Updated On: August 26, 2006
Route: Ouaga-Gorom-Gorom-Bobo-Ouaga View Route
Miles Traveled : 1,383 miles
Cumulative Distance: 14,027 miles
Current Weather: Cool, rain and sun
Wildlife: Camels, more camels
Activities:Winching a dump truck - harder than you might think!

 
  Ouagadougou - August 14, 2006
(Sheri Writes): After Jim took a nice hour long run with Shelton and Katy, we quickly showered and left Mac’s for the last time. Sad to be leaving Mali, as it has been such a wonderfully beautiful country full of warm, welcoming people, we were also excited to be entering Burkina Faso. Before departing, we spent our last 7,000 CFA on fuel and then setoff for Tiou. The drive was on a mix of excellent grated and paved roads and we made good time, arriving at the border around noon. Both the Mali and Burkina Faso passport and customs formalities were smooth and efficient and we crossed over into Burkina Faso without hassle.

After a long drive, we arrived in the bicycle and motorbike madness, which is Ouagadougou. Tired, hungry, and terribly short on cash we navigated our way through the throngs of vehicles to the Catholic Mission, Centre d’Accueil des Soeurs Lauriers – our resting-place for the next couple of days. Our first time staying at a Catholic Mission, we almost felt like we were at summer camp. Set on a quiet, shaded lot in the heart of Ouagadougou, we were greeted by a characteristically stern nun who informed us of meal times and showed us to our room – a tidy duplex, away from the main building, complete with a fan and mosquito net. Starving, we spent the next couple of hours riding out the worst rainstorm we experienced yet as we gnawed our arms off until we were allowed to go into the dining room at 7:00. Dinner was a good value and very filling, with soup, salad, noodles and sauce, topped off with yogurt and watermelon for dessert.

 
     
 

Ouagadougou - August 15, 2006
(Jim Writes): Today we struck out swinging on three straight fastballs. First, it was off to the Ghana embassy to apply for our visas. As it turns out, today is a national holiday Ascension Day, in Burkina and the Ghana embassy is closed. Strike one! Next it was off to Sortileges, a well known African fine art gallery, to hunt for a mask. After finding a wonderful Dan mask, we came up swinging when we found out the gallery wanted 800,000 CFA ($1,600) for it. Strike two! Finally, we found out that, because it’s a national holiday, the mission wouldn’t be serving dinner. This came as a particularly big blow as I’d been dreaming of the mounds of hardy fare since we finished dinner last night. Strike three!

Having gone down in a ball of flames, we drowned our sorrows with cheap rice and sauce at a food stall before heading back to the mission to do some much needed laundry. The silver lining: the mission has a washing machine, which for a nominal fee a nun stuffed our clothes into and then hung them on a line to dry. After months of hand-washing our clothes, this was a wonderful treat.

While our laundry was underway, we received another little surprise. Shortly after dark, thousands of Burkinabe poured into the mission in a giant candle lit processional. Everyone was singing, in celebration of Ascension Day. A magnificent sight!

 
     
 

Dori - August 16, 2006
(Jim Writes): Early this morning we set-off for Gorom-Gorom, a small village in the northeastern corner of Burkina Faso famous for it’s colorful Thursday market. We’d received word from another traveler that the road may be impassable due to heavy rains and that other vehicles were having trouble getting across a river. We set out in heavy rains, hopeful we’d be able to make it without being forced to turn back. We drove for what seemed like days along a dull, uneventful stretch of pavement with scarcely a pothole to contend with. Unfortunately, all good roads in Africa must come to an end and shortly before reaching Bani our gloriously smooth tarred road morphed into a grated dirt track, which quickly disappeared into a large, fast flowing river. To say it didn’t look promising would be an understatement. The river was several football fields wide. The water was fast flowing and we had no idea what was underneath. Judging by a group of donkeys already in the river, it didn’t appear terribly deep, perhaps just to the bumper, however there were no other vehicles in sight and it was difficult to tell if we’d be swept away. And to top things off, just to the right of where the track disappeared, there was a waterfall several feet tall. Certain doom should we be swept over it!

As we sat on the riverbank contemplating our fate, we were met by a large group of locals who assured us it was passable. One man proposed that he guide us across while the other twenty or so hold on to Betty so that we were not swept away. Hmm.... while they seemed like a strapping bunch, exuding loads of confidence, this didn’t seem like the insurance we were looking for. Instead, we decided to sit and wait to see if any other vehicles came along. Eventually, a large overland lorry (18-wheeler) arrived and, after stopping to evaluate the situation, the truck slowly entered the water. We decided to enter behind them, using the giant truck as our guide. Crossing the river was a slow, nerve-racking exercise in which the overland truck slowly navigated it’s way around donkeys and other foot traffic while the truck’s passengers, perched high atop the truck’s cargo, belted out directions to us – “A droit! A droit!” “A gauche,” “Attendez.” Each time we came to a stop Sheri and I would just hold our breath, afraid we’d be swept away at any minute. It was stressful. It seemed to take ages. But, alas, we made it across, our jubilance tempered by the fact that we’d have to do it again to get back to Ouagadougou. Once safely on the other side, we continued down the dirt track for a short while before returning to the comfort and peace of the paved road.

We reached the village of Dori shortly before dark, and after searching unsuccessfully for a hassle free bushcamp, decided to take the easy path and stayed in a small campement popular with NGO’s operating in the area. Dry and safe. We spent the evening decompressing over rice and sauce and a couple of stiff Coke’s – curious about the road ahead.

 
     
 

Dori (Gorom-Gorom) - August 17, 2006
to come along. The first to show up was another large overland lorry which entered from the other side. The water was all the way up to the lorry’s headlights but it made it. Once on the other side the lorry driver and crew stopped to lend their assistance. I assured him that our raised air intake was plenty high enough but then made a classic African mistake...... I popped the hood. Within seconds, the driver had removed the air filter, dislocating the intake hose in the process. He insisted that crossing the river required the removal of the filter. Hmm...... African logic never ceases to amaze me. Anyway, now I had a hose that needed to be fixed which, of course the overly zealous driver had no idea how to put back on. Fortunately, I did, and everything was back in place a short time later. In the meantime, we watched as a Nissan truck took a go at getting across. The water was up to the hood and, while it made it across, it clearly did some damage as the truck’s engine started to rev very high and billow dark black smoke. A Toyota Hilux was the next to have a go and we followed a short time after. No problems! Just a bit of stress and a very wet truck.

Our visit to the Gorom-Gorom Thursday market was fascinating. It’s a colorful local market in which a variety of ethnic groups including Tuareg, Songhai, Fulani, and Bella come to trade everything from camels to textiles to food. As we entered the market we watched as Tuareg’s approached riding large camels dressed in their traditional flowing robes and turbans and Fulani woman, decorated in elaborate jewelry, carried large pots of foodstuffs to sell in the central market square. An excellent day trip – one of the best markets we’ve seen in Africa so far.

Having had our fill of the market, we returned back down the rough dirt track and across the river to Dori where we stayed for the night.

 
     
 

Bobo-Dioulasso - August 18, 2006
(Jim Writes): A very long day, we set out with the goal of making it all the way from Dori to Bobo-Dioulasso. Along the way we stopped off to view Bani’s seven mud mosques. Scattered along the side of a hill, Bani is similar to other mud villages found in Mali and the surrounding area, characterized by a maze of mud buildings dissected by winding narrow streets and alleyways. The mosques themselves were unremarkable – largely decayed, with several mosques no longer in use. Regardless, it was a pleasant visit, which provided us with a nice view of the surrounding lush green countryside, and perhaps more importantly, gave us an excuse to delay crossing back over the massive river we’d forded a couple of days earlier.

Having exhausted Bani’s modest attractions, we set out again for Ouagadougou and before long found ourselves sitting on the banks of the dreaded river. This time, we found the river nearly deserted – no donkeys and only a handful of villagers and pedestrian traffic. And so, after taking a few minutes to contemplate our fate and setup the video camera VIEW VIDEO, we took a couple of deep breaths, entered the river, and started the long nerve-racking crossing. This time we were guided by a local villager who waded alongside us pointing out deeper sections and unseen hazards and generally keeping us away from the waterfall to our left and deep water to our right. Sigh… we made it!

The balance of the drive was uneventful to the point of being boring and we arrived in Bobo just before dark. It was a long day – 397 miles on African roads, albeit generally good ones, and we were exhausted.

 
     
 

Bobo-Dioulasso - August 19, 2006
(Sheri Writes): Today we setout to explore Bobo- Dioulasso. Our main goals were to take in Bobo’s laid back atmosphere, do some hunting for masks and other West African art, and, perhaps more importantly, find a patisserie which Lonely Planet said makes homemade ice cream. Walking around town, we thoroughly enjoyed Bobo’s laid-back nature. Definitely a place you can unwind for a few days. As we strolled along, we stopped by one shop after another searching for masks. An incredibly frustrating experience as pretty much everything on offer was tourist-grade imitations of Dan, Bobo, Dogon, Bambara and other tribal pieces from Mali, Burkina, and Ivory Coast. Having experienced similar problems in Dogon, we were growing tired and frustrated. We’re looking for a few pieces of authentic African fine art and other than the wonderful masks and statues on offer in Ouagadougou at high western prices, we’ve turned up nothing. Has all of West Africa’s art already been sold off? Or perhaps, it’s just that we’re fledgling novices still learning to tell the difference between Lobe and Mosi and just don’t know how to flush the good stuff out??

Tired of searching through the equivalent of African flea markets, we turned our attention to something we know more about…ice cream. First we hit the patisserie recommended by LP. The good news… it’s still there. The bad news… they no longer offer ice cream, homemade or otherwise. Undeterred, we continued out search and soon found that Bobo is a cornucopia of ice cream. We actually located two places just across the street from each other. Sure, when we went to order from the list of flavors on offer, they only had vanilla. That’s to be expected. It’s Africa after all. No problem, Jim had the ingenious idea of making coke floats! Not one, not two, but three coke floats later we rolled out of the shop, glad that we had a 1 ½ mile walk ahead of us to help burn off some of the calories.

On the walk back to our campsite, we contemplated our fate. While we were stuffing our faces with ice cream the heavens opened up and it poured. Not a big deal, unless you folded your tent up WITHOUT putting the rain cover on. Too late to do anything about it, we kept our fingers crossed that we wouldn’t be sleeping in a shallow swimming pool. When we got back to the truck, we surveyed the damage. The mattress was soaked on the bottom, as the rain had nowhere else to go but inside the tent. Agghhhh, the joys of living in a tent. Generally, there is either sand, some sort of smell, or moisture in the tent, or any combination of the above. What are you to do in such a situation… eat. And so we ignored our soaked abode and instead sat down to a dinner of delicious beef brochettes and sautéed potatoes.

After dinner we enjoyed chatting with a lovely French family that was camping beside us. A wonderfully interesting family with fascinating travel tales and even more fascinating hairdos, they explained that they have been traveling for approximately four years, three of which were spent on a sailboat in French Polynesia (tough life). We were particularly interested in Authur, an only child, who’s a very young looking 14 year old, with a bad mullet, charming personality, and maturity well beyond his years. I almost felt like I was talking with my parents when he started questioning our upcoming itinerary. In a mix of English and French he’d say “Nigeria?” “Congo?” “DRC?” “Why do you want to go there? I think that is a bad idea. Do you know that it is very dangerous there? I would not go if I were you! Do you know that you can ship (your truck)?” I admit, all are valid points. It’s just a little odd when such a young lad, who looks to be about 9, is doling out such advice, particularly when it’s conveyed in a serious, disapproving voice, with an almost fatherly demeanor. We just had to chuckle.

After talking to him for a long while, Jim and I can’t figure out whether we feel sorry for Arthur or if we think he’s the luckiest kid in the world. On the one hand, he gets to travel the world and has the benefit of a real life education few will ever be privy to. The benefits of which are clearly evident in his high degree of maturity. On the other hand however, other than travelers he meets along the way, his only friends are his parents and he doesn’t have the social interactions that are so important at that age. Nonetheless, he seems very happy and said he wouldn’t have it any other way. Perhaps we should all be so lucky!

 
     
 

Tangrela Lake - August 20, 2006
(Sheri writes)This morning started with a visit to the Grand Mosque where Jim spent some time taking photographs. Unfortunately, the area around the mosque attracts the usual cast of would be guides and when we arrived we were informed by a rather unfriendly hustler that, if we wanted to see the outside of the mosque (clearly in plain view just in front of us), it’s mandatory that we hire a guide who would show us the mosque and give us a tour of Kibidwe. Not interested in seeing Kibidwe or in hiring a guide, we ignored him while we snapped a few shots and then departed for the ice cream shop to enjoy one (or two) final coke float.

Just before leaving for Tengrela Lake we saw that Michel, a 3rd year college student from Switzerland, was going in the same direction on public transport. It seemed silly for him to catch the local bus when we were going to the same place, so we told him he could hop on the roof for the 60 mile drive to the lake, to which he gladly accepted. I of course felt awful that he was going to ride on the roof, but he assured me that this wasn’t his first time. Just driving Betty brings a lot of attention, multiply that by 10 when you have a “toubab” riding on the roof. As we passed each village, the locals got quite a laugh seeing Michel riding on the roof. Before arriving at Tengrela Lake we stopped in Banfora for the highly acclaimed McDonald’s restaurant (nothing to do with the fast food chain). The food was every bit as good as we’d heard, and Jim and I downed some burgers, sautéed potatoes, and fresh pineapple juice. The food was great. Well worth fighting our way through the weekly market to get there and moving the truck several times during lunch to accommodate the donkey carts and overstuffed bush taxis trying to pass along the street outside.

(Jim Writes): Stuffed to the gills with greasy burgers, we crawled our way through the market madness in hopes of making it out of Banfora without running over women, chickens, or children. Just outside of town we picked up a waterlogged dirt track and several wet miles later we arrived at Tengrela Lake (fortunately with Michel still clinging to the roof). Tengrela is a beautiful lake, known for it’s large hippo population. When we arrived, there were no hippos, which apparently have all gone on vacation to escape the rains. Instead, what we found during a short hike was a French family with their Renault sedan stuck hopelessly in the mud. What happened next was typically African. As I passed, I asked what had happened and the driver, an early 60 something Frenchman who’s been in Burkina for the past seven years, explained their plight. Apparently, they’d already been stuck several hours by the time we arrived. I offered my assistance and said I had a 4x4 and could tow them out in a few minutes. The Frenchman declined our offer saying he’d already called a tractor and it was on its way. We continued on and some time later, on our way back to our truck, we passed again and found the car still stuck. It was now almost dark and a Burkinabe woman (part of the stuck party) came running up begging for help. “What happened to the tractor?” I said. The woman pointed down the road where I could just make out what appeared to be a large truck sitting in the road. You could hear a lot of commotion and could hear the truck’s engine revving. I turned to Michel and said, “I’ll bet you $50 bucks the rescue tractor is either broken down or stuck.” Michel agreed, and sure enough, the rescue “tractor,” actually a very large, very old dump truck was now buried in the mud. The scene was comical. Now almost dark, the car was still stuck, the cavalry was stuck, and best of all the cavalry was now blocking the road so that there was no way to get to the car and no way for the car to leave should they get it unstuck. I couldn’t help but have a bit of a laugh, as this is exactly the type of situation I’ve come to expect in Africa.

I explained to the woman, who’d clearly reached the end of her rope, that now it would be impossible for me to get to their car because the dump truck was blocking the road. “No, no” she said. “Please, you must tow the tractor (read: giant dump truck) out.” Oh no, I thought. Here comes our nasty reverse karma again. Somehow, we continue to get ourselves mixed up in these situations. It starts innocently enough. We try to do a simple favor for someone in need. Invariably, it ends with everyone happy except for us as somehow Betty always ends up with a broken wheel, blown tire, or some other ailment. This time I’m guessing our winch will likely be ripped out of the front of the truck.

Going against my better judgement I nevertheless obliged and hiked back to Betty to drag her into the fray. By the time I made it to the dump truck their must have been 25 or so villagers collected and I found the truck half on the road and half off with the right side buried deep in soft mud. Everyone was digging and laying sand ladders and yelling and screaming and generally running about like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off. Clearly, there was a lot going on however none of it seemed likely to get the dump truck unstuck. With the prospects of another solution looking dim, I approached the driver to setup a winch recovery. Explaining what was involved in such a recovery warrants a bit of background information. The general idea was that I would connect the winch cable to the dump truck and, in theory, winch the dump truck out of the mud. Only problem was that Betty weighs in at about 3 ½ tons, our winch is rated at 4 1/2 tons, and the dump truck probably weighs several times Betty’s weight and far exceeds the winch’s maximum load. In other words, if I were to simply connect the winch cable to the dump truck and start pulling, Betty would just get dragged through the mud towards the dump truck. That said, to have any hope of a successful recovery, I’d need a lot of help from the dump truck and the villagers. I explained this to the driver and asked for him to coordinate the 25 or so able-bodied mercenaries who’d congregated so that, on my command, he’d reverse his engine and attempt to back out while everyone pushed and I assisted with the winch.

So that’s a brief summary of how the whole thing should have worked. Now, how do you think the story ends?

A.) Betty saves the day? The winch starts, the driver throws it in reverse, the villages push and everyone goes off dancing and singing back to their village.
B.) The winch starts, the dump truck driver throws it in first gear instead of reverse and rips Betty’s front end off?

Hint: This is Africa.

How about, after some significant pleading to convince the local populous that a winch is not a toy, I engage the winch, signal the driver to reverse and the villagers to push and……… with a lot of commotion by the villagers and a brief serge of the giant truck’s engine and a good bit of black smoke, the dump truck runs out of gas. Did you expect any less? I didn’t.

I could go on for quite some time about what happened next but I’ll jump to the highlights. It was dark. We were in the middle of the bush. The villagers wanted to get paid and there was no hope that they were going to get any cash for the hopelessly stuck dump truck. So, they ditched the giant truck leaving it stuck in the road and shifted their attention to the Renault. Meanwhile the French family directed an overly zealous machete-wielding villager to stay behind to chop a path around the dump truck so that, should the Renault get free, it would have a way out. And eventually, as indicated by cheers from the villagers, they did get it out and managed to squeeze past the dump truck, which was left along with the driver, sitting in the middle of the road. Ah yes, only in Africa.

 
 
 
 

Bobo-Dioulasso - August 21, 2006
(Sheri Writes): With a full day ahead of us, we awoke early to head to Sindou Peaks. It was a nice drive along a muddy track, which passed through small villages dotting the countryside. Along the way we received a warm welcome from adorable children, always excited to see a passing toubab (in fact one little boy was so excited that he turned mid stream while peeing to chase our truck). Arriving at Sindou Peaks, we weren’t initially impressed. Not long after starting our hike however, the seemingly small line of peaks opened into a large narrow, craggy chain of mountains that look like large cones of rock jutting up from the lush green countryside. We climbed to the top of one of the peaks and enjoyed a fabulous view of a small village below. After taking in the scenery for a bit, we headed back to the truck and bounced our way back to Banfora, eager to get our fill of hamburgers and fresh-squeezed juice.

Afterwards, it was back to Bobo and Casa Africa where we met a very friendly Peace Corps volunteer, Maggy, who just finished her assignment and will be going to France for the next 6 months to teach before returning to the US. We had a wonderful conversation with her about travel, living in DC (she lived there for 3 years as well), her Peace Corps assignment, and future plans.

 
 
 
 

Bobo-Dioulasso - August 22, 2006
(Sheri Writes) Today was pretty much an admin day. We started with a morning run through town followed by an increasing frequent ritual – removing our mattress so that it can dry. Later in the day we made one last run (I think we might have said that in an earlier entry:) to La Bonne Miche for ice cream – this time chocolate as they had new flavors in and we’ve had our fill of floats.

Back at Casa Africa we met another interesting Peace Corps volunteer on assignment in Burkina. An otherwise pleasant visit, we had to cut the conversation short when Kelly, also from DC told us she’s going back to NYC and DC for a three week vacation and started talking about all the food and other vices she was looking forward to. No fair!

 
     
  Ouagadougou - August 23, 2006
(Jim Writes): We’ve had it very easy in Burkina when it comes to checkpoints and officials. Easy border crossing. Rarely a checkpoint. No corrupt officials. Nothing but smooth sailing. This morning however, on the way out of town, was a bit of a headache as I was sitting in the truck waiting for Sheri to grab some yogurt at the gas station (Note: Burkina and Gambia have the best yogurt in North and West Africa). I was approached by a guy who jumps out of a taxi claiming to be a police officer and reading me the riot act for not stopping at a round about. He was in plain clothes but produced a badge when requested. I’ve learned that officials don’t always look the part in Africa so I was hesitant to tell him to f-off. Anyway I listened to him flex his muscles for 5 minutes or so before he demanded my int’l drivers license. I refused to hand it to him but let him see it at a distance (there’s nothing on it but a picture and something that says international drivers permit so it seemed harmless). He kept reading me the riot act and then borrowed a pencil from the gas station attendant to write down my vehicle registration number and then made a phone call and left. Kind of a pain in the ass but nothing ever came of it.

We made it back to Ouagadougou fairly early and went straight to the Ghana Embassy to drop off our visa applications. Sorry, we were 20 minutes late and they were no longer accepting applications. Seems we have bad Ghana visa karma as this was our second attempt (first time it was a national holiday). Afterwards we drove in a terrible rainstorm to the Catholic Mission – salivating at the thought of a big dinner. No luck. Booked solid. Back into the driving rain to have a look at a place listed in LP. Run down, depressing place. We decided to move on. Now getting desperate, we tried a place recommended by some other overlanders. The rumor was that it was a nice hotel that would let you camp for free. Seemed too good to be true, not to mention it had an odd name – Hotel OK Inn. We gave it a go anyway. In the rain it was terribly difficult to find. Hidden behind a truck stop, I guess we might have never found it if we’d not had a waypoint. Eventually we found a back entrance. When we inquired inside the rumors proved true. Free camping with full use of pool, showers, etc. Plus they had free wi-fi. Turned out to be the best deal in town.

After checking in, we found a great spot behind some bungalows to setup our tent and then headed to the restaurant for a late lunch as we were starving. After lunch we did something we never have the opportunity to do...we put down the tent and took a long nap. It was magical. With the temperature cool from all of the rain, we fell asleep to the sound of light rain hitting the top of the tent. A rare treat. We slept until dinner and then dragged ourselves out of the tent long enough to eat again and then returned again and called it a night.

 
     
  Ouagadougou - August 24-26, 2006
(Sheri Writes): The next few days were spent getting our Ghana visa, taking advantage of the free internet access at the hotel, and indulging in a couple of our favorite cuisine’s—Vietnamese and Lebanese. It’s been months since we’ve had humus and we learned about a great Lebanese restaurant, Chez Simone, from Kelly, the Peace Corps volunteer from Bobo. The hummus was excellent and hit the spot. We tried a Vietnamese restaurant that turned out to be a little disappointing. I’ve learned that you generally can’t get good Asian food in Africa, so I guess I’ll just have to wait until we get to Asia! Other than that, we hung out by the pool and worked on the website and other tasks that have been piling up since Mali and generally preparing to depart for Ghana.