Thursday 24th to Friday 25th February 2012
The next morning we rejoined the pink dusty road to cross into Burkina Faso. The border posts on both sides were spread out, but easy to find as they were all along the same road. At Koro the Malian officals were quick and friendly. We had no time to wait and were quickly in and out with all the necessary stamps. At Tiou, the Burkinabe` welcomed us with jokes. After a few minutes noting our details in their book and stamping our passport we moved on to the douane office, 20km further south. We tried to convince the douane officials to use our Carnet rather than have us pay for their temporary import permit. The official we were dealing with considered it for a while and patiently talked about it with us before calling over a colleague. His colleague then spent some more time discussing it with us, but ended up refusing. They decided that because Burkina Faso isn’t mentioned on the back of the Carnet they can’t use it. It wasn’t nearly as expensive as Senegal or Mali but still we were disappointed to have to pay again when we’ve already paid so much for the Carnet. Still, we were very impressed by their patience and friendly manner. We were also pleased there was not a sniff of corruption or hassle on either side!
On first impressions we liked Burkina. The northern landscapes were similar to Mali, with wide dusty stretches speckled with trees, bushes, termite nests, and dry grass. Mud brick villages dotted the side of the roads. We noticed the people seemed a little more shy about waving as we drove by. We took the road through Ouahigouya and Yako to Ouagadougou (pronounced wagga-doo-goo), the bustling capital. The streets were alive with mopeds, motorcycles and bikes. It was organised chaos though and we warmed to the wide tree lined streets dusty as they were. We went straight to the Ghanaian embassy, hoping to slip visa applications in before closing time. Alas, hours are 8am to 2pm, and we were there after 4pm. We spoke to an employee outside the gate who said if we came first thing and ‘spoke well’ we may well get a visa on the same day. We will try our luck tomorrow. Fingers crossed we make a good impression in the morning!
We found the ‘OK Inn’ behind a truck rest stop. It had been recommended by other overlanders. Indeed we were told that we could camp for free, use their pool and facilities. The receptionist did ask us to eat in the restaurant that evening though, which we felt was fair enough. It was a hot day and we were dusty from the drive, so it was absolute luxury to float in the clean, cool water of the pool. Dinner was good French food. It was expensive but tasty. We were also finally able to get online as they have free wifi here too.
Up bright and early Friday to get to the Ghana Embassy for opening at 8am. The official gave us a laminated sheet of rules along with the quadruplicate visa application forms. First on the list was that they now only issue visas to residents of Burkina Faso and Niger. We had heard rumblings of this from other overlanders. But when we spoke to London’s Ghana Embassy before we left, we were told that there would be no problem getting the visa in Ouagadougou. We explained our plight to the official who suggested we write a letter to attach to our applications. It took us almost an hour to get the arduous forms completed and the supporting documentation ready. Among other things they wanted evidence that we had booked accommodation in Ghana and references from people we know there. The official also advised us to write carefully, as any mistakes would mean we had to complete the entire forms all over again. Talk about anal! Still, he accepted our money and applications and said we should wait for a call to come for an interview. The application takes three working days to process, so we will have an answer by Wednesday morning. Fingers crossed!
In Ouagadougou fruit is piled high in bright sweet-smelling heaps at roadside stalls. We stocked up on mangoes, strawberries, grapefruits, and plums. We also sampled the fare at one of the rows of little curbside restaurants across the road from the OK Inn. It was like a game of ‘Frogger’ getting to the restaurant. After traversing the truck park we leaped over a wide, foul-smelling open sewer. Next we crossed a lane buzzing with bikes and mopeds, before dodging three lanes of traffic, climbing the barrier lining the middle of the road, dashing across another three lanes of traffic, another bike lane, then running down a slope for the home stretch! Fortunately it was well worth it. A plump woman with a warm smile served us from huge metal bowls of fish, meat, and vegetables all in rich brown and red sauces. Piles of noodles, pink and white rice steamed in bowls arranged nearby. After all the terrible meat we encountered in Mali we decided to stick to veggies. We were not disappointed. Spicy green beans, potatoes and rice with a dollop of the spiciest chilli puree on the side. This together with two bags of filtered water for less than 50p. What a contrast to the meal we ate last night! This was just as tasty and the atmosphere so much better.
The downside today was that somewhere along the way we lost our phone together with all our phone numbers for loved ones. We retraced our footsteps to the embassy, fruit stall, and roadside restaurant but couldn’t find it. The frustrating thing was that we had just bought a Burkina Faso sim card and credit, so we had to pay out for that again. We unpacked one of the other phones we had with us and topped up. We also had to re-visit the embassy to give them our new number so they can call us to an interview if they wish. After all this and with the temperature at 37 degrees today we retreated back to the OK Inn for cold mangoes and a relaxing afternoon by the pool.