After several days, possible one too many on my part, and success all round in the rugby, we headed out of Bamako. James was not feeling too great, so we decided a short jaunt to a waterfall was a better activity for the day then the mission of getting out of Mali and crossing the border. Excellent idea. Except the waterfall took the best part of three hours to get to, with two hours of offroading - what every fragile tummy needs. As I drove on and on, over increasingly difficult terrain, stopping repeatedly to allow James time to throw up out the window, I realized we might have made an error. Anyway, after a certain amount of offroading, you just have to continue, so we did and were rewarded with a waterfall, which we appreciated for about 10 minutes before we heading back to the town to try and find somewhere slightly kinder on tummies to stay. We got back to the town, and after having no one smile at us for a full hour, we decided this is not the place to wild camp, and eventually headed back to Bamako – with occasional stops – and checked into a nice hotel. Ultimately, after a day of driving through the bush in 35 degrees we had successfully managed to get back to where we had started. We might not have got the hang of this overlanding.
We headed out of Mali the next day, glad to be getting away, to Burkina Faso. And this was the start of our love affair with BF. It is a charming country. The people are endlessly honest, never trying to bribe or con us, to the extent that when buying vegetables in the market, we got chased down as we had not taken our full quota of aubergines. We spent the best part of a week pottering from waterfalls, to geological formations, to beautiful forests, camping in small campsites and villages, and feeling extremely welcome and safe. A real treat was a night camped next to a lake near Banfora. We had sundowners on the lake, with hippos just next to us in the water, and then woke to a pirogue trip at sunrise where we managed to get right next to one. The Sindou Peaks were another treasure, a geological formation just on the border of Mali, which we wandered around in the blistering heat.
On the way to Ouagadougou, the most excellently named capital in the world, we stopped at a town famed for elephants, and had heard rumours of a hotel which allowed camping located on the river where they came to drink. We followed some massively outdated GPS coordinates, and after offroading for 30 minutes, scratching the hell out of Stanley (he’ll do a lot for elephants), we arrived at a dilapidated hotel with ten workmen standing around, quite surprised at the arrival of two white people. It seems the hotel had been flooded in the previous rainy season, and I mean flooded, the marks on the terrace go up to the roof. They planned to open again next year but were happy for us to set up camp there for the evening. We cooked up a spaghetti bolognaise, showered in one of the beautifully refurbished rooms and watched the stars only disturbed by the two night watch men calling their girlfriends for several hours. Sadly, their phones ran out of battery at 10pm and we just didn’t have the same charger. Shame. Unfortunately no elephants blessed us with their company but it was hardly a surprise with the huge amount of goats, cattle and donkey, and the inability of the national park to function after the flood. We woke on Valentine’s Day, aware that our day might differ from others back home! We had bought strawberries in the previous town, and had them as a treat, soaked in bicarbonate of soda, of course. After having a spectacular fry up we heading to Ouaga where we had a nice dinner in a restaurant, although you needed to go through a metal detector to visit it. It was packed with African ladies dressed to the nines as well as internationals out for dinner. Quite extraordinary to find somewhere so busy after a week on our own.
The biggest problem, if you ask James, about travelling through Western Africa, is they just don’t understand the importance of rugby. We were in the above small town for the Ireland vs France match. All hotels seemed to be shut and there seemed no obvious place to bribe our way into a Rugby match. Til Café des Amis. They had a TV, canal plus (satellite channel) and electricity and seemed happy to show the match in exchange for a couple of Fantas. Things started to get a bit more heated when Real Madrid started a match on the other side but James managed to hold his own, refusing to release the remote for love nor money. As the chickens wandered around our feet, I mostly enjoyed the Burkinabes reaction to rugby – grimacing at every blow.
As always in this area, we are on own. Mali, needless to say, had no tourists and BF is no different, although it seems to have a large international population of miners, NGOs and UN who get a chance to see the country. The locals report their tourists are hugely reduced from last year, after the attacks in Ouagadougou. It seems shocking that we can camp next to hippos or visit geological masterpieces and be totally alone, when in other parts of the world people fall over each other for such an opportunity.
From Burkina, we headed to Cote D’Ivoire, a country recently recovered from its second civil war this century. And my God, do the roads show it! From the border, we drove 250km of pothole ridden asphalt, that if caught at speed, could happily destroy your axle, some 2ft deep. Every now and then the road would get better, and you would be immediately diverted off, as these were the small areas they were trying to fix. A few moments of relief as you think things can’t get worse, and then the realisation that the piste, although not bad in itself, when mixed with buses and lorries, was impossible to see through. The sand gets everywhere, and when passed by said bus, you cannot drive, only hide in the corner til the dust settles hoping that for once, Africans are keeping to their side of the road.
And then, there’s Yamasoukra. This is the capital of Ivory Coast, formed on the birthplace of the previous President. It also hosts the largest Basilica on earth, even larger than St Peters in The Vatican, as well as six lane highways. After two days of driving on horrendous roads, trying to protect Stanley as best we can, this is quite a bitter pill to swallow. Especially as for the majority of the drive, we had been trying to buy some vegetables, nothing fancy, maybe an onion or a tomato and had seen nothing in any of the villages. Only Yams. Well at least they have religion. It remains an interesting place to visit and from there we head on to Abidjan, and the beaches thereafter. Other than a nasty encounter with the police in Abidjan, requiring a £20 fine / bribe for driving in a bus lane (this is Africa, there aren’t bus lanes), the uneventful drive of deep orange sands and palm trees ended in a beautiful beach resort two hours out of the city. From here we set up camp and write the blog, camping for free in the grounds of a nice hotel overlooking the Atlantic coast. Don’t worry, we’re utilizing their bar enough to make it worth their while. As their only tourists, it’s a responsibility.
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