Friday, January 4, 2008

Back to the coast ...

We headed out early in the morning at around 6.00am, it was light and I hoped that the previous night's zem driver wouldn't forget our arrangement to pick us up with a friend of his. Thanks to him I had left 10,600CFA at the bus station with the guardien ... I was worried that I'd never see the money or the tickets the guardien had promised to purchase for me. Arriving at the bus station on foot, I was thrilled to find that he'd got the final two tickets for the Lome bound bus. We hung around for a bit with Dani watching TV in the corner of the bus station whilst I managed to buy the most foulest coffee I think I've ever had in Africa!

We unfortunately had the back seats but on yet another great Rakieta service. The first few hours of the seven hour drive south were stunning. Pulling into Atakpame, we stopped for a short while to refresh, buy food and get drinks. I rang the Ghana Embassy in Lome to ask them whether we could put in for visas in the morning (Friday) and receive them the same day; some brusque woman told me it wasn't possible, it would take 48hrs therefore we would be stuck in Lome until Monday and the cost had risen to 12,000CFA.

Finally we pulled into Lome & I asked a man what the 'going rate' was for a taxi to Aveposo as Gianni had told me that 'Chez Alice' was a cheap and cheerful option to stay at. The man turned out to be a priest heading south for a conference; we all piled into a taxi together and dropped him off at a seminary before heading out to Aveposo.

Chez Alice was a fantastic option, we got a room for 3,500CFA on the edge of a courtyard garden with monkeys, dogs & cats running around. Dumping our packs outside the kitchen we met Alice who remembered Gianni immediately! We sat in the most gorgeous open air salon having a drink as the humidity of Lome was really getting to us. Dani decided to go & get her pack from the kitchen & move it to the room, as a joke, I said she could bring mine through too ...

We wandered down to the beach, beautiful but looked incredibly dangerous for swimming in, although we spotted what looked like rocks about 400m out, we later found out what they were ...

Heading back in, we met a Slovenian couple who had just landed; their first time in Africa they were trying to get to Nigeria but hadn't yet got visas organised. Having dinner together Dani told them of our trip so far, possibly went too far as they were looking more & more worried as she went on & on!!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Been-in Benin



Dani & I woke and decided what to do next. It was strange being alone without Maddy, we'd all made decisions in the past and now there was just the two of us again. We got a lift into town and went back to Tanguieta bus station with the guy who'd given us a lift offering to drive us down to Natitingou when he'd loaded his van.

Dani & I sat under a mango tree for the best part of 2hrs chatting to two old men, their friend turned up and he was also going south to Natitingou and offered us a lift. We went back to the bus station and after a bit of grief from the first driver we got our packs unloaded.

Natitingou was a strange town. It was about 3km long with a few streets on either side of the main road. We went to Le Vieux Chevalier and ended up in a cell like room with no natural light for 5,500. We went out in search of an internet cafe, we were in 'zem'-land - no taxis in towns everything is done on scooters/zems so I had to hire two for us. Zem is a Beninois word coming from the term zemigden signifying 'emmene moi vite' (get me there quickly). In Togo the word changed to 'zed'. But being New Years Day, none of the internet cafes were open. So we went for a wander around town having disposed of our zem drivers and came across a lovely stone built church! Eventually we ended up in a cafe where we both felt uncomfortable and got another zem each back up the hill to the auberge. Dani took to reading the bible left in the room, she'd had some interesting conversations with Maddy about Islam & Christianity & apparently told Maddy she was going to read both the Bible & the Quran. I sat outside in the courtyard watching TV with the staff & endless friends that were popping in. We decided that we should leave Natitingou in the morning and head over the border to Togo, sadly we had only spent less than 48hrs in Benin.

We crossed the border in the morning from Natitingou in Northern Benin, we ended up hiring a whole taxi or else we knew it was going to be a long wait so from a price of 25,000CFA we got it down to 10,000CFA and happily left Natitingou.It was the most wonderful border crossing this morning through the spectacular Tamberna Valley with the Tata Somba houses which look like miniature fortresses ... got to Boukoumbe and immediately found a taxi to take us to Nadoba the other side of the border. But then we realised that the driver had gone past the gendarmerie (where I'd asked him to stop) we should have had our passports stamped so we had to get zems to go back 2km to see them! The Peugeot 504 came down the road to find us - technically a seven seater; there was D and I in the front with her leg beside the accelerator pedal on one side and my bum on the handbrake with another guy beside me; so 4 in the front, another 12 were in the two back rows plus all the stuff they were taking to market in Nadoba the other side of the border sitting on the roof a tight squeeze for 7km!

We got to Nadoba with most of the village staring at us, apparently foreigners don't often come that close to that bit of the border! It was market day and very busy, we found another taxi heading for Kande and sat under a tree with some kids watching us, waiting for our taxi to be ready. We wandered into the market and bought a few presents before getting squashed into our taxi. We headed off to Kande about 30km away in another squashed taxi to get our passports stamped for Togo as the immigration guy at Nadoba didn't want to do it. However we were passing through the Tata Somba area of Togo and about 5km from Kande we were stopped by the police and I was asked to get out of the taxi. The 'heated' conversation went a bit like this:

'You have come from Nadoba'
'No, I came from Natitingou via Boukoumbe'
'You have to pay 1,500CFA'
'Why?'
'You have seen our country'
'No, I have a visa, you are not immigration, I don't need to pay anything'
'But you have seen our country, you have seen the Tata Somba villages'
'No, I have been sleeping, I didn't see anything, I came from Natitingou in Benin'
'You can go when you pay 1,500CFA each for you & your friend'
'I slept, I'm tired, I am not paying anything, I came from Benin, this is a road'
'You must pay'
'I must pay for what? Driving along a road, tired? I didn't see anything'
'OK, you can go'

I was spitting feathers by the time I got back to the taxi. Furious that there was yet another tax & more hassle to go through .. but I'd made it out of his police post without paying a penny!

We got to Kande, eventually I persuaded the driver to take us to the police there after leaving our packs at a cafe. He dropped us on in the heat about 2km away, the police were very nice, stamped our passports and told us the shortcut to get back to the main road & our packs. We found a minibus heading south to Kara. We had a bit of a mutiny on the minibus, meant to hold about 12, the driver stopped all the time to pick up more & more passengers and we quickly grew to 20 with kids sitting on everyone's laps. Finally we all ranted at him and he told one family to get out.

Arriving in Kara, we got a 'zem' (Togo word for a zed) there weren't any taxis in towns everything is done on scooters/zems so I had to hire two for us again. I threatened the driver of Dani's zem with cold blooded murder if he drove too fast before we set off it was interesting as it was the first time we were on zems with all our stuff, packs went over the handlebars whilst we clambered on behind the drivers ... Dani had full authority to twist the drivers ear if he didn't respond to 'doucement' - but they were really good ...

Looking around for a hotel, we didn't find much, they were all very dodgy looking but finally we picked one; the restaurant guy at lunchtime assured us that the 3rd one we chose wouldn't turn into a brothel at night and was very respectable!!! We couldn't find much to do in or around Kara and decided to head south, I wanted to go to the cocoa & coffee growing region of Kpalime but Dani was dying to see the sea again. Her boredom showed when she started taking photos of the interesting tablecloth!!!

Monday, December 31, 2007

Heading south again ...


We eventually reached Fada N'Gourma at 8pm or so, in the dark I could just make out La Belle Etoile, the auberge we were meant to be staying at. However the bus driver refused to let us off as our packs were buried on the roof under a motorbike. He continued into town another 2km away and we waited for our packs to come off the roof.

Looking around in the dark, there didn't seem to be much in the way of transport, not a taxi tout in sight ... I started chatting to some guy who had been on the bus with us who told me he worked for an NGO. He rang a friend for me who rang someone with a vehicle and so a taxi was organised; after a 20minute wait we finally jumped into a 'vehicle' which was probably held together with glue; however I got the drivers number for the return journey the following morning (or rather his brother's number) and thanked him.

La Belle Etoile was fantastic, a great little auberge but unfortunately the kitchen was shut as the owner was away, on my return to Ghana I discovered the owner was a friend of Olivier & Danielle's! We wandered up to a petrol station where there was a Togolese run restaurant and got some dinner, and bought a few drinks in the flash shop on the forecourt! Maddy & I sat up for a while watching a praying mantis, chatting & listening to someone in another room snore incredibly loudly!


We awoke the next morning to see a Swiss family who'd arrived in their own vehicle and were incredibly snooty towards us and a Toureg from Niger who turned out to be a guide with his own vehicle. Lovely guy, we had a long conversation over breakfast together about the problems in Niger around Agadez & Arlit, the region he's from. He offered to drive us back into town so we could continue onto the border of Benin.

Arriving at the bus station we discovered that there weren't any buses that went over the border. We wandered up to the gare routiere and eventually found a minibus heading our way. To enable us to have a seat together the driver yelled at all the passengers (mostly female) in the bus to get out and rearrange themselves, it was a little embarassing! Our minibus reminded us of the previous nights taxi; held together with string & glue; once on the road all we could smell was petrol. I was very concerned that we'd catch fire and sitting in the back row there wouldn't be an easy escape route through the entrance door . So for 3hrs we drove with the back door being held open by yours truly - my arm ached!!! Several times we stopped to refill the leaking petrol tank ... once we were in a village and bought some small melons which when we opened them were full of mushy juice & pips, very little flesh inside.



We finally got to Nadiagou, the border post for Burkina. To our relief we were ushered out of the minibus into another newer one! Dani & I got the front seats & Maddy was rather squashed in the back. I went off to find food & water, there wasn't much around but plenty of fuel & wine!!!

















We sat in it for what seemed like hours until we set off again with lots of faces peering in at the three of us. The driver finally got us star but only 300m to immigration before another 16km down to Porga & Benin's immigration post on an excellent road. Finally we were in Benin, however, I developed the most horrendous headache which I was convinced was the sun & hoped that it wasn't malaria ...

We were fortunate at Porga, probably the nicest border post I've come across in W.Africa. The Immigration Police were incredibly friendly, it was the first border post I've been to where they want their photo taken with people. Unfortunately with the headache I was sitting on the step holding my head in my hands drinking warm water & swallowing aspirins! The minibus had gone on into the village and we discovered our driver & passengers in a bar. But the bar didn't have anything to drink despite crates of beers along the walls. Dani needed to 'go' I asked where the bathroom was & was told to go 'a la brousse' so we ventured out. She looked around & changed her mind deciding to hang on for a while. Eventually we got going again and I was suprised how green this side of the border was in comparison to the area around Nadiagou. Another hour or so down the road and we were in Tanguieta, by this stage Dani was in pain and raced straight for the 'conveniences' which as I suspected were dreadful ... coming out we were asked for 150CFA, I laughed at him and eventually gave 50CFA!

We'd decided on the way that between my headache, Dani's pains and the fact that the journey up to the edge of the Parc National de la Pendjari at Batia (we were aiming to stay in the Campement Relais de Tanougou) would be a lot of negoiation to find a 'cheap' transport option that we'd stay in Tanguieta. Whilst Dani & I were away in the bus station, Maddy had organised the packs & found a man who offered to take us to Hotel Le Baobab, for free. I immediately saw something wasn't right here, to be driven up to a hotel (we didn't know the price) for free - there had to be a catch. No, the guy was honest (hoping to take us up to the Park later ..) and took us to Le Baobab. We had a look around and I suspected it was well out of our normal price range, but our very smart room with one single & one double bed & en-suite bathroom in a 'case' was all for 10,000CFA - it was a bargain! We swiftly moved in & then went back outside for a few drinks before finding out what was happening that night for New Years Eve's festivities!

The place seemed almost full. We were the only non-French there, the owner had arranged a party in the garden for all of us at 6,000CFA each and we saw the New Year's in, in a bit of a sombre fashion ... I've never been with a group of people who were so sombre, especially considering they were French! The following morning, Maddy got up at the crack of dawn to join a French guy who I'd been chatting to the night before who'd offered her a lift down to Cotonou .. she had to leave early to get her flight from Accra home ...

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ouagadougou


We left Banfora early in the morning and got into Ouagadougou around lunch time with a short snack stop in Boromo. We were all very impressed with the service on the Rakieta bus; clean, air-conditioned, videos & great drivers. It was like something in Europe ...

Arriving in Ouaga we got a taxi down to the Catholic Mission, it was a bit of a mission finding it but finally the taxi pulled up outside a gate and a guardian eventually came to open it, we found ourselves on a street to the side of the Cathedral. I went through wanting to find out if there was any room for us and left Maddy to pay the taxi, which in hindsight was a stupid move. She didn't have the correct change for the taxi and had a lot of touts around her, one of which paid for the taxi. Understandably she was rather upset.
We walked into the park like ground and went to find one of the 'sisters' being a Catholic Mission it accepts ladies and the occasional man - they told us they were full; we thought that our tattered dusty apperance possibly put them off, they sent us to the 'brothers' who gave us a dingy room for 6,000CFA and as soon as we came out of the gate we were pounced on by a group of 5 guys one of which had paid for our taxi. However they were incredibly aggressive and refused to take no for an answer or Maddys attempt at F*** O**; only when I said similarly in French did they step back ... it was very threatening and not letting us pass them was getting a little worrying - one of those situations when I had yell, but not something I like doing in Africa where things are usually done peacefully.


Dani took us a great restaurant that we'd passed earlier in the taxi (she'd really found her feet!!) and we realised it had rooms: so taking their guardien for protection Maddy and I crept back to the brothers passed our gang of boys and managed to get our packs out of the room and creep back to an ecstatic Danika who was waiting at Le Samaritain for us with lunch ordered!!! We had a room for about 14,000CFA basically a small suite with only air-con in the room. I'm not good with air-con so offered to take the little living room with a mattress on the floor and putting up my mossie net made for some interesting gymnastics between the 3 of us! Maddy & Dani shared the bed, but as it was I was up most of the night freezing! Later that night my friend Issaka I'd met 2 years previously when we were both backstage at a Johnny Clegg concert turned up to see us. He invited us all for lunch the following day!

So, on Sunday I went out early to go in search of bus tickets to Fada N'Gourma ... after getting several taxis around town I eventually ended up back at a Rakieta depot and then promptly bumped into the Germans we'd met at Diebougou bus station who were spending their last day shopping. On my return we all went off to the bronze artisans shops not too far from the auberge and again we met the Germans! We had Sunday lunch with Issaka and his family; he heads up the Burkina Chamber of Commerce. I finally met his wife Angelique and 3 kids, he took us all to a great restaurant in Ouaga - Le Foret where we had far too much food before heading off on another cracking Rakieta bus from a depot next to the Libyan cultural centre to Fada N'Gourma. I can't say enough about Burkina's transport system ...

However, I think Dani ate too much at lunch and slept most of the way to Fada N'Gourma on the bus ...

Friday, December 28, 2007

Banfora


We spent a wonderful day in the Banfora region. Getting a private car was well out of our price range at 20,000CFA for the day and I was planning to get bikes to go around but Maddy wasn't having any of it and kindly offered to pay for a car & driver, in the form of Ima.

video


















Ima had a fairly relaxed day. He drove us through the sugar cane plantations, up to the Domes of Fabedougou and then onto Karfiguela Falls where we jumped out and spent several hours in the sun, swimming, picnicking and escaping the dust of the Harmattan.


We then continued on through a number of villages and then onto Lac de Tengrela, in order to find some hippos. Dani & Maddy went out in a boat but only saw a few from a distance and those were more or less submerged apparently.

















Our final evening we treated Dani to McDonalds; we knew there was a McDonalds restaurant in town but didn't let on that there weren't any hamburgers & chips ... the food was excellent however!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Diebougou & beyond ...

We arrived at 'Le Relais de Diebougou' a nice enough hotel, managed to get a room with a double bed & a mattress was brought in for Maddy after a fair bit of negotiation. We had a few drinks with our minibus driver & his friends and the hotel cooked us a great meal.

The following morning it was decided to unfortunately miss the Lobi region via Gaoua as our driver had said it would take 8 hours to go from Gaoua to Banfora. We decided to catch a bus to Bobo Dioulasso and see the mosque. We walked the kilometre to the bus station, bought tickets and settled down for breakfast in a shack with coffee & omelettes. Some 'nutter' was there entertaining us all when another bus to Ouagadougou turned up with a German couple on board; they came over to join us for breakfast and were busy chatting to us when their bus started to leave! Luckily they caught it! Our bus came and again there wasn't any room to sit down so it was standing room only but Dani got lucky with a lovely Burkinabe lady who offered to let her sit on her knees!


We rolled into Bobo a few hours later in time for lunch and got a taxi across town to the mosque, as soon as we got out we were pounced on by touts - the most annoying & frustrating part of travelling in Africa. Ignoring them we walked across a square and found a small restaurant, ordered lunch and chilled out deciding to take it in turns to see the mosque. I received a text message on my phone which had us all in shock; JB was in Abidjan having buried his father the previous day, I'd sent him a text from us all and the one received said that he now had to bury his brother; the one that had malaria and we thought he was on the mend, the kid wasn't 14 but 9 years old!

Dani & I went off to the mosque, as soon as we arrived we were met by a guy just getting off his scooter claiming to be an official guide and wanting 1,000CFA; I ignored him but he went on & on, so I decided to speak Japanese to him asking him if he could speak Swedish. Completely perturbed by this white woman & child who didn't speak English, French or German (he tried all) he left us in peace! Hallelujah!!!


Maddy went off to see the mosque alone & received similar hassle and we all decided it was time to get a bus to Banfora which we hoped would be quieter and we wouldn't receive as much hassle. The bus station was minutes from the restaurant, we bought tickets and found ourselves in Banfora by 5pm or so. We picked Hotel de la Comoe from one of our guide books and turned up to find a gorgeous courtyard garden and a room for 7,500CFA for the three of us. However the room had two single beds, so I got the short straw this time and had a mattress on the floor which made things a little cramped.