A Travellerspoint blog

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.


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.


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.


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 Comments (0)


From shoestring to luxury

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We met Sunes' father Karl in Lomé (Togo) the 27th of September at one of his former colleagues, Christa, where we had spent a couple of nights. This was the beginning of an overwhelming luxury we faced for most of October at our stay at Karls' fine villa in Cotonou, Benin. We quickly managed to get a pleasant daily routine at Karls' home, where we woke up in the morning to a nicely prepared brunch of fresh fruit, french baguette, juice and sometimes croissants. After brunch the cuisinier, Honoré, would clear the table and our Professeur de Français, Madame Tossa, would arrive to the house to give us 3 hours of intensive french lessons. After this strain of great concentration, we could recover at the lunch. Honorés' cooking was excellent and his fine French cuisine was greatly appreciated by us as we enjoyed roasted lamb in a french sauce accompanied by haricots verts steamed in garlic and butter and potatoes roasted with herbs at our first lunch. The next days he prepared butterroasted chicken, pork roast with exquisite garniture, and white fish with no bones in a sauce of fresh herbs and tomatoes - the four weeks we stayed there, we hardly didn't get the same meal twice. During the afternoons we went down to the finest hotel of Cotonou and played tennis while Honoré either did the laundry, ironed our clothes, or prepared the dinner. During the evening we could tend to intellectual stimulation by reading books, study french or engage ourselves in long conversations with (or sometimes lectures by) Karl about ancient or newer world history.
In the weekends we went on tours in southern Benin, where we saw Ouidah, the city from which voodoo originates, Ganvié, a big village with 27000 people, that all live in the middle of a giant lake in bamboo huts set on stilts (think of Venice, but made out of twigs), Porto Novo, the old colonial style capital of Benin, and the royal palaces of the Abomey kings, which were amongst the people that profitted the most from the European slave trade. Some very brutal stories are associated with these palaces, such as how thousands of slaves were sacrificed at the kings festivities, how the Prime minister was also the executioner and if he failed to decapitate a person in one stroke, then he would himself be decapitated and many similar stories. We were furthermore told the price for a european canon in the former currency of this region, i.e. slaves, which were 23 women or 15 men.

Posted by SunReg 03:31 Archived in Benin Comments (0)

Ghana and Togo

Waterfalls and border posts

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After Accra we took the old trusty Tro-tros to Wli, where there, besides the waterfalls, according to our guidebook also was a small border post to Togo. When we got there, the only hotel in town was all booked, so we stayed with a family, who only spoke their native language Eve. We got to see the magnificent waterfalls that poured out over the tall cliffs that are completely covered with an estimated half a million bats. In the evening the only restaurant in town was closed, and to avoid the traditional Ghanian fufu dish the family offered us, we went down to the village-center to see if any other eating options existed. However, on the way we met the owner of the restaurant, and she took us back and reopened the place only for us. Halfway through our meal, we were disturbed by an uninvited guest - a snake came crawling along the wall just beside us, and when the owner of the restaurant spotted the snake she went completely beserk with a huge stick and smashed the snake to death (several times). When we later checked out the internet to find out the species of the snake the only picture that matched was of the BLACK MAMBA ...

However, this was not the only unpleasant experience to come. The following day we only woke up to discover that we could not enter Togo at the border near the village, as we had first assumed, since they could not give us a transit visa to Togo at that place. Since we had an appointment with Sunes' father to meet us the next day in Togos' capital Lomé (at a friend of his who lives there) we felt somewhat pressed. We jumped on anything that had four wheels underneath, and by mid day we were at the bigger southern border post to Togo where Sunes' parents had told us we could get the transit visa to travel through Togo to Benin. At the border we came up to this big Togolese police papa, who had a dull look but didn't manage to hide his satisfaction with our appearance. He first looked suspiciously at us, then at our passports. Next he handed us some papers to fill out, and when we had completed the writing he looked at the papers with a sudden amusement, and then looked sternly at us, and said: "So, then I only need to see your visa for Togo". What! We were quite upset and Sune didn't hesitate to tell him: "My father works at the Danish Royal Embassy, and he says...", but the official insisted that we had to go back to Accra to get the visas. When we were about to give up, he suddenly started laughing, and we realized he had completely fooled us! We got our visas and he kept up his jolly good mood and went on demanding that he needed a photo of Regitse for official matter. When Sune handed one of himself as well, the policeman said, "no no no ... I don't want a picture of you!", while he kept on grinning ... This was the first example of many of the more humorous psyche of the francophone countries compared to Ghana.

Posted by SunReg 09:00 Archived in Ghana Comments (0)


First Class Bus Hell

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As a last stop in Ghana on our way to Togo we wanted to visit a small village, Wli, at the far east, famous for some grand waterfalls originating in the mountain range bordering Togo. To get there the fastest way possible, we had to go through Accra again, which we decided to reach by an 8 hour trip with STC bus. These busses are the expensive tourists busses, that look like most other European tourist busses, including aircondition, and therefore should make for a much more pleasant form of transportation, than we were used to from our tro-tro experiences. However, as with the radios in the tro-tros, the aircon in an STC bus apparently also only have two settings; 'off' and 'freeze!', so we had to wrap us up in whatever we had of shirts and scarfs in our hand luggage (which was not a lot), in order to avoid getting a cold. At a reststop we found out, that the temperature on the aircon was set to 16 °C, and when we adressed the driver with our concern of getting a cold, the driver told us to put on jacket, and we apparently became the laughingstock of the entire bus, since it of course is pure logic that you need to bring thick sweaters, scarfs and jackets with you when you take a busride in a tropical equatorial country.
Besides the aircon the STC busses also feature TV screens, that non-stop show Nigerian movies, which are simply hilariously crappy movies; that the Ghanaians for some reason love. However, it gets pretty tiring after the first couple of hours, which was why Sune decided to fall asleep to some calming music from his iPod. When he woke up an hour later, he still had his plugs in his ears, but no iPod in the other end. Anyone in the bus could have taken it, and no one in the bus seemed very helpful, and since we couldn't begin friskin' everyone in the bus we felt pretty powerless when we reached Accra and everyone just left. It is pretty ironic that after all our transport in tro-tros with many very poor Ghanaians, it was the very first time that we travelled with the wealthier class in Ghana, that we had something stolen from us. At least we learned a lesson from it, which we have had confirmed several times later on; it is definitely not the poorest people that are the most dishonest.
When we reached Accra, Sune had of course caught a nasty cough from the aircon, and we had to stay four hours at a local police station in order to file in a report about Sunes' iPod, that we needed for our insurance. The staff at the police station gave a superb performance in african bureaucracy and inefficiency, that for example included having about ten persons at work, but only have three of them to actually do any work, and having three different persons write our statements in three different places. However, we finally got the police report that we came for.

Posted by SunReg 10:51 Archived in Ghana Comments (0)


Mole National Park

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After the relaxing break at The Hideout we were once again ready for some rough backpacking, in order to get to the Mole National Park in the northern part of Ghana. We left the hideout in the afternoon and arrived in Mole NP next day after about 31 hours of traveling, covering five tro-tro rides and 10 hours waiting time in the dusty capital of northern Ghana, Tamale. Now, tro-tros can at best be described as unpleasant, but when your legs are too long to physically fit in a seat, your torso is too tall for your head to find any place to rest, and you're placed directly under the radio loudspeaker, which apparently only have two settings; 'off' and 'kill' (and it certainly wasn't going to be off!), it makes the 24-hour bus rides to France's ski resorts that you've always used to hate, seem like pleasant memories that you only dream about in those brief moments of sleep, before you wake up, realizing that you're leaning your head against some sweaty Ghanian's face.
When we finally arrived at Mole National park entry gate, we experienced the Africans' love for bureaucracy and paperslips. Sune received six admission tickets, Regitse received four, and her camera recieved another four admission tickets before they were permitted entry.
We stayed in the park for three days and went on morning safari in the wood land. Don't confuse safari in East Africa with the one in West. Here, no fancy jeep would take us on safari but a guide with a rifle would take us on a walking tour among baboons, elephants and lots of warthogs for the ridiculous price of 5,00 dkr/hour.


When we weren't on safari, we could relax in the swimming pool at the hotel, which is situated on the top of a plateau, and look out over a lake, where elephants and buffalos came to cool down during the day. Furthermore, warthogs and monkeys roamed around freely at the hotel, and at one time, when Sune was taking pictures of the valley from the hotel with one hand, and held a bag containing his water, wallet, phone and a bit of bread (in case he got hungry) in the other, a monkey suddenly jumped out from behind a wall right in front of Sune. This gave him a minor shock (most shocks are now minor, compared to our experience in Kakum), which made him drop the bag, which the monkey immediately took. This shocked him even more, since he quickly reasoned that it would probably make for a less interesting safari to look through the park for a wallet and a cellphone. However, the monkey was kind enough to hurl out the wallet, phone, and water, before it took off with the bag and the bread.

Posted by SunReg 11:06 Archived in Ghana Comments (0)

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