From Houston to Sydney 2013

West Africa



Today has been a long day of travelling, with few stops and no sightseeing as such.  That does not mean the day was not enjoyable – far from it – but it was quite a different experience to the last few days of intense visits.

Andrew and I woke at 6:30 am, enjoyed hot showers (our first for several days), and by 7:15 am we were enjoying a wonderful continental breakfast in the garden of our hotel in Bandiagara.  At both hotels we stayed at in Dogon Country, we found the rooms to be fairly basic, but this was more than compensated for by the wonderful, cool, shady gardens that really encouraged outdoor rest and mingling.

We were on the road at 8:00 am sharp as we had a long drive ahead of us.  The route we were taking to Bobo-Dioulasso, the second largest city in Burkina Faso, was precisely 600 kilometres.  Google Maps quotes the driving time as 8 hours and 16 minutes, which was about right if you exclude time for lunch and the time for border formalities.

Our route took us from Bandiagara (marked “A” on the map above) west to Sévaré, which is just to the east of Mopti, and then south along the Route National almost to San, where we headed for Koutiala, the town where we stopped for lunch.  The roads were generally good, being sealed and in reasonable condition, and the countryside comprised scrub and semi-desert landscapes.  There was a surprising amount of interesting activity taking place along the roadsides – women pounding millet, children drawing water from wells, men driving herds of goats and cattle, women carrying cargo long distances on their heads (including one interesting group carrying milk in bowls on their heads to market), and so on.  None of these was a “sight” in itself, but together they gave us a lovely cross-section of everyday rural life in Mali.

The stop for lunch in Koutiala at 1:15 pm was a very welcome break.  Koutiala was a fairly large town with some interesting French colonial-era statues and buildings near the town centre.  Lunch was tasty and cheap, but served in what is best described as a ‘relaxed’ manner, so it was 2:30 pm before we were able to resume our journey.

We reached the border at 4:15 pm and began our immigration formalities.  The Malian side was almost comically relaxed.  Everything was done on low chairs and stools under a large shade tree beside the road, and after a quarter of an hour or so, our passports were stamped and we drove through “no man’s land’, the undeveloped buffer zone between Mali and Burkina Faso that is a couple of kilometres wide.

The procedures for Burkina Faso took much longer, but I had expected this as we needed to obtain our visa at the border.  Once again, most of the formalities were completed at a desk under a shady tree beside the road, although we did move inside for the issuing of the visa.  It was immediately evident that the Burkina Faso officials were more efficient (and much better dressed) than their Malian counterparts, although this was not at the expense of good humour or helpfulness; overall, I thought they were exemplary in performing their duties efficiently and courteously.

However, their duties did involve multiple forms with inane information (why do they really need to know the name of my father who passed away in 1991, I wonder?), and so the process of entering details in multiple books by hand was quite time consuming.  Moreover, I thought the cost of the Burkina Faso visa was nothing short of outrageous – 94,000 CFA Francs each, which is $Aust.217 per person for a rubber stamp (actually three rubber stamps, but I don’t really think the extra stamps justify the cost!).

The bureaucracy was thorough and slow, and we didn’t get away until 5:45 pm.  By that time the sun had almost set (and we did stop beside the road for a couple minutes at 6:00 pm when the sun actually set to get some photos, as the sunset was spectacular, mainly because the air was so smoky from all the cooking fires people had lit).

The driving continued until 7:15 pm when we reached our hotel in Bobo-Dioulasso.  Driving at night in Burkina Faso is not a very pleasant experience.  Although the roads have fewer potholes than roads in Mali, there are still rough edges and holes to avoid.  The real difficulty arises from the reluctance to use lights on unlit roads where the air is hazy from thick smoke, and animals wander on the roadway, as do people in dark (often indigo) clothing.  I felt a bit sorry for our driver, Harouna, but he cheerfully took things in his stride and didn’t seem fazed at all.

Mama and Harouna found it difficult to navigate the streets of Bobo-Dioulasso in the dark (there are very few street lights even in the urban area), so at one point Mama leapt out of our car, purloined a taxi, and we followed the taxi to our hotel.  It was quite ingenious and very effective.

Our hotel in Bobo-Dioulasso is perhaps the nicest we have been in so far, at least according to how it looks at night.  Owned by a Lebanese family, the rooms are in good condition, there is hot water, soap (but no shampoo) is provided, and there is even a pool available. 

Andrew and I had a wonderful and very affordable dinner in the hotel’s restaurant this evening, choosing the same items from the “menu of the day” options: hummus with tomato, lamb with fries, and for dessert, banana flambéed in rum with cinnamon.

I am quite pleased that we will be in this hotel for two nights!


Day 14 - Bandiagara to Bobo-Dioulasso


10 January 2014