The Amateur Overview
It’s a country that you barely here about, but for us a country that gave us some of our most enjoyable and enriching experiences so far.
Make Burkina Faso a stop on your West Africa itinerary, its a good place to see Hippos, soak up the culture down in Bobo-Dioulossi and transition between the dust of the Sahel and the coastal strip to the south.
Depending on your tastes you can also do some of the most incredible/random things imaginable which you could only do in this part of the World.
Population: 16 mill.
Economy: GDP (PPP) $17.7 Billion (122nd)- Per capita- $1161 (149th)
Exchange rate: 1 Euro: 656 CFA
Human Development Index: .389 (177th)
Sporting Trivia: Burkina Faso hosts an annual international cycling event, the Tour Du Faso. It may not have as many steep climbs as the Tour De France, but plus 40 degree temperatures combined with the duststorms and terrible road would make each stage a real challenge. Last year’s champion was Moroccan Abdelatif Saadoune.
>>> Travel Info
In and around the capital centre is pretty hectic and in the heat it’s a bit much but on the outskirts of Ouagadougou anything is possible. Where else can you experience a day where in the morning you’re feeding crocodiles, after lunch you’re touring the bars of Zogona by donkey cartand at night you’re being served food by local performers on rollerskates?
If you’re a Westerner it’s a pleasantly painless and surprisingly quick process at the Malian/Burkina border crossing for 10000CFA (15 Euro) along with 2 passport photos. We can’t say the same for locals though, our driver was slugged heavily coming out of Mali and re-entering Burkina.
Parlez-Vous Anglais? 30% – some French is pretty handy here. Although we hung out with the expat crowd most the time so that smoothed the ride for us when we were out and about.
We became pretty fond of the area around Zogana market away from the intensity of downtown. This was probably also due to the searing heat – mid summer. Ouaga, as it’s affectionately known is a cool city to check out for a few days and a gateway to many other sights that Burkina Faso has to offer.
How did we get there:
We took 6 hrs to get 130km, got downright dirty speeding on unsealed roads and then hitchhiked at night the rest of the trip. No seriously, thats how we did it. You might want to stick to the bus companies that operate along the route to Ouagadougou – driving at night in Africa is dangerous.
From Mopti (Mali) we tried to grab a sept-place to Koro, but instead we were greeted by a van 3500CFA (6 Euro),which generally mean longer waiting times, slower driving and just generally more frustration. We paid a bit extra to jump in the front, which looking back was a good decision considering our state of mind and that the average speed to Koro was 22km/h. That’s right it took 6 hours to drive about 130km.
Once in Koro, apparently the taxi’s were finished so we paid another 3500CFA each to jump in a random guy’s car across the border to Ouahigouya, at first we were pleased to be hitting the track at 90km an hour but a solid covering of dust changing this outlook. We arrived in Ouahigouya at 7pm, after the final departure for Ouaga.
Sense would have said stay here and take off early in the morning but we were determined to get to Ouaga. Initial efforts to hitchhike from the petrol station were unsuccessful but, an hour of Champions League and finally a verbal confrontation between hotel touts later, we found a guy who was ready to take us. Our first successful African hitchhike, we set off for 5000CFA (8 Euro) each to Ouagadougou. After 2 hours, 130km/h, rumours of bandits operating along the track and a near near collision with a massive donkey – we survived and made it to town by 11pm.
Where Did We Stay:
On a couch in Zogona, an area full of expats, mostly working with NGOs. Electricity outtages are still a major issue in this part of town. We would recommend Zogona over central Ouaga, it’s only a euro or two taxi ride away but it’s a world away from the hussle and bussle.
Difficulties: We struggled to find a good internet connection around town in Ouaga, and resorted to using the connection at a local NGO. If you find a decent connection here let us know.
Learn from us: Don’t travel at night in Africa. We were almost involved in a very serious car accident. Roads are in poor condition, there’s poor visibility, animals stray across the road frequently and there are no lines, reflectors or any of the road safety instruments you’ll find in any western country.
Around town – a reminder that as soon as you dont worry about agreeing to a price beforehand it’s difficult to work out of it after the event. We scored a ride across town to pick up our bus tickets for 1000CFA (1.50 Euro) and upon arrival asked the driver to wait under 5 minutes. The return journey and the wait cost us 2000CFA apparently, so make it clear the deal beforehand. Locals get in a shared taxi for about 250-500CFA so definitely don’t pay more than 1000CFA getting around town.
The traveller scene:
There was a jazz festival in town so the French Cultural Centre was packed with travellers for that and you’ll find most travellers battling with internet in the scattered cafes.
Getting a feed: Travelling through countries where Pork is nigh impossible to come across? Well, if you’re in town on a Saturday morning and have a craving, it has to be roadside grilled pork on the menu. You purchase chunks of meat it in lots of 500CFA along with a local seasoning and mustard. It’s highly recommended if you need to get momentarily back on the pork bandwagon.
Out on the town: Three words – Donkey Pub Crawl. We got a group together and commandered 2 donkeys, 2 drivers and 2 carts for 6000CFA (9.20 Euro) for 4 hours per cart to have a pub crawl with a twist.
If donkeys aren’t your thing then Ouaga has plenty of street side bars all around town. You should be able to get large beers for 600CFA (90 euro cents). Brakina beer is pretty high on the list of beers we’ve come across so far so enjoy.
To see Burkina in pictures head to our Burkinabe gallery.
>>>The Amateur Low Down
Highlight- For fun you can’t go past the donkey pub crawl but for meaning and the reminder about why we’re in Africa it’s the granite mine in Ouagadougou.
On first mention by a friend about a story of a mysterious donkey pub crawl we were sold. That was Ouaga and it had to happen. Our first African pub crawl and with an animal twist. Fortunately, we we were able to arrange it all with some locals who admirably didn’t undercut each other on price during negotiations.
We did it in the Zogona/International School of Ouagadougou district where there are an array of drinking holes, but you can do it anywhere there is a donkey and in this part of Africa that’s in most places.
Biggest Surprise - Ever felt the need to sit on a crocodile? No, we didn’t either until we arrived inBazoule, 35km from Ouagadougou. It’s here you stroll down into a dry lagoon, pay 1000CFA for a chicken, 1000CFA for entry, add the lagoon’s crocodiles and you can work out the rest.
It’s pretty unbelievable, the guides seem to genuinely enjoy holding the chicken’s on the end of the stick and swinging them around to get the crocs attention. What would be surreal would be loosening the wallet and buying up big and seeing the carnage. Once 10 Crocodiles converge its time for a bit of a tease, a few moments of terror for the chickens, a few cheesy video grabs and it’s feeding time. For the locals the Crocodiles are thought to be sacred, so the best time of year to check it out is in October for the festival.
One thing you can do to break down a barrier. Don’t think children growing up in an open cut granite mine is a good idea? Then you can do something about it and support the work Association des Enfants et Jeunes Travailleurs de Burkina (Association of Child and Young Workers in Burkina) in getting more kids away from the dangers of the mine and into schools. This group is ably supported by Save The Children Canada.
Written and contributed by Amateurs in Africa