A Travellerspoint blog

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New blog

semi-overcast -17 °C

Since the website travelblogue is not working, Sim and I have decided to start a new blog with all our stories in one place...busy writing our Senegal installment and trying to find an internet connection fast enough to upload photos...but you only get the shitty ones cos the others are for the grande film/ coffee table book/ novel... we live in hope since we have no jobs!!

Wish you were here!!

e&s

Posted by EmmylouSA 12:37 Archived in Benin Comments (1)

Burkina bliss

semi-overcast 38 °C
View West Afrique & Here we go... to the ? & Bon Voyage.. colonial style on EmmylouSA's travel map.

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!!!

Posted by EmmylouSA 05:02 Archived in Burkina Faso Comments (0)

Up up and away..

semi-overcast 33 °C
View West Afrique on EmmylouSA's travel map.

Sweating our way north, we left Green Turtle Lodge under much duress knowing we are not to see the ocean again for a long long time. It pains me to say that our last day at the Turtle was, however, not a lazy day in the sun. Simone and I earned our first travellers' brownie points experiencing our first bout of Ghana stomach. The culprit has yet to be identified and punished, but as is traditional custom here, it was someone not something that wished evil upon us and since when in Rome.. we will surely determine who this individual is and ensure some "very bad things" happen to them. Not so bad really, spent most of the day doing the same as we had been the last 10 days... lying around, some reading and drinking Coke.. only this time it was not as much fun doing nothing. Life is tough in paradise!

Tuesday morning arrived and under much strain and still feeling the weakening aftereffects of case of the Ghana's we slowly but surely packed our belongings... which I am glad to announce has finally reached the point where we know pretty much where everything should go. Watching us pack is quite something.. like a well-oiled machine (even half-asleep and drowsy from too much sleep) we start... slowly at first. With all the items splayed out on the floor, one would never guess that all that paraphinalia could possibly fit but being placed perfectly in their specific corners, nooks and crannies of our bags order is created and with the final zzzzzzzzzip off we go. We took our favourite airconditioned STC bus to Kumasi from Takoradi via Cape Coast. A note on bus travel in Ghana... quite coincidently Simone and I watched the same gentleman sitting in front of us disembark and buy himself a meat (?) kebab at a sidewalk stall on one of the stops. When he boarded the bus again, both Simone and I thought how delicious the food smelled and envied this man for having a true Ghana stomach, tough enough to take any kind of meat you could throw at him, and secretly wished we too could enjoy a tasty warm morsel. Not mentioning these thoughts to one another, we sat back, took some bites of our cold, jollof rice (which we quite like really) hoping that our tender stomachs could at least handle that. Our envy was not to last, however, and our appreciation for rice the world-over was once again instilled...the gentleman was very ill and our trusty packet we had saved for our own unfortunate eventuality was passed on to the poor man. It was rice and chicken baby...now its juct rice baby!

In Kumasi we launched headfirst into this activity they call filmmaking. Choosing to spend our first day at the Centre for National Culture (CNC), just to get an idea of what the Asante (or Ashanti to those of you who prefer Anglofone versions of local names...Like Bree Street... IT IS NOT A FUCKING CHEESE!!!) kingdom has to offer the newbiw traveller. Well, not long into our investigation we were directed to the director of the centre, Mr S.F. Ajei. After going through a couple of people to get to him, we finally knew we had arrived when we entered a large airconditioned office. We sat down and launched into our completely unpracticed reason for being in Ghana and the making of our film, etc.etc... we are from South Africa... studying heritage... wanting to show people what Africa is really about... blahdiblahdiblah. Well, Mr Ajei seemed to like our idea and once we agreed that we would give him a copy of the film should it ever be produced (signed an agreement to this affect no less) he gave us free reign to film on the grounds as well as interviewing him and his staff. Although daunted at first, I think this interaction was the first time Simone and I really took ourselves and this filmmaking seriously. Now we are doing it!

As our first cultural experience the staff of the CNC took us to experience the funeral of an Asante chief... WOW! Weird but interesting. After having to shake the hand of each member of the extended family as well as other various chiefs, seated most seriously under their obligatory umbrellas, we were scuttled off into a room where the dead chief (having died 3 months previously, we have yet to determine how exactly they keep the body in such good shape for so long???) lay on a bed clothed and dressed in various chiefly regalia, such as a crown, staffs, gold. Morbid and weird for us as it is, this experience was even further x-dimensioned by the fact that there were about 5 film crews capturing the entire scene, and we seemed to be the South Africa delegation! Not sure how to act, especially being filmed throughout the whole thing we tried to move through as swiftly as is possible when you have to shake everyone's hand along the way (which happens to be a narrow way when the chief's bed takes up most of the small room). Heading for the small door into the light, thinking this was our exit into calmer waters, we are surrounded by the women of the family and escorted, bewildered, into the limelight of the event, encouraged to dance. Pretty confused (this is a funeral isn't it... I am sure I just walked past a dead body - or was it a wax sculpture?) and extremely self-consious Simone and I did what we had seen David Beckett and others do a million times on the Travel Channel... we joined in and tried our best to get the dance steps right, all thw while drawing a larger and larger crowd. It seems we did well, as we found out later, we received many thanks and signs of appreciation form the family and visiting mourners. I think htis is what funerals should be about...celebrating the life of the one who has passed... I certainly wouldn't want to have a bunch of sombre-faced loafers. It's dancing and jubilation at my funeral you hear!!

A few more days were spent in and around Kumasi, seeing the market (often cited as the largest outdoor market in West Africa), some Kente weaving towns, shrines, etc. and now we head off to Ougadougou in Burkina Faso..leaving in a few hours on a harrowing (I am sure) bus ride...will probably arrive on Sunday evening or Monday morning. Although I think we are both somewhat disappointed that we will not see more of northern Ghana, we are quite certain that we are prbably not missing much. Ghana seems to be Ghana no matter where you are... a once-British colony in Africa, much influenced by missionaries, hiphop, 50 Cent and friendly people... It's been real! (No really!!)

We move onward and upward to more 'exoic' destinations (hahahaha) and will let you know whether our pre and misconceptions are true or false.

By the way... never did get that juju. Victor, who was to take us thought we were joking, and being a man of the church (as so many educated people here seem to be - pity that!) decided to pray for us instead. He said that is all the juju we need... maybe he is right but I really was looking forward to it. Oh well, will have to wait for Togo or Benin for my juju.

Posted by EmmylouSA 06:02 Archived in Ghana Comments (3)

West Coast

Castles and beaches

sunny 32 °C
View West Afrique on EmmylouSA's travel map.

Left Accra, via very comfortable bus with aircon for Cape Coast last week Friday. Cape Coast, the centre of slave trade along the Gold Coast (Ghana) was relatively interesting, but being of Dutch planning quite similar in fact to the Castle of Good Hope in Cape Town. Quite opposite to the expected and professed reaction to learning about the slave trade and seeing these places of human trafficking... it was predicted by an Accra local that we would cry upon learning about the wrong doings of the colonialists, etc, etc... my experience of the castle and Cape Coast was one of getting over wanting to save the world.. at least for now. It has become my philosophy for the moment that the world should save itself! However, I am sure that this mindset is temporary and very much spurred on by the heat, humidity and feeling of absolute foreigness.

I truly miss being able to just blend in to the crowd.. here you stick out like a sore thumb and the locals do not let you forget that! Strange and quite ironic that as a tourist who should be the one gazing upon the other, we avoid almost all eye contact as we walk down the roads for fear of being inundated with requests for our hands in marriage ( in Ghana I am married by the way!! to a South African!! and yes he is white) or just general nonsensical chit chat (which was amusing and entertaining at first but becomes very tiresome after the first 50 requests in a 200m stretch of open-sewer sidewalk), so we hide behind our sunglasses while the throngs of locals have a good, long look at the obrunis passing through.

So after just one week in Ghana, Simone and I decided to head off to a beach-side eco-backpackers called Green Turtle Lodge, which comes very highly recommended by each and every obruni we have bumped into here in Ghana. Three tro-tro's and two taxis later, we arrive... absolute bliss!! If you look on a map, Green Turtle is west of Takoradi close to a small village called Akwidaa.. a village we have come to relate to quite fondly. Palm-fringed beach, fabulous food (although overpriced but only small-small) interesting people, etc etc. After initially considering moving on from there to see a stilted village further west, we decided to stay put and relax!! Incredible! One week and already we need a holiday!

Green Turtle has been great for many reasons. First and foremost to relax and gather ourselves! But further we have had the opportunity to test most of our equipment that we spent so much on... our small-small tent called Wondergirl (named after a cappoeirra dancing, meditating, fire eating, ashram raised, ganga smoking Ghanain local called Wonderboy - really Jeffery but font tell anyone- who performed at Green Turtle for Kate's birthday - have to mention that Simone and I both felt that Wonderboy/ Jeffery was a perfect candidate for our friendy Sian) withstood some semi-torrential rain and kept us dryzabone. We have already cooked two meals on our little cooker and our Steripen has not let us down yet!

Cooking was the most fun... went to village where we bought some ingredients from the locals. Buying food in Akwidaa takes the shape of following a friendly local kid around through a maze of wooden and corrugated iron shacks and buildings, stopping on various corners and sneaking into various nooks and crannies to find exactly the ingredients you need. This small and relatively unimportant activity has probably been my favourite experience in Ghana. So, Mom, we eating fine! Last night we had spaghetti with a sauce of tomato, onions, curry, ginger and garlic and added to it some yummy smoked tuna (checked with the local ladies in the kitchen about the tuna, but yay! it was perfect!).

The other great part has been, as is always when you travel, meeting people from all over the world and sharing our stories and experiences, getting ideas and changing others. Very entertaining were Tombo and Nick, our two Manchester boys.. good luck in Wa. And then the Slovenians... yes, Solvenians, Rok and Victor.. I learnt to pronounce some Slovenian placenames and sing some Slovenian songs.. something I could only possibly learn in Ghana (!?)

Today, Sim and I headed into Takoradi for some admin... yes, this is admin... and were pleasantly surprised that we seem to have settled a bit and although very bustling and hot, it has not gotten to us yet (maybe because we know we heading back soon!) So we will be hanging out at the Green Turtle probably still until Monday, soaking up the last bit of sea we will see for a long while, and then head north through Kumasi and Tamale to Ougadougou in Burkina Faso.

Keep posted cos I could be getting myself a juju tomorrow... check it out!

Posted by EmmylouSA 08:01 Archived in Ghana Comments (0)

Accra

Akuaba

semi-overcast 32 °C
View West Afrique & Here we go... to the ? on EmmylouSA's travel map.

So after much flying, rather blissful in fact, we arrived in Accra around 6am on Good Friday. After manditory haggle with the taxi driver we were awarded with the being "good bargainers" and got our lift to our hotel, Date Palm Hotel. Rather intimidated and hesitant as we entered, as one always is when you arrive in a strange place on shoestring budget, we sat down on the bed and stated the oft-to-be-repeated "now what". This has become somewhat of a moto between Simone and I. The hotel was rather strange, only men and many dark corridors, but while having drinks in the courtyard, bumped into 2 obrunis (white poeple in local language) who are volunteering here in Ghana. Funny, most obrunis you meet here arein fact not travelling but volunteering...we feel quite special really! So after some chatting and a few beers, we agreed to join them for the Easter weekend in a local community run beach hangout near Ada Foure, east of Accra. Was great to have a break and get some tips from them, some who have been in Accra for 9 months, on the local customs (like only giving and receiving things from people with your right hand). Spent my 28 birthday in this rather idyllic paradise,sipping shandies, waiting up to 3 hours for so-so local food and doing pretty much very little but reading, eating, drinking, lying around and swimming... perfect!

Back in Accra today, we spent the day getting our Burkina Faso visa. Oh my god! If only we had known how easy it would be we would never even have bothered going to the French Embassy in CPT. Literally, 3 photos, passport and enough cash... one hour later you have your visa! BLISS!! and people say Africa is not efficient??? Anyhoo. Will try for some more visas tomorrow and report back to see if all is so smooth. PS Simone's french is the shizniks!!! Sweating like pig, but a happy one nonetheless I now bid farewell until next time.

Posted by EmmylouSA 12:30 Archived in Ghana Comments (0)

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