costumes leads the souls of those recently departed to their final place of rest. It is an amazing and colourful spectacle!

However, I find it is not the main trip highlights that resonate so strongly with me on a trip like this… it is as usual those unexpected local encounters that I know will stay with me for years and years to come. One such encounter occurred when we were rough camping (in the bush and not in an official campground) in Burkina Faso, just ahead of crossing the border into Ghana. In the process of setting up camp, a local man stumbled upon us and curiosity lit up his eyes as he squatted nearby just watching us in fascination. We prepared and cooked our meal and as he was about to leave, I offered him a tuna pattie and some salad. He quietly accepted before wandering off to his village. About an hour later he reappeared out of the darkness and shyly came up to our camp. In his hands he held out a bag full of locally-grown peanuts. This simple but warm and generous gesture, in the face of the poverty we saw all around us, brought a tear to my eye and will be the tale I most often tell of my West African experiences!

I’m so looking forward to another 20 (at least) years of adventure and Intrepid Travel!”

Tour Ghana and Mali with Intrepid on trips like these great small group adventures:

Best of Ghana and Mali – 26 days
Nomadic West Africa – 36 days

* photo by Heather Farish – Intrepid Photography Competition

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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