Sunday, 18 July 2010

West African Road Trip - Day 2

I woke about 6:30 after a good night's sleep. After getting up I had time to start working on preparing some ARCOM papers for this year's proceedings. I met the others for breakfast at 8am. This being a small place, there was only one thing on the menu - an omelette toastie. It was bland, with no salt, pepper or sauce. We managed to get some toast out of them, too. The local white bread was fresh and surprisingly tasty. As always, the Nescaf├ę was undrinkable. I don't know what they do to it to make it so unpalatable. But we managed to get some juice by paying extra. Sammie wasn't happy about paying extra for the juice, so the fellow serving us said that he would make it up to us when we came back on the return leg of our trip. Our driver had slept in the car and looked a little worse for wear. Tonight we must make him stay in a small hotel to make sure he is properly rested, because our safety depends on him. We had a stroll around the district, where the roads were unmetalled, with the characteristic red soil of the region forming the surface. A squashed frog caught my eye.

We had a crazy schedule today, trying to get to near the Mali border by evening, with a stop on the way at Ouagadougou. We stopped just before the border to see some crocodiles and a so-called traditional village that was kept looking suitably weird for the tourists. Naturally we had to be photographed playing with the small crocs. We had to pay, of course, not only for the entrance, but also for a small chicken which the young guide carried in his hand, only to toss the live chick into the mouth of the croc when we had finished stroking him and having our photos taken. We walked from there to the border, about 1.4 km which was quite something in the humid heat. But it was good to be stretching our legs and breathing air that was not air-conditioned.

The border crossing from Ghana to Burkina Faso took much longer than we'd anticipated. Loads of forms and paperwork, and no one in any particular hurry. There were also several stages to the process: confirming the papers for taking a car out of the country, then customs control, then passport control for leaving Ghana. Next passport control for entering Burkina, then customs control, then confirming the paperwork for bringing a car across the border. The uniformed guys were at their swaggering best although Sammie tried his best to charm them. In Burkina passport control, while we sitting around waiting for the policeman to enter our details by hand into a huge ledger, a real motorcycle pulled into the area in front of the office, so we popped out to see where he was headed. He was the first motorcyclist we had seen wearing protective gear of any kind (even a helmet). This was a well-seasoned BMW being ridden by a Nederlander from Amsterdam to Accra; a two-month expedition on his own. He had about a week left to do what we had done in less than two days, and was enjoying his meander through Africa. What a trip.  He was astounded to hear that we were planning to go to Bamako and back in little over a week. That made us start to reconsider our plans, although we still wanted to get to Mali, even if we didn't make the capital city.

Once across the border, we made fairly good progress, although large stretches of the road were unmetalled, and huge potholes often slowed us to less than walking pace. We did not stop for lunch, thinking we would get to Ouagadougou for a late lunch. We actually got there at about 6 pm. We had made for a 5-star hotel where the food was reputed to be the best around here. The hotel was built by the Libyans, along with a lot of the neighbouring buildings, which were on a grand scale, but surrounded by squalor. The drive through the outskirts and the city centre revealed a vast city of quite surprising proportions for such a poor country. The government, it seems, are systematically flattening the traditional mud-hut settlements and displacing the local people, so that they can build masses of ugly 6-storey concrete things. The boulevards are wide and straight, with a separate lane for the numerous bicycles, mopeds and motorcycles. There are traffic lights, street lights, all amenities of a modern city. It was quite a change after driving past hundreds of mud-hit settlements. But not everything is finished and the quality of the construction is typically shoddy in most places.

After dinner, we got a taxi into the town centre, after bartering about the fare from 10,000 to 4,000 of the local currency (700 to the pound) and asked the taxi drive to take us to a bar with music. This was how we found ourselves drinking beer and watching Les Freres Diarra, a really good local band that plays the kind of music I like best from this region. After being hassled to buy CDs, trinkets and other rubbish, we managed to get a taxi back for only 3,000 which made Sam happy. We spent a very happy night in our swish hotel, and had a great breakfast the next day.

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