06 January 2009

Burkina vacation!

I mentioned in my Thanksgiving post that I made travel plans for the New Year. I'm now in Ouaga, vacation over (I'm not back at site because we have a training session). It was an excellent vacation. Excellent. Definitely makes my top three list. I'm antsy to get back to site now, I've been gone since the 27th. Even so, I'm extending my stay in Ouaga by a day so that I can see my traveling companions - or most of them - one more time as they pass back through (they've naturally continued on while I'm stuck here). Which gives you an idea of how cool they are. But first things first...

Christmas in village

Exhausting. Christmas was celebrated the way all holidays are celebrated here - lots of eating and drinking. And my village is nearly all Christian. So there was even MORE eating and drinking than for other holidays. I'd spend three hours at one house, eating and drinking, then be directed to another, where I was also expected to eat and drink. Then another. After the first two, I was going to houses of people I didn't know. I was finally allowed to stagger home around 11 at night (I'm usually in bed with a book by 7:30). And because I was expected to visit all of these people, I was only able to spend about 5 minutes at my best village friend's house.

Which meant that the next night, the 26th, I spent a lot of time with him. He was justifiably upset that I hadn't spent more of Christmas with him, so I needed to let him know he's important to me - I wouldn't have survived my first months at site without the support of this guy. Unfortunately, this meant yet another late night, this time right before having to get up at 4 so I could bike 3 hours to catch transport to Ouaga. Oh well. I made it. And thus began the trip.

Dec 27, Day 1: Ouaga

Met with Y and C, my two PCV travel companions. While waiting for C's friends to arrive (they came from the states to visit her here in Africa, I wish *I* had friends that awesome, hint hint), we had dinner at a Lebanese place (you'd really be surprised how common they are here). I kicked off our adventure by eating adventurously...well, not REALLY, but I tried an avocado milkshake. And now all I can say is move over chocolate, and give it up banana. This milkshake was just shockingly good. Off to a good start.

Dec 28, Day 2: Transport to Banfora

C's friends, S, J, and M, arrived safe and sound, and late, so not too bright and early the next morning we departed from Ouaga and began our trip in earnest.

Mostly spent that day on buses. As we went south, the landscape changed dramatically. I never left the country on this trip, but I felt for most of it like I had. It's really pretty in the south. And wet. And hilly.

There was this one species of tree, that unfortunately I only saw from the bus and never anywhere we stopped (I wanted a cutting). It was totally bare, dead-looking, except for random splashes of color that at first I thought were something people had placed there. Until we passed one closer to the road, and I realized they were flowers. Brilliant, beautiful red and orange flowers on trees otherwise totally devoid of signs of life. Y commented that it was much like Burkina (at least our parts of it) - a splash of life made all the more beautiful for the desolation on which it grew. She's kind of poetic, I guess. I tried to get pictures, but I don't think any turned out (I don't have my camera to upload them, so they won't show up in this post anyway).

On the way to Bobo, the bus stopped for 15 minutes in a place called Boromo. This place will come up later in the trip. But it was this first time passing through that we discovered that for some reason people there REALLY want you to buy sesame cakes. All of the vendors are aggressive, but it really was ridiculous how long they could expound on the vitamins found in their sesame, and this AFTER you've told them "No thanks, good market" - a phrase that works 98 times out of 100 in Ouaga and points north. It turns out that its not working in Boromo was a bit of foreshadowing...

Finally we arrived in Banfora, our first destination. We spent the night in a place called the Canne a Sucre (Sugar Cane) which was really, really nice, and not very expensive. I highly recommend it. Beautiful flora, decorations from several different Burkinabe ethnicities, and a very accomodating staff. As we were six, we got a three bedroom bungalow all to ourselves.

Dec 29, Day 3: The Cascades (Waterfalls)

It's really a beautiful bike ride out, about 10 km. We did a lot of biking this trip, and I loved every second of it. In fact, I'm now planning a biking vacation for my next one. One person I can be certain will NOT join me on that one is Y, who probably biked more in this one vacation than she had in all her previous 19 months in country. But she's tough.

We stopped on the way at a place called Campement Baobab to order pizza at a place about halfway there, so that it would be ready when we got back. It wasn't, natch, but still, we wouldn't have gotten any if we hadn't ordered on the way.

Then C ran over a snake. That was fun. It darted in front of her bike such that she ran right over its middle; fortunately, she had the wherewithal to lift her legs and NOT brake, so that it couldn't bite her (though it tried). C is tough too. I was next behind her, and my options were to stop and just miss it or run over it myself. I chose to stop, and fortunately the snake in its turn chose not to turn and bite me.

Speaking of my companions' formidability, when we got to the entrance of the falls, we found there were two different prices, those for foreigners and those for Burkinabe nationals. We did not pay the foreigner price. Which I really do think is fair, given that we live here, I just probably wouldn't have bothered trying to argue the point myself - our white skin makes it a hard sell. But they did it. There and everywhere else on the trip. They really are awesome.

The falls were beautiful. What else can I say? It's not schisto season, and you have to stay in the water 15 minutes to catch it, but all the same, we were careful. We did not have time to check out a nearby rock formation called the "Domes", but I can't complain really, the view we got was stunning enough. I got what I hope were really good pictures. Speaking of, I was very happy with my camera batteries this trip. All the same, I'm in the market for a film camera, since on my next vacations I won't be staying in posh places with current.

On our way back, we ate those pizzas I mentioned, and they were better than Ouaga pizzas. True to the name of the place, there was baobab fruit on the pizza. Very yummy. First time I'd tasted the fruit itself, though I'd had a drink made with the juice once, and sauce made from the leaves is common enough.

I mentioned we missed the Domes due to time constraints. We were actually running two hours late, but I'd made contact with a total faux type at the gare who found us transport after our taxi brousse had left. They do have their uses. Although now the guy STILL calls me every day. Ugh. I took one for the team there, but it was worth it as we were able to travel on to Sindou that evening.

Dec 30, Day 4: The Sindou Peaks

After a night at a basic but nice enough hotel, we biked out to hike the peaks of Sindou, where we learned that the peaks are part of the same rock formation as the cascades and domes in Banfora, and in fact the same rock formation as the cliff dwellings in Dogon Country in Mali. The ethnicity in Sindou are the Senoufou, who migrated from Dogon in the 1400s. They were told by their god that if they lived on a plateau in the peaks, and never descended, he would provide their food and protect them from their enemies. After colonization and the end of tribal warfare in the 1800s, they asked their god and he allowed them to descend, promising still to protect them from their enemies but to no longer provide food, as on the plains below they could cultivate for themselves. I plan on going back to explore more of Senoufou country, as they have a warrior sect known as "the Samurai of Burkina". There are ruins of houses on the plateau, but it turns out they're from a film shot there in the 80s. Still, once again, beautiful views.

After that, we biked out to a barrage we'd heard about, which we were told was beautiful - somewhat surprising for a barrage here. Its merits were not overstated. Though on the way we stopped at a small pond and decided that if it had been what we were told about someone would be getting hurt. It wasn't - it's just that the estimate of distance to the actual barrage was off...by about 70%. 6km, 10km, what's the difference? Quite a bit depending on how much water you brought with you. Still, totally worth it. Blue-green water in Burkina! Nice enough to swim in probably, though we didn't.

Ok, that's it for this update. I'll pick up later with New Year's in Bobo, nearly getting arrested, and riding a bus that is totally out of place in this country. I'll also cover what turned out to be the best part of the trip (outside of the company I kept), but I'm not giving you any hints.


SoloLobo said...

I hope you get the other pkg b4 you leave Ouaga. It's a "big" box and may not get sent to Boulsa. It should have some useful things 4 u. P.O. wanted to send it to Saudi Arabia despite my telling them the country code. I don't think they know where Burking Faso is. Anyway, Pat already told us about your text msg, but still can't wait to read your next blog. Love - Dad

solotoro said...

Turns out my other package was here too. But it came through a different mail system - Chronoposte instead of Sonaposte. And when mail comes that way, we don't get charged. Which is GREAT, but it means that our name also isn't on the list to sign for the charges, so I didn't know I had it. Another volunteer saw it while retreiving his boxes.