Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Southern Burkina and Togo

After our change of plan we decided to travel to Nazinga national park in the hope to see elephants. Driving there took a long time, mainly, as I wrote in the last blog, due to police checks. They were fine every time they stopped us, chatting about what had happened in Ouagadougou and where we should drive etc, but it was just time consuming stopping and being written into the tourist book! Coming off the main roads we spent about 3 hours travelling on piste (red dirt roads, bumps and lots of dust). Arriving near to the camp site we saw two elephants in the bush. This was my first time having ever seen an elephant(s) andThe  it was breath taking, they were about 10m away and were not worried about us being there, and carried on eating the leaves. I managed to get some good photos on the camera. 

Arriving at Nazinga Ranch we were told we couldn't camp but the rooms were 10000CFA, this was fine, and after paying the bill, the park entrance (and the camera fee) we were shown our rooms. The room was basic, however there was a shower and space! The thing I miss most is space to wonder around.. Mainly after a shower, and privacy! Walking to the lake we saw some birds and other wildlife.. Suddenly we heard a crashing! On the other side of the lake appeared a herd of about 20 elephants of all ages and sizes! I had gone from never seeing an elephant to seeing a whole herd! The sounds, and watching them interact was awesome! We stopped and watched them but sadly the sun went down quickly (as it tends to do here) and we headed back to camp. 

A great thing about Burkina Faso is the amount of vegetables and salad being sold.. Having come from Mauritania, Mali and Senegal where every road side stall seems to be only selling lemons, oranges or water melons it is a welcome break! At the camp we had salad for dinner. Lettuce, eggs (which you buy boiled!), tomatoes, green beans and cucumber! It was just fantastic and very cheap. Mandy had bought 2500CFA worth of salad and veg which I counted to have lasted us 25 single meals (adding tuna or eggs). Meat is still very expensive and I am not sure whether they are taught to butcher an animal or just to hack as you get given a weighed amount of meat which includes everything! Not great value! 

Waking up at 6am the next day we wandered to the lake and saw the sun rise, along with crocodiles and different birds. Heading out into the park in the cars we slowly drove around, but only saw crocodiles and baboons! Reaching the second accomodation place, Camp Elephant, we were again told there was no camping and we got a room. It was not hugely expensive and it had a pool! I have decided the best thing about having a room is clean feet.. Walking out of a shower and onto a clean floor (and not dust or sand) is a nice feeling! That night whilst making dinner (the hotels allow you to provide your own food), we heard shots in the park, this fuelled the hunting debate, which carried on when we were at the bar with a party of middle aged rich French men who in English told us they were shooting beef however I am not sure that was the direct translation from French!

(Photo of the national park day two)

To get to the boarder we had to take the road that went to the outskirts of Ouagadougou, the capital. As you may have read already there was an awful attack on a hotel there last week resulting in many deaths and injuries. Having spent time in this beautiful country my heart and thoughts go out not only to those involved, but the country itself which is so welcoming and warm. It is a country surrounded by some difficult boarders leading to issues within. It is a shame because what it needs is people to come, visit, spend money, meet the locals and surrounding landscapes.. Not negative news because of some fanatic from a neighbouring country! Anyway.. I digress! Driving there was not a long route however it was long.. Again because of the number of police checks which increased and got more thorough as we got closer to the capital. There are different forces and each had their different check points. The national police in their beige, smartly pressed uniforms who are generally older gentlemen, the local police in their green all in ones, generally younger and carrying AK47's, and the military who wear a rather groovy orange and green camouflage all in one and stand intimidatingly arms crossed, legs wide and AK47 in their hands (apparently there is a low crime rate due to proactive policing.. Shoot first!). However every police and military official we spoke to was lovely, they wanted our passé vant, passports, drivers licences and then to look in the car.. There was never an issue.. However me trying to describe our awening out of the side of the car, in French, was amusing.. My French book did not have a direct translation...(NB since meeting Sammy and Richard they told me it is an'au vent' which makes a lot of sense!). We have come to the conclusion that the reaction you get from officials is entirely down to how you are with them... Always say 'bonjour, ca va?' With a smile, have the documents ready to had straight over and they are fine with you! We did get to our intended stopping site about 100km from the boarder! 

All was fine as we parked up, chatted to the sucurity man and set up for the night. During our rowdy game of uno in the dark a group of men walked towards us. It was not until they got into the torch light we realised it was 5 police officers.. 4 wearing bullet vests and carring AK47s. A slightly scary sight! I managed to mumble 'c'est bon rester ici' and the reply was 'non!'. Right we thought! After that my French skills went the window, they said they were there for security reasons so I said 'passports?'. They checked them, asked some questions, took a fiche and wrote down other details. Having done this they went away and chatted.. Came back and asked to look in the cars.. After a fairly comprehensive look they decided it was ok. Smiles all around and they were happy we were not a threat. When they left the security guy said it was because of the attacks that had happened and it was for all our safety.. It was fair enough! I think the guns often make us British who are not used to them feel a bit uneasy! The rest of the night was rather dull in comparison!

Waking up early we headed to the boarder which took about 5 hours. Getting there it was all rather confusing as it serves at the boarder for 2 countries, Ghana and Togo. Getting to the customs took a while but once we found it we were ushered in! We had a slight hiccup because the official was convinced that our visas for Burkina Faso were wrong.. On the visa is the passport validity as well as the start date of the visa (06.01.16) and then 90 days. He was convinced that our visa datas were the passport validity dates and could not comprehend it was 90 days from 6th Jan.. After he talked with various other people he found it ok and guided us onto customs to have our names written in another book. Leaving we had to pay 2000CFA car tax and made our way to the Togo customs. Getting a visa was fine, 10000CFA for 7 days and could be extended in Lome for free! Bonus! Customs on the Togo side was a mission. As in other countries they had never seen a Carnet before so we needed to buy a passe vant again which was fine, this was 5000CFA. Having done this we were free to leave!

Togo was similar looking to Burkina however the houses had become more house like.. More western looking but still made out of yellow stone. We drove to Depong the first town after the border and camped in a hotel which had wifi! It was a quick scramble to put up the tents and have a beer and a chat to the parents! It was nice to catch up with the gossip and what was going on! Next morning after another tent escapade we set off for the Grotes de Nagou. Arriving there the scenery was amazing.

We were approached by a man who would sell us tickets (2000CFA and I did get a receipt) and told us we had to use him as a guide. I did ask if it was necessary and he said yes (funnily enough). After being stung at the Cascades in Burkina we decided an upfront price for the guide of 4000CFA which was ok for both parties. Going through the doors we climbed down metal ladders until we hit a ledge. After a 10m walk we saw Windows and little houses in the rocks! It was very impressive! The guide told suit was used in the war (I am unsure which one) and all the nearby village stayed there if they were attacked.. 300 people for around 2-4 months at any one time! They made arrows to defend themselves, and had maize stores as well as a running spring for water. Just amazing! Was definitely  worth the money we paid. We are finally getting more savvy when it comes to guides; the guide today spoke French and I could pretty much understand him so when he started talking about how his solar panel at home had broken and that he did not have enough money to fix it I replied with sorry I don't understand. It is very difficult because these people have nothing however we cannot help everybody.

Our next stop was Mango. Turning up we found an Auberge which was only 4000CFA per room. We could not see them because they were being cleaned but we thought we would take the risk and go with one! Driving back out into the village we found some street food as it was 3pm and we were chomping at the bit for food! We chose well, pasta, noodles, couscous, meat and a sauce all for 1000CFA. Was a bargain, whilst we stood eating some of the local children came and chatted to us.. They were so lovely! Smilely and talking about school! We headed to a bar for some beer.. 2 beers later  and desperate for the loo we headed back to see what our rooms looked like! Surprisingly they were really nice, basic but comfortable! Walking back to the bar we stopped off at a rather groovy disco place for another beer before we headed to our old faithful from the afternoon! 5 beers in and I was man down.. The walk home was a little blurry and apparently I had a altercation with a storm drain much to everyone's amusement. 

Getting to the room we realised there was no blanket so poor charles was sent to fetch it from the tent! He is a good one! Waking up in the morning slightly fragile was headed off towards Lome. We had planned to do this in 2 goes due to the distance and ended up in another town to stop for the night. Again it was a hotel room because they were so cheap and good quality. The town come alive at night with lots going on, the smells of meat cooking and the music blaring from speakers makes great watching! 

From here we headed straight to Lome, we needed to extend our visa and as the weekend as fast approaching we needed to get a move on! We arrived and found the visa services. We had just missed the opening hours by 10 minutes but the man told us to come back tomorrow (Saturday) at 7am. Very  early but it needed to be done! We stayed the night at Chez Alice which sadly was not great, we were in a hot and dusty car park, right next to the road. However it was cheap for food and we met Sammy and Richard whom I have been talking to along the way for advice and tips! It was great to finally meet them and they told us of another camp site where lots of people were staying. After a very sticky night we woke up early to head to the visa services.. We got to be told 'oh no we don't open today.. Come back Monday at 7am'..  We were not best pleased! Making our way to Coco Beach (about 1km down from Chez Alice) we stopped off for breakfast and a coffee! Coco beach was a lovely camp site, right on the beach with decent facilities! As promised by Sammy, there was lots of others. 2 other couples and a group of bikers who were stranded in Togo because they had not got their Nigerian visas in Bamako and they were not issuing here.. Later on they finalised shipping to Gabon but I think it was a difficult process! Staying here was a lot cooler and you could dip in the sea!

Monday morning came around and back to the visa service we went.. 1000CFA (not free as the boarder promised!), another form, 2 passport photos and come back tomorrow! Tuesday and all was fine, visa came back with a month and multiple entries! We headed to the Benin embassy who charged us for photocopying our photocopies and told us to come back Friday at 3pm! The longest visa time yet! It was however only 10000CFA for 15 days so not too expensive! The decision was made to hang around at Coco beach till the Friday because our passports were still at the embassy and we didn't want to risk travelling somewhere to find we needed them or were asked for them by the police. We spent the time at the Grand Marche, the central shopping and trading place for Lome. Charles finally bought some new flip flops, parting with his old ones and myself some tops.. 3 tops for 4500CFA, cheaper than Primark! Friday came around quickly and we headed to the Benin embassy.. Getting there we found that everyone who has applied gets their visa at the same time on Friday.. We had to hand in our receipts, were given a number and wait till we were called. An hour and a half later I was called into the waiting room to pick up all 4 passports. Once in there it was a musical chair type game where one person went into the office and you moved up the chair queue.. Very bizarre and very disorganised! This left us with no time to apply for the Congo visa so we headed back to the camp site for pizza and beers with our camp mates, which now included another biker - Andy who's face book page is Wheelie Adventurous. 

(Photo of the 'West Africa Crew')

Having spent a week in Lome waiting for various visas we headto the mountains for the weekend with Ollie and Lina, a German couple who have been on the road for nearly 2 years! The views from the campsite were good, however due to the sand winds from th Sahara everything was very misty! On the Sunday we paid a guide to take us on a 8 km walk around the area, he told us about the local plants, wild life, pigments for painting and also the coffee plants. The coffee industry here is interesting.. It was not until Westerners came to the area that coffee was planted here, it is not a native plant. The guide said people do not drink much of it here, however they export it, it gets made to Nescafé, then reimported to sell.. We could not see the point of this! However we did buy a bag of it to use in our caffitiere! 

We are now headedback to Lome for the Congo visa which took a day and costed 60000CFA. We have heard the DRC visa can be picked up in Benin but there we also concerns they will turn you away at the boarder as you are not a resident of the country of issue.. A risk we may just have to take! Our final day took us to the fetish market, a culture stemming from Benin. It was full of dead animals ready to be ground into fetishes.. The smell was rancid and the variety of dead animals a little disturbing in places. The guide told us that different blends of animals allow for white magic to be produced.. Good travelling, safety in the homes and even one for the boys stamina... All sorts of weird things! Not my cup of tea but worth a visit!  In the evening we had a final farewell fire and stew with all the over landers we have met at coco beach! Great way to end a great stay!

Togo has been another fantastic country. The people again have been very friendly, welcoming and the sights stunning. It has been nice to stop off in one camp site for longer than 2 days, and meet people who speak English well enough to have a conversation about their travels! We definitely hope to meet up with them again along the way! 

Final words.. These Fanices were introduced to us by the Oasis Overland bus! 200CFA and AMAZING .. Ice cream in a bag!