Burkina Rocks(except the transport)!
Trip Start Oct 03, 2005
57Trip End Feb 28, 2006
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Anyways - on the 3rd, I decided to do some touristy stuff around Bobo - so went to see the Grand Mosque, which was a very interesting example of Sahel architecture, and then, being bloody-minded cheap backpacker I am, hired a bicycle to go 34 kilometres to a neighbouring village, Koumi, and back(in order to save 8 dollars to have a guy on a motorbike take me there and back). Bad-dish decision.
After about 2 km, before I left Bobo, my bike chain fell off. There was a disabled man nearby, in a homemade bicycle operated by hands, who came over and started looking at my bike...he then took it to a yard next to a house, and told me to sit down - apparently this crap piece of wire holding the gears together had broken. Sat and was talking to hi, - we were in the offices of the An gnan to Allah ma Association, which apparently means something like faith for Allah - it's an organization of people disabled thru polio to be educated, get help, etc. He's a polio sufferer, and cannot stand or walk, and is the president of the organization, as well as an artist. They were wonderful people, and sent someone on a motorcycle to direct me onto the right road. They invited me to a party that night, and I did want to go, but ended up too exhausted. I did leave a small donation before I left though, and I'm glad I did - if anyone wants info on them and wants to do the same, you know where and how to reach me. I don't think they get any goernment help, and I mean - they're helping people who were just unlucky to learn and do things that make them able to support themselves afflicted with the same bad luck.
After a long, hot ride, go to the village and went in - this part was hell, because nobody spoke French or English, and I was followed around by old grandmothers demanding money and trying to sell me corn on the cob for 2 dollars, getting quite annoyed, but then this guy who spoke French saw me and took me to the tourist office, which was on the other side of town. Here I met some drunk people who worked there, was extorted for money to leave my bicycle, and got a guide.
The village itself is actually very beautiful and interesting - the setting is great, and the architecture just has...such a strange feel. If you look closely at the walls of each house, there's a small section that one can actually break from the inside to escape in case of invaders. There's also fetishes and shrines everywhere, denoting rites of passage for certain family members, etc. I also bought a few souvenirs. Unfortunately, conversations with people outside of my guide(even those who spoke French) were quite useless, as most were drunk in an extended New Year's celebration. Oh well...
After that, made an arduous trip back, mostly uphill, cursing mysemf - the chain went haywire a second time, and had to find someone to fix it. Got back to Bobo, and just...chilled...Bobo is a very chilled out and relaxed town for a big city...except for "artists" who insist on following you around, asking you to come to their studios, and getting abusive when you refuse. Everything has it's good and bad...
Next morning, went to Banfora, about 90 minutes away...got accosted by a guide right when I got off, who took me to my guesthouse, and I negotiated a price with him to take me to the waterfalls and Sindou Peaks which were about 50 km...unfortunately, and I dislike this, I've become quite mean when negotiating with guides because of the behavior of some of them in East Africa, something I should not do...
Anyways, I settled in, and we left - the waterfalls are great - several tiers, cool water, and great contrast with the dry brush areas nearby(burkina is very very dry, yet the landscape is still beautiful in its bleakness, if that makes any sense...have seen a few bushfires). After the waterfalls, Ibrahim, the guide, taught me some drumming(a friend of his nearby was playing them). On the way back we had some palm wine, which here is less sweet than in Ghana.
After that, there was the super-long ride to the Sindou Peaks(after returning to Banfora to return my sandals for repair, since after 3 months, they have broken in half) - it took 2 and a half hours for 50 km, and was very painful on the back of the bike...Ibrahim also taught me a bit of motorcycle riding(the lesson ending when I managed to kind of crash into a sand embankment though!). On the ride there, I was screaming..."J'ai mal au derriere" every few minutes. Eventually we made a song about painful body parts...it was actually quite good. I think it could also be the palm wine speaking a bit there.
The Sindou Peaks are very very cool - the Lonely Planet is right when it describes it as other-worldly rock formations - very fun to climb, and the whole place is breathtaking at sunset. Kind of reminds me of the 'Stonehenge of Asia' because of its isolation and the pain in getting there(remember that John?) but about 5000 times better! It's just in the middle of nowhere, and just rises out, and has this isolated, adventurous(for lack of a better word) feel. Also watched the caretaker killing a snake that got into the shed with rocks. Quite brutal.
Got back, went to Ibrahim's, where he played some music on the Koro(it's an African stringed instrument) - there was something quite enchanting about the melody, and i'm giving taking a few lessons serious thought. The song was in Bambara, and I found it quite evocative - I'll translate it from French here later. Invited him over later for some arak(Middle Eastern Alcohol) before I passed out later that evening - I'm trying to practice my French, but it's difficult here, because Burkinabe French is slightly different from Biais French, which I learnt.
Next day got to the bus station, where this guy comes and tells me I should sell my return ticket and go with STMB, another bus, leaving in an hour straight to Ouaga(I was going to Bobo and then getting a bus to Ouaga). Ibrahim shows up to see me off; and we got to STMB. Turns out the bus is leaving in 3 hours. Have no choice, so buy the ticket. Ibrahim invited me for some palm wine again - I think it's one of the few times in my life I've had alcohol in the morning! Honest mum. Really.
Later went to his place, learnt the song he was playing - and then he did the nicest thing - he's been making a replica koro - he sat down and finished it, and then gave it to me, and refused to accept payment. He lives in a 1-room shack, has to find tourists to make money for day-to-day living, and still does things like this...I'm starting to realize more and more that even though so many africans have nothing, or close to nothing, they're still so warm and generous(except for a lot of bus conductors :D ).
Got back to the station at 11:30(bus leaving at 12), and was suddenly told, after loading my bag, that the bus was full. They refunded my ticket and unloaded my bag. I had bought a ticket, and then they sold more than the bus can take. Was close to feeling lionlike again, but I guess I'm getting more used to this stuff so can take it more now even though I somewhat seethe inside for a few minutes. Got to Sogebaf bus station, where I had to wait for an hour for a bus to Bobo, and then some more time for a bus to Ouaga(with the baggage loader taking 2 dollars to load my bag-sigh. I am getting more towards accepting this type of thing thankfully). Finally, calmer, was on the bus, and stopped about 10 times by police, who feel the need to check your papers and probably collect a bribe. Made friends with Guillaume, the uni student sitting next to me, who insisted on dropping me off at my guesthouse, and showed up this morning to drive me around on errands even though I kept on saying no! Burkinabes rock.
Ouaga is also quite a pleasant, relaxed, city - wish I could stay here longer.
Am going thru a dilemma right now, because I have 4 choices of what to do and I have no idea which one to pick - if any of my friends could advise me, I'd love it.
1) Go to Mopti(south of Mali) day after tomorrow tomorrow, get transport to Timbuktu, hang there for a few days, then come back to Mopti, trek Dogon country(which is supposed to be great) for a few days, and then back to Banfora to learn basics of how to play to koro and drums from Ibrahim for a few days, then Benin, Togo, Ghana.
2) Same as 1, except I would cut out the learniong koro and drums and go to a music festival 65 km from Timbuktu instead(3 days, 120 euros...a bit expensive, but possibly awesome - every year a lot of people fly here from Europe and the US just for this. I'd also have to pay for transport to the festival itself, and I don't think it would be too much, but it would cost).
3) Like 1, but cutting out the music lessons and music festival and instead, going to Agadez in Niger for a few days - gonna be a long trip though, and a bit expensive too. However, everyone who I've spoken to who's gone to Niger says that it's amazing, especially Agadez.
4) Just came today - day after tomorrow, going to Benin for the Voodoo Festival on the 10th, and then up to Mali thru Burkina for Dogon Country and Timbuktu, and then back down thru Burkina to Togo for a few days before I reenter Ghana and leave.
I like 1 and 4 the most, but all look good...I just read about the voodoo festival today so I'm more confused - advice anyone????