Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th March 2012
Saturday morning turned out to be a hot one, so after fitting the shocks, some cleaning and organising of Bluebelle, we dived into the OK Inn pool for a last swim. We had heard there was an international mask festival in Dedougou, in Burkina’s north-west, so decided to stop there first. As we got further out of Ouagadougou the roads deteriorated into corrugated and dusty red earth tracks. Abundant road works meant that we snaked our way from detour to detour, slowing us a little. The route however was leafy, with huge trees bulging with mangoes turning the roads into green tunnels of shade. We passed through friendly mud villages with neat cylindrical granaries. We even passed a small but impressive mud mosque, Djenne style. That evening we found a place to wild camp about 40km from Dedougou in a deserted grassy field. As we started to cook two gendarmarie armed with huge automatic weapons walked from the road to our camp. We thought we would be moved. What a pleasant surprise to find they were just coming over to check we were okay and offer any help we needed. They saw us drive off the road and worried we had car trouble. It was a quiet, peaceful night and we didn’t have any other visitors.
We awoke to a clear blue sky, blemished only by the plumes of dust billowing up off the roads. The dust here is so fine it takes a while to settle once disturbed by a passing car. It didn’t take us long to reach Dedougou and find our way to ‘Festima’, the mask festival. An arena had been set up for the performances. Two sides of the perimeter were crowded with standing spectators, braving the hot sun to see the masked dancers. We found a place in the shaded stalls opposite. Troupe after troupe of drummers and dancers from places flung around West Africa came to perform. The dancers wore costumes made of long plastic tassels, which made the most fantastic patterns as they jumped, somersaulted and back-flipped across the arena. They balanced intricately carved masks on their heads, some towering a metre or more high. As the dancers jumped and stomped the dust under their feet whirled into little clouds, accentuating their movement. Their energy and rhythm was incredible. The vibe was contagious and some un-costumed locals broke free of the crowd to dance and try their own acrobatics to wow the audience. The crowd roared with excitement when one masked dancer snatched a little boy from the crowd and danced with him around the arena. He was of course terrified and clung tightly to his father when he was deposited safely back!
That afternoon, heading towards Bobo Dioulasso, we happened across the Mare Aux Hippopotames (Lake of Hippopotamuses). This UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is a freshwater lake surrounded by pools and marches, which are home to about 100 hippos. We piled into a large metal boat together with a guide and about eight local fishermen. They each had a long wooden pole, which they used to propel us across the shallow lake towards a family of hippos. We floated close by them for a while, watching the wary hippos loll together in the water. That evening we camped by the lake. It was a delight to hear the hippos grunting, splashing, and gurgling until the early hours of the morning. At some stages they sounded very close by. In the morning Lucas, Emelia and I thought we found some footprints on the waters edge not too far from our camp.