We drove on, up and over high proud dunes, past occasional baobabs and mango trees, across sandy plains populated by burnt yellow grass, lone acacias and space. No roads just a track. Until reaching a Puel village, as they are known in these parts, though these nomadic cattle herders are found all across the vast expanses of the Sahel and generally are known as Fulani.
Many smiling men, woman and children came running to greet us; who were strange and unlikely visitors out here, away from any tour group. Beehive like straw huts, tall, thin, handsome people, with beaming smiles. The woman with strange dark tattoos around there mouths, like stubble, their faces with silver and gold piercings, the bandannas on their heads and their flowing dresses with delicate bright patterns. These people looked different to any of the other peoples I had encountered. I struggled to take it in, it was an all too brief glimpse into their world.
After much photograph taking (they loved posing for the camera and seeing themselves on a screen) and curious laughing encounters, both parties equally fascinated we pressed on to see Madougou market.
From out of the bush we entered the throngs of people; of different tribes, with differing languages and cultures. They had gathered from distant points in the surrounding land to trade and stock up on provisions. An age old cycle that binds these far flung and culturally varied peoples together.
Milling slowly with the crowd through the grey dusty avenues, we pass shadowy shacks and low benches covered in all sorts of strange roots and spices. There were dried leaves, dried dough like things, crystal soap, perfumed things, tobacco leaves and dried catfish.
People touch us, as we walk past, as if white skin might be different and stare with undisguised fascination in the same way you or I would stare at a man in a space suit walking down the high street.
There is a smell of fish, tamarind and peanut sauce mixed in with other things, I know not what. Donkey carts idle, pointing upwards like bones picked clean; amongst resting donkeys they create an arresting spectacle. I have a real sense of a bygone, far off trading post; Puel women and Dogon men make up wonderful unfamiliar scenes, whenever we stop we have an audience.
I am revelling in a fantasy when, I am reminded of the cruel nature of the world. I see a sick kitten roughly and without care put to one side. There is not the time to have concerns for something so small and vulnerable when life is a struggle and your own survival is often put to the test. I am here right now, but I am not living under the same conditions I am not tied by the same daily binds of these poeple. I remain but a tourist, this market is not my bread and butter and I will soon be on my way.
Next: Burkina Faso!