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Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Burkina Faso 3 & Benin 1

Burkina Faso, part 3

Day 6 – 16/3/12

OKInn had a quiet night which was great compared to last time, so we managed to get a sleep in. Then we did some chores and had a quick swim before heading off to collect some further passport photos and arriving at the Ghana embassy 30 min before the appointed time. Unfortunately the bloke who had to sign the visa was out, so we took the opportunity to change some money, buy fruit and refuel the car.

As promised by the fantastic Michael at the embassy, our visa was issued; ~ 24 hours, not the 3 days normally required. We tried to give Michael a tip, but he refused. Thanks.

Then we decided to drive as far as possible towards the Benin border. We got to Pama just before dark and camped at the Bonazza Campment under some ginormous mango trees. The camp has cold beer!!!!

We drove the through sahel/transition/savannah and flat terrain all the way – Pama does seem to be built around a kopje. The road was very good tar all the way.

The weather remains super hot, we listened to a John Le Carre novel on the way and this provided the excuse to wind up the windows (noise) and use the a/c.

We forgot to mention another act of kindness yesterday – Avril chatted up another customer at the Ghana embassy. When we needed to get passport photos, he guided us to a suitable shop on his motor bike and stayed around to make sure we were not over charged and were looked after. Again, not prompted, he offered and just did it!

Observant readers will note we crossed Greenwich again.

Avril driving. 4 hours. 323 km. N 110 14’ 40.6’’ E 0000 42’ 53.3’’

Day 7 – 17/3/12

We sweltered through a very hot night. After some early repairs to the electrical system, we were on our way. The atmosphere had closed in and visibility was very limited.

It was a short drive to the border and the customs and immigration formalities were completed quickly. No suggestion of a bribe.

A big coincidence – the missionary school from Niamey was on their way to Benin for the final year trip. Tim & Barbies daughter Beth was on the bus. How about that!

Burkina Faso Summary

As per most of Africa, Burkina Faso is a very poor country, however folks are welcoming. Importantly they take no for an answer and do not keep pestering. The people who collect the road tolls always wanted to chat and make sure we were happy etc.

Our accommodation was fine and we never felt threatened or thought there were any security issues.

In general it was easy to get around and except where mentioned the roads were ok. We were not hassled at all but police or road blocks.

The biggest negative is the lack of “big name” attractions.

We used the IGN Burkina Map and in general it was OK = 6/10. Garmap has the main cities, but seems to miss the roads??

Lonely planet = 4/10. Rough Guide really needs to get serious about the advice it gives. Rather than concentrate on theoretical back packers  (we do not think we have seen one of these mythical 1970's people on the journey, yet) trying to travel at minimum cost, gender issues, sexuality etc it should think about the people actually using the guide; people on organised trips, overlanders and local travellers.

Benin, part 1

Day 1 – 17/3/12

Benin customs and immigration were completed quickly. No suggestion of a bribe.

We drove directly to Pendjari National Park. The park is generally regarded as the best in West Africa.

To get to the park you need to drive through a hunting concession. We saw no game in the concession and the road was quite bad.

When we got to the park proper, we started to see some game. On the way we saw: Cob d’Buffon/Puku, Reed Buck, Bush Buck, warthog, buffalo, grey duiker, elephants, hippopotamus, Patas monkeys and baboons.

We were not allowed to camp at the park hotel, so camped at a designated spot by a small lake.

Ray driving. 214 km. N 110 21’ 56.7’’ E 0010 21’ 31.4’’ 

Day 2 – 18/3/12

It was good to get a night sleep with out the cacophony of village sounds; donkeys, chickens, dogs, very loud music, villagers talking loudly etc. All we had was grunting hippos.

We drove out of the Pendjari park to Batia gate. Along the way we saw a similar collection of animals to yesterday plus waterbuck, crocodiles at a water hole and a flock (?) of vultures descend onto and devour a cob. Once you get away from the river area, there is basically no game to be seen at this time of year. The roads were OK, but there are not a lot of loops to get to the river etc. Overall we thought park was a nice sojourn. However, we did not think it was that much better than Park W in Niger. Also, there were a number of grass fires (including 2 on the far bank of the lake we camped at) which made the place smell a bit.

We visited the Tanougou water falls on the way to our nights rest. The falls have a large ~ 35 m drop at the upper level and 2 smaller, but wider drops below that. The drops were classic falls and quite beautiful and it was good to soak our feet in the water pools. We took a compulsory guide. However, Avril, ever the princess, needed 2 guides to assist her over the difficult spots.

The road from Batia to the road intersection at Tanguieta is very average gravel. From Tanguieta to Natitingou is good tar.

The visibility was very poor again. The road follows the Atakora mountain/hills and then crosses the range just after Tanguieta. We could just make out the ghostly outline of the mountain/hills. After waiting for a change from the flat plains we have travelled for so long, we were really looking forward to the hills. We theorised that maybe the dust would sort of drop out of the air when it hit the mountain/hills. But this did not happen, in fact if it was possible, the visibility was worse after the hills.

As we entered Natitingou we were pulled over by the police. They wanted to see the car documents, no worries. Out came the carnet. That was fine. What about insurance? Out came the Vicroads receipt. This had been satisfactory since Namibia. But, this cop was a bit smarter than the ones we have spoken to thus far – and very charming. So the discussion went back and forward. Ray: we are happy to get the Insurance, but it has not been asked for before and was not mentioned at the frontier. Policeman: but you have broken the law. So we must go to the police station, have the car impounded and pay a very large fine (we are not sure how we would get to accommodation then as all our stuff is in the car). But there is an alternative; we could make a small present and go to our accommodation and get the insurance tomorrow. Ray; how much of a present? Policeman: what ever is in your heart (smooth talker). So, Ray starts very low and we work our way up to an OK amount for both policemen. Then Ray asks the policeman how to get to the hotel, the policeman stops a motorbike taxi going past and instructs him to take us to the hotel and pays (yes from his pocket) for the taxi to take us there. Rest assured we topped up the amount when we got to our destination.

We asked about camping at the Bellevue hotel, but it is not possible. So we went through a negotiation to get a room with a/c = CFA 12,500 = A$ 25. When we got to the room there is no water. There is an issue with the town water distribution and as the hotel is on a hill, it runs short. Mmmm, maybe the manager could have told us that initially?? Anyway, we had bucket baths and a fine dinner with cold beer. The staff and particularly the owner (+ 15 stone, but with an eye for detail, desire to look after the guests and a wicked sense of humour). A big plus, the rooms were very clean and there was a seat on the dunny.

Avril driving. 221 km. N 100 18’ 22.4’’ E 0010 23’ 09.6’’

Day 3 – 19/3/12

The dust from the Sahara was even worse in the morning, so we decided to flee to the south to try and get some better air rather than follow the mountains and associated scenery.

The friendly hotel manager took Ray to the Insurance office to get the ECOWAS insurance. Valid for all countries up to/including Senegal. Apparently 6 months cost the same as 4 months, so we took 6 months = ~ CFA 78,000. The manager then took Ray to the MTN office to get a SIM card. MTN is RSAian and holder of the second trip raspberry. And true to form, there we 2 security guards + 2 cleaners but only one office staff to look after the customers & each customer seemed to take 10 min. And there was already 8 people waiting. Ray, still not known for his patience, waited for a bit and then left. We managed to get a card in 30 sec off the street.

We then drove to Abomey, capital of the Dahomey kingdom. The roads were okish tar with some mansized potholes along the way to keep you awake. The visibility was < 100 m to start with. Very close. It did get a bit better much further south, but was still only ~ 200m.

There were some, what looked like, interesting hills with steep/sheer near the road, but with the dust we could not really see them. The road did have some very gradual low rises and falls. So, maybe we are over the flat for a bit.

The change from savannah to agricultural land with lots of green happened a lot faster than you would imagine. Lots of tall trees (not acacia/thorn trees) and a variety of other trees, plants etc. The crop of choice seems to be cassava again.

Similarly the weather changed to humid from dry hot more suddenly than we expected. The guide books suggested mid – high 20soC should be expected. Our thermometer said high 30soC.

We camped at Chez Monique among large shaded trees and seems to be an artist/craft work shop as well. Note, the entrance for campers is at the rear of the property. Again, there is no running water, fortunately the property has a well, unfortunately they do not store the bucket & rope beside it. So, Ray had to make a tour of near by houses to retrieve the bucket for Avrils shower.

 Ray driving. 425 km. 6 hrs N  070 11’ 52.5’’ E 0010 58’ 48.4’’

 Day 4 – 20/3/12

Being un-acclimatised to the humidity, we had a restless nights sleep. The noise of what seemed to be a domestic argument in the next house going late into the night and restarting in the morning did not assist. Nor did the radio turned upto distortion level that was turned on at ~ 03:30. Pretty sure village life is not for us.

We made a tour of the Voodoo & fetish areas of Abomey and well as the remaining palaces and the museum. We met the main voodoo priest and had the whole voodoo religion and fetish items explained. The priest has a bowl of rotten animals (he made the concoction up + 20 years ago) and it is topped up with owls blood and chicken blood on a regular basis. The priest dipped his finger in 3 times and licked it each time. Avril whispered urgently to Ray, I am not eating or drinking anything!! Then after spraying water from his mouth over the fetish idols, he did the same with a ouzo style liquor. We were offered a drink of the ouzo and Ray had a nip – 09:00 hrs.

Then we visited a further number of alters and went to the place where ceremonies are carried out. We both had a ceremony and made wishes for prosperity and good health. We were given a fetish to carry to prevent accidents.

All in all a very interesting experience. Not all the hygienic!! The priest is 75 years old, had 31 wives and 75 kids. He had a naughty smile and was quite pleasant – we left a good tip.
we went to the fetish market which seemed to sell lots od dead animals; owls & other birds, snakes, different buck, bats, etc etc, etc. The smell was not that great. Seemed to be a bit of a mega kill of native life happening. Apparently 75% of the folks around Abomey are into this.

The palaces were less interesting than the fetish stuff. Except for the museum they are quite run down. There is an entrance building with bas reliefs of the kings’ symbol and a few run down buildings inside.

The museum is basic but interesting. It concentrates on the personal side of things and does not explain the history of the Dahomey kingdom. They probably miss a trick in not doing this.

Following the previous nights experience, we decided to go to Grand Popo and chill on the beach. The drive down was now though tropical vegetation with small rolling hills. The road was/used to be tar. There are a few badly deteriorated and potholed sections. There now seems to be village after village and a constant stream of people.

The weather; well at the beach the sea breeze has kept the temperature down. There seemed to be a lot of dust around still, but visibility was now at maybe 600 – 700 m. at one point we debated whether there were rain clouds of dust, but came down on the side of dust.

We camped at the Auberge Grand Popo. A nice location just off the beach. The beach is golden sand, but lots of (plastic) litter.

Ray driving. 149 km. 3 hrs N  060 16’ 45.7’’ E 0010 49’ 52.6’’

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