A Travellerspoint blog

June 2009

Everyday is a winding road

I've never been there but the brochure looks nice

all seasons in one day 32 °C

Our fourth African country visited is Burkina Faso. We bee-lined straight to the capital which has the coolest name, Ouagadougou. Here we sent in our visa applications for Nigeria and waited around a few days to pick them up. There wasn’t too much of interest to do in the city so most time was spent lazing by the pool and hand-washing laundry. The applications took longer than expected so the group took off leaving Gary to sort them out and meet up with us at a later date. Our next destination was Bobo-Dioulasso after a stopover at a refreshing set of waterfalls for the afternoon. That evening we had our first taste of African tropical storms. While a few of us were still up and watching a local band practice a fierce wind blew in. We knew it was serious when the locals packed up and took off running! The rains follow about 10 minutes after the wind starts so we all took off to secure our tents. Not all were so lucky and two tents blew away in the short time between the start of the storm and the run to the soccer pitch. Luckily for me my tent-mate was (being the keyword) asleep and thus holding down the tent. The lightening storm was fantastic and I watched as long as I could before the rain got too heavy. In the morning I reluctantly opened the tent which now felt like a waterbed to find with relief it had not washed away. The group did a search for the 2 missing tents and while one was recovered the other was nowhere to be found. The ground dried out quickly and the drive to bobo was clear and blue. One observation along the way was the presence of manicured lawns, or even lawns for that matter; it is clear we are in a different biome and transitioning into the rain forest that lies ahead. Next on the itinerary is Ghana, our first English speaking country of the trip! The border crossing was painless and we had our first and only bushcamp of the country the first night. Ghana is the most densely populated country in Africa and immediately different from its neighbours. The Christian influence is clear and islamic insignia is replaced by a vast array of signs, billboards and shop names such as “god loves you hairdresser”, “heaven gate no bribe furniture store”, and many amusing ones such as “have patience restaurant” (nice honesty, but I did not eat there!). The next day we visited our first national park, Mole. We camped on the grounds where the cook group had to deal with a pesky baboon which stole food and wreaked havoc. In the morning I did a walking safari, coming within 20m of huge Savannah elephants! I had a sore back and unfortunately did not take my camera after advice to bring a telephoto lens from the group who went the day prior and weren’t nearly as lucky to be so close. It was nice to just experience the walk itself and soak it in rather than fiddle with a camera so I wasn’t too phased by missing the opportunity. Next up we stopped at Kintampo waterfalls which was reminiscent of fern gully, absolutely gorgeous. We also made a brief visit to Volta lake, the largest man-made reservoir in the world. The dam wasn’t very impressive given the shear volume of water but interesting nonetheless.
We made a visit to the Boabeng-Fiema Monkey Sanctuary next for a guided tour to see black and white columnus monkeys as well as mona monkeys. We later arrived in Kumasi where we stayed for a few days before heading to the beach. We stayed at Green turtle lodge in dixcove, a bit of a pretentious hippie beach lodge that pledged to be ecological but was in fact no different from the rest of the resorts around… Cynacism aside, I thoroughly enjoyed the niche and made good use of lazying around the beach for 3 days. Ended up catching a nasty stomach bug making its round through the group so it was especially good to be stationary for a few days.
Once we left our beach paradise the truck headed straight for another at Brenu beach after a stop in Elmina to visit St George’s castle. Cape coast was visited next, home of the lasgest slave-tradig castle in West Africa. A few of us headed off to Kakum national park to do a canopy walk, it was roughly 40m above ground and made a few very uneasy. That night we stayed at Hans cottage botel… where they had a lake full of crocodiles surrounding the restaurant (apparently they often come on deck and inside!). Our next destination was Big Milly’s outside the capital of Accra. It was a chilled out and very popular tourist desitnation popular with the local rasta crowd. We stayed here for a few days while obtaining togo and benin visas. It was enjoyed by most, in general it was just nice to be able to relax in an English speaking region and converse with the locals. Many deep, interesting, and amusing conversations were had – a nice change from struggling to converse with my pigeon French. Our time at the beach came to an end for a while here, and we stopped at another set of waterfalls (Wii falls) before entering into Togo. It was a 7km hike in and definitely worth it. I felt like I should have been next to David Attenborough observing the thousands of nesting bats right next to the highest waterfall in the west of Africa. A few people weren’t so fond of the water after I commented on why the soil was so soft… being next to a massive bat colony and all...
Our entry into Togo made me slightly contemptuous after paying double the visa fee for entry than anyone else (even the Americans). My disillusion was unwarranted, however, seeing that the Togolese people were extremely friendly; in fact the principle of the school we stayed at the first night wanted to meet the sole Canadian on the truck because his brother is in Ontario. I did ask him why his country had it in for us but he didn’t have any answers. The mountains coming into Togo were gorgeous, I would have taken photos but it was only at the border crossing where they were in clear view and I didn’t want to cause any undue trouble. The coutry itself is only 50km or so wide so we stayed only 2 nights before entering into Benin, another country hardly more than a pinpoint on a map.
I will leave it there for now – I’m just checking out of my hotel with free wifi in Yaounde, Cameroon. Next up we head into Gabon, then Congo, DRC, Angola and Namibia. I likely won’t have much internet for the next 6 weeks so I don’t expect to get many updates up but we shall see.

Posted by binderblog 01:31 Archived in Burkina Faso Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Hard Sun

Trek through the Dogon country

sunny 43 °C

When I last left off I was still in Mali having just arrived safely back in Sevare after our trip to Timbuktou. After a halfs day rest we took off to Bandiagara to begin our trek into the Dogon villages. Our tour leader Speedy brang us to Songo on the way to gain additional insight into the Dogon culture. The dogon people are of animistic religion, and resisted Islamic missionaries centuries ago. Their calendar follows a 5 day week and astronomy is important and well known in their culture, particulary the star Sirius. We also learned of ceremonial circumcision methods. The following morning we put on real shoes and socks for the first time since the Atlas mountains and began our journey. The first day was a leisurely walk down the Bandiagara Escarpment of which the high vantage point above the valley offered the most incredible scenery thus far on the trip. Along the way we visited Begnimato, had the chiefs son show us the traditional hunting methods (followed by a few girly kiwi screams when the rifle went off), and stopped in the colourful market of Dourou after lunch before taking a midday siesta to beat the heat before heading into nambori by dusk to set up camp on the roof to sleep beneath the stars. We were able to witness the ‘womens dance’ that evening as well which is performed at the end of the harvest season. The next morning we took off for the second leg of our journey, and were lucky enough to have porters and a donkey cart provided to lug our gear in the 42 degree heat. In the afternoon we had the extreme privilege of watching a traditional dogon mask dance. We all agreed that it was the highlight of the trip by far (and writing this 2 months later I can still attest to that). The ceremony was approximately 45 minutes and was vibrant beyond belief. Some masks towered 14’ high while other dancers walked on stilts secured to their legs which would at the very least break their legs if they fell. The dance is not performed regularly, we were only so lucky to have it organized for us due to the size of our group. It was the first ceremony for many of the young boys dancing and as so an important rite of passage.
The mask dance also made Sarah’s birthday the best ever, and we continued to celebrate into the evening after continuing our trek for the day at the village of Ireli. After another night under the stars (not quite as picturesque when you imagine 26 people snoring in close proximity…) we took off for the last leg of the journey which meant an uphill climb back up the escarpment. Some wussed out and took a mototaxi ride part way back while about half of us completed the journey to the top on foot. We were also able to visit some of the old abandoned cliff-face dwellings traditionally inhabited by the dogon people; an animal is traditionally sacrificed before visiting which we saw evidence of. It should be noted that it is not possible to traverse the entire route by vehicle and so everything brought in (i.e. coca cola and beer) is carried in. Along the trail there is also limited electricity making the region much more authentic and the drinks very warm. Overall we traversed approx 30-40km, hard to know for sure as our leader speedy was known the fudge the distances in an attempt to ease our minds at the task at hand in the blistering heat. After a very uncomfortable exhaust infused van-ride back to bandiagara we were greeted to a buffet and live mali music. In the morning we took off for the Burkina Faso border. All in all Mali has become the favorite African country of many. The dogon trip was the highlight for sure, and something I’d do again in a heartbeat. The people of Mali have been most welcoming and will be missed. Alas, the journey must contimue and there are still 20 odd countries to explore!

Posted by binderblog 01:18 Archived in Mali Tagged foot Comments (0)

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