Archive for Burkina Faso
The trip from Ouahigouya to Ouagadougou (Waga dugo) was straight forward in a relatively modern bus on good surfaced roads. The livestock went into the luggage bays at the side of the bus.
Our first impressions of Ouga (Waga) was of a clean, modern city with tall buildings, with very little litter on the main streets. The hedges up the middle of the dual carriageways were neatly trimmed and the ornamental fountains were working. This could have had something to do with the ceremonies for President, Blaise Compaoré being sworn in for another term in office, having won the elections a few months earlier. We knew when the elections were being held and decided to avoid travelling through Burkina Faso then. It is never a good idea for foreigners to be in a West African country during presidential elections. Emotions sometimes run high and the security forces tend to exert more control than is healthy.
At the bus station in Ouagadougou we took a taxi to the Soritel hotel. This was a very civilised establishment owned and ran by a French Group. We had planned to spend a couple of days seeing the city and to change our CFAs into Cidis, The Ghanaian currency. We soon discovered that the people here did not want Cidis and did not want to trade in Cidis. We also wanted to use our credit cards to get a bit of extra cash for Ghana. Again we ran into problems. Basically only Visa cards were accepted in the ATM machines in Ouagadougou. At one ATM machine there was a security guard with an AK47 assault rifle. He told me with a broad grin that some people had been robbed at gun point after withdrawing cash. So I was kind of pleased that the multitude of interested faces watching me from across the street could see that I’d failed to get any cash out. Since we had plenty of CFAs in our money belts we changed these into Euros, the currency of choice here and planned to buy cidis in Ghana.
The dinner in the hotel was excellent, with strong French influences. Whilst the home cooking in Sanga was good and wholesome having steak with a fine sauce and plenty of freshly boiled vegetables was a treat.
Buses in Burkina Faso, and come to that those in Mali and Ghana too operate out of separate bus stations. So the bus station we arrived at would not necessarily be the right one for the next leg of our journey. We heard that the State Transport Company (STC) of Ghana operated a bus station and a bus service from Ouagadougou right across the border and into Ghana. So we set out with a helpful taxi driver to find the place. After a couple of false starts and pitching up at other bus stations we eventually found the right place. Sure enough STC ran a daily service from Ouagadougou to Bolgatanga in Ghana and all points south. After a bit of discussion it transpired that even though we planned to stop over at Tamale we would have to buy tickets for Kumasi, because that’s where most people were going. We were assured that the journey time was only four hours so we would be in Tamale by 12:30. Where had we heard that before? Anyway we decided to skip Bolgatanga and head straight to Tamale. Even though the bus left at 08:30 we were advised to check in at 06:30. Somehow that small element of forward planning cheered us up and gave as more confidence in the STC bus company.
During the rest of the day in Ouagadougou we visited the government area and walked to the Presidential Palace. The main administrative street was wide, well paved with shady trees and lined with modern four and five storey office blocks, set back from the road. The street was presided over by the white and cream Presidential Palace at the end. This was the day that President Blaise Compaoré was inaugurated for his third term of office after elections earlier in the year. As we waited to cross roads motorcades of foreign dignitaries swept by shepherded by motorcycle outriders in splendid powder blue uniforms and white helmets. One pair of motorcycle advanced guards, resplendent in their blue uniforms with fringed gold epaulettes and impressive dark glasses moved up to a busy intersection standing on their foot rests whilst directing traffic on the move! Magnificent!
The event passed off peacefully with hardly a ripple on the streets. Everyone was helpful and friendly with very few people selling aggressively and no bumsters. The whole atmosphere was calm and pleasant. We liked Burkina Faso. In the evening we caught up with e-mails in the hotel and had another excellent meal in the restaurant.
The next day we rose at dawn to meet the taxi driver who took us to the STC bus station the day before. In the grey light we moved past squatting people cooking breakfast on small cooking fires trailing thin wisps of smoke into the early morning sky. At the bus station the other passengers had started to gather. On a bench two Australian pack packers were sleeping. They had arrived at two in the morning and were hoping to get on the bus to Tamale. In the yard a very modern looking white and green coach was parked. As the sky lightened enough to see the many mosquitoes breakfasting on our fellow travellers, the office opened. The Australians yawned and stretched and staggered over to the office. A man with his small daughter waited patiently with us for something to happen. Other travellers arrived and luggage was deposited beside the bus. A herd of six goats were delivered from a pickup and they were also tethered by the luggage. After about an hour the STC crew started labelling up our luggage. The little girl with her father had all this time waited patiently and with good humour without any sign of agitation. The Australians bid their farewells once they discovered the bus was fully booked. Right on time the luggage was loaded and we took our allocated seats in this air conditioned coach, with a toilet.
Sitting immediately in front of us were two women with a little girl and a 12 or 13 year old sick boy. The girl was made to lie on the floor under the seats of the women and the boy sat in the isle, looking poorly. The road south was good with a smooth tarmac surface. Just outside Ouga we stopped to let some of the passengers buy fruit and vegetables which were apparently cheaper than in town or Ghana, where we were headed. On route we passed villages of circular mud brick walls and conical thatch roofs, all connected by a brush or mud brick outer wall to form a compound.
Village just outside Ouagadougou
Early the next day Alu returned with his 4×4 to take us to Koro, near the border with Burkina Faso. He popped in to see if we were ready and said he was going to fill the truck with petrol. As we were packing and cleaning up the mission house Faana arrived with our breakfast, what a service!
When asked how much we owed the church for the nights we stayed in the mission house and all the food Fanna said we should pay as much as we thought appropriate and could happily afford. He seemed delighted with the settlement. We travelled in Alu’s truck through the villages of the plateau and down the twisting road which took us on hairpin bends down the falaise. As we took the bends, clipping the edges, sending stones hurtling down Alu continually turned to speak to us cheerfully regaling us with village names and tipbits. Once we reached the plains we followed sandy tracks for about two hours to get to Koro.
Alu was an enthusiastic rather than a careful driver who went far too fast. So he often missed the right road at forks approaching villages. We scattered hens as he called greetings and apologies over his shoulder. Blasting into a square where a group of women were using a camel to raise water from a well the looks of astonishment and alarm turned only to smiles and waves as they recognised Alu’s departing truck through the plume of dust he left in his wake.
At one point he hit a patch of soft sand and we spun right off the road and ended up in a groundnut field, happily still on all four wheels, but facing back the way we come. That stunned silence, when you realise that the truck is still upright, there are no bones broken and the engine is still running, was broken by Alu explaining cheerfully that the road was bad. We diplomatically persuaded him to slow down a bit. We really were not in that much of a hurry!
Once in Koro we looked for transport to Ouahigouya (Wagouya). The choice was a cheap bush van which we thought would leave immediately or a marginally more expensive but potentially more comfortable bus, which was supposed to leave at two o clock and would take three hours. We opted for the bush van and waited. We chatted to other would be travellers and waited. After a tour of Koro, which took half an hour and should have taken ten minutes, we waited some more. Koro was a small dusty border town with mud brick houses and corrugated iron roofs. There was a mud brick mosque, which we studied minutely and sparse markets which we inspected in detail. Every time we dropped by where the bus van was parked there was still no sign of the bushvan filling with passengers. So we eventually decided to take the bus, even though we had already paid the bushvan driver.
The bus people were friendly and confidently assured us that the bus would depart at two. So we bought bus tickets straight through to Ouagadougou (Wagadugo), the capital of Burkina Faso. Since we had already paid for our seats on the bush van we decided not to ask for our money back. That would allow the bush van driver to leave as soon as he had filled all the other seats. It looked like it was going to be a long wait for him. The bus departure time was then delayed until three and it too waited until it was full before it left, which was at four. Waiting in Africa is a fact of life to be endured gracefully if not enjoyed. In the meantime, while we were waiting for the bus, the bushvan driver found us and gave us our money back. We were really impressed with his straightforward honesty. In the event the bushvan filled up and left at about two thirty.
When we left Koro on the bus we headed for the border with Burkina Faso. This was a very minor border crossing consisting of a simple building at each side, with a flag pole of course. Being in a small bus with locals who made this journey regularly the border formalities leaving Mali were efficient and very friendly, but the time was slipping by. On the Burkina Faso side we showed our passports to two friendly policemen who thanked us for visiting their country and wished us a pleasant stay. We thought we might go on to Ouagadougou that night but the bus stopped at Ouahigouya and by seven o clock it was dark. Transport in West Africa always takes twice as long as everyone, including the locals, says it should so our late arrival in Ouahigouya came as no surprise.
We knew about the L’Amitié Hotel which was about 1km from the centre of the town and set off to find it. We walked, rucksacks on our backs, as two dusty shadows heading up the main street out of town. As we walked out past the street vendors cooking sheep and goat meat on open fires and big pots of rice and couscous we asked for directions. The stalls had paraffin lamps, candles and open fires and shadows danced across the dusty road. People were preparing evening meals with studied activity. Attentive children gathered in the pools of light around the cooking pots and adults drifted like spectres in the gathering night. Everyone we spoke to was very helpful and friendly. One man in traditional robes walked with us to show us the way to the hotel and chatted amiably about our journey.
The hotel was well appointed, clean and friendly. The road from Koro to Ouahigouya was an unsurfaced red latterite road which was very dusty. So when we arrived at the hotel we were covered from head to foot with red dust. Without a hint of irony or sarcasm the hotel desk clerk gave us extra soap and towels.
Much refreshed by several showers to rid ourselves of red dust, we ate a welcome evening meal and slept well. Having eaten a hearty breakfast we walked back to the bus station to get the ten o clock bus. The bus station was busy with travellers heading to Ouagadougou. There were the usual collection of women with big bundles of things to sell, babies and toddlers in tow. Men with sheep and goats, a cluster of hens with their feet tied lying in the dust and individual travellers with little luggage. Amazingly the people there greeted us with friendly smiles and remembered we had come from Koro the previous day and we found our tickets were still valid.