Published: June 12th 2006June 1st 2006
In addition to Belize, Bhutan, Brunei and Burundi any list of countries you don't know anything about should include Burkina Faso.
In the centre of West Africa with close to no natural resources, annual famines and a corrupt pseudo-democracy jerking the rudder of this landlocked sinking country - it doesn't promote itself as paradise.
On our initial itinerary, five days were set aside to transit the country, but after eight days in the anti-picturesque capital; Ouagadougou
and eight more days in the second-largest city; Bobo-Dioulasso
, we had made some small amendments to our schedule.
In terms of sights or activity there's not much to neither see nor do. We rented motorbikes and went to the Kou forest park
, swam in a waterfall and rented a canoe for a tranquil lake trip to see some hippos. Other than that
, we didn't do very much.
We had access to a kitchen for a week and cooked some proper food for once, had a big common dinner among friends and a splurge or two or three in fancy restaurants. Other than that
, we had mind-numbing street food.
In the southwestern chunk of
the country there's some gently rolling hills, the vegetation is savannah woodland and there's some dramatic rock formations decorating the landscape. Other than that
, it's arid and flat semi-desert.
There's been some striking lightning accompanied by furious rainfall, but also perfect skies dotted with small fluffy clouds. Other than that
, it's been oppressively hot.
So instead of explaining about an uneventful journey in a dry and hot country, here's a short account on the different type of travellers one meet in West Africa:
It's far from the stimulant practising, pleasure seekers one find plenty of in Asia, neither the average Joe one find with his Inter rail-ticket in Europe. Instead most of the people have well planned itineraries, with long journeys to come, often on bicycle from some city in Europe on their ways down to Cape Town
Some on motorbikes or 4wd on round the world trips, with three or four years on the road - either ahead, or behind.
People are well equipped, well informed with the region, the religions and the cultures and well experienced in rough travelling - many with a vertebrae-trembling tale to tell.
There are freelance journalists staying long time in one spot to penetrate deep into controversial subjects like; where the generous stream of foreign aid money actually flows. Where all mentally handicapped children disappear; and questioning about why social and political emancipation for women is so frowned upon.
One man spent eight months in central Asia then coming here, searching for his family heirloom - an oven donated by his grandparents to some village in the region. Another one crossed Sudan by a donkey, a third man had travelled through Iraq during the war, and yet another one crossed the Congo basin by hiking and hitching. As an extra bonus we also met independent travellers from odd countries like Honduras and Turkey.
There are a lot of volunteers paying a fortune to organisations in their home countries to come down to orphanages and kindergartens in West Africa for a month or two, before flying home again.
And of course; the American peace corps - saving the universe (to meet one that genuinely can say that he or she has accomplished anything - is cause for celebration.) ;-). Other than that
, it's just people like me.
Spent the last two days of Burkina in the southeastern corner, the Lobi country
and its capital; the small town Gaoua
- with our newly met friend Ibrahim Kanberi.
Animist since birth he now had converted to Islam about a year ago. -Before I worshipped our ancestors by sacrificing chickens, but now I realize that all my ancestor together is Allah
. I was explained as he took me to meet his mother in the countryside.
His father had passed away some three years before and next to the rudimental mud house there was a grave. A two metres long rectangular block; with a spoon, a metal plate, a plastic bowl and a plastic jug all halfway protruding from the cement surface. All there for his fathers meals in the afterlife - brilliant. - We are like orphans, this whole nation. We lost our father
. Ibrahim told me over dinner later that evening, expressing his loss of the controversial and radical ex-president: Thomas Sankara.
Sankara gained the same legendary status in West Africa as Ernesto Che Guevara in South America. He was assassinated by his companion in arms and governmental partner;
Blaise Compaore - now with 19 years of despotism on his C.V.
Ibrahim drew a simple map for us of where he used to cross the border unofficially into Ghana, and smuggle out petrol. The map showed some villages to visit and some police checkpoints to avoid.
Early the next morning we left in a pickup truck for the Black Volta River
- the natural border with Ghana. After some morning calabashes with Chapalo (homemade millet beer) at the weekly market of Kono
, we trekked the last kilometres down to the black river. There we found a young boy manoeuvring a small canoe with a long stick, carrying us over the river.
On the other side of the river we didn't walk many metres before we were halted by two armed police. -This is an illegal crossing; our orders are to deport you!
Said the taller and more heavily armed policemen. -Only citizens of ECOWAS
(Economic community of West African states) are allowed to enter the country this way
. The other policeman quickly filled in with a squinting look. -But we don't want to deport you, we like you people!
with a squint said. But we can't stamp your passports either; you must go to Wa and get the stamps at the immigration office
. They explained, now in a more relaxed way. -But you must not say that you met us, or any other police
. The tall policeman said as the squinter nodded along with a boyish smile. - Yes! You must say to them you didn't see us
. He said. - Seen who?
They looked a bit puzzled at first but then the smaller one turned to me, with his eyes looking in all directions but mine, smiling, reaching out his hand and shaking mine, saying: - OK. Welcome to Ghana.
After suffering from oppressive heat;
Finding a bicycle-thief kicked to the ground, wearing bloodstained clothes and with his battered head resting in a pool of blood on the gravel ground;
Driving off the road at midnight in a storm, experiencing African panic as we climbed out from the tilted bus's side windows;
Having Dengue fever (while listening to Nietzsche on audiotapes explaining the death of God, is a journey in it self), and;
Boy in B&W
off pigs and goats for some space to sleep in, on a dirty street in Loropeni
. Other than that
, Burkina Faso has left a long-lasting good impression on me. I've now taken it off my list of "unknown-countries", and added it to my new list of "countries-I-already-miss".
There are more photos below