What we know:
Landlocked. Poor. Military Coups. French Colony. Formerly Upper Volta. Flat. Hot. Droughts. Donkeys. Aids.
Time has disappeared from our daily lives but we know it is early November. Whether Fanny or I will ever revisit the Dogons seems highly unlikely and whether they will survive is another question. Spot lighted by UNESCO, the Malians are exploiting their culture for what it is worth. Our feeling is that our Animist friends will not be visiting or be visited by the outer Galaxy for much longer. It is far more likely that Big Mac will land and destroy them. In the mean time long may they believe that hashish comes from outer space.
(Top TIP: Visit soon.)
With unexpected ease we clear the police and customs at Koro crossing into the Fatherland of the Just Men or the Country of the Honourable people some miles later at Ka In. Our chosen route will virtually cut Burkina Faso in half describes by bible as one of the poorest countries in the world < A vast lateritic plateau of some 274-200 sq km populated by roaming donkeys, with potholes capable of swallowing Concord.
It is not long before our dirt road has us healing to port with one wheel on top of the rut and the other locked in the gutter. Williwaw wheelbase is not quite wide enough to handle the truck ruts so we drive along the ruts at a 20º angle. Some times we are able to drive in the middle with a high likelihood of slipping off and breaking our repaired half shaft. Fortuitously it is not long before the track improves widening to accommodating both potholes and corrugations.
Ouagadougou the capital our target lies eighty plus odd kilometres to the south of us at 12º 22′ N and 1º 28′ W. It is just one of those short Fanny hops on the map.
The passing countryside is arid, flat, dotted with the odd surviving tree all watched over by a squadron of nature’s undertaker’s vultures. Their necks turning with the same sinister movement of a high security camera scanning the earth smoothly and relentless for an ass that did not use the zebra crossing or has unfortunately disappear down one of the six meters deep roundabouts.
Our first witnessed vulture banquet is an explosion of survival of the fittest. In the inertia of the day’s heat, the stillness of land is shattered in a frenzy of feeding that blow apart the harmony of nature. Its harshness; its fury; its nakedness brings all awareness of time to a full stop.
Florence is enraptured by the horror of the explicate lesson from natures undertakers and Fanny is awakened to African wild life. I promise to tell every Irish nacker to book his or hers holidays somewhere else. There is an Irish expression “When a donkey bray’s a tinker dies”
Some miles pass Ouahigouya the capital of northern Burkina we come upon a roundabout full to capacity. Deep within its bowls, lying on its side is a beer truck. Judging from the amount of waiting trucks, the empty cans and bottles it has been some days since it fell in. Off to its left there is yet another truck stuck up to its oxters in mud and deep reddish water. Any way around is totally blocked. We learn from one of the driver that a bulldozer is on its way, but it could well be a few days before it arrives.
This news is not surprising. Remembering that nothing is ever quite as it seems in Africa we have long come to appreciate that nothing ever happens quite as it is supposed to. Back in the capital of Mali there were men in western business suites were eating French food flown in by Air France while a few hundred clicks down the road Dogons collect soil from below their escarpment to grow the odd vegetable.
The quagmires to the right and left of the dirt track are to say the least uninviting. While the thought of spending four days waiting for a Caterpillar that might never make it due to odd missing part. Or for that matter staying put surrounded by an unlimited source of warm beer is far from appealing to the girls or me.
I walk down into creator to have a look only to emerge with a coating of red lock tight mud right up to the balls that dries in the sun instantaneously cracks and flacks off like pealing paint with every step to hear an engine roar. Hallelujah it is the Cat. Not so. One of the awaiting trucks has come to life. The driver with the help of a few dozen bottles of Sobra the nationally brew beer followed by a few shots of Chapalo the local made millet beer, has cracked in the noonday sun.
Glazed eye he mounts his charge. In a cloud of exhaust fumes releases the clutch. Like a charging elephant he plunges headlong into the jaws of the trap to a round of approving applause from the thirsty on lookers he comes to a steaming halt. All is not what it seems in Africa.
Braving the imaginary snakes I now decide to scout the adjacent hinterland of the crater. The right hand side is impenetrable, but the left shows some hope. Except for some tree stumps and a few muddy sections where the water has seeped across from the other side of the dirt road it looks possible. It’s either go on the binge native style for a few days or have a go.
The idea of daddy on the rip with the lads wins hands down. If I get stuck the cat is on the way. I walk my route once more taking note of all the sly traps. The course to be followed is a maze of turns with the high likelihood that I might find my African roots sooner than reading Alex Haley ‘Roots’.
The sound of Williwaw engine coming to life alerts a group of vultures huddled near by. Moving forward with the help of the girls who are directing me on foot I squeeze past the waiting trucks. For some reason a thought comes into my head “It is the land that owns the African by lying downs his fate.” A small crowd gathers to watch if I will make it. After our experiences in Guinea Conakry the drive turned out to be a piece of cake. Apart from the clinging mud I have little trouble emerging back on to the dirt road safe and sound.
We are on our way again with mud flying in every direction. Apart from a bright blue bird, (which we eventually identify some months later with the aid of Ian Sinclair, and Phil Hockey Illustrated Guide Birds of South Africa as an Abyssinian Roller) our surrounding colours are drab shade of browns and ashen greys. Village after village dots the barren land. Their houses stand like clumps of large fat toadstools. Nothing moves. Williwaw arrival and departure in each village is marked by a dust cloud on the way in and barking of dogs on the way out.
It’s not long before our dust cloud is mixing it with the traffic exhaust of Ouagadougou. Referred to, as Wogoddogo by Mossi the largest ethic Burkina Faso group Ouagadougou is a big sprawling maze of villages with no apparent centre. We have arrived at midday. The place is heaving with mopeds all with minds of their own.
Our Bible says that L’Eau Vive is its most famous restaurant where the sister – waitresses down tools at midday to flex their cinctures with a rendering of the Ave Maria. Why not a spot of lunch before heading on to Ghana sound like a good idea. Due to the capitals square grit lay out we find the restaurant with little difficulty.
A quick look around the Nouveau Grand market put us of eating meat for life. The market is housed on three floors in grey concrete building which I am sure started out in the mind of its architects as a parking lot. Heaving with commerce, noise, the entire place is enwrapped in the pungent smells of stale urine, body odours and flies. With escape routes to beat the ban it is a pickpocket’s paradises.
Some hours later it is us who are singing Ave Maria as we escape from the city straight into the first of many police/army barricades. Following the southerly direction of the Red, White and Black Volats rivers we make it on an atrocious pothole tar road as far as Kombissiri forty odd kilometres from Ouagadougou. Pitch No 52
Refreshed after a peaceful night sleep with gum shields in once more we venture forth for a days driving.
“For Christ safe Fanny, avoid the Potholes.” “Jesus Bob slow down.” from the back “Stop arguing “, Florence. The road, the heat, the jolting and the boring flat landscape, has all of us on short fuses long before we arrive at the first point of departure from BURKINA FASO.
Just before noon we clear customs and the usual police formalities at Po. Twenty kilometres further of zigzagging we arrive at Paga where I shit myself. It’s a major cock-up. We have no visa to enter Ghana. A blue-black scared-faced Ghana informs us that we have no option but to return to Ouagadougou. All contact names, string and bribes fail miserably. Luckily George over hears our efforts. He is the visa issuing man in Ouagadougou returning from his holidays. Assured of his personal attention in the morning in Ouagadougou we set off back up the road. The journey needs no description. There is an African proverb that says, “Who travels alone tells lies.” So when I say it was fucking awful believe me it was just that.
Murphy’s Law is now at play. The Po customs that had cleared us through to Ghana now refused to recognise Williwaw’s Carnet. I am forced to purchase a temporary importation licence. Offered at 50,000 CFA eventually bought for 10,000 CFA. Next Fanny fails to stop at a wooden sun blistered police barrier sign that is hidden behind some scrub with an attached rusty chain to the barrier buried in the dust that is only visible to those in the know.
One of those I hate whites bitter-faced menacing cop is now threatening a 10,000C FA fine for our non-arête. Some heated arguments revolving around the impossibilities of bring a three-ton vehicle to a sudden halt and promise of a few packets of fags on our return see us once more on our way.
One hundred thousand bone shattering pots later we arrive back in the fading light in Ouagadougou. After the usual dashes to the outskirt cops we decide to eat first, and sleep after > Another mistake. Around and around we go in search of a long close Vietnamese Restaurant. Eventually giving up we check into a hotel. Knackered we eat and spend the best part of the night hunting the room lizard with a spray can.
After a morning of endless form filling George is true to his word. Armed with visas we set off once more down the obstacle course to Ghana. All goes well. Not even a scrub fires on either side of the road that endeavour to unite with each puff of wind slow us down. In the firm knowledge that this time we are finally going to escape we cardiac from one pothole to another.
Arriving outside Po a Guinness sign atomises all thoughts of the wooden sun blistered police stop signs. With no sign of the die-hard bigot cop the Guinness sign is our beacon to cure our acute dose of the jitters.
Two bottles of the black stuff later we are back in the Customs. It is taking a long time to clear Williwaw when in the door hot off a motorbike arrives our in the heat of the day cop. Bristling with contempt his torrential tongue pour forth anger not for the promised packet of fags but for our failure to stop once more. .
Never far from the surface in Africa lies the unexpected. I begin to smell a rat, as there was no way he could have seen us passing over his rusty chain. We have no option but to return up the road and face the music. At the point of gun the arrogant faced bastard refusing to accept dollars for a fine of 12,000 CFA.
While I remain sitting in his shabby hut Fanny with Florence return to Guinness Bar to get the dollars changed. Waiting for the girls return it dawns on me that there is a scam-taking place between the Customs and Mr Screw it cop.
The Ghana border is due to close in a few hours. My temporary importation licences for Williwaw will expire at six-o clock making the Jeep eligible for confiscation or subject to a demand for some extortion’s exportation fee.
Fanny god rests her soul returns with the CFA. With agonising calmness I watch as he counts the money note by note, then enters the amount in a school jotter and issues me with an unreadable receipt. With no love lost we leave arriving once more at the customs.
Here we are met with more unnecessary demands, and a refusal to stamp out Williwaw Carnet. With the clock ticking away our chances of getting across the border into Ghana are getting slimmer and slimmer. I tell Fanny to go out and start-up Williwaw. There is nothing for it but to make a run for it.
The clock striking six, the customs post comes to attention as the national flag is lowered. It’s now or never. I walk out the door jump aboard Williwaw slip her into gear and go for it. In a blink of and eye we are hurtling down the dirt road in the direction of the border. In the bouncing wing mirror I get glimpses of a pursing motorbike. Endeavouring to stay out of our dust cloud it appears on my right then on my left. The girls sit in silent terror as we crash from one pothole to the next. Dusk is not far off. A torso steps out in front of us. There is no stopping a three-ton Jeep charging like a rhino. With lights flashing and our horn endeavouring to sound loud and mean he jumps for cover.
We whistle through the border gates with a few minutes to spare. Enveloped in her following cloud of red dust Williwaw comes to a screeching halt. In perfect English a bone-crushing handshake a large scared dark smiling face conveys a significant and unmistakable message of welcome to Ghana.
Covered in goose pimples and a large dosage of heebie – jeebies our James Bond style exit from Burkina Faso is over.
(TO BE CONTINUED)