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Benin and Burkina Faso

A question of luck?

The last couple of weeks in Benin and the first week in Burkina Faso were quite trying for us, and most people would probably say that we have been quite unlucky, and others may even go as far as to ask why we are still in West Africa instead of on a plane heading for Denmark. However, one has to say that we have also been quite lucky to get out of all the unlucky situations, and in order to better perceive that, this blog entry have a somewhat different setup:

BAD LUCK: In the third week of our stay in Benin, Sune got a cold with a fever that lasted for several days.
GOOD LUCK: Due to the continuing fever Sune got a malaria check, which showed that Sune in fact had malaria, but in a quite early stage, and we would probably not have discovered the malaria that early had it not been for the cold virus. With a half weeks delay Sunes father, Karl, also got a cold, and due to Sunes recent disease he was persuaded also to take a malaria test, which also showed that he, for the first time in his thirty years of work in West Africa, had gotten malaria. Luckily (!) down here they have some very effective malaria medication that cures you in just three days.

Sunes mother Lajla came down to visit in the last week of our stay in Benin, and the plan was that all four of us should drive in Karls 4x4 to northern Benin and continue onwards to Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, from where we (Regitse and Sune) would continue on our own. However, everything did not turn out as planned.
BAD LUCK: The day of departure (24. Oct.) we were going to buy our flight tickets from Dakar to Casablanca, but when we came down to pay, the ticket printer had a 'temporary' break-down, but would of course be fixed 'tout de suite' (right away).
GOOD LUCK: The 7000 Danish kr. we paid just before departing was not spent in vain but as the salesman had promised, he actually did send us the tickets by email the following day.
BAD LUCK: We were trapped in a giant African traffic jam only after 1 hours drive, where impatient Africans began to drive in the opposite lane, resulting in a total traffic jam that were first resolved when the Beninese military came and cleaned up the mess.
GOOD LUCK: The following day everything was going smoothly; no traffic and nicely paved roads.
BAD LUCK: Suddenly, the car made a sound, that mostly sounded as if the engine had become really really sad. Smoke came out from the hood, so Karl quickly painted the engine white with the fire extinguisher. It turned out, however, that there were no fire, but it was simply the coolant liquid that had begun to boil (not a good thing either).
GOOD LUCK: We had just passed a police car, with some very friendly police officers that called a mechanic from the next village, called Djougou. He and four helpers quickly showed up, refilled the coolant liquid and said that now the car was ready to go.

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We had planned on eating lunch in Djougou, but suddenly Karl remembered something about a rising cholera epidemic in this very village, which was enough to make at least Sune a very strong supporter for pressing on for the last 100 km to Natitingou (our destination for the day) and eat our lunch there instead. However, only 30 km outside Djougou the car mad the same sad sound as before.
GOOD LUCK: The Beninois are a very helpful people and within a few minutes two cars had stopped to help us, and one of the cars had a cable wire, so he could pull us back to Djougou.
BAD LUCK: The wire was about 1,5 m long, since the engine wasn't turned on, the brakes of our car were reacting very slowly, and the driver of the pulling car were driving very fast in a hilly landscape.
BAD LUCK: The wire broke.
GOOD LUCK: We were already in the city at that time, and a mechanic spotted us right away and took us to his garage.
BAD LUCK: The garage consisted of a car junk yard and a small toolbox. However, the mechanic was able to make some temporary repairments so we could continue, but at that time it was already dark, so we were forced to stay the night in the cholera-infested Djougou.
GOOD LUCK: The last thing the mechanic did before closing the hood of the car, was to put a blessing on the engine. No wonder that it had broken down, when we had driven the car with an unblessed engine!

The next day we drove the rest of the way to Natitingou with lots of water in the car, so we could refill the coolant system every 30 km.
GOOD LUCK: Earlier we had thought that it would not be possible to visit a large National Park in northern Benin called Pendjari, since it was out of season. Therefore we were very happy, when we were told at our hotel that it was indeed possible to visit the park, and that there was already a group of 40 tourists up there at the time being.
BAD LUCK: We decided to visit the park, and when we got there we understood why it was out of season; the grass was about three meters tall, making it virtually impossible to see anything, but the road.
GOOD LUCK: Several animals were friendly enough to run across the road, so we had a chance to see them.
BAD LUCK: We had decided to play it safe and not drive to the park in our own 4x4, but had rented another 4x4 with a guide for our two-day trip. However, half-way between the Park entrance and the park hotel, nested some 75 km inside the park, our newly rented 4x4 broke down.
GOOD LUCK: The guide had enough tools and know-how to be able to repair the car himself, and thus we arrived safely to the park hotel.
GOOD LUCK: For our afternoon safari, we (Sune and Regitse) were allowed to sit on the roof of the 4x4, thus making it possible to see animals that were not just running over the road.
BAD LUCK: Since the rain season had just ended most of the tracks resembled small lakes and after an hours drive the road turned into a quite large lake.
GOOD LUCK: Very suspiciously looking our guide observed the lake and decided to drive through, and since the lake was shallow we made it through.
BAD LUCK: Some hundred meters further ahead a new lake overtook the road and upon his prior succes our guide pushed down the pedal and rushed into the waters without the slightest of considerations, even though he couldn't see the other brink due to a turn in the road. After the turn even more water was reveiled for as far as we could see. Our guide got a crazy look in his eyes and forced the car deeper into the water until he had drowned the engine and water was pouring in through the doors.
GOOD LUCK: Intelligently, Sune and Regitse had placed themselves conveniently on the roof.
BAD LUCK: Reluctantly we had to step down and help Sune's parents, who had jumped into the water right away, pushing the dead car more than 100 meters out of the water.

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GOOD LUCK: During our long walk back to the hotel the high grass blocked the view of all the lurking predators.
BAD LUCK: No telephone, cellular network, radio connection or transport was available at the hotel.
GOOD LUCK: According to the workers on the hotel maybe the day, or at least a couple of days after someone would surely appear with a car.
SUPERB LUCK: The following morning the guide somehow had the car started and he couldn't wait to leave the park.
BAD LUCK: He drove 70 km/hr on a slim track where the high grass made the visibility so poor that he didn't miss the oppositely going 4x4 when it suddenly appeared in front of us.
GOOD LUCK: The cars only crashed together at the left front, so nothing serious happened to us and Lajla's sore back (from pushing the car) was even healed after the crash. Even more important, the cars were able to continue afterwards.
BAD LUCK: Upon all the crazy surprises we split up at the border to Burkina Faso and Sune's parents headed back to Cotonou instead of going to Burkina Faso all together.
GOOD LUCK: There was plenty of mini buses going to Ouagadougou (Capital of BF) so maybe the change of plans would make no delay to our further travelling.
BAD LUCK: We were too late for the first bus and were thrown out of the next bus by a large group of very rude beninois men, who all wanted to be in the same bus at the same time. Apparently they didn't find it relevant that we had waited in the bus for almost an hour.
GOOD LUCK: There were lots of kids selling snacks and refreshments at the border, so at least we didn't starve to death. Finally a man in a nice and convenient private car kindly offered us two seats for a very cheap price, and on the way to Ouagadougou we even overtook the two buses that had left before us.

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BAD LUCK: The day after arriving in Ouagadougou, Regitse had diarrhoea and since the timespand since the stay in the cholera infested Djougou matched the incubation time for cholera we were quite nervous.
GOOD LUCK: It was not cholera but only malaria and an invasive intestinal parasite.
BAD LUCK: Early next morning a cute little bird decided to sit beneath our window and constantly sing, which annoyed sleepy Sune so much, that he decided to get up and knock on the window to scare the bird off. However, windows in West Africa are not of quite the same quality as the windows in Denmark, which meant that instead of tapping the window, Sune's hand went right through the window, thus cutting his hand on the glass.
GOOD LUCK: The bird was scared off for good.
SUPERB LUCK: We later met the very nicest young couple - Rina and Niels - who work at the Danish embassy and at Boernefonden, and they invited us to stay at their luxurious villa with pool, housekeeper and cook, and flat screen television plus internet as long as we would like.

Posted by SunReg 03:49 Archived in Benin

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