Friday, 15 January 2016

Mali to Burkina Faso

After arriving at the Sleeping Camel, we enjoyed a much needed beer with a bacon burger and chips. This seems like a normal everyday meal... but for us... This was incredible! Every mouthful was amazing with the crispy bacon being a delicacy in our lives on the road in West Africa! We enjoyed chatting to some of the guys that work for the UN in helping train the locals on disarming IED's and helping educate them among other things. This seemed like the local meeting point where these guys enjoy a bit of down time from their hectic and dangerous jobs.

In the morning our mission was to get the Nigerian visa which we heard was a battle for most people normally taking between 5 to 10 working days, so we were nervous to see what we would be faced with at the embassy. I had seen online that the embassy opens at 8am, so we got up early to get there before it opened. It took us under half an hour to walk to the embassy which was a small rundown building with no signs anywhere to suggest it was an embassy. We read on the notice board that visas were to be applied for on Tuesday's and Thursday's. Crap! It was a Monday. We approached the guard to try our luck and he said they would help us anyways, but only after 10am. We decided we would walk back to camp for a cup of coffee, stopping at the supermarket for a few bits a long the way. 

After returning to the embassy, we walked in, greeted the security guard and were told to sit on the bench. We ended up sitting there in this tiny room with old stains and dirt all over the wall, watching the A Team  in French on a small TV. We eventually were given our application forms which were, thank goodness, in English for a change!! They asked for strange info compared to other application forms; like what colour eyes and hair we had, and any other distinguishing features; but very little info about our passport details, which we found amusing. They needed 1 copy of our passports and 2 photos.
About an hour after waiting an official looking gentlemen happened to walk through and asked if we'd been seen to yet. We told him no, but that we were in no rush (acting like you have all the time in the world seems to be the best way of getting the officials to help you)... And we didn't mind as we were enjoying watching the French dubbed movie. He asked us about the purpose of our travel and seemed a little annoyed when we couldn't give him in detailed itinerary, but I brought out my lonely planet guide and showed him a few points of interest which he seemed OK with. He advised us to be sure about where to travel and keep up to date with the travel advise and therefore our safety, keeping clear of the north. After this stern but friendly interrogation, we weren't expecting much success. But he told us to wait a little longer.
He eventually called us through to a room with sofas and a TV which had Nigerian news on it. Again we sat and waited until the official came through. He told us the price (66500CFA = £75 each) and said to come back at 2pm the next day..... Really?? Was it going to be that easy? 
Well, we weren't about to complain and left hoping everything would go through smoothly the next day.

We got back to camp, where we were met by the big bus load, Oasis Overland, of 21 people we had met in the Zebra Bar in Senegal. It was a bit like greeting long last best friends again; which is so awesome! They would stay for 4 nights which only meant one thing.... Very drunken evenings ahead of us!
That night certainly was drunken, and Rob ended up pulling his usual trick and passed out on the sofa after only a few beers and the odd tequila (Ruslin, one of the travellers in the camp, had sold his car that day and therefore was giving us tequila to help celebrate... Not that we were complaining 😜)

 We all had a good chuckle at Rob as he snored the night away. It was only until the morning did we realise he had been totally attacked by the mosquitos while passed out on the couch, and was bitten like crazy around any bit of skin that was on show. Particularly his feet and his lower back where his shirt must have ridden up. This most certainly was a lesson learned as he looked like he had caught a bad case of the chicken pox.
I have since realised I need to play the role of 'mommy', and make sure he puts mosquito creams and sprays on every night.... Particularly when he's drinking! Lol!!

We had a slow morning as we were all feeling a little fragile. We had met a toureg that evening that offered us to go to his house for traditional toureg tea. Cat and I were feeling a little sceptical and knew there had to be a catch (as they had all proved to us before, they would guilt trip us into paying for goods we didn't want), but the boys ended up going and us girls stayed behind and relaxed. They left at about 11am and would need to return by 1:30pm to return to the Nigerian embassy by 2pm. 1pm came and they were nowhere to be seen, 1:15 arrived and we started to get worried. 1:25 arrived and nothing. At about 1:40 we were getting stressed! Where were they? We had no phone to call them and they had left with a strange man in a dangerous country (not that we had felt any danger, but had been advised by the news and a few other travellers previous to our visit). My imagination started to go wild, with all kinds of bad scenarios going on in my head that could be taking place. Rob's mom would kill me if anything bad happened to him!!!
Well I was stressing for nothing and they strolled in at 1:50. They said it took forever for 1 tea to brew and they sat on the floor of this hut watching the world go by. They came back with stories of a small demon child that clobbered a baby chick with a batton, picked it up and threwing it in a pile of rubbish. This happened right in front of them, as if totally normal. Obviously fuelling Robs hatred for the kids in West Africa. And then the bombshell... he tried to sell them his merchandise. Telling them he had to bring food back home and needed the money. But he had spent the night before ordering beer after beer and was incredibly drunk with us, if he needed the money that badly he wouldn't have been drinking like that! (Aah, there's always a catch!) 
But they were back safe and sound, but we needed to motor back to the embassy. We arrived at about 2:15 and were once again told to sit and wait, luckily not bothered by our late arrival. Both me and Cat went through to the sofas while the boys stayed with security. Another hour and a bit of waiting and we finally left with our visas secured in our passports. Wahoooooo! 
(Later we found out that the rest of the travellers in the sleeping camel would have to wait 4days for theirs! Luck was certainly on our side once again!)

The next morning was time for the Burkina Faso visa. We arrived at 10am filled in the forms with 1passport copy and 2photos, paid the 24000CFA each (£27) and were told to come back at 2pm. Easy peasy! Another visa done and dusted with no hassle! 

The next couple of days we swapped stories and became close friends with a few very cool people on the truck, Jacob (from America), Yuki (from Japan) and Alex (from England). One of the days, we ended up going for lunch with them at a shack which Yuki and Jacob had told us about. They dished up a peanut stew with rice, and ghost chillies!! for only 1000CFA a bowl which is only £1.10. It was an amazing meal! Rob and I even shared one as it was so big!

That afternoon, back at the camp, we watched how Jacob would help Yuki to read in English. Yuki had chosen a very hard book to read, The Long Walk To Freedom on Nelson Mandela. Yuki reads 10 pages a day while Jacob corrects or helps pronounce words when needed. It was very impressive to watch, but Cat had an amazing suggestion (the teacher in her came out that day). She suggested Yuki read a paragraph, then for Jacob to ask a question about the paragraph to ensure Yuki understood what he was reading. What a brilliant suggestion as Yuki now had to comprehend what he was reading. He was learning more this way and he loved it. 
Such a great suggestion and I wish someone had taken the time to do the same for me when learning Afrikaans in school. I might then be able to understand the language.
While Cat was engrossed in watching Yuki learn, the boys played Mölkki (Finnish game). A game with 12 sticks that you had to hit with another stick at a distance. If you hit down only one stick you would get the number of points that was written on that individual stick. If you hit more than one you would be awarded only the number of sticks that were down. If you hit all down you would earn a complimentary tequila shot on the house. You had to aim to reach 50points, if you went over 50 you would automatically drop your points to 25. The first team to reach 50 would win! Brilliant game and they played for hours!

That night was another drunken affair as the campsite held a "pub quiz" night. The place was throbbing as the campsite filled with people. Some from the embassies around the area, some from the UN, and the rest travellers. It was heaving! We had joined a table with some of the UN guys and would end up coming last, not that we were complaining as we earned a free bottle of tequila for being the losers! Awesome!!! Saying that though, one of the UN guys said to us that they all earn a fortune with nowhere to spend it...  and as we are tight as anything and only buy beers during their happy hour to save on cash... he mentioned that they would buy us drinks all through the evening and not to bat an eyelid. This is totally foreign to us as we like paying our way, but they insisted. 
Later that evening Cat had retired early after possibly one too many tequila's, while the 3 of us went to the local club with some of the UN guys and the sleeping camel owner, Matt. It was most certainly an eye opener! The club was air conditioned (amazing!), had about 5 pool tables in it and 2 dance floors pumping out some serious tunes out of massive speakers surrounding the rooms. Behind the bar there were about 7 Moroccan ladies (strangely, they seem to have put powder on their skin to make it look more white), that would offer their services during the evening to men at the bar. Most of these UN guys did not even have to lift their hands to have a drink, as the Moroccan girls would put a straw in their drink and hold the glass up for them. Totally baffling! I joined Matt and a few others on the dance floor while Rob tried playing pool by African rules, not being too successful but giving it a good go (might also be because he was becoming incredibly intoxicated and funny to watch). I was surprised to see the girls and guys on the dance floor all standing in a line dancing and watching themselves infringement of the mirrors which surrounded the dance floor. Not dancing with each other, but to and with themselves.
During the evening, there was a big 4 tiered cake that they brought onto the dance floor. I was told that this was an engagement party and they were all there to celebrate. Even her bridesmaids were in matching outfits. Hugs and kisses, selfies and photos would continue for ages until the music was turned up and everyone filled the dance floor to dance together.
Eventually at about 3:30am we decided to start heading back to camp. Trying to get Rob to leave was tough as he refused to leave his Jack Daniels behind, but also was so drunk he wouldn't or couldn't drink it. Eventually he gave up and left with us.

The next morning I learned why he didn't want to leave without his Jack Daniels. He had bought a whole bottle for 50000CFA (£56)!!!! The UN guys were buying bottles all evening and he was getting free drinks from them as firmly instructed by them earlier in the night. But, for whatever reason he went and bought a bottle anyway. Blowing our £50 a day budget in a matter of seconds!!! Already the visas we had bought had killed the budget and we were on £80 a day in Mali without this blow out!
I was fuming! We try to be so careful with our spending, as the more we blow, the less time we get to travel! He certainly has some grovelling to do!

We eventually said goodbye to the Sleeping Camel with its comfy lounge chairs, hot showers, fantastic food and good English company! With all the travel advice and the fact that we had spent all our tourist money, we decided we couldn't spend more time exploring Mali so we headed to Sikasso (the town before the border to Burkina Faso) where we ended up staying in a very fancy hotel's car park as there was no campsite around. We enjoyed a dip in the pool and one last roam in town before bedtime. Tomorrow would be the border!

It was once again sad to leave Mali. This country is absolutely beautiful! The country side is fascinating and the people are a real asset as they wave with big smiles as you pass them. We travelled on beautiful roads and enjoyed every second of being in this amazing place. 

We passed through a few checkpoints and 1 toll for 500CFA (£0.56) until we got to the border crossing. At the barrier we went into a building on the left where they stamped our passports out, then over the road to the customs department where they stamped our vehicles out of the country. 
At this post there was a man asking me if I was ok with this weather? I was confused at first but then remembered this was the 'cold' season, as I was wearing shorts and a vest and he was in long pants and a puffer coat. On average it's about 25-35 degrees every day and this was roasting for us! In the summer months it would reach the 50's which I suppose he was used to. I told him about it being single digits back in the UK, and he finally understood. We laughed and said our goodbyes as we left Mali.
No bribes! No hassle!!
Then we entered the Burkina Faso side where we drove to the next barrier, this is where they stamped our passports at a building to the left where we chatted with the officials and watched the comings and goings of the bus' and taxi's. We were then told to drive 300metres to the last building, before the barrier, on the left where we would need a Laissez Passer Touristique (they would not accept our carnet) that was 5000CFA (£5.60) per car. After this we enjoyed another condensed milk coffee before our next point which I presume was a police check in a building down the road to the right. The gentlemen wrote our names on his book and the car details and we were in Burkina.
Again no hassle! No bribes!! And it only took 1 and half hours!

Our next stop would be town Sindou. This is home to the popular Sindou Peaks which were absolutely breathtaking. Although we didn't go to them, they looked beautiful in the distance. They are towers of rock, sculpted by the elements and stand tall over the landscape. We decided we would walk through town and see how the locals live. Walking through the dusty roads, men would be in their huts behind sewing machines, women carrying wood and all name of things on their heads, children running around and mopeds driving up and down. Eventually we found a little cafe where we had coffee and a little donut type treat which came to 300CFA per couple.... That's £0.33... Costa needs to see these prices! 😜

In the morning we were met by the camp owner that gave us paperwork to fill out and accepted our 2000CFA per car for the camping fee (£2.25). We are going to love these prices! 
Later that morning, the chief of police came to say our paperwork wasn't filled in correctly. The 7 didn't have a line through it and therefore he couldn't understand it. Next to the space where it asks for a bungalow number, we put tent. He said we should have crossed bungalow number out. And he continued in this way... Well he was on a power trip and giving hell to the poor owner and us. Nothing aggressive, just difficult. 
We were then told to go to the police station after packing up. Oh cramp! All this just because of paperwork? 
We arrived and he was nowhere to be seen. Eventually a police officer came out and asked for our passports. We gave them to him and he just wrote our details in his book and sent us on our way. What was that all about? No money was asked for and no explanation. Weird!

Our next stop was Banfora. Here we decided to go check out the Karfiguela Waterfalls and the Dômes de Fabedougou. We made our way there over another tight road that was mostly driven on by mopeds, not big landrovers. But we made it and arrived at a little information booth. Here we asked the guy how much it would all cost. He assured us 1000CFA per person. Great! So he cycled down the track and showed us where we could park our cars (300CFA parking fee). We walked up the path with this guy in tow. We wondered through a beautiful array of mango trees and up a rocky track until we got to our first sight of the waterfall. Absolutely beautiful! But we continued in our ascent along side the waterfall until we reached some of the pools at the top. This is where we jumped in with all our clothes on and enjoyed the contrast from the hot sun to the cold water. We ended up jumping off some of the rocks while the boys got more adventurous doing flips into the water. Such fun!
Next was the Dômes, which was about a 2km walk in the scorching sun! It was absolutely roasting in the heat, but we were glad we had jumped in with our clothes on and keeping us cool while we walked across the rocky floor until we got to a massive pipe. This pipe supplies the water to the town below, Banfora. We would walk along this pipe until we got to the rock formations (like the ones in Sindou) which we would climb up to the top to look over Burkina. Absolutely breathtaking!
We paid the man at the Dômes our 2000CFA (£2.25) per couple and would then make our way back to our cars. Once arriving back at the cars the man that towed along then said his guide price was 10000CFA (£11.25). What!? We had asked him how much it all costed and he never said anything about his price. We paid feeling like we had gotten ripped off again, even if it was great having him there to direct us, it's more the principal that we had asked what the total price would be up front. As we drove out and passed the security desk they told us we needed to pay another 1000CFA per person for the Dômes??? Again! Why didn't he tell us!? 
It's things like that, that really piss us off! It puts a real dampener on your experience. But we decided to ignore the cost and only focus on the good morning we had. It was time for lunch, so we headed to McDonald for burgers. Not the American fast food McDonalds, but the African McDonald. A charming little restaurant in the heart of the town with Art hanging off of all the walls. Fantastic food! A real must if you are travelling through Banfora.

We arrived at the campsite called Boabab Campement. It looked lovely and soon found out it was run by a Frenchmen. It was very basic with a hole in the floor toilet and bucket showers. But we loved it! They said camping would be 1000CFA per person, which ones again made us a very happy bunch! We went to bed early and would make our way to the next campsite where we could visit the Tengrela river and hopefully see home hippos. We woke up early to make the most of our day and were ones again greeted with a bill that said 1500 per person and 1000 for the car??? What? We were getting ripped off again, even after confirming the price the night before. But with our very little French it wasn't worth getting into an argument about it. We have decided, however, to pay up front for everything, or get the quotes in writing before hand.

We arrived to the next campsite (Farafina Campement) and were greeted by the most friendly owner that gave us a grand tour of his Campement. We agreed a price and mentioned how we had been made fools of previously in Burkina. But he was lovely and ensured us that would not happen with him and we paid for the camping there and then. (1000CFA per person) perfect!! He showed us his army of crocodiles which he was breeding to release into the river as numbers were becoming very low and ultimately effecting their tourism. He seemed incredibly proud, and so he should be. He then showed us the bats that would sleep in his big tree during the day and would fly out over his camp at night. Very cool to see them in daylight! He then continued his tour and showed us some of his artwork and played us a very cool tune on his African instruments. His name was Solo and was such an incredible host! 

He organised a pirogue trip for us the next morning (2000CFA each = £2.25) and needed to be ready for 5:45 in the morning, as it would be the best time to see the hippos.

So we set up camp and would find a nice spot for lunch. 
We walked up the road admiring the little village huts and little shops along the way. Greeting everyone we walked past. We found a lovely restaurant/cafe on the main road and thought we would get food there. It was so hot that day we thought we couldn't walk any further even if we wanted to... Shade and a cold drink was calling!

We ordered whole chickens each (they are small here, nothing like the mass fed ones at home!), which according to the Burkinas you HAVE to eat with your hands. Robs worst nightmare as he likes food to come already deboned. But he gave it a go, and when he couldn't take it anymore gave it to Charles and Cat to polish off. It was Devine and the flavours amazing! 

We noticed the chicken balls were still attached, and a Rob being squeamish with this food already. I dared him to eat one... Which I never thought he would do. But he did it as long as I never brought up him blowing our money on the Jack Daniels ever again! (Obviously fed up of grovelling.. Lol!) I thought this was a fair bet and to my horror.... he did it!!!!

Back at the camp site we enjoyed another, under the stars, bucket shower while watching the village over the wall go about their jobs. This is incredibly liberating and such fun!! A real touch of Africa living!

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