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The Sahel sadly only seems to feature in the news when disaster strikes, which it seems to do with monotonous regularity.  On the Southern boundary of the Sahara, it is becoming slowly eroded by the seemingly unstoppable spread of the desert so that Timbuktu (Tombouctou), legendary cultural centre of the Islamic world and jumping off point from the wealth of the Niger is being slowly engulfed by sand and remains as inaccessible as ever.  

At least, that is what I was led to believe.  However, if there is one thing you learn from travel, it is never to believe all you are told, to treat maps with scepticism and guide books with the contempt they normally deserve, primarily because their authors rarely seem to have actually visited the place within the last twenty years!

So, whilst the inexorable Southward progress of the Sahara is undeniable, it is not as though there has been some cataclysmic series of events over the past few years.  It has taken centuries and may well continue for centuries more, although it is all relative. 

Look at any half decent satellite image of Africa and you will notice a vast blue-green swathe on the Southern edge of the Sahara that is the Niger delta.  The idea that the Sahel faces some kind of imminent apocalypse is somewhat exaggerated; the Dogon are not on the verge of extinction.

There may well have been extensive forests flourishing in the Dogon region and, to be fair the current specimens of baobab tree do look rather forlorn, but it is not a barren wasteland, indeed, as you will see from the photographs on this site, it is a rather fertile, green and productive land - and we went in the dry season.

However, when we planned our trip, we did not know this, so to assuage our preconceived notion that we might accelerate their decline into manmade climate change induced famine, we decided to seek a less environmentally detrimental means of transport than flying. 

So, whilst a 4.2 litre turbo diesel Toyota Land Cruiser is not my normal idea of "environmentally friendly" transport, in this case we felt it was justified on the basis that it would save around two-thirds of the 15 tonnes of CO2 we would produce by flying; makes you realise just how damaging air travel is.

If you feel sufficiently motivated, and your boss will let you take a month off work, you could do worse than try the overland option.  It does take a fair bit of planning and expense, but it is not half as scary as some would have you believe and is immensely satisfying, even if it is just an idle boast down the pub, or to your grandchildren that you have "crossed the Sahara".  You don't need to mention that the "cross Sahara" bit is now entirely on sealed, asphalt roads.

Admittedly there are some fairly tiresome bits for a couple of hundred miles from Mauritania to Mali, but you could actually do the whole trip in a well built, normal (2WD) car.

For more information and images of the Dogon region, the rest of Mali, as well as other interesting places elsewhere in the world, visit www.nomadintent.com

All images and text are copyright.  If you wish to use any of this material contact the author: jeremy@nomadintent.com

Jeremy Harrison 2005