Well, shortly after our last posting we earned oodels more hardcore travellers brownie points waiting for our bus to Ouga for 10 hours! was surpsrised to find that I can quite easily sleep on a concrete bus station platform, avoiding mossie airraids and the bright lights of all the wrong buses and then still a 15 hour bustrip through to Ouga. Sim and my rule of not arriving at a new town at night has become somewhat of a joke really... despite our best intentions it seems all buses always arrive at night no matter where you are going or where from.
Arriving in Ouga we survived the obligatory taxi haggle to our base camp in the heart of Ouga commercial area...commercial in this context would mean vegetable sellers on top of bike repair shops on top of petrol sellers on top of internet cafes. One thing you notice about African cities, once you settle down long enough to brave walking slowly through the streets, not letting the chaos and heat get to you and learning how to dodge cars, trucks, bicycles and motorbikes all at once sans the safety of a pavement, is that trade is everywhere, all the time, and what is sold where and by whom is seldomly in any way determined. You can find anything anytime... although often except when you need it.
You know you have reached a Francophone country, yes! because everyone is parle vous'ing the francais (often badly I might add according to our translator in residence), because there are bikes EVERYWHERE! Bicycles, mopeds (or mobelettes as they are called here), motorbikes, you name it...even the disabled transport are locally made vehicles we would place more recognisably in the AA class of an Argus Cycle Tour race than on the streets of a bustling capital, but here they fit in perfectly, making us two plodding tourists envy the most unfortunate individual flying past along with the rest of the traffic. It is no unusual site to see a couple on a moped with baby squeezed in ever so safely between them and a toddler tied to the back of the lady passenger (ala SAffa style as we see so often at home). Something I am sure many of you could imagine, but to see how easily it is done and how it is done by everyone, regardless of status, money or gender, is quite amazing.
From Ouga we headed on to Bobo-Dioulasso, described as a travellers' favourite in our trusty LP, and Simone and I tend to agree. The town is smallish, so easily navigated on foot (our Casafrica homebase only a sweltering dusty 20 min walk from the centre, past the Peugeot factory and across the railway lines...what we do to save money!) and most of the roads are tree-lined, some even with pedestrian walkways!! In Bobo we had our first taste of West African music...hmmm? Unexpectedly, but in hindsight not surprising, we enjoyed the streetside bar, chilled, electric jazzy, bluesy, reggaey stuff more than the wailing Africa-cum-pop attempt at blending traditional African sounds with urban edginess (the tight, white jeans, wifebeater vest, leather wastecoat, cowboy boots and black shiny plastic sunglasses of the slightly overweight, hourglass-shaped frontman did not help their image!... but we did find the Frenchy expats amusing) To say the least we had fun and alot of laughs in Bobo and we came away with some personally chosen fabric and locally crafted clothing.
Although the long road was calling we decided that we had to head off in search of some nature and culture, "raw and untouched" (ha ha!) so we headed out to a small village of Tengrela just outside Banfora. The area is known for its natural beauty which includes lakes, geological rock formations and waterfalls... Sim and I headed straight for water!!! Jumping on a mobelette we zoomed off in search of adventure...to help us along we refused to take a map or use the services of a guide! AAAH cool waters and elevation! Its strange how a bit of elevation makes the world of difference... West Africa is very flat, the topography and the buildings, which means you seldom get any chance to view your surroundings, you are always in them, a sensation which often borders on claustrophobia. Good views are hard to find and in Tengrela we found some great ones, while chilling out amongst cascading waterfalls..a pleasant respite from the always forty-something degree heat out here in the saHEL(l). To balance this luxury..just in case we might get too spoiled and soft.. we showered out of buckets under the stars and across the wall from the cattle (sometimes wondering whether what we assumed to be a showering space was in fact a toilet... a hole in the ground means different thing in different places!), pulled our water up from a well and squatted with the rest of the locals as one does in these parts. As we were to find out this option is often much wiser than attempting to have a flushing water borne sewerage system which inevitably fails and there's no-one who really knows how to fix it!
After some days of filming, lazying and swimming we decided to head off to the sticks to find some "culture" and culture we found... in the shape of a five and a half hour minibus ride over bad gravel roads to get to the middle of nowhere, in Burkina called Gaoua. OK, so its not really in the middle of nowhere, but it sure is off the well-trodden track! On arriving in Gaoua, Sim and I unanimously agreed on our first splurge which included a shower and toilet in our room and each our own bed!!! You really learn to appreciate the small things out here on the road in our piddly budget (whiwh bt the way we are struggling to stick to...you have no idea how delicious a coke, or five, can be in this heat and dust!!). There is no tourist infrastructure out here but, thank the good lord for he does exist!, if you know someone who knows someone, which they always do, you will be fine! So in Gaoua Abu was our saviour...as much as they are available here. He was our guide for two days exploring what we affectionately and with a mild amount of grimace call Lobi country... without a guide you cannot cope out here, but Sim and I do not like being told where to go or what to do and not being in control of our own destiny, at least not when we're paying!!
So, after purchasing enough food to feed ourselves, which includes Abu, and the villlage we were to stay at for the night we headed out into the bush on our mopeds to explore. Now it is what we wanted to see and what we asked for, in theory, but being escorted from minute rural village to minute rural home...through the central public living space as if these people are subjects in a museum or gallery made us both most uncomfortable... constantly being asked, with a mild amount of disdain, why we are not verociously capturing all this "culture" on film. Although we saw amazing and most interesting local architecture and got to see some people living a truly rural and still very much traditional lifestyle...which they cling to staunchly and proudly amidst the influence of Islam, the experience was strange and surreal and I think we will consider twice before we take on a visit of this kind again.
We couldn't wait to get out of Gaoua, it was a rather depressing and dusty little town... not to mention that the only hotel was way out of our price range... so we scuttled off on a BIG bus back to our beloved Bobo. One of the most thought-provoking busrides I have had... all busrides are thought-provoking (this is unavoidable considering the long hours with nothing to do but stare out of a window and then only when its not dark), but during this one I made some life-altering decisions and planned a bit of my future. Whether it all pans out as planned is an exciting journey in itself!
Back in Bobo we spent a couple of days planning and getting ready for our next league...Bobo-Dioulasso to Dakar, Senegal via Bamako, Mali. The ride to Bamako was pretty painless and the first impressive introduction to Mali was seeing the wide brown Niger River amidst incredibly dry, sandy shrubland, an odd green tree standing here and there miraculously surviving in this desert and heat (those roots must run deep!) and a firey-red ball of sunset melting over this...truly a first impression of Mali and the desert that will remain with me for ever!
A few days in Bamako and then the most epic busride to Dakar...but all this to follow in the next installment...keep posted!!!