Thursday, 22 July 2010

West African Road Trip - Day 6

We had breakfast outside. The temperature was just right, at about 24, and was the coolest we had experienced yet. They gave us omelette, beans, toast, and some cooked mixed vegetables. While we had breakfast, Sammie said that he had changed rooms in the middle of the night because so many things in his room were not working, they upgraded him to a better room. Also, he had finally got hold of Kwaku Owusu, whose MSc dissertation I had supervised in Reading a few years ago. Kwaku was on his way to meet us over breakfast, as he was keen to meet up again. He took us one or two kilometres down the road to visit his workplace, Sunyani Polytechnic and meet the Rector. Kwaku had become vice-rector since we last met him. We went there and sat in his office talking about PhDs and other things for half an hour, and the Rector was on his way, but had not arrived by the time we realized we needed to get back to the hotel to check out. So we bid our farewells until WABER next week, and got back to check out and I put the room back to how it was and packed my still-damp laundry.

We left Sunyani shortly after noon and drove to Kumasi, arriving about 3 pm. We checked into the Engineering Guest House on the KNUST campus, which we had visited on the way North and had lunch with George Intsiful, an academic architect who had also designed and built this Guest House. He’d done very well, as it was spacious and nicely appointed. We went for a late lunch to the Joful restaurant – familiar to me because we went to another of this chain in Accra last year. These are really good restaurants with a good choice of food, local and international. It was nice to have wine with the meal, rather than the lifeless beer we have been drinking recently.

After our meal, we got a local taxi to the town centre so that we could have a lightning-fast tour of Kumasi with Sammie, who had been an undergraduate here. We started at the palace of the Ashanti King. It closed at 6 pm so they did not want to let us in, but Sam told us about some of the history, and how the Ashanti were the last to hold out against British colonial rule until after a few bloody wars. From there we walked to the centre of town, on the way pausing to watch a football game, on gravel, with eight players per side, and the goalies not wearing shoes. They played well and we saw a goal scored, but we soon moved on. And then to the market, which was huge and noisy and cramped. It occupied an enormous area and was a real spectacle, dusty, loud and incredibly busy with people walking in a great hurry here and there, occasional shouts of “hello white man” and other shouts in local language that did not make any sense to me (probably a good thing, too). The first place we tried to enter the market was the entrance and exit for the local minibuses (tro-tros) and we stood and watched for a bit while I tried to take pictures. But it was difficult to catch the endless stream of vehicles in and out, papping their horns endlessly and moving people around who were crammed into buses way beyond their legal capacity. It turned out we could not get into the actual market that way, so Sam had a chat to some locals, who really did not want me to take photos, and then we walked at great speed around the edge of the market, trying to observe the goings on through a sensory onslaught that was dizzying and overwhelming. After that, the rest of the town was fairly unexciting, and after walking a further 30 minutes, we got a taxi back to the guest house, bumped into George again, and joined him for a few beers at the bar. I am getting fed up of the local beer, so I has small bottles of Becks, which normally I don’t like, but it was a welcome change from the local stuff. We finished near midnight, and I was glad to get to bed after all the travelling and sightseeing.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

West African Road Trip - Day 5

Got up at 6 am and assembled with other safari participants at 6:30 for a briefing. As the hotel is a different operation from the safari park, they cannot co-operate, so breakfast service starts at 6:30 the same as the safari. This meant that everyone set off hungry. It turned out to be a foot safari, meaning a two-hour walk through the forest in the immediate vicinity of the Lodge. Our guide was quite experienced as a guide, and knew a lot about the behaviour of the animals, but could only explain things in terms of how humans behave. So he reckoned that humans learned how to carry babies by copying baboons or "bamboons" as he called them), which were numerous around the ramshackle staff accommodation, especially the area where they dump their rubbish. This was not a particularly nice way to start a safari, wading through rubbish that had been ripped apart and picked over by hungry baboons, who find this scavenging easier than looking for proper food in the forest. Since we were told in our briefing that it was extremely important not to leave litter around the park, I asked him why there was so much litter around here. He said that they put their rubbish into a hole in the ground, with the intention of burning it, only to find that baboons rip into it before they get a chance to burn it. “What can we do?” has asked, plaintively. I decided that this was not the time to suggest that burning all that plastic was not a good way of dealing with it, and that strong metal bins with properly fitting and lockable lids might help. I just shrugged in meek agreement. It turned out that most of our guide’s explanations of animal behaviour were based on a highly chauvinistic view of human behaviour. The struggles between fighting males were because of females, and the way that they marked out their territory, for him, was also to do with females, such that this was the reason that humans built houses, to prevent rival males from stealing the females. It was a bit irritating listening to his trite and inappropriate explanations, but this was his job and he had been rehearsing these stories for 23 years, so there was no point in anyone discussing this with him now.

After the tour of the grounds, having seen some impressive elephants, and some rather unimpressive baboons and warthogs (hortwogs to our guide) we were back to the Lodge for a very late breakfast. I was feeling very sweaty and mucky from tramping around the forest, and had probably had too much sun, so I went to get a wash. This lodge had full plumbing, but most of the time the taps would produce a little trickle, or nothing at all. Instead, there were two large buckets of cold water, with lids (perhaps 25 gallons each), and a smaller bucket of about a gallon to help with using the water. I was able to have a shower hby pouring buckets of coled water over myself in the bath, and felt much better for it. I then joined the others for a cup of tea, an omelette and some toast. We left Mole about noon and set of back to Larabanga, to visit the oldest mosque in Ghana.

After bouncing down the 6km track from Mole to Larabange, we got out of our truck to be welcomed by a bunch of mosque people. The main man was the son of the Chief Immam, and a teacher of English and Arabic. We had to pay a couple of Cedis each as soon as we got out of the truck, and this was written up into a Visitor’s Book that I had to sign. We then had to be welcomed by the Chief Immam, who sat on his mat at the side of the track and shook our hands. I wanted to take a photo, but he needed first to put on more robes and make himself look presentable. That was a shame, because I though he looked just fine as he was. We were taken for our guided tour of the outside of the mosque (or moks, as our guide called it) and told a load of rubbish about people coming from Medina with the idea that they had to cross two rivers, but not three, before they chose a place to settle, and having crossed the Red Sea as the first river, the next river was White Volta, and that meant they could cross no more (they somehow missed some significant rivers like the Nile, but that didn’t seem to matter). So, this man who had to cross these rivers had brought a mystic stone with him, and the stone was heavy so he couldn’t carry it any more, so he threw a spear and where it landed was to be the place for building the settlement. Blimey, what a load of tosh. I asked him why the wooden poles were used on the construction of the walls of the mosque, sorry, I mean moks, and he said they only went in to the wall a distance of 3 cms, and they marked how much of the wall the special man had built each day. Apparently, it was miraculous because in the night, while he slept, the angels came and built a bit more for him, so that was why there were sticks all over the building. He said they were just decorative not structural. I think he was wrong, but I didn’t say anything. It seems that the sticks somehow enable taller walls to be built, but much later we discovered that they provide a permanent scaffolding for the frequent replastering of the outside surface that would be needed to keep the place standing. It was first built in 1421, so it certainly has lasted well. Sadly, the guide was convinced that his fables were definite truths, and was fantasticaly deluded, but happy.

He explained to me that the Peace Corps had visited and told them about how to go about organizing small guided tours around the outside of the mosque, how to turn the profits from this activity into investment in a sustainable village. This sounded really good, but then as we walked around the mosque, at least half of the talk was about how they need a new classroom for the school, how they need more resources for the library and so on, each of which they would be grateful for some financial support. Meanwhile, a couple of the younger ones got into a conversation with Roine about the world cup, and were soon pointing out that they had a football team in the village, but that the football was burst and how they needed a new one, which would be a good thing for Roine to pay for. The pressure was increased as a little toddler appeared next to me holding my finger affectionately. Soon, we all realised that the Americans had taught these people the hard-sell, not just how to make tourism work for the greater good. We returned to the car, declining their further offers of ways in which we should hand over bucket loads of cash, and got some nice photos of the Immam. He was more decorative than structural, too.

On the drive to Sunyani, we saw a petrol tanker looking well kept and unusually lacking in dents, but the odd thing was that there were two goats on top. They were tied to the roof, standing up. Our driver, Solomon, thought that the tanker driver had probably picked them up at the market. We checked into our hotel, the Eusbett, which was poorly built and over-decorated, but most things worked and the service was excellent. By this stage of the journey I really needed to wash some clothes. Apparently, it is considered socially unacceptable to ask someone to wash your smalls, although shirts would be OK, but we were no in the kind of hotel that would do it overnight. Sammie had bought some small sachets of Omo, and this bathroom had a large empty plastic bucket, so I was able to put everything in to soak for an hour or so while I had dinner, then come back and wash and rinse it. To get it dry, there were enough coat hangers, and the room was a corner room so it had two windows and I was able to unhitch various parts of the draped curtains, the fancy pelmet with beads hanging off and the net curtains, all of which were far too heavy and made the room feel stifling and stuffy. With a through flow of air, I could hang everything overnight, and leave the room fan blowing while I was out of the room to help.

After sorting out the laundry, we jumped in a local taxi for a short ride down the road. We walked around for a bit observing the night life of Sunyani, with people hanging around the streets, the street-hawkers still selling all their wares and people cruising around in their cars or just hanging around. Not for the first time, I picked up the mood of a music festival, the kind of good-natured anarchy where people of all kinds gather just to enjoy themselves, and the various barbecues and other food offerings that characterize such events. Anyway, after wandering around and managing to avoid tripping over the many obstacles and holes underfoot, and avoiding falling into the open drains that stink, even though they are not supposed to carry sewage, we settled in at the Silver House, a fairly raucous local bar, where we had a few beers and watched everyone cavorting and showing off and drinking. The music was loud, and the people were good natured, often spilling out on to the street or sitting on the bonnets of their cars. We were sat outside at the front, and the smell of the drain was a bit too strong, and was not conducive to enjoying the beer. The music was loud, because right across the road was another bar with loud music outside, and they were in competition with each other. Eventually, we jumped in another beaten up old taxi and returned to the hotel.

I went to sleep among the drying laundry with open windows, having lost my fear of mosquito bites, because there seem to be so few mosquitoes around. Although I had no mosquito bites, I was interrupted by a rude awakening at about 4:20 am. It sounded like a cistern in the roof was overfilling and not cutting off the supply once it had got too full. The overflow was falling three stories on to concrete, at a fair old rate of flow, and making one hell of a noise. I tried to sleep through it, but it did not stop until about 5:30, when all the neighbourhood cockerels started their morning chorus, but I was able to sleep through that. I woke a couple of hours later, and the nearby school sounded delightful as the children seemed to be singing their lessons with great gusto and good voices. What a wonderful way to start the day.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

West African Road Trip - Day 4

When I met the others at breakfast, they had already ordered some omelettes for us, so that we had a more substantial breakfast than the previous day. After packing our bags, I had to go and get more cash from the bank machine to settle up the hotel bill, and while I did that Roine went to haggle over a couple of African masks for his souvenirs. Eventually, we set off after 9 am, and agreed that we had all grown rather fond of Bobo Dioulasso.

We set off for the Ghanaian border, stopping quite often to ask directions, always in French, and usually getting the same answer – yes it is this way. It almost seemed as though there was only one road, and since you are on the road, what on earth are you asking for?’ The road from Bobo was the really well made road that was not too bouncy. It was still being built, with the placing of mud bricks on the embankments and road edging, and setting them in mortar, to secure the sides of the roads to prevent them from being washed away in the regular floods that are characteristic of the rainy season. After getting back to the main road, which was older and more bumpy, we went the wrong way first, towards Côte D’Ivoire, where the rebels are in power. Fortunately, we stopped and checked with someone who put us right, and we turned round to head towards Ouessa. It started to rain a little bit, but not properly. We drove for hours and hours, eventually stopping at a town called Wa for lunch at about 3 pm. I loved the idea of a Chinese vegetable provencal, so that was my lunch. It had begun to dawn on me that we were on our way to a safari park, and Sammie called ahead to make sure they were going to reserve rooms for us. It was a good thing he did this after lunch, because we did not really get going until 5 pm, and arrived at the Lodge at Mole Safari Park after 8 pm. We were not settled into our rooms until 9 pm, then we had a beer and a chat. We shall be up with the lark tomorrow, because the safari sets of at 6:30 am. We'd covered a lot of miles today.

Monday, 19 July 2010

West African Road Trip - Day 3

We left Ouagadougou (Wagga-doo-goo) at 08:00 after an early breakfast. The city had wide, straight roads, and though it was difficult to find the right road, the traffic moved very well, and we made good progress. We were planning on getting all the way to Mail today, so that on the following day we could make the final push to Bamako. But we were getting tires of spending all day in the truck, and we decided to re-think our plans when we got to Bobo Dioulasso. We were looking for a particular village on the way. Roine had read in the Lonely Planet Guide to West Africa, called Ouroubono. We tried several times to find it, and asked directions, but never found it. But it did mean we did not take the direct road to Bobo, but we branched off at Pa, and went via Diébougou to Bobo.

We arrived in Bobo Dioulasso at 2pm and decided to have lunch, then find a hotel for the night, so that we could spend the rest of the day in one place, looking around and getting to know it. The tourist touts were a bit keen, but not too bad once we made it clear that we did not want to buy whatever it was they were selling. Everyone spoke French, but almost no one spoke English, and then only very rudimentary. This town was more primitive than previous places we had stopped at, and it was very warm and humid. The sky was cloudy and rain threatened, but never came.

We found a suitable café for lunch at about 3 pm, after looking in several places, one was too unhygienic, one simply was not serving food. We had rice with sauce, which was simply but filling. We also got our first taste of the local beer, Brakina, which was good enough for us. We then checked into the Hotel L'Auberge, having decided to stop travelling for today. This meant giving up on the idea of going to Bamako, because it is another 360km beyond Sikasso. We had decided that the following day we would do the short drive to Sikasso in Mali, and see what it was like. Possibly stay there the night if we found a good hotel and if the place was interesting enough. After checking into the hotel, it was about 5pm so we wandered around Bobo looking for a suitable bar for a drink and also looking for a cash machine, because the hotel would not accept any of cards. We found one that would only accept my debit card so I took out a wadge of cash to cover for tonight and tomorrow night's hotels and petrol for the following day. We stopped and asked people where was the best place to go for a drink, but hardly anyone could tell us because they could speak no English. Eventually we found the Black and White Club bar, and had a couple of Brakinas while we watched the world go by on foot, on mopeds, motorcycles and in very expensive SUVs. At one point, police turned up and started making a noise with whistles and lots of shouting. They stopped the traffic for 5-10 minutes, and then some police motorcycles and cars came roaring through accompanying some big shiny SUVs with tinted windows. Once the past, the police disappeared into the background and normal life resumed. We stayed for a couple of hours then returned to the hotel for an early night. I set up the mosquito net over the bed and the air conditioning had been on for a while, so the room was nice and fresh. But it was still a bit ropey, with old wooden furniture and poorly fitting window frames that let mosquitoes come and go as they pleased.

We had breakfast at 6:30 Tuesday morning, next to the pool. It was just a light breakfast, very French; a baguette, a croissant, some butter and jam and tea or coffee and some very sugary fruit juice that needed quite a lot of water adding to it to make it drinkable. We checked out and settled up the bill, then had to wait 30-40 minutes for our driver to return from wherever it was he had found to stay the night. Finally we set off about 08:30 and headed for the Mali border. Bobo was small enough to mean it was fairly way to find our way out of it and the road from Bobo to the border town of Koloko was very smooth and straight, and clear of traffic, so we made good time. It was strange that we saw hardly any other vehicles on this road. Clearly, we were not headed for the most significant border crossing. We stopped on the way to take photos of a waterfall, and then arrived at the first of several border formalities.

The first stop involved the police checking our passports and trying to figure out where we had stolen the car or not. The driver did not have a letter from his employer to authorise him to drive the car out of the country. I had to act as an interpreter between the policeman and the driver. Once the policeman understood what we were doing and that this was a rental of car with driver, he told us that it was OK, the three of us could go and he just needed a conversation with the driver alone. I offered to stay to help interpret, but he said it was OK he'd manage. He was very calm and smiling so we were not worried. We waited for about 15 minutes until the driver came out to tell us that the policeman wanted a bribe of 1,000 CFA (about £1.40) to buy his lunch, so we gave this to the driver, who paid it and came out grumbling that no receipt was forthcoming. The second stop was customs, and this involved a long discussion about whether our driver was authorised to drive the vehicle. It took about tem minutes to persuade them that all was in order. The next stop was the actual border where we had to show our passports and wait for them to be stamped. They just took them into a hut for ten minutes and came out with them stamped. This border was interesting because there were shacks and vendors right on the control point, and people sitting around, chatting, burning mahogany for fires, cooking meet, barbecuing sweet corn and selling all sorts of stuff. After moving on from there, we had a few kilometres in no-man's land, then reached the Mali crossing point. This time we were invited to sit on a bench with the policemen in a kind of permanent field-tent with no walls and a thatched roof. They we very friendly while they thumbed through our passports one at a time, checking the visas and copying out our details into their big book. There were 3-4 policemen, idly sitting around, and the biggest and most important was lounging half asleep right at the back of the shelter, enjoying his importance. While we waited I looked at the book upside down and noticed that we were the only people to have passed this way so far today, apart from locals passing unhindered. I wondered what they will do with this book once they filled it up. Probably sent it for filing away in some big office somewhere.

All this had taken about an hour and a quarter before we were finally on our way. But after a couple of kilometres, we had to stop to pay a road toll, buying a slip of paper for cash. Then we were on our way again. The road was growing slightly busier with carts pulled by donkeys and motorcycles or mopeds being used for all sorts of things. I think the most entertaining was the man with a live, adult goat strapped around his belly. Somehow, he managed to keep the goat and the bike under control as he made his way to town. Mali was very beautiful countryside with plenty of quite large settlements of mud huts with raffia roves. These close know communities were built out of the same red soil that they sat upon, with the addition of cow dung. Unlike similar villages in Burkina, these were much larger and seemed to be better kept. There were few concrete buildings.

We arrived in Sikosso quite early, maybe midday, and wanted to look around, as well as find a hotel for the night. As we drove around I think we were all a bit depressed by how primitive this place was. There was no sign of any industry and although this was Mali's second biggest city after Bamako, the only substantial buildings were the Governor's residence and some complexes built by various aid agencies. Thousands of people were taking part in a permanent market that is the city centre, operating out of small shacks or just sitting at the side of the road. We found the so-called best hotel intone, the Hôtel Zanga, and asked to look at the rooms. The place was deserted, the swimming pool empty of water, and only one person working there, who was asleep in front of the telly when we arrived. We asked to look at some rooms and she shrugged her shoulders and shook her head in a resigned kind of a way, clearly thinking that this was a waste of effort. When we got into the rooms, they were small, the curtains drawn, the toilet had the Muslim style of Bhutta, instead of toilet paper (basically a large teapot you fill with water to wash yourself), the rooms were musty and smelled of mould, and the window frames poorly fitting, with the balcony door not even reaching all the way to the floor. No mosquito nets meant that this would be a terrible place to sleep, so we thanked her and went on our way. We asked around and found another supposedly good hotel, this one called the Kaaky Hotel that was built in 2000. Again, there were no guests and the rooms were pokey, dark and musty. Even though they had mosquito nets, it was not a very nice place. So we decided we would not stay the night in Sikosso at all, but just have a wander before returning to Bobo. We bought some small clay pots. I bargained for the one that Sam wanted, in French, and felt quite pleased to have got the price down to 700 CFA (about £1). But when it came to a pair of smaller clay pots that Roine and I wanted, they were only asking 200 each (about 28p) so it really seemed unfair to beat the price down further. We also bought some mangos from the market for 500, and she was not interested in bargaining at all, although she eventually slipped 5-6 into the bag even though we only wanted three. We had done OK. We never found anywhere to have a beer. We had seen one really seedy place, concealed behind garish plastic sheets so the occupants cannot see passers-by and vice versa. This is a strongly Muslim community.

The drive back through Mali was straightforward and the border crossings were much easier going back. Some of the policemen thought it quite amusing that we had made such a small excursion into Mali, but although we were disappointed with such a small stay in Mali, we really needed to be realistic about how many kilometres we could cover in a day. And we need to be back to Accra at the week-end, so now we can take the return journal much more steadily. Passing a disused railway bridge that we had noticed on the way out, we stopped to take pictures of the bridge and the children and women carrying water on their heads were happy to be photographed as well.

We got a great welcome from the staff at the Hotel L’Auberge when we returned. It seems that they were particularly delighted to know that Bobo Dioulasso was more to our liking than Mail. I got the same room as yesterday, only this time it seemed fresher and everything had been cleaned properly. They had sprayed the corridors and rooms with insecticide, so we could be a bit more relaxed about mosquitoes for a while. We went to a restaurant for dinner, one run by nuns, called L’eau Vive. It was an outdoor restaurant in the courtyard of their accommodation, and the food was very good. I had a mushroom pizza with salad and chips. We had a beer with the meal, and as this was our second beer, Sammie went back to the hotel at the end of dinner, and Roine and I went to find the bar we’d seen on our first night in Bob when we were looking for something to drink. We had tried this place first the previous night, and it was deserted. They said then that it never really got going until 8 pm. As it was now 9 pm, we wanted to see what it was like with people in it.

When we got there it was already quite dark, and there was lighting at the bar, but none at the tables, so we were sat outside in darkness, watching the other customers and enjoying our beer. The music was mostly good West African stuff, with the occasional bit of crappy West African pop thrown in for good measure. Every time a new bunch of people entered, they cranked up the volume a little bit, until the loudspeakers were almost tearing themselves apart in the bass notes. The dance floor in the middle of the area had a shelter over it, and after a while some paltry disco lights flashed on intermittently. Eventually a couple stood up to dance awkwardly and jerked around for a bit, not quite in time with the music. This confirmed Roine’s theory that not all Africans had rhythm in their blood. Walking back across town at this time of night, the place now had a feeling of familiarity about it. Most of the people patrolling the streets looking for tourists had already seen us about and now left us alone, and it was a great feeling just walking along streets where people were getting on with their lives. We passed one of the continuous barbecues that are all over the town, where slow-burning mahogany logs are used to cook cuts of meat that have been tickled by millions of flies. The smell of mahogany smoke was a really wonderful part of the atmosphere of Bobo. A great end to a long day.

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 Nescafé 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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