Yes, another one of these and we’re off to West Africa this time to the landlocked country of Burkina Faso. It may well not be a country high on your bucket list, I know, in fact you may never have heard of it – I know many in Australia haven’t because I guess we generally don’t focus on this region of the world, or indeed talk about it much. If you watch a lot of news about the rest of the world you might hear about Burkina from time to time, it hasn’t been in the best stability in recent years, but it probably isn’t the first country people think about when they think ‘Africa’ and indeed destinations in that amazing continent.
Actually, presuming it’s safe to visit Burkina Faso, you might find yourself liking the place if you’ve an open mind and don’t have a strict idea of Africa as simply as place for safaris. It’s another case of a place that I liked despite the stuff that happened to me there, primarily I am talking about getting malaria which is a problem in the whole region of West Africa. Almost-neighbouring Nigeria has something like 12-14 percent of all cases in the world and it is particularly prevalent in West Africa’s coastal countries. I met a number of travellers in West Africa who had contracted it, but you know if you take precautions – repellent, anti-malarials, where long sleeves and trousers (please don’t use me as a medical advisor, research if relevant to you) you can greatly reduce your chances of getting this mosquito-borne disease which is a killer. But yes, treatment is available.
It is, as I said, landlocked and it has a number of neighbours. Mali, Ghana, Niger, Togo, Benin, Cote D’Ivoire, that’s a grand total of six. And it’s smaller than most of those countries except Togo and maybe Benin. It’s a very dry country, the heat is far easier to deal with than the southern neighbours where the humidity is killer, but we are talking temperatures into mid-40s and higher in the hotter months.
Bus is the way to get around and it’s not badly connected. Journeys seem to take significantly longer than one might expect, but that’s standard for the region. The VIP buses are the most comfortable option. Bush taxis will probably get you there a lot faster but you’ll pay more for them. Generally I found the people pretty friendly, but you’ll need some French to get you by. English is spoken here and there though, it’s mostly about luck.
Ouagadougou I kinda liked as a city. It again is dry and actually quite spread out. It’s a city but in West Africa and is actually pretty chilled. Every few years (every second maybe?) they have a film festival in Ouagadougou. There’s a decent market, and decent views from rooftops, a few nice places to eat (a Lebanese place I vaguely remember had a great selection including kebabs and pizza) and there’s even a place done up like the Moulin Rouge! There’s an old theatre you can explore, and loads of monuments too. I caught the final of the African Cup of Nations there too with everyone in a pub/bar/etc type of place glued to it. That was a highlight.
On the second trip to Burkina Faso my travel mate and I met a group of students who had apparently been set a challenge to get a photo with foreigners. We were happy to oblige.
Around the country, perhaps the most interesting place I went was Bobo-Dioulasso. Again you find monuments, some quite modern (or is it post-modern? I am really bad with eras in style) and so it’s worth scooting around for photos and the like. But its mosque is the chief thing to see here, not as impressive naturally as the Djenne Mosque in Mali, it nevertheless has it’s own style about it. Lots of bikes zoom around the town too.
Banfora is further away from the capital, but like Bobo is in the south-west of Burkina Faso. From here I managed a day-trip out where I had a guide. The Boab tree is all over the region and country, and we saw quite a few on the trip, which included a stop at a distillery of all places, and at a small village where my guide was from where I saw some of the biggest termite mounds you’d ever want to see! In Banfora itself I went to a drumming performance which was great, and got to spend a night in the hospital there which was significantly less great.
The other place I visited was Ouahigouya. This was a very dusty town in the north of the country where we stayed (second trip again here) in a basic but nice guest house before moving on the border with Mali. Very dry again here, but I didn’t mind it.
Getting into Burkina Faso – well there are borders with all countries I think, not 100% with Togo but I presume so but it is a very short border. I crossed from Niger which I remember as pretty easy, crossing into Mali from Ouahigouya was an experience, border control was a tiny hut! It was a LONG bus ride from Niamey (Niger) to Ouagadougou, the crossing to Mali was on a bush taxi type of deal (more a mini van, in Ghana you call them tro-tros but not sure in Burkina).
The Ouagadougou Airport is easily accessible from town as it’s pretty much in the city. Flights often arrive in the middle of the night and leave in the middle of the night if they are heading further than a neighbouring country. That’s annoying because if you arrive, like my travel mate and I did on the second trip, by plane in the middle of the night (2am it was) with no accommodation booked, you could be in for tough times finding a bed at that hour. I would presume it’s much easier to prebook though these days, we were there more than 10 years ago now and only the very top end hotels had internet booking. The one we wanted had email, but they never replied to me!
So, a little look at a rather interesting place. I realise I have not bombarded you with attractions this week, but travel just isn’t like that in Burkina Faso. Dancing in open air cafes, sharing the football with the locals, meeting people, discovering life, these are the reasons to visit Burkina Faso, and to get out of your comfort zone. If these things appeal to you, once life is somewhat normal again and presuming Burkina Faso finds a bit of stability – maybe it’s a place you’ll consider?
Thanks for reading today – May the Journey Never End!