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Burkina Faso

10 -18 April 2008

The Hotel Ricardo was an ideal location for us in Ouagadougou as it was close to the Ghanaian Embassy and the town centre with its many markets and restaurants. Much to our delight the hotel also had a huge swimming pool and Wifi that would allow us to sit beside the pool whilst putting together our journal! As we were to sleep in the tent, we put Boris in the hotel car park making sure he was in the shade of some trees. We were joined by a young German couple, Ralf and Gabby, in their converted Mercedes van. Although Gabby would not be going beyond Ghana, Ralf intended driving down to South Africa and he and Peter spent the evenings discussing the route and making tentative plans to cross Nigeria and the Cameroun in convoy.

We made great use of the swimming pool, which, in the stifling heat of Ouaga’, kept us cool and well exercised; we were also able to have our meals (including romantic candle lit dinners) at the tables that surrounded it.

The pool was not only used by the hotel guests, but also by outsiders who paid for the privilege and by the end of the afternoon the pool would be full of young Burkinabes and the odd ex pat French family. We were kept amused by one very rotund, fatherly gentleman who came in each afternoon and appeared to have taken on the role of hotel swimming instructor. His instructional technique was somewhat original; after a belly flop entry into the pool, he would make for the shallow end and select a novice deserving of his expertise, there he would give them a short introduction to the stroke accompanied by a manic windmill action of his arms, after this the pupil was taken to the deep end where he would be set off across the pool by his mentor, each stroke was rewarded with a near deafening ‘VOILA’ which reverberated around the whole pool area, these voila’s continued regardless of the fact that often after half way the pupil’s head was well below the surface as his strokes became more frantic and less effective! We always knew when Mr Voila had arrived and Peter had ‘voila’ on the brain for a long while after we had left the hotel, piping out the word after everything he did. Honestly!

We met a very enterprising young Frenchman at the pool one evening who was an artist. He was in Burkina Faso working on an ingenious process of recycling the thousands of black plastic bags that litter the city (and just about every other town or village). Somehow, which seemed inconceivable to us, he was going to arrange for their collection after which the bags would be processed and turned into drums for musicians. He appeared to have secured funding for the project and we wished him the best of luck. Let’s hope it works.

We spent four nights at the Ricardo and enjoyed watching the activity and getting to know the Chilean owner, ‘Madame’, and her menagerie of animals and birds. She had no less than 9 dogs, several cages full of parrots, a number of noisy cockerels that roamed all over the car park and two very ill tempered rams that tried to butt Liz to death when, on a couple of occasions, she was in their vicinity hanging washing up to dry. Very scary! To top it all there was also a huge tree in the car park full of hundreds of noisy male weaver birds trying to attract a female with their beautifully made nests. They were amazing, dangling from the branches of the tree like balls hanging down from a Christmas tree, each nest was a masterpiece of inter woven grasses and leaves. The males construct the nests and then, with twittering and flapping, get the attention of the female who comes over to inspect the nest; only if she is fully satisfied with the finished article will she then take any notice of the advances of her suitor. Girl power!

We have to say that the nights were not the most restful; with a most irritating piping sound coming from an unidentified source which we could only think was a bird, insect or tree frog that simply didn’t stop piping all night long in the tree above us. The nights were also very hot and sticky with very little breeze to keep us cool. In the mornings there was a change to our early wakeup call: the Imam was now accompanied by the sounds of church bells ringing; a sign that the cultural balance was beginning to change. The barrage close to the hotel was not only a source of water for the myriad of vegetable gardens along its banks, but also a perfect breeding ground for the dreaded MM (malarial mossies) and we really had to be so careful, slapping on our smelly Deet repellent each evening and remembering to take the horrid once weekly anti malarial tablet, Lariam. Peter says that he has very vivid dreams, a common side effect, whilst Liz is handling it quite well apart from being a bit dopey and a bit vacant in the mornings .. nothing new there then!!

Ouagadougou itself was just as colourful and noisy, but less claustrophobic than Bamako; the streets were wider with the endless lines of roadside stalls set further back and above them, on the lamp posts, the odd vulture or two waited patiently for a meal. Here, and throughout Bukina Faso, it was the bicycle rather than the moped or motorbike that carried people to and fro; what mopeds there were, were Japanese not Chinese. Some subtle differences from Mali, but the salesmen were just the same. On one visit, Liz dared to show a fleeting interest in some fabric on a street stall about 10 feet away. Her interest was quickly spotted by a very persuasive retailer who appeared out of thin air and obviously had absolutely nothing to do with the stall in question. He referred to himself as ‘Mr Good Price’ and insisted he had the best selection of fabrics in the market. Liz was virtually frog marched some distance down the street before climbing up a long flight of stairs, where, with Peter in tow, we finally reached Mr Good Price’s emporium. Liz was impressed with what was on offer and picked out two pieces of material that were there and then, literally in a matter of minutes, made up into wrap around skirts on a nearby sewing machine. Mr Good Price got his money and everyone was happy.

We left Ouagadougou early on 14 April, going via the market to buy fruit and veg. This was not the nicest of experiences; as soon as we stepped down from Boris, heavily made up and very bosomy young women began crowding around us with their hands full of mangoes, tomatoes or whatever it may be, thrusting them in our faces and all the while, each outdoing the other in volume ,urging us to buy. Liz, seen to be the shopper, was hemmed in and was literally being pushed around, making the whole experience rather unpleasant and very claustrophobic. Although initially Peter found it all vaguely amusing, when cries of help were detected, he came to the rescue with a few choice French phrases that restored some semblance of order. The final outcome was that we made a point of buying from a seated middle aged woman who looked disgusted at the antics of the lunatic fringe!

With our picnic bag full we then took the road to Bobo-Diolasso and the sub tropical south west of Burkina Faso. About 2 hours into the journey we felt something was amiss, what was it? Shock horror, the sun was no longer shining! We had encountered our first cloud since leaving Morocco! The sun went in only briefly but it came as quite a surprise. We were now beginning to see many more trees and the countryside was in general getting greener. We camped at Casa Africa a very basic little place but just a short taxi ride from the centre of Bobo. We liked the town, it had a reassuringly easy going feel about it; there was little if any hassle from the street traders and the streets themselves, although more pot holes than tar .. where there was tar! .. were pleasantly tree lined. We especially enjoyed a great open air restaurant called Mande, apart from superb lunch time food, it also served the best chilled drinks; one made from fresh ginger and another that looked like milk but was from some form of sugar cane. Both were delicious, and the waiter who served us both times was such a sweet man. Two of the highlights of our short time in Bobo were visits to the Mosque, built using mud, and to Diolasso, the old town in the centre of Bobo.

We were astonished to find that we could both be taken inside the mosque and, accompanied by a guide, were free to explore the cool but gloomy interior and the roof! Diolasso also involved a guided tour, however the guide was not that informative and the route through the fascinating, ancient mud brick ‘village’ seemed to be from one ‘sales opportunity’ to another!

On the 16 of April we left Bobo and as part of a scenic loop en route to Ghana, drove further southwest to the small town of Banfora, close to the Ivory Coast border. The countryside was now a lush green and we passed some lovely little villages and, like those in Mali, they had their granaries with witches’ hats on, the only difference being that they were rounded and so a bit like a cooking pot on stilts.

At Banfora we indulged ourselves and stayed in a round ‘hut’ at a lovely African style, French run hotel called ‘La Canne A Sucre’; hundreds of acres of sugar cane are grown in the surrounding area and cane sugar is a major export to other African countries.

Just after we arrived, we experienced our first tropical storm. Although very short lived, it was very noisy with the thunder and lightning seemingly overhead and initially accompanied by a mini hurricane. All very exciting, but not so great for Boris who was parked under a huge mango tree! Large, hard, green mangoes lay on the ground around him, but seemingly they had missed Boris as Peter couldn’t find any dents.

We spent just one night in Banfora and the next day, before heading closer to the Ghanaian border, we had a lovely half day trip to a spectacular rocky outcrop called the Pics de Sindou.

The dirt track was lined with substantial trees and in effect a never ending shady avenue, reminding us of the homeland of the onetime colonial masters, France.

If this was not enough, our route took us through some of the loveliest countryside we had seen so far in Africa; we drove over pretty little bridges that passed over streams full of water lilies and with children happily swimming in amongst them, it all looked so idyllic and wished we could have driven further. We did nevertheless enjoy walking round the Pics, our obligatory guide, Tiemoko Ouattara, was a cut above the rest. As we sheltered from the sun under a tree at the end of the tour he explained how he, and several likeminded locals, were helping some of the nearly half a million refugees in the surrounding area who were sheltering from the ongoing civil war in the Ivory Coast. Tiemoko, the son of Sindou’s chief, was an intelligent man of great humility and compassion; he spoke with great sincerity and never once pressed us for money. We felt humbled by what this young man was achieving with such limited resources.

Our tour over, we spent the afternoon travelling along dusty, reddish dirt tracks, so typical of Africa, heading ever closer to the Ghanaian border. Mangoes were absolutely everywhere; on the trees in plantations, on the roadside for sale and (dark green ones) in any and every sort of container being taken to a collection point and thence for commercial juicing.

We learnt that the bright yellow ones were past it and that the mangoes with a greenish yellow blush were absolutely perfect and a delightful, juicy mix of sweet and sour mango flavours in the mouth. We began to see a change in the villages we passed through; we were now in the Lobi tribal area, for historical reasons of security the extended Lobi family would live in large fortress like compounds known as a ‘maison soukala’. These maisons were spaced over an arrows flight apart from each other, reflecting the warlike nature of the Lobi!

Lobi country - fortress like dwelling complex

On the 18 April we reached Hamale, sailed through the gendarme and douane check points and crossed from francophone Africa into Ghana and were soon cleared by the police and customs officials, another country another chapter!

Reaching this stage of our trip we can honestly say (and hopefully will continue to say) that we have generally kept in good health. We did though pick up a very nasty cold (cue: panic over malaria!) followed by coughs, probably from poorly children we came across elephant hunting in Mali, and not helped by the generally dusty conditions there and in northern Bukina Faso. Peter has had a painful period of sciatica, his first ever and now over and we have both had funny tummies a few times .. par for the course in Africa! Liz broke THAT tooth, biting on a nut... Yes, it was the problem tooth/bridge she had in Morocco and which the dentist in Fes so brilliantly fixed for her. She’s now keeping her cheesy grins to the minimum! Other than these few minor things we are absolutely fine, taking every day as it comes and loving nearly everything that comes our way. It is all a great, great adventure and to top it all, we are still talking to each other too!!

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