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Thursday, 15 March 2012

Burkina Faso, parts 1 & 2 and Mali

Burkina Faso, part 1

Day 1 – 7/3/12

Our original plan was to drive from Niger to Mali. However, we have made the detour via Burkina Faso because of the bad people in north Mali.

The BF Immigration & Customs is ~ 20 km before/after the border. Immigration was completed smoothly, professional, no hint of a bribe. Customs was also competed quickly and professionally etc. But, the crossing was chaotic. There were a huge number of trucks waiting to exit BF and they occupied all the available space, including the road we needed to take. After a bit of manoeuvring we managed to get out an on our way to Ouagadougou. Everyone says Ouaga as in Wagga as in Wagga Wagga. So, that is how we will refer to it in future.

The road to Ouaga is mainly good tar, with a couple of very small rough patches.

Immediate observations; charcoal rather than wood for sale at the side of the road, much thicker and greener vegetation, including some enormous mango trees, women without hair covering, no begging (yet), lots of bicycles and motor bikes, towns appear to be a little more layback, not the frenetic activity we have seen elsewhere.

We camped under eucalyptus trees at the OKInn in Ouaga, where most overlanders tend to stay. There is a pool and internet (which did not work whilst we were there, hence the late posting of the Niger blog!!) all gratis. The quid pro quo is that you must eat in the restaurant.

The observant reader will note that we crossed the Greenwich meridian today. This bought back wonderful memories of Blighty, Greenwich museum, picnics and beer (both hot & cold).

Ray driving. 7.5 hours. 512 km. N 120 20’ 06.6’’ W 0010 30’ 49.8’’ 

Day 2 – 8/3/12

There is a large truck depot just in front of the hotel and it seems like the hotel is very near the airport. With tucks leaving all night and the roar of an occasional jet plane plus some inane repetitive music being played over a loud speaker, we did not have a great sleep. Fortunately there were only about 4 mosques nearby.

With good road signs and T4A (for some reason garmap could not plot routes) we made it to the Mali border without any hassle. The road to Ouahigouya is tar and then some reasonable gravel that deteriorates towards the border.

The vegetation started off thick and green, but dried out and thinned out towards the border. Still no hills.

The BF police & customs are well turned out and efficient. No hint of bribes. All formalities are completed with a minimum of fuss.


Day 1 – 8/3/12

The road from the BF border is OKish gravel to Koro and then improves to good gravel.

Immigration, gendarmes & customs are completed with out fuss, but all through a window. In almost all other crossings we have gone into the relevant official’s office. Also, for the 1st time, Avril had to leave the car and present herself.

We drove through to Bandiagara, the HQ of the Dogon country. Along the way we drove up onto the Falaise de Bandiagara or the Dogon Plateau. Finally something to break the flatness. The plateau rises straight off the sandy plain and is quite spectacular. Despite the heat haze (we beat the average march temperature of 39oC today).

We went straight to the Togona Campsite and set up camp. Rather relax and do some chores than walk around town in the heat.

Our guide (contact arranged courtesy of Jean at Zakouma), Mohamed came around and we discussed the arrangements for our trek etc.

 Avril driving. 7 hours. 375 km. N 140 21’ 28.0’’ W 0030 38’ 35.7’’.

 Day 2 – 9/3/12

We got up early to prepare our packs for the trek then we went to a local hotel that had internet and finally managed to post the Niger blog and then drove the 45 km, 2 hours on a very rough track to Sangha to start of our trek.

We parked the vehicle at a local auberge and negotiated to run their generator a few hours a day to keep out batteries charged. Our guide had organised for 2 porters. We did not have a lot of luggage but had decided to take 12 x 1.5l bottles of water, as the average March temperature is 39oC. The porters turned out to be brothers and the elder brother always ensured that the younger brother carried the heaviest load! Ray commented nothing like my family where the eldest brother always did ALL the heavy work! We suspect that the elder brother was really the Dogon guide for the region.

The wind had been blowing most of the night; this is both a blessing and a curse as with the wind the temperature is kept down however it also raises the dust and hence visibility is restricted.

We walked into a long valley with sheer walls ~ 60 – 70 m high. We had lunch at the village of Damo and overnighted at an auberge in Yandouma.

Those readers who are really interested can look up the Dogon history etc on the net. Apparently a very small race, known as the Tellem occupied the cliffs from the 6th/7th century until the Dogon, who were escaping forced conversion to Islam in Guinea, forced them out in the 16th/17th century.

The Tellem houses, granaries etc are built high on the cliffs and are mostly mud walls covering natural caves in the cliffs. The Dogon villages are built high up, but below the Tellem houses and are based on family compounds which amongst other buildings have 2 graneries; one for the male (to hold hunting weapons and seed for the next season) and one for the female holding the supplies for the current year’s supplies. This seems to be mainly millet and the women spend a lot of time pounding this. There are special places for the blokes, menstruating women etc.

Anyway, the effect is quite stunning.

Ray driving. N 140 27’ 48.1’’ W 0030 18’ 16.4’’

Day 3 – 10/3/12

The wind blew most of the night, keeping the temperature down. We were fortunate that it had stopped in the morning for a bit. But at ~ 09:00 it started again and within 15 minutes visibility was severely reduced. We hate to think of the dust we are breathing and the build up in our lungs. There are lots of chest infections and runny noses around.

We passed by or through a number of villages through out the day. In the morning we “climbed” up one of the valley walls to see some villages and hence managed to get above the worst of the dust for a while. One particularly stunning village that caught the eye was Yougana; it is all red and appears to be geometric in layout. We had lunch in Koundou and overnighted in Banani at an auberge owned by one of the porters.

Day 4 – 11/3/12

We started our trekking a bit sore; we have not done any exercise for a long time and Ray had developed a monster blister. But, still we were happy with the journey.

We visited a few more villages then climbed to the top of the escarpment and trekked back to Sangha. We had asked to end a bit early and get back to Bandiagara a bit early. Some folks spend up to 10 days and visit all 43 Dogon villages. We were happy just to have an overall appreciation.

We camped back at the shady and relaxed Campment Togana (very nice and friendly staff). We had left some laundry to be done and asked the staff to do the washing from the trek, immediately; no worries!

All in all we enjoyed the trekking and the villages. As per the guide books we took Kola nuts for the village elders and bonbons for the kids. The guide handed out the Kola nuts and Avril normally had a trail of kids that would have made the pied piper of Hamlin jealous following her with chants of “bonbon”. The guide books rate the trekking in the Dogon country as some of the best in Africa and, based on our limited experience, we can but agree. There is a bit of climbing and rock scrambling and walking through sand, but all in all it is not too hard. There are local auberges with shower and toilet in the evenings and either auberges or restaurants for lunch making the experience very easy. One limitation is the menu choices: macaroni or couscous or rice, legume sauce if you are fortunate and local chicken. No hint of fresh fruit or salad. On the plus side the auberges had beer and soft drinks.

Avril driving.

Day 5 – 12/3/12

After an earlier start than normal, we drove to Djenne on good standard tar. There were some sections of potholes, but nothing too serious. Our guide, Mohamed was riding on the roof rack, so when we came near to a police stop, he had to hop off and squash into the front in the passenger seat.

The topography was generally flat, but there were a few hills and some times we got a view to a long horizon. The vegetation was more sparse than the last few days, but still there were trees and shrubs most of the way.

We did not realise, but there is a ferry just before Djenne, so we had an opportunity to relax for a bit and watch the world go by – the ferry is man powered.

Djenne is known for its mud mosque (the biggest mud building in the world). After a French fashion photographer took pictures of scantily clad models in the interior, non Muslims have not been permitted inside. Fortunately, Mohamed’s mate is the son of the Imam, so for a fee (A$ 20each) we got to go inside. There are 99 mud pillars (as God has 99 names) and 104 windows (take out the 0 and 1 + 4 = 5 i.e. the number of times Muslims pray each day). The mosque is impressive on the outside, but we both thought the Egyptian mosques were more impressive inside,

With the Imam’s son we then did a tour of the city. As you would expect, lots of mud buildings. Monday is market day, so the town was a hive of activity. Lots of stores, live stock market etc and lots of pushing & shoving. Avril had a new winder put on her $3 Singapore watch for $ 0.30. Later in the day, we did some veggie shopping for a one pot spaghetti dinner.

We camped at Chez Baba, which is not as romantic as it sounds.

Avril driving (cause Ray cannot get a shoe on with his blister). 3 hours. 164 km. N 130 54’ 16.4’’ W 0040 33’ 16.8’’

Day 6 – 13/3/12

The day of TIA bureaucracy! After a very cold night (we had to use the doona for the 1st time since, not sure when), we managed to buy fresh, hot bread and get an early start. The ferry was on the other side of the Bani river when we got to the crossing and we waited until sufficient cars had arrived to fill the ferry before it deigned to return to “our” side. Time to contemplate life.

We had a reasonably straight forward drive to the border crossing on a good tar road. Still no hills, but we both noticed that the vegetation became more savannah than Sahel. After advice at Djenne & at the vital turn off, the route advice was to take the longer route via Koutiala as the more direct route was a not good. As dad says: “sometimes the longer way around is the quickest way home”. This involved ~ 90 km extra, but given we had already broken one tyre rim, we thought that we should be a bit cautious.

At Koutiala we needed to change some money; this quite simple task took > 30 min. We were given a number when we went into the bank and each transaction, even our simple exchange, took a minimum of 5 min. There was a lot of computer work involved in doing our transaction. Mmm not sure why, the CFA is tied at a fixed rate to the Euro and we wre exchanging Euro’s.

Then to the Mali customs; they were not familiar with the Carnet, so it all took some time to sort out. + 30 min of our lives gone. Then to the Mali Gendarmes, they were just a bit nosey and wanted to look in the drawers etc. Another 30 min gone. Then to Mali police = immigration. They wanted us to fill out exit forms (for the 1st time in a long time). Another 30 min gone.

Anyway, it all got done and we drove a further ~ 12 km to the border… read on for the rest of the day!

Mali Summary

We were only a few days in Mali, so it is hard to say too much. It is a more tourist savvy country than we have been in recently and with that comes the demands for money and the higher prices. Also, lots of touts looking for a sale or such and kids always wanting bonbons or presents etc. Compensation for the negatives is the better tourist infrastructure,

The Dogon trek was great and Djenne interesting. It is a pity that the “bad people” prevented us going to Timbuktu. We were lucky with the weather with no oppressive temperatures.

Guides: Bradt, Lonely Planet & Rough guide were OK, 7/10. The IGN map is made out of such poor quality paper that it rips when you open it; 5/10. Riese Knowhow  west Africa Sahel map; 5/10.

Burkina Faso, part 2

 Day 3 – 13/3/12
The day of TIA bureaucracy! Contd. Having crossed out of Mali, given our 1st experience, our expectations were high for BF, we even started to think of getting further than Bobo Dioulasso. Bad mistake. The BF police/immigration went OK to start with, then the boss showed up and we were required to fill out an entrance form (after our passports had been stamped). Ray had to produce a licence to complete the log book for the car. 30 min gone.

Then to customs. They required CFA 5,000 for the carnet; no we do not need to pay. So, we waited 90 minutes for the post chief to show up. He decides that BF is not specifically mentioned on the form, so we need to pay. Ray shows that no country since Namibia is on the form, but they have all accepted the Carnet PLUS BF accepted the carnet when we entered less than a week ago. The decision needs to go up a level. We got a temporary permit, 4 hours,to drive to Bobo and meet with the regional chief. When we get to Bobo, much later than expected, the customs chief meets with Ray. He is a great bloke and after bit of a chat signed the Carnet.

There were a few hills after the border, but very quickly we were back to the status quo – flat. The road was tar, but with some quite bad pothole sections. The vegetation got taller and greener as we got closer to Bobo. There are quite a few market gardens around Bobo and lots of massive mango trees. Based on previous experience, there will be quite a smell when the mangos ripen and drop. But for now it is great for us, lovely fresh mangos; mmm.

After a frustrating day, we drove to the Cassa Africa hotel to camp. Great people and a small, but shaded courtyard to camp in. Importantly, good ablutions.
Avril driving. 11 hours. 491 km. N 110 10’ 09.3’’ W 0040 18’ 42.5’’

Day 4 – 14/3/12

7 months since we left Oz. Today we did a day trip of the sights around Bobo and Banfora in southern BF. We initially drove to Banfora. This road is Green on the Michelin guide. It was a pleasant drive with some good vistas. There is a lot of intensive agriculture on the way and an industrial scale sugar enterprise outside Banfora. Unfortunately the tar road is badly potholed in sections.

The guide book raved about a patisserie in Banfora, but we could not find it, despite it being a very small town. Then we drove to the crags at Sindou, a small set of ~ 30 m high limestone hills which have been eroded into interesting, small peaks. The road in was lined with tall trees, in the French way and would have been nice except that it was very badly corrugated. So it was rough for ~ 50 km in and then back again. The crags are several orders of magnitude below say Victoria Falls in the attractions list. To be blunt, if we had have known the road was so bad; we probably would have given it a miss. The guide book is full of great tips about the local busses and how you can get a lift on a cotton truck if you get stranded at the crags etc. That would be useful for the sort of backpacker who did absolutely no planning, was a bit thick and somehow managed to get stuck in Sindou during the couple of weeks the cotton is harvested. For us, it would have been more helpful to comment on the road condition and the actual low rating of the attraction!

On the way back we dropped in on Lake Tengrela. Now not to put too finer a point on it, my dad has built a lot of dams a lot bigger than this “lake”.

The next stop was the Chutes de Banfora, a set of water falls ~ 15 km on a farm dirt track from the Banfora town. They are in a nice setting (almost rain forest) and offer a great view over the surrounding country side. Being the dry season, there was not a heap of water, but there was enough to give us a good idea of the falls. We had lunch in the car park. Avril tried to join some local tots dancing, but unfortunately one of the younger ones burst out crying! We are not sure whether this was due to Avril’s dance style or if the kids’ parents had warned then not to accept sweets from strange (in this case very strange) people!

We then drove back to Bobo and had a look at the local old mosque. All white with lots of tree branches poking out of the walls, like Djenne & Timbuktu.

We then managed to get to camp early.

 Avril driving. 306 km.

Day 5 – 15/3/12

After a good night’s sleep, we set off to get to Ouga in time to put in a Ghana visa application. The accommodation management was not to be found when we left, so we checked the menu, asked the night guard the cost of camping and made out our own bill. TIA – in the best possible way, lots of trust. The air in Bobo was thick with pollution, probably some of the worst we have seen in Africa; so after Ray had bought a kebab in a baguette with salad & hot sauce for breakfast we were happy to be quickly on our way. We had a good run to Ouga. The road is high standard tar with a couple of diversions where there are road works. As mentioned before there is a lot of agriculture around Bobo but it gets noticeably drier as we get further away from there. Today there are a few very slight rises, not hills but it was not totally flat.

Using a waypoint from another blog, we managed to get to the Ghana embassy. Turns out it takes 3 business days i.e. to Tuesday next week. Avril makes an executive decision, no way are we staying in Ouga for 6 or 7 days. Ray does some relationship building with the consular clerk (Avril refers to this as crawling) and so hopefully the visas will be ready tomorrow.

We then drove around looking for somewhere cool to eat and happened upon a sort of “place to be seen” bar. They had cold beer and nice food. A good result.

When we got back to the OKInn; there were 3 other groups of overlanders here: Romanian couple and their 2 kids. They had just sold their van to a local and are flying back home. A South African in a Landrover – we are so glad we did not buy one of those! And a French chap cycling down Africa. 

The last few days have been very hot: + 40oC. The OKInn has a pool so we both had a dip.

Ray driving. 5 hours for the 325 Bobo to Ouga. 372 km. Back at the OKInn.  

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