Monday, 18 January 2016

Burkina Faso

The alarm went off at 5am, but as we had planned an awesome trip, there was none of that "Agh... 5minutes longer" feeling you'd have when the alarm would go on Monday morning ready for a new week at work. This was a "YAY... HIPPO'S" feeling! We got up, made some jam sandwiches for brekkie and met our guide at the campsite entrance. It was still dark so we carefully walked the 5minutes to the river. He got the pirogue ready and helped us get on without getting our shoes wet.

He slowly pushed us off the bank and waded our way through the weeds until we got to the open water. We slowly moved up the river as he used his oar to push us along. It was incredibly peaceful as we watched the sun rise above the river making all the lilies come to life as they started to flower around us. We were all saying that if we don't see hippos this was so worth it anyways. The beauty was unreal! Birds flew around us enjoying a bit of fishing. Fishermen started decending onto the river, collecting their nets in hope to see a catch. And all while the sun was creating beautiful colours over the water.
We went up the river and he said we would start making our way back on the other side and he would do his best to find the hippos. At this point we were so content by our experience so far, we would be happy just to see the sunrise above the water. So we continued up the river so peacefully with not a breath of wind, just the sound of the birds singing. Just then we heard a massive, loud cry from a hippo that was just metres away from us. We were ecstatic! There were two enjoying a morning swim, bobbing their heads to the surface to get some air. We sat there for about 20min watching them and our surroundings. Eventually the guide asked if we could make our way back. So we said goodbye to the hippos and returned to the other side of the river. 
The guide started picking out purple flowers out of the river until he thought he had enough. We sat their in silence not sure what he was up to. He started breaking the stems and creating patterns with them, until eventually he put the flower necklace he had made around my neck and Cats. Then he put the flower crown on our heads as well. This was soooo cute and topped off a very beautiful morning out! A real treat!

Back at camp we put down the tents, said goodbye and thank you to Solo (the campsite owner) and made our way to Bobo-Diabollasi, the second largest city in Burkina. After a long day of uninspiring driving (on tar the whole way), we arrived at La Pacha Campement which was a lovely place with a beautiful tree covered courtyard in a fantastic location, close to the centre. As we arrived early we decided to take a stroll to the grande marche (big market) to see what that was all about as in the lonely planet guide it had said it was a must. 
We strolled in and within seconds we had men shouting for us to follow them to their stalls. One man had latched onto me and started running to his stall making sure I was keeping up by snapping his fingers at me to FLOLLOW... FOLLOW! This was frustrating, but highly amusing and becoming hilarious! But I wasn't warming to having him snap his fingers in my face so making sure Cat was with me, I darted off down an alley way in hope to lose him. Just as I thought I was successful, he reappeared still not grasping that the finger snapping was getting him nowhere. 
Cat found a stall that had ready made skirts made of beautiful colourful fabric. She did some crazy bargaining even with her limited French. She did great! And left with a beautiful yellow, blue and white patterned designed skirt after the men showed her how to wear it. 
Unfortunately they didn't have material I liked, so the search continued for me. Eventually we found a stall that had a few designs, I still wasn't settled on a design I liked as they were all lacking pink; but everyone was getting incredibly overwhelmed with all the sellers bombarding us. So I eventually chose one after the men kept flinging one after another around my waist. 

After the craziness we experienced inside, we thought we had earned the right for a beer after our hard work in the musty, dark alleyways with people shouting and chasing us for our business. So we sat down and ordered a very cheap couple of rounds, drinking Brakinas (Burkina Faso lager) for 600CFA each (£0.65). Another great ending to a very awesome day.

The next morning we ventured into town again in search of wifi. Bobo offered next to no options besides a small Internet cafe which Cat and I decided would have to do the job. We needed to check on our bank accounts and touch base with the family, especially because it was Cat's moms birthday coming up and wanted to make sure we sent our Happy Birthday messages while we had a connection. Well this was to be another true African experience. The computers were a frustration on their own with the keyboards being out of sink with what you were typing. You pressed a full stop (.) And a colon (:) appeared... You pressed the at sign (@) and a smaller than sign appeared (<). This proved so frustrating especially when trying to type in passwords, when every icon you entered shows up as a ******. Well it's safe to say that we spent the whole hour just trying to log in and then with the connection being awful nothing loaded, so we asked the cafe owner if we could use the wifi instead and would use our own devices. We let the family know we were all ok, but we soon saw that there was an avalanche a few days ago near the resort where Cats dad was skiing. As it was taking ages to load we couldn't see the full extent of the disaster, and Cat could see there were messages from her family but they wouldn't load. This was awful and Cat was becoming increasingly worried about her Dad and family. My heart poured out to her as we were stuck there helpless. Luckily she managed to chat to her brother that confirmed everything was ok and her dad was safe and sound. 
Still a scary thought to know that if anything did happen at home, we are miles away with very little access to to our family. We are getting used to not watching the news everyday, or Facebook or other media sights; but it's times like this when those things have there place.

After running out of the time we had bought in the Internet cafe we met the boys for a drink at the pub. We obviously made an impression as the barman brought us drinks without us needing to place an order. Now that is service! After our drink we headed off to find some street food for our lunch. We decided on one which turned out to be rank! A green fish stew with a gross wheat jelly goo called Tô, and rice with another brown stew. This apparently is a traditional meal in Burkina Faso. It was horrendous and Cat and I tried our best but in the end surrendered our plastic plates to the boys. Surprisingly enough Rob loved it. He's generally the one that has the biggest food dislikes out of the 4 of us, but Sod's law, he liked this while we hated it. 
So we thought the best way to solve this awful taste we now had in our mouths was with a cold beer before heading back to camp ready for our wood-fired pizzas that night. While wondering back to camp we came across a cute little shop run by a very sweet woman selling more fabric. We liked her and her fabric so much that Cat and myself ended up buying 2 different ones each for £8.60 for 3metres worth. 
Back at camp, we ordered our pizzas with the poor ladies laughing at how many we ordered. The boys scoffed down 2 whole pizzas each, Cat and I had one each, and we shared a cheesy garlic pizza between us (something they had never heard of before, but were happy to make for us)... some would think these boys were deprived of food, but low and behold they were just being big piggies! 

We woke up the next day and rolled out of bed to find a SIM card which would give us access to the Internet. The lovely lady at the campsite helped us out, as she road off on her scooter to get us airtime and we were soon connected. Then our lovely travel parents drove round into the campsite. We certainly weren't expecting to see Gil and Marlane again, but it was a lovely surprise. We swapped stories of our travels from Mali to Bobo and our border crossing experiences. 
That night we enjoyed our first salad as Bobo had lusciously green lettuce and bright coloured fruit and veg. It was just what the doctor ordered after our pig out session of pizzas the night before. Gil and Marlane joined us after dinner offering us a splash of Guinness. Just then the owner came to us to tell us about the attacks that were happening in the capital, Ouagadougou, where we were planning to go to organise visas for Togo and Benin. So we needed a new plan. But first we were headed to the Nazinga game reserve so we had some time to re-evaluate our routes.

We woke up early the next morning as we had a long drive ahead of us. Marlane and Gil spoilt us once again and had woken up early to pop to the bakery to buy us a croissant each for breakfast and 4 French breads for on the road. Gil even made us a coffee each... Such a lovely couple and it was once again sad to say goodbye to our travel folks who we have grown to really love.

Our long drive through tar and gravel roads meant that we were pushing our luck for time as the park closes at 6pm. It was 5:15 and we still hadn't arrived to any gates surrounding the park, and the campsite was in the heart of it according to lonely planet. We had driven past village after village with no sign of the park on the road, and the roads seemed inaccessible for any normal vehicle. How could this be leading to a tourist destination? Just then Rob and I noticed 2 large elephants happily grazing next to us. We radioed to the others to slow down. They were magnificent and totally not worried about us sat next to them. A guy on a bicycle, cycled up to us and when we noticed the ellies immediately got off his bike and started edging behind our cars for a bit of safety. He told us this was where they sleep for the night, but the poor guy was petrified and edged to Charles' car before running in the opposite direction. Weird how these elephants were so close to the villages. We could have sat there for hours just watching them but we needed to get to camp, so we had to say goodbye and keep going.

We arrived at camp (Ranch de Nazinga) where they told us they wouldn't allow us to camp and we had to take a room. They charged us 10000CFA per person for the park entry fee, 10000CFA for the room, 1000CFA for the vehicle and 2000CFA for a camera permit. They told us we could not visit the park without a guide for an extra cost. This was so annoying! We only have two seats in the car so aren't able to facilitate a guide. But he told us we could drive straight through to the next campsite the next morning only along the main road. Not much we could do about that and paid our 33000CFA (£38). I felt awful as I suggested we come here and now it turned out to be so expensive! 

We checked out the rooms, this being the first room we would stay in since leaving the uk! So this would be an incredibly different nights sleep! There were 3beds in a room with its own bathroom. The pillows were stuffed with what felt like straw and the blanket reminded me of the blankets they had in Nelson Mandelas cell on Robbin Island. But all in all it was clean enough(besides the stain ridden walls).
We wondered down to the watering hole hoping to see some wildlife before the sun went down. Not much was happening so we stood around just soaking up the sights. We then heard the trees rustling on the other side of the bank and all of a sudden a massive herd of elephants (about 30 of them) decended onto the lake. Little baby ones on tow sticking to the mothers sides. This was incredible. It was a pity the sun was going down and couldn't get decent pics, but we were lucky to see them. We even got to see the young adults play fighting as they grumpled and trumped out some load screams. This made our £38 a night so worth it! 

We decided to get up before sunrise to spend our morning watching the sun come up and to see if any animals made their way down for an early morning drink. So we needed another early night. Cat and I made our dinner while Rob and Charles tried to shoo out the bat that Rob had found in our room. Eventually it did fly out, thank goodness! I'd already been poo'd on 4 times on this trip by birds, I didn't need to add bat poo to the list as well! 

It was an interesting nights sleep with what sounded like a party happening in our roof with bats squeaking and something large running up and down creating a ruckus up there. Our first nights sleep in a room was eventful, never a dull moment here in Africa!
We woke up early and headed down to the watering hole. Unfortunately no elephants came to wish us a good morning, but we did see two bush bucks, a huge amount of crocodiles and number of birds, like vultures, plovers, swallows, Hadeda's and Hamerkops. Watching the sun come up is always a treat and we enjoyed our chilled morning. 
Driving through the park was less lucky than our experience the day before with us not seeing much besides 2 waterbuck far in the distance, almost hidden by the long brown grass, and a big group of baboons.

We arrived to the next camp site (Campement i'Elephant)  that said once again they wouldn't allow us to camp but had to take a room. This was getting expensive at 30000CFA (£34)for the night! We were used to Burkina being cheap as anything. So we made the most of this camp site and spent the rest of the afternoon next to the pool reading and enjoying some down time in the sweltering heat! 
The rooms were pretty much the same as before but the pillows were much more comfy! Thank goodness! And only two friends spent the night with us, a furry spider and a miniature scorpion, but at least they were considerate and stayed quiet for us! 

With everything that was happening in Ouagadougou, we decided to head straight for the border of Togo and hopefully we could get our visas on the border instead of getting the Visa Entente (5 country visa for Côte d'Ivoire, Burkina, Niger, Togo and Benin which is much cheaper and only issued in Ouagadougou) so we are hoping we have no issues. 
On our way we stopped off at Waetenga Campement to cut the driving. This looked like it was once a really nice place but unfortunately it was closed due to lack of tourists. The guard told us that he would be happy for us to stay there though and at a small fee of 3000CFA (£3.40) for the night. That's a better price! No showers but he organised a toilet that we just needed to flush with a bucket. And went off into town to get us a container of water. Such a sweet guy. 

As we had a late lunch we decided to skip dinner and sat spending the night playing dirty Uno. After it got dark we were suddenly surrounded by 5 police officers all carrying AK47's that said they were there for security and that we couldn't stay there. Bugger! It was highly intimidating as they asked to see our documents. We showed them our passports and other documents and they asked to inspect the vehicles. We hauled out all our boxes, showing them our fridge, food, crockery, bush pig (braai box), clothes box and explained the items on the roof. They seemed to come around and eventually said thank you for our time and that we should enjoy our evening. Hand shakes all round and they left happy. 
Actually, considering the attacks in Ouagadougou, it was actually a blessing to know they were looking out for our safety and just making sure everything was in order. Shame, even the poor guy staying on site came out to us after hearing the commotion in his towel, obviously being interrupted while having a wash. He wanted to make sure everything was OK. 
We ended up laughing about it that evening talking about how we see the police as being scary here because of their stern faces, tall, strong physics and of course covered in bullet vests and large weaponery that hang off them. When actually they are just doing their job making sure everyone is doing as they should.

Driving in Burkina Faso now is a military affair with check points ever few kilometres as they check your documents and often want to look in the cars. They really have tightened up the security which is a good thing considering. Such a sad thing really to know these attacks are going to hinder tourism as this country and its people are so friendly and beautiful. We have loved Burkina Faso!  

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