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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Asianrider, Sep 11, 2010.
Thank you very much on your reply
Yeah... this has been a long hiatus in the RR. Somehow, with the end of the trip looming, I've lost my enthusiasm for talking about it. Even more when I had returned, it's like I've put it behind me so as not to regret having to end it. But given all the effort I've put into it until now it would be too bad to let it rot like this. So I'm coming back to finish it up.
It's also heart-breaking to jump back to a country that has since turned for the worse. The Islamists and Touareg rebels have made the headlines recently and taken control of the northern part of the country. At the time I was there, in January, it was already a bad place to be so I've avoided it. Even though I was attracted by the idea of a music festival in Timbuktu I didn't like the fact that it would be accompanied by heavy security, convoy traveling and other artificial constraints. Of course the very fact of "making it" to Timbuktu was very tempting, just for the sake of it, as it's always been one of those mythical places in Africa, although only as a cul-de-sac and not a gateway to the Sahara. Now that the dark forces are tearing up its historical background to pieces, it may be too late to visit it. But I had such a great time in Mali that I'm happy I've been able to get there at all. It's probably still OK to go in the south of the country but it may collapse again pretty much overnight. Unlike Libya the country has no oil, so the Western countries haven't shown a great interest in helping them out and the Africans lack the organization and resources to affectively fight them out. In fact, the Libya war has probably made the situation worse. Anyone been there recently can comment on the situation ? Back to the present tense for the follow-up:
For us - Cécile had joined me in Ouaga - the plan was for a trek in famous Dogon country. We had pre-booked our tour with an official guide, so we just headed for our meeting point in the heart of Dogon country, Sangha. Arriving in the town, I had to dodge people literally throwing themselves into my front wheel to offer me a hotel room. The place is plastered with signs for hotels and trekking agencies. A couple years ago they were all busy catering for the crowd of tourists coming here, thanks mainly to a weekly jetliner that landed trekkers in nearby Mopti. But the area featured also predominantly in the programs of the Burkina Faso and Mali tour packages. Nowadays they've almost all closed, except for the only upmarket hotel with western-spec'd rooms and a handful of reputable addresses. One of them is "La femme Dogon", which also hosts a charity association. We had just found a place to sleep on the rooftop when our guide shows up to meet us. The word had quickly spread around town that a big bike with two Whites has arrived and the guy did the math.
The next morning we leave early for 3 days / 2 nights in Dogon country. We aren't carrying much as we would sleep in villages where they have beds and food. The only thing that we need to bring with us is a bag of Kola nuts, which are used as a gift to the locals when we arrive in a village or meet somebody, as a mark of respect. They're much appreciated by Dogon people and are pretty much expected from a visitor. Nothing else is expected from us, and there is surprisingly very little hassle in the villages that we cross, even from the kids, which is very much appreciated; apparently they got the message through that hassling the tourists is killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Smart.
On the other hand, there's a feeling that some of the scenes that we've observed were staged just for the tourists. Our guide is telling us stories that are so close to those written by the European ethnologists that we start to wonder if those tales were told by their grand-father, or of they read them in the same books.. but we quickly brush away those details and enjoy fully the great vistas and the relaxed like of the villagers, aware that we wouldn't have appreciated it half as much with large groups of noisy trekkers around. We hardly met a dozen other tourists in the tour, and that was great for us, but obviously an economic disaster for those who were living off the tourist industry. The only other source of cash for the Dogon is the growing of onions. There are onion fields everywhere, flashy green against the brown background.
After 3 days we're happy to get back, anymore and it would have been a bit tiresome. We spend a last night in the hotel and the next morning we load the bike and head back to the Niger.
Back on 2 wheels, we're headed to Djenné, a city famous for its mosque. It sits across the Bani river, but there is no bridge. The road ends on the bank of the river. Arriving there we're immediately greeted by on of the guys hanging out there. He can show us around in Djenné, he knows good hotels, etc.. the usual show. We start the usual chat and make clear we know where we're going. He wants to get us a canoe to carry the bike across, instead we ask for the regular ferry. It's due in an hour or so. Or maybe more, or perhaps less ? It's pretty hot, so we sit down and keep chatting with the guys. They're disappointed of course not making business with us, but the good thing about the Africans, they quickly forget and just enjoy the chat.
The ferry finally arrives, the price is correct and the boarding easy enough through 20 cm of water. The "guide" still follows us and insists on visiting the "best hotel". Ok, let's not be an ass. The place is a bit far from the city, and pretty much empty, except for the owner who tries to water a few trees. It's not quite finished, and the price isn't even good. We carry on to the city proper. It's quite small, but nice enough with little traffic. We visit a few places and finally settle for a nice hotel where they let us camp in the courtyard, but keep a room open to use the shower. It seems mostly empty.
The big attraction is the grand mosque, sitting right in the middle of the main square, next to the noisy market. It's a very impressive sudanese-style building made of banco, which is basically mud. Which means that it's facade needs to be redone every year. The mosque isn't particularly old in itself, having been built at the beginning of the 20th century. It's now unfortunately forbidden to non-muslim, but as we were walking around it, in a back alley a dodgy-looking guy steps onto us and explains that he knows the son of the mosque's Imam, and that with some cash he can let us inside the mosque. What the hell? either he would walk out with our money or we would eventually run into problems and need to pay more. We brush him away and return to the hotel to find a beer.
A beer, right.. as it turns out, the whole city is very religious and alcohol is very hard to come by - unlike other parts of Mali. We finally find a (discreet) place where they stock up on beers, happy to sell them to us for an extortionate price, allegedly because truck drivers must be payed extra to bring booze in the sacred city.. yeah, right, but the sundowner no the river is great.
The next morning, instead of taking the ferry back toward the main road, we take a pretty nice track that heads towards Segou, crossing some nice villages on the way.
Today we want to camp, fortunately there is no lack of space for doing so. We just need to be a bit away from the villages to avoid the unwanted attention from the noisy kids. We find the perfect place, next to a big baobab at a distance from the the main piste.
Actually is West Africa you're never very far from the next village, but the locals leave us a lone ad they come back from the fields.
The night under the stars is fantastic, but in the morning as the sun rises and we take our breakfast, we find out that the big empty baobab is home to a wild beehive. They were already asleep when we set camp last night, but now they're up and so thirsty that they gather by the dozens over my water bag. We scramble to pack and leave quickly for Segou.
Ségou is a major city along the river, that used to be on the tourist map. It shows by the number of touts we have to deal with. Apparently the thing to do is take a pinasse, the local boat, for a cruise on the Niger and visit a fisherman's village. We instead intend to take the bike across the river the next day, and ride to a village of pottery makers. Cécile is (was) a pottery maker and is very interested to the local way of doing it. The information we get from the local is very contradictory, so we just walk to the beach and find a proper ferry. For a modest fee they bring us to the other side. Apparently the locals aren't paying for the ferry, each village is paying a fixes price to the owner every month and they (and their mopeds) ride for free. Which means it's difficult to get a price for the bike, only the cars pay for it.
On the other side we chat with some fishermen and they show us the track leading the the village we intend to get to. On the way back to Ségou we take a canoe as the ferry isn't running anymore. I spot how much the locals are paying and casually give the owner the same amount, without asking for the price. Still he tries to ask me for more money, but I just laugh - and so doe the other passengers, amused by the defeated scam.
The next morning we come back to the beach with the bike fully loaded, for what what will become a small but typical African scam, so I will explain it. The ferry is docked, and we inquire around for the schedule and price. A guy quotes us the price to charter it and leave immediately, which is way too much. Instead we can also wait and pay a reasonable price when it's scheduled to leave anyway. So of course we wait, sipping some tea and watching the guys play baby-foot (foosball). Then suddenly after a couple hours of wait the ferry starts its engine, so we hurry our stuff and board the ferry just before it leaves. That was the mistake. When aboard, I go to the helmsman to get a ticket, but he doesn't know for sure. He refers me to the owner who proceeds to write me a receipt.. for the whole charter price! of course... after more than 1 year in Africa how can I still fall in the trap ? the guy I had discussed the price with wasn't the owner! Obviously I can't have chartered the boat as it was about to leave without us. But now that the bike in onboard, the negotiation is futile, I'm a sitting duck. I refuse to pay and leave the bike parked in the middle of the deck to prevent the cars it's coming to fetch from boarding, to signify that I know exactly what he's up to and won't give up so easily. Things are heating up but we keep our calm, and try to explain to the other passengers that there's no way we will pay the same as a car. Finally the guy fetches the head of the village, an old guy who doesn't understand why I won't pay for the ride.. (he has no clue what the correct price is for a bike, nobody pays in the village). All of this is pointless of course. I don't want to pass as the arrogant toubab and I decide to give the money to the head of the village, ignoring the asshole and his receipt. At the end of the day this is just a minor annoyance, but one that drives me crazy - especially since it's my fault. Unfortunately it has happened only very rarely to me. No hard feelings, TIA.
Glad to see a new update! Thank you!
This post isn't about riding. It's one thing to ride your bike around the world, but really but makes a motorbike travel special is the possibility to stop in some remote spot and enjoy the life of the locals, outside of the main tourist drags.
Cécile used to make a living selling (and making) pottery, and she's much interested in seeing the local women in action. There's a village right across the Niger from Ségou, famed from its pottery makers so we decide to pay them a visit, and hopefully learning something from them. Only a few km from the ferry exit we arrive at the village and park the bike in the nearest house. We ask the owner for a pottery maker, which he isn't, but guides us to the next house. There we meet several women finishing up a few pots, and the head of family, Gui Doillon, who is a bit surprised to see us coming from nowhere but welcomes us with a nice smile. The women don't speak much French, but he does, and we proceed to sit down and explain our coming. He's a great guy, and he immediately invites us to stay at his place, freeing a room for this - no way he would let us sleep in our tent, as usual in Africa.
In this village, almost all women are making pottery - and only women. The men actually don't do much, as there's no employment to be found, and little in term of agriculture. The fishing is exclusive to another ethnic group, so out of question. Most men then leave for a big city to find a job. Our host has just returned from Bamako at the end of his contract.
Today is a special day because that's when the women are cooking the pots to be sold the next morning at Ségou's market. There are several technique for cooking earthenware, either in ovens or in open fires. Cécile explains to me that in Europe they use electrical or gas ovens with a very finely controlled temperature curve, slowly cooking the argil over several hours to avoid cracking them. Not so here, the fires are built by interleaving branches and pots in a big stack, and putting it on fire. After only 1/2h or so, the pots are taken out and soaked in a special mixture of leaves to leave a special finish. So much for the developed world rocket science!
These fires are pretty spectacular, and they attract some tourists from Segou - though not so many nowadays of course. The villagers put in place a very intelligent system where every visitor pays a small fee to the village, in return there's absolutely no hassle or soliciting. As far as we're concerned, in addition to this we also agree with Gui on some cash exchange for the privilege of staying with them and some pottery courses the next day.
Although most of the village's income is based on a single activity, it's not dependent on tourism and therefore still sustainable. Their pots are exported as far as Bamako after they're sold at the local market. In addition, they have no extra costs: the earth is dug up from a nearby field and the wood is cut in the surroundings.
The next day many women are at the market, and it's a rest day for most others. It goes without saying that in addition to making pots, the women also need to take care of the kids, cook, etc.. Meanwhile, the men.. uh.. well they're pretty busy drinking tea and chatting!
There are several women in the house, all of them expert at pottery of course. Gui is married and has one wife, but after his brother died he now has to take care of the widow, and her kids, as the custom goes - so it's quite a lot of people to feed. These women will be Cécile's teachers for the day.
The process begins with the trip to the clay mine, a shallow pit in a field nearby. Then back at the village, the clay is mixed with broken pieces of already cooked pots, and mixed with the feet on a goat skin.
They start by making a few small pots, which are easier to tackle at first. In France the pots are usually made on a wheel, which Cécile is very good at. Here however they use no tools, except for a used-up flip-flop. They make all the pots by stacking coils of clays, which is much more difficult.
Their simple but perfected technique allows them to build impressively tall pots, which would be quite impossible on a wheel. The dialogue is quite limited as the women don't speak French (they probably haven't been to school), but it's really all about showing the hand movement and exercising. Cécile has a blast, and the women too as they often giggle looking at how the white woman struggles with the most basic (for them) tasks. The magic of these encounters is that at the end of the day, somehow the information gets through pretty easily.
This has been a very enjoyable stay, and we will remember the kindness of the Malians for a long time. We reluctantly leave our new friends the next day. We were thinking about organizing trips for French pottery makers to go and visit them, bringing them some income at the same time, but the current situation in Mali makes it all but impossible. Fortunately, unlike the Dogon guides and hotel owners, they don't depend on the tourism for their living and hopefully this will remain so, but an occasional income would allow them to buy flour and some building material to fix their house.
On departing, Gui insists on showing us to another ferry, and borrows a bike to lead us on a small path to an empty beach with just a few fishermen fixing their nets. No way you can tell it's the end of a ferry if you didn't know it. The boat is on the other side of the river, you need to call the owner on his cell phone to come and pick you up. This time it's pretty clear we have to pay the full charter price, but that's OK for me as long as I know it beforehand. We say good-bye and exchange our phone numbers so that we can meet later in Bamako, as Gui also needs to return there.
The crossing is eventless and off we are on the main road on the other side of the Niger, headed for Bamako, the busy capital.
I stayed at Le Pavillon Vert in 1969 when I roamed around Africa. I was 20.
Enjoyed catching up on your travels... thanks for the detailed report and fabulous pics
Really enjoyed the report, very detailed with a tremendous amount of tips for other riders.
I didn't see (perhaps I missed it) anything about the boat ride from Yemen to Djibouti, the trip through Djibouti or entering into Ethopia. Can you provide some information when you have an opportunity? Very interested as I may be working in Djibouti for awhile and finding riders that have been in that area are few and far between.
ur in n virginia? oh - i thought u were the actor / comedian bobby!
Yes, in Virginia just outside Washington DC, but may be working in Djibouti soon.
True, the posting about Yemen was quite succinct about this. In a nutshell, there isn't any official ferry - or for that matter not even a regular passenger boat service. I just showed up at the port, asked around and waited until there was a boat leaving for Djibouti that would get me across. For me that meant waiting more than a week in the small town, showing up at the harbour every morning to get the latest news about what/when a boat was leaving. Fortunately for me I met a Djiboutien who knew French, who could translate for me, obviously everything happens in Arabic. And then clearing the customs without paying a backs hiss.. Obviously the other way around is possible, but since Djibouti harbour is much larger it may involve more procedures..?
But really the main issue is getting a Yemen visa, it is next to impossible as an individual - and getting more difficult I guess with the situation there getting worse.
I didn't stay in Djibouti City at all since it is so expensive. I stayed in a village in the hills, where I found a place to crash with some kids watching tv all day long. I stopped at lake Assal for the nice vista and then carried on to Ehiopia, the roads are pretty straightforward and the border crossing easy enough - none of the nonsense that people get (got?) crossing from Sudan.
Enjoy Djibouti, people there are really nice.
The road to Bamako is uneventful, and the entry into Bamako is very much African: an organized chaos. Not the worst I've seen but definitely not enjoyable, and totally unlike Ouagadougou. We look for the "Sleeping Camel" backpacker's, another of those overlander's hotspot. This one is managed by an english speaking dude, so that makes it also that much more looked after by French-challenged travellers. Indeed, when we get past the gate we find out the lawn has been entirely taken over by an overlanding truck, one of those big 6x6 carrying anywhere from 12 to 20 people across Africa. The lawn is not very big so they've set up tents just everywhere and the whole place feels very cramped.
Before we even manage to get to the manager, though, a guy comes up to talk to me. He's called Charlie, I've never met him but he remembers my post about the DRC crossing. So what happens when bikers meet each other? beers get opened and stories get swapped. He's riding with 2 other dudes, Tony & Tony, just arriving from Morocco and Mauritania. They're wondering how to get down to South Africa from here. Of course they're aware of the famous Angola visa problem, so they're keen on knowing how's the DRC detour. I tell them it's quite doable really if you do it during the dry season and if you're 100% committed. And then suddenly we hear there's a major strike in Nigeria because they've hiked the price of petrol, and the borders are closed. It will probably only last until the government backs down, but still that adds to their worries
As I will learn later, some of them will chose to ship their bike from Ghana to Windhoek, and avoid all these problematic countries altogether (Nigeria - Congo - Angola). Tony will end up doing the DRC crossing, but in a convoy with other cars. The last news from Charlie, as I read on facebook back here in Europe, is that on his way back he was put in jail in Ethiopia for having run down a pedestrian (nothing fatal fortunately). I don't know the details but it's something that I or anybody could face, riding in those countries, so I can totally relate. Eventually he's been freed and is back home, but it puts some of our small problems we whine about in perspective..
The reason the backpacker's is so busy is because there are a lot of people preparing to go to Timbuktu for the music festival. We feel it's more and more like the wrong thing to do, and we don't regret not joining them. Meanwhile we ride across the main street and try a couple other addresses. In the first one we bump into.. a couple Ural sidecars! You see a lot of them in Russia and ex-USSR countries, but it's a rare beast here in Africa. I spend a little time talking to the drivers (riders ?), Jean-Louis and Hubert. It's quite a different setup they have with the amount of random stuff they carry, it must weight a ton, and quite difficult to get through sand and mud - even through the traffic jams of the cities! What's the point, then, I still can't figure out, but for sure they will not get unnoticed. The hotel is nice but too expensive, we head instead for the place next door which is much simpler but just OK for us.
The reason we come to Bamako is for me to get the visas for the next countries. From Bamako it's a short hop to Mauri and Morocco and on to Europe, but for me it's too early and I need a visa for Guinea, and one for Sénégal as well, so that I can avoid the next capitals until Dakar. The Guinea embassy is across town, but the consulate office is in a small house outside the high walls of the embassy compound. The atmosphere is very relaxed, and I get my visa on the spot without any difficulty. The Sénégal embassy is next to the hotel, they need 2 days to process a visa but I talk them into doing it for the next day. So the next day I come back, only to find the embassy closed down for some holiday..! Damn it, they could have told me! I'm about to retreat when the security guard comes to me and asks if I have come to pick up a passport. I say yes, so he reaches into his jacket and hand me my passport.. with the visa stamped in! Ok, it's nice of them to have kept their word and found a way to return my passport on time, but I feel a little uneasy about knowing that my passport was given to some low-paid security guy who happened to be on duty at that time! oh well, all good, TIA.
We go back to the Sleeping Camel to pick up the bikers. We get on 2 taxis and head for the famous Bamako music scene. We had enquired to the locals about the nice place to go to, but not all Bamakoans agree on that and the taxi drivers also seem to have a different idea about where to bring us. But eventually we make it to a long drag just outside of town with many bars. We pick one which promises live music later. In the mean time we order some - overpriced and really terrible - food and beers. When the band starts playing we quickly find out it's not the top tier. It should have been obvious when we see the locals who are sitting there. Mostly rich businessmen who come to show off with hot-looking girls. Actually we've had a much better gig in Segou with a small local band in a no-name bar.
We've had enough of Bamako. With visas in hand, we say farewell to the bikers, still busy sorting out carnet de passage and discussing shipping options, and prepare to end our loop toward Burkina Faso.
Heck, the last post was boring, no good pictures.. it's there only for completeness, sometimes there aren't so many excitinf things to talk about.
We had no clear goal when heading south other than a waterfall that would be cool to see, and dip into. But as usual in a trip like this, the best encounters happen by chance. That's the big difference between traveling for yourself and improvising as it goes, and joining a big group with well organized camps every night.
Heading out of Bamako the road is rather good and a bit boring. The sun is going low, and our butts are sore, a sure sign that we need to look for a suitable spot to set up our camp. This part of Mali is pretty fertile and more densely inhabited, so we struggle a bit to find an empty, flat space that would make a good relaxing spot. We leave the main road and go through villages and small tracks, but we always end up in grown up bushes or cultivated fields. Finally we reach a series of fields that seem to have been recently ploughed but not planted, and a suitable flat spot between the furrows. Actually it looks more like a series of small mounds, that seem not to have been made by a plough. Out there is a big cloud of dust, the locals seem to be working in the fields so we can go and ask if we can stay.
Coming closer we find out what they're doing. A group of people digs up a field with what looks like the dried-out remains of plants. And another one is shoveling the earth into a sieve and collects the small pebbles that are left - actually, they're small nuts, and we finally understand that these are grown on the roots of the plant and a very strenuous process is necessary to bring them out. We greet them and ask what it is. None of them speak French, but they tell us it's called "pois sucrés", which we haven't heard of, but apparently it can be eaten after being soaked in water. After some research we would find out many days later that they're called "tigernuts" in English, and that the Spaniards in Valencia make a delicious drink out of it called "horchata".
The whole (extended) family has moved to the fields, so that the women can watch for the smaller kids while they're working. The earth is very dry and when they're throwing it into the sieve it brings up a cloud of dust, which we had see from far away. After a day of such work, the whole family is coated with this fine dust, and without water to wash it off their skin isn't black anymore but beige.
We spend some time taking photos and ask permission to sleep here, which they happily agree to. But they wouldn't let us go without a bag of nuts to try out. In exchange we give them a few fresh tomatoes we had bought on the way here, which makes everybody happy. (The nuts are actually OK to eat as a snack after being soaked, and they indeed are sweet, "sucrés").
We find the waterfall the next day, reached after a short walk through the bush. It's always a bit worrying to leave the bike and our bags out of view, but when we're really out in the bush away from the towns we often have a good feeling about it. It's really a hunch, because there's nothing you can do about it, but so far it's worked for me. The waterfall is very nice, the setting is splendid and it's all to ours. The water is pretty cold though, so I don't spend too much time into it, just enough to wash. Cécile is less sissy.
Back on the road we head for the Burkina border, which is crossed in no time and without any hassle by the border guards (we had sourced a double-entry visa).
keep it up!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Many years I didn't hear the word Horchata, aweful for me but a delight for my mother (spanish of course)
I've tried it back in France, and I've found it quite good actually (les goûts et les couleurs, hein.. )
You ask, I deliver
Officially we're now in Burkina Faso, a different country, but it doesn't make sense for the locals: we're still in Sénoufo country, an ethnical group (and former kingdom) that covers northern Ivory Coast as well. This area has a very rich cultural background.
This is a really nice area of West Africa, lots of things to see, nice people, different culture. And fantastic laterite roads to ride on!
"Laterite" is the widely used name here for this kind of red-earth, very hard and dusty in the dry season but a bit slippery in the wet.
The road to Banfora, the local hub, gets through the peaks of Sindou, a very interesting geological formation. We take a side road to take a few pictures but a local quickly catches up on us on a moped. He's on the lookout because you can't explore it without a guide and paying fees to the community. It may seem like another racket but actually the rock formation has been used for ages by the locals not only to hear the goats, but also for mystical/religious purposes, and they insist that no stranger gets there without supervision.
Fair enough, the guides can be found 1 km down the main road, dozing under a sign that invites to stop here. We park the bike and pay our guide for a short but very nice 1-hour walk.
Next on our tourist trail we stop at lake Tengrela where you can see hippos. Nice little hotel, check, friendly people, check, cold beer, check. But to see the hippos you need to hire a guide with a canoe, pay a tax to the local community, etc.. needless to say, it takes some hard haggling to get the right price.
At the end of the freaking cold morning canoe ride, we've only seen the tip of a nostril in the distance.. Tough luck. We get to see nice flowers, although I'm not a big fan of flower photographing.
The local market is more interesting, as usual in Africa, very lively.
I need to buy a new pair of flip-flops. Chinese of course (like everything that's not food in the market), but cheap as they are, I still wear them 6 months later and they're great.
Since we're here and it's a nice place, we enquire about the nearby villages. They tell us something about pottery and basket making in holes (???). Sounds good to me. We take the bike and look for the village, through a maze of little tracks through the fields. The GPS doesn't help finding a small village that's in no map of course, but it will be very useful to find the way back! We stop at the local joint, which looks like all other huts except for the tell-tale sign: a hanging radio playing loud music. There's nothing to order so it's not a commercial thing, more like a place to hang out, drink tea and chat (sorry, no beer). The point for us is to meet somebody who can show us around. Luckily, there's a young guy who's just come back from the capital where's he's studying at the university. He speaks good French (unlike most people here) and is more than willing to introduce us to his family, who are indeed pottery makers.
We spend some time looking at their work, and Cécile tries to help a bit, much to their amusement of course. But the guy also wants us to visit the local specialty, the mysterious holes. We follow him a short distance outside the village. There's nothing obvious to see, except that some branches have been thrown to the ground. It helps people - and animals I guess - avoid the hole that leads to the underground workshop. That's what it's all about: to make a carpet by weaving slices of palms, you need to keep them humid. If it's dry, it doesn't work. Remember, it's the dry season, it's hot, and everything here is completely dry. So they dig out a whole chamber - a cave - underground with a small opening on top. The temperature down there is much cooler, and more importantly it's always humid. They make the place just big enough to host 2-3 craftswomen comfortably, and to store the palms. Amazing work, this is all hewn by hand from very hard earth with basic tools.
We follow the woman inside by climbing down the ladder and she starts to work on the palms so that we get an idea. It must be one of the most pleasant workplace in Burkina, I guess, with A/C locked at 25 degrees year around!
The next morning we leave for Bobo-Dioulasso, the second city of Burkina Faso. We don't feel like staying in a city, though, so we continue on, but not before I find a bakery and buy some bread and croissants!
Midway between Bobo and Ouaga is a park where elephants can be seen, we've been told, that would be a nice place to stay overnight. The track to get there is hard to find, there are no sign so we have to ask repeatedly to various people when the track forks. Are they really expecting visitors ? I guess most tourists come here with a guide, they don't really count on independent tourism. Eventually we reach a barrier with a few guys who're collecting fees for the park. Even though we're not sure we can stay in the park, we have to pay to go on. A few km further we reach a lodge near a river. Or what used to be a lodge since it seems abandoned. Well, not quite, after a while we see somebody coming toward us. He explains that the camp is being rebuilt after the river flooded and destroyed everything. They're not quite finished but there's a room ready for us.. yes it's new but there's no running water, no bed, and the price they ask for it is the same as if it was a completely functional lodge. No way. We start the discussions, and it takes some time but finally he agrees to cut the price way down where it's more acceptable (although he insists the package tours have been paying the full price. Whatever.)
The meal he offers is also exorbitant so we'll cook our own food. At sunset the few guys "working" on the place leave and the night shift comes, a nice guy who let us use the kitchen. He tells us he's seen an elephant on his way here, not far away. We leave and look for it, to no avail. The night will be calm, and the elephants will be nowhere to be seen. Oh well, I guess we're not too lucky with wild animals, too bad.
Sadly, time has come for Cécile to fly back to France. Ouagadougou's airport is pretty convenient because it's small and tucked right inside the city. It looks more like a train station than an airport. There must be at most a dozen flights a day from or to there, and everything is pretty relaxed - one hall, one gate, all very straightforward, if very slow as well. TIA, right ?
TIA mate... TIA....
Nice to see frequent updates. Please keep them regular, it gives me something to read when eating lunch:)
First off, here's a map of West Africa, showing the little detour I take:
I already have visas for Guinea and Senegal, I just need one for Côte d'Ivoire (or is it "Ivory Coast" in English ? whatever, I'll use the French name). This guy is a PITA to get, they've introduced a new biometric visa which needs a complicated process in a designated visa center; that seems a bit over-the-top for a country that hasn't been very attractive these times. Maybe they're trying to cut down on Burkinabe people moving in, a very political issue: the elected president had been accused of being not a true Ivorian, which eventually led to a civil war and the country split in two. More annoying it costs more than 100, placing it among the most expensive in Africa. There's a way around though, it's the "Visa d'Entente", a multi-country visa that's much cheaper, but only available here in Ouaga. And it's very easy to get, so after a couple days I'm all set for the trip to Dakar.
My bike also deserves a once-over for the rest of the trip: in the rubber department, I've put on a new rear tyre before leaving Ouaga with Cécile but I'm afraid it won't last until Europe (it's a TKC 80, it's good but doesn't last long). I expect to be riding on tarmac or good tracks across Côte d'Ivoire so I put back the old tyre that I'd saved, which is not completely worn. In the front, I've managed to buy here a second-hand but still good road-oriented tyre (yeah, 21'', it's a bit lucky though) and I'll save the new front one that Cécile has brought me for later. I try to be smart but I really don't know what kind of road are ahead of me; as you will see later I'll find myself in an uncomfortable situation with useless knobby tires strapped to the back:
I've just changed the chain kit, so that'll bring me home easy. All geared up, I'm excited to leave for this new leg of the trip. I take again the road to Bobo-Dioulasso, this time not stopping on the way. It's only 350km, on tarmac, but a bit boring. In BF there are toll booth on most tarmac roads, charging 200 CFA per segment (I think). I'm pretty sure the bikes don't pay the tool, so I always pass them without slowing down, as there are no gates, and nobody seems to care. On one occasion though, the police is there blocking the roads, stopping everybody right after a booth. I'm not able to show a ticket, so they give me a fine. It's not very costly, maybe 3x or 4x the normal ticket price, but still I couldn't help but make my point to them that they never stop any local bikes, only me because I was sticking out like a sore thumb on my big bike and white complexion. This is probably true but equally pointless of course, as they couldn't care less. Before it gets too heated I pay the fine and get off, with a receipt
Digression: It's immediately clear when you arrive in the country that the main means of transportation here is the scooter or moped.
Yamaha had opened an assembly plant in Bobo and you can still see thousands of old battered orange scooters all around (seen here behind the Peugeot moped).
Nowadays though, the imported Chinese bikes are cheaper than the Japanese and the assembly plant has been closed.
One problem though with the small, unreliable scooters, it's not really convenient for long distances.
Undeterred, they take the long-distance bus and put their bike on the roof. This way you have a vehicle for the last few km from the city to your destination! Nice. That's also the reason they use strong Mercedes Varios rather than the cheaper Toyota Hiace used in other countries. As for the push bikes..
In Bobo I end up in the hotel of a French expat where I can camp in the yard. For a few months I've noticed my tent is slowly but steadily wearing off, and the zippers are in a pretty bad shape; it's every day a little more difficult to close them. A zipper is one of those things that wear off from normal use, like a motorcycle chain, no surprise here. These are pretty high quality so they served me well, but now I could use a new set. I head for the market with my tent and visit the tailors for somebody who could source me an unusually-long and high quality zipper to replace. No such luck, they only manage to find some crappy chinese zipper that wouldn't last very long. I pass.
The guys are nice (one of them wearing my home team's jersey so I feel connected..) and they try to fix the slider as best as they can, but I'll need a better solution as soon as I can.
The main trading road between Burkina and Côte d'Ivoire gets me through Banfora (again) and on to the border, all on pretty good tarmac. This doesn't help drivers from crashing and dumping their ever-precious cargo on the shoulder. I imagine it must have been pretty difficult for the crew to fend off the Brakina connoisseur.. As for me, I come too late.
The paperwork at the Burkina border post is quickly expedited, then there's a few kms until the first Ivorian police checkpoint. The cop skims through my passport, hands it back to me: "you have no visa ?" I explain to him I have the Visa d'Entente, which he reluctantly agrees to consider as valid and waves me off without much ado. The proper border post is further down the road. My visa passes muster at the immigration and I'm stamped in for 1 month. I was about to leave without much consideration from the customs, as I used to do for the last few countries, when a guy yells at me and scolds me for skipping his office. I pretend I was actually looking for it and I follow him inside the house. They were probably looking forward to selling me a passe-avant, but I take out my yellow Carnet de passage and show it to the slightly annoyed clerk. He obviously has no idea what to do, and asks me to wait for the boss who's out having lunch. As usual a small crows is hanging out here and we have a little chat. There are no money changer here, obviously, since both countries use the CFA, who are always a pin to get rid off. I get it from them that they don't see much tourist traffic here, and even the trade hasn't picked up. The Burkinabé have got used to using the Benin ports for shipping, and the traffic to Abidjan port is picking up very slowly.
The head of customs comes back from his lunch, eager to show to his subordinate why he's the boss. Actually, he's got no more clue what to do with the carnet, so I help him out filling it out and stamping it. He asks me if that's it and I say that yes, that's it. Sometimes in Africa it's also much simpler..