It was that many days ago I took flight from Istanbul with a stupid idea to hitch hike the whole European continent. It evolved along the way and today, after arriving to the capital city of Burkina Faso, I just cracked 23,000 km.
Not bad that one.
And Burkina has been the spot to check off, silly tourist ideals, that we came with, before leaving for Africa. Find some Hippos! Finally, we found them!
And yes, it was sensational seeing these crazy monsters first hand, and cheap and very near to Bobo.
Secondly, hear some traditional music, from some real, dedicated musicians on hand-made traditional instruments! Also in Bobo; and man they was dancin too!
It was hard to peel away from the Bobo area, especially after one of the French lycee teachers offered to accomodate us a bit. And he had a pool and a real shower! OH MAN. Not to mention he was one of a handful of people I met since leaving Ghana that has even tried to speak English to me. What I mean to say, he was fucking cool!
So, yea, gotta keep goin, a lot of road yet to be turned over. Two rides got me to Ouaga. The first, funnily, after being harassed by truck drivers on strike, as I walked out of the city, was a couple that picked Nico and I up from the lake area where we tracked down the Hippos heading back to Bobo 40 km, two days before.
They were on their way home from Bobo, to Ouaga, and took me three quarters of the way.
Breaks feel so good when they go down. Like everything is falling into place because this is the righteous path right this moment.
That second lift was two dudes about my age, the driver in a low cut suzuki, lovin his gear stick and banging out tunes! But not exactly the tunes one expects from guys in this area, driving these whips, nope, not traditional Balafon music like my previous ride, not dancehall like most people -like I'd expect, nope, this guy had style. Whitney Gettin Emotional
What a name, BOBO! Everywhere I go, hearing Bobo, it reminds me of this guy from highschool. His nickname was Bobo and he was a real douche. I'm sure he became something enormous in the backwaters of southern Ontario. Maybe even made himself a name in the penitentary system; in any event, I laugh every time and its on a regular basis, because, well, that s the name of this city -more or less.
Arriving to Bobo was a little too easy, my travel mate Nico said.
I say thank you, thank you and thank you again, from time to time it's nice that things fall into place easily!
Getting a place to crash on couchsurfing was also easy. God didn't invent toilets, man did, therefore we're not meant to sit on em, so get over it! The hole could be bigger at times, however.
And our host has been a legend. He's one of those young guys in his early thirties that has taken interest in his country, in his roots, and into the creativity of life. He didn't simply jump on the band wagon headed for Europe, like too many others, set on a quick fix.
An actor, a local story teller, and an enthusiast of his country's and his village's relevant history, the man has the critical mind and the artist's spirit.
Bobo, so far, is really a city, and within one day we already have a chance for some cinema and visited a very small expo of recycled sculpturers, from the locale. The hard part was escaping Banfora.
The place was great.
Waterfalls, natural pools, long, high sandstone, savannah podiums with overhead views of a landscape uncommon in West Africa -irrigated, and functional! There was a very pleasant and cheap guesthouse, there was a great deal of food and most of it cheap. There were the football matches though we lost the semi final, and there were, maybe unfortunate to admit, 10 cent shots of Pastis in a few of the selected corners of the city. That was a pretty heavy blow on the mental capacity of a few days, but it didn't hold me back from having an interview with a local school and meeting a few of the resident Canadians. Plus, making it to the lake to see the hippos.
Sadly, no hippos.
But! A phenomenal sunrise. Cool, breezy, the boatmen out on the pond with their small traps. I might have missed this damn hippo, again, yet still, caught at least an experience, a human one, and in Banfora a very nice little city that won my heart in some way.
Something few places in this Sub Sahara, so far, have managed to do.
Relish it baby!
66 th country.. 8 and a half years.. 4 continents... And on this particular mission that started by simply circling Europe -from Istanbul to Sagres. How it has evolved!
Burkina friggin Faso, finally!
It took me ages to break free of San Pedro. Such a nice little beach area, and I'd hoped so much that I would find some work there, to earn some cash to move on. But, hey, FUCK IT!
5 days, 900 km, and I'm finally outta Ivory Coast and on the way UP! And what a story today.
The first ride was a goodin. Last night, the Catholic church in Ferkessedougou, they gave me a bed to sleep in, shared dinner with me. The best local meal I had since arriving in that country, for real! I slept like a stone.
Awake and back on the road I walked about 5 km before a man, a worker in the cotton industry. Oh yea they grow cotton in this country too! And make cement -another sight I witnessed on the way to the border.
Anyways, this man was happy to take me the 45 km on his moto, to the next station, and the sun was hot, but the wind much hotter, and man did my eyes burn at 80 km hr! They was cryin!
We arrive, the nice man pays my meal, and offers me 8 euro! Um nope. You can pay a simple meal, but no way you givin me that money uh huh! Im back on it, another long walk, another short ride.
At the border, inside Burkina, my lift's driver, he insists I get out and carry on my own way. For no reason but they rich and comfy and I'm just not necesarily needed there, I guess.
So, yea, I'm out, no worries, peace! And back on the grind, but in Burkina!
A small little wagon moto picks me up. Old man on the back, sittin on rice, lady up front, a young guy driving. It's full of rice bags, i'm on the top holding my pack, next to old bloke. Watching the country unravel in front of me, open air, sensational!
10 km we roll max, then a motorbike, with a man, that I'd seen before, that didn't wave at me -already strange- comes along and stops us. Walks round the ride, looks at me?
'The border police want to see your ID, so show me now.'
'You heard me.'
'Well, can you show me something to prove you're not just some random. Like how do I know who you are. You come and demand this?'
He pulls out his big, metal plated gun, pulls er out front, up to his chest, looks me dead in the eyes, and says,
'That's who I am. And that's all you need to know.' His hands were also shaking.
Still, pretty fucking fishy.
Um, yea, great, so two minutes in Burkina, not even near Al-Queida-dom and I'm already gettin kidnapped. Sweet. I pull it out of my side pocket where I put it -my passport, 30 minutes before at the border, after they all, hyper unorganized and deliriously shifted me from one station to the next checking the sky and at times my passport.
He looked, ask me things, looked, flicked through; I had to point out, my name, my visa, my entry stamp, the date of the entry stamp. He couldn't manage to find anything!
He got on the phone, holding my passport. Everyone from the bike, especially the woman, are like, worried, for me. I'm pretty steady. Nearing 5 months now in the region. Just another thang, kidnapping I mean, one more notch on the belt.
Actually I wanna get pissed at him for stressing me and my new friends for no fucking reason, and showing me his gun instead of A FUCKING BADGE! Unbelievable.
And when he demanded they leave, and I get on his bike. Oh yea, makes me feel a lot better.
Anyway, in town after dropping me at the bus and telling me buses are for passengers and moto wagons are for rice, he lets me go. I was back on the road though, hitchin again. Fuck em.
An hour later, waiting on a truck driver, a nice SUV pulls up and I climb in. 5 minutes, 10 minutes onto the road for Banfora, guess what. Pulled over again!
He's asking them if they are in any danger? FML.
Secret Police twice in one day. I guess they want me, and Im gonna be there!
So it took two days to cross the harsh piste between Kani and Boundiali. 140 km of very rough terrain. It was a few motos, food offered, a place to rest the night, and another pastor with his new church in construction. The whole thing, the two days, they were a dumptruck of stories and glories of a country in development. But at the end, a huge transport truck, that took us 60 km over three hours without much stopping at all, was finally stopped just shy of the town of Boundiali by controls; the back checked, and there they found a group of people and their baggage headed for Burkina Faso. This was, naturally, not allowed, and I believe my truck driver was fined pretty hard for it, but I can't be certain, because I split before getting caught into it and forced to pay the fee myself! Fuck that noise! Seconds off of the truck's foot stool, across the road from the Gare, and at a small food stand for a sandwich, a man on a moto pulls up to introduce himself and enquire what I was doin about town. He was the human rights representative of the city. He was very kind, he invited me to stay with his TWO wives and 6 children, yea Africa! My tent went up and moments after, the music sparked off from the otherside of his fence, loud and proud, full of heavy bass; a mix of techno and trendy top 40 dancehall hip-hop. A sheer nightmare to anyone wanting to sleep after a day of a fuckload of walking under high and very hot sun and long, terribly bouncy kilometers in the cab of a transport truck taking a beating by the road beneath it -unfixed for a decade minimum. Hopefully, the government will find some gold in the area, and have a reason to develop that highway, because that shit is too difficult! One should not have to suffer this insurgence every time he has to deliver a load of cotton or cacao! Come on! The man has it hard enough drivin truck on a shit wage, in the abundance of heat in West Africa. Unrepaired trucks breaking down all the time. The least they can do is build the fucking roads up! Come on Africa! Do as ya Mama says!
There are times when things need to be done; steps need to be taken in order to manage and organize one's continuation, daily or monthly or yearly, accordingly.
In my case, it's a lifestyle somewhat irregular, a path less taken, but for some, they fall into it. Like me for instance! What I am rambling on, about here, is finding work! Earn some dough to keep the wheels lubed and rolling onwards.
The bank dried out weeks ago, and I'd been running on fumes since. Somehow, the powers that be, and this vigor for keeping myself from superfluous spending, in San Pedro and their ex-pat community -a very difficult thing to accomplish- has been alright and fairly successful. Despite needing a set of new underwear, new t-shirts, new shorts; that my tent is starting to come undone, my backpack’s mold is on the rise with all the constant bombardment of humidity, outside, camping on the beach and outside in the arms of Mama Africa for the past months. There’s still a small pot of CFA to retreat back to Europe, when the floor falls out here –with the support of friends and family on the forefront of this.
And luckily, most of the peeps around here, took an understanding to this road-life-type, not necessarily a man with his hand out, but one with his hands open and mind curious. They welcomed me in, my two travel companions as well, and accepted that we do what we could. And while most of the time the ex-pat was dining on 'prime rib', we were around the corner at the local kiosk, eating the local way. This is not only how it has to be, but ultimately the way it should be -in my case anyhow.
The huge mutton feast of Christmas, a long table of merry folks; the huge pig dinner for new years and another long table of merry folks. These were not events I'd expected, at all. I imagined myself doing most of the cooking, and a few of us gathering together at someone's house. But instead, the host, Manu, brought everyone together on his sandy beach bar surface area to mingle and spend these holiday times as some kind of family, together, and it’s all a very dizzying, gratifying, incredible experience I’m so fortunate to have been given –it’s just too bad that my camera broke so long ago and there are no clear portraits of any of this for the future.
I was lucky to have been welcomed in despite my lack of merit -in the way of cash money, of course. Not charm, because I am so full of that!
Contacts were made for this work I started speaking on, even before leaving San Pedro the first time for Ghana, and on return, after the holidays, again I tried to squeeze my waist line into a few doorways -full of pig and mutton and cous-cous.
These doorways opened, and announced, delightfully my appearance, my addition to the atmosphere, my intentions, however, despite all the chanting and speaking of such a large idea of English classes there was not one reliable bone to be picked for meat, to eat. My last chance, so to speak, was with a foreign company looking at changing teachers in February. I went for an interview, I waited, like the last times, I waited for replies, that never came. I decided to leave to Sassandra -a small beach community, to wait it out. Just before leaving, a small school which I'd been in contact with announced they'd have three classes on a Wednesday, for their school kids to learn English; three different levels.
My travel buddy, Nico and I left on Friday afternoon, hitch-hiked the 100 km to Sassandra -and Dervante (a small village community referred to us by our friends at San Pedro)- spent a few days on the very long, beautiful, picturesque, empty, unoccupied beaches of the area. Sweating out the many days of local gins and cane alcohols, of too many beers and many very long nights. Of the holiday season parties that seemed to last forever, and drizzled too many of the few brain cells I have remaining. We spent four days on those beaches chilling, eating in the small village nearby, and scrounging up what we could from the locals. Sobered up a great deal, then I rushed back with my thumb out to prepare my classes for Wednesday afternoon. I arrived back on Manu's beach Tuesday around 4 p.m. Opened my mailbox, and low and behold a class cancellation, another announcement, this time a completely different tone, that the kids -aged 3 to 11- showed no interest in taking English classes!
The day before class! What a wonderful arrangement of business minded, integrity they have oozed out into my life! Thank you for the third time, being completely indulgent in front of my face, telling me that there are many great things to be done, then each time coming up short-handed.
Firstly, not responding to my emails, secondly a reference phone number for a company with classes, that didn't work! Then, now finally, pulling out of the classes that were said to be, a great idea, and would certainly fly!
So here I am, again at the crossroads. And waiting for another company to give me an unreliable, big maybe, for something that might take flight in the future.
Mama Africa, you rock my world every other day!
Relish it baby, or cry tryin!
With travelling, there are times when one goes and then comes back. It's happened to me a few times. Mumbai, Hampi, and Om beach in India. Phnom Penh, Yangon, Bangkok, and KL in South East Asia. Berlin, Barcelona, La Rochelle and Paris in Europe. And numerous places in Australia.
Being back in San Pedro, has felt a bit strange -espeically considering I was here with my girlfriend who has now left to the otherside of the globe (and everyone is asking about her).
I left nearly five weeks ago then arrive without much of an annoucement -to surprise a couple of people.
Before leaving, had made some friends, built some banter. But, when I arrive, no one seems to give a fuck about how the past weeks had been, how the road had treated me. Nothing personal, it's simply protocol politeness like everywhere in West Africa.
'Ca va?' 'Bon Soir' 'Bon Courage'. All fairly short and impersonal.
In fact, to go even further, for some reason, when I speak to most of those around me, I really feel like they can't wait for me to finish speaking, or that I'm wasting their time speaking from the mouth of someone who 'doesn't understand', or has 'nothing to say'.
To be fair, there were a few hugs and hellos. A travel companion that I'd spent a duration of time with weeks before arriving in San Pedro, had himself arrived, and found himself 'inside' the family circle. We had a great few drinks on my return for sure
He came on my request because the place was so lovely. And chill. And I knew he would find and could use a little bit of a break from all the madness of West African travel.
Overall, people have been very helpful, and it's not like I'm being pushed around or antyhing, but there just seems to be a great deal of indifference about most things.
I get the same feeling, from those I met on the road, coming to here, through Cote D'Ivoire, only they were locals. These are mostly foreigners. However! They are foreigners that have lived most of their lives in West Africa, for a decent handful.
So it seems that, there is a closer connection to this 'attitude' that I feel, which applies not only to the locality, but everyone. And equally, it has a lot to do with me and my perspective -and expectations.
This indifference, this somewhat anti-social, not givin a fuck about much, kinda swagger. There is something to do, as well, with the French language, and the way it, itself, creates an environment. Because it's certainly, certainly not the same as in Ghana. I wouldn't say one is better than the other. They are both quite developed in comparison to other countries, but there is a clear 'style' that has been shaped out of the difference between the English language and the French one.
And a lot of those here, that I've come to meet are pretty much, what you might consider 'French Colonials'.
Servants and flash cars, and pools. In Ghana, I didn't meet any of the English settlers, but one Australian in Accra -who spoke like she was roughing it, but I don't know what her meaning of that concept is, so.
Furthermore, my French is mediocre at best, and there's not a lot of understanding towards that -it feels like, to me. And though it frustrates me a bit, I fear that I am no different with English -outside of the classes I'm teaching.
At the end of the day, the community has, more or less openned up to me. Its nice to be somewhere that people know my name, like the sitcom, 'Cheers'. And there's a spot that I can say is chill and can kick it normally, in the hammock writing, or lay on the sandy beaches after a long battle with a few decent sized waves. This environment hasn't exactly been in abundance in thise part of the world.
Sometimes it's better not to look deeper into things, but simply nod and smile and find my place in it all, with patience. As a moving body, a traveller, many times we become accustomed to, are not used to, taking our time in a place, because we've been in the motions of forward 'progression'. Missing the days to chill, sit back, calm down. In some cases, it's really worth shutting it all down, and simply letting it all unravel slowly, naturally, coherently.
Relish that road baby, every day of the week!
In the past four days, the hitch hiking has been so friggin intense its overwhelming.
750 km crossing part of Ghana and Cote D'Ivoire, stayin at 3 euro a day Budget.
Yea, Ive given it everything, everything I have to make this happen. Xmas somewhere other than alone in my tent in fargin Timbuktu!
And this is not Europe or the West, this is West Africa, and when the day is high and you are stuck on a long, empty road, you can stand under the sun pumping 35 degrees or walk 5 km to hope a tree will arrive for some shade a bit!
The best one today, was the last. A Ghanan picked me up, and we drove like thunder, on his moto, the night fell upon us. We drove with headlights blinding us, with bugs smashing our faces, and the usual dust filling our nostrils, then, then! His headlamp went out! Boo ya. Fortunately, it was 6 km from the town where I write this now and fuck me that was a teeth grinding, finger clenching experience. Potholes, Trucks, and roadside goats, and no fucking headlight!
Are you for real Mama Africa!
Arriving at the gate of Mole National Park was pretty much my biggest diappointment yet. The whole area is absolutely dry, dead, and mostly burned up by fires. The gate guard was completely opposite to what I had hoped -sympathetic to my walking there and shortage of money. And after the mandatory guide and hourly rate, plus a gate price that I found online being less than the one recently raised up (soon to be raised again apparently)
I said fuck it to that place.
To see wildlife it is meant to be an expereince with nature, with your own two feet and a heartbeat -and the possibility to camp and have a small, control fire if we wanted. But no! It aint like that. So, I spent a couple days chillin at the nearby lodge, Savannah Lodge, where a table full of NGO teachers were there living the ol' daily struggle -and not one of them could speak English as a first language, yet there they were, teaching English!
Of course I had to hang out and check that mess of a situation. What a disaster. Education is in the dumps, no materials, then you get a bunch of money and resources from Europe, to bring a bunch of very, very poorly English speaking Spaniards, and two half decent speaking Austrians.
I mean, ok, at least the Spaniards were all Education students back home in Madrid! But this is not helping. Its entertaining sure, its helping to babysit as well. But its not helping, with progress I mean. Now, after a couple hours of hitching away fromt hat tourist trap, and towards Ivory Coast I am looking at the map which I have to ensue to reach San Pedro, for a 'family' xmas. And the way is, long, long, long , long.
The night before arriving to Tamale, I spent on the lakeside. One more night on the lake is what I wanted so, in spite of having a big day, from the shore, across from Dambai all the way to Tamale, I clamped down and camped. After it was said and done, and the ride int he morning very quick, I say it was well worth it to feel the slight breeze of the northern Volta Lake one more time, even if it wasn't exactly a picturesque environment.
And by no intensely great surprise, as I started to settle in and rest, a flashlight appeared. Having spotted the flashlight I waited for the voice to follow.
The local English ensues, calling me out,
'Where are you going?' He asks me this at 9 in the evening.
While in other parts of the world, the first question varies from what religion I am to my name, in these parts of West Africa, the most frequently asked question in English is, 'Where are you going?'.
And it is asked all the time!
Not my name, not where I come from, but here, it's highly important to know 'Where I am going'. From down the street, from across a river, from down to the valley floor, they gotta know!
Even if, even when I am in my tent, well after sunset, and clearly about to sleep.
'Nowhere! I am sleeping. Please leave me alone.'
Getting to Tamale was a 13-hour mission that involved 6 motorbikes, one car, and 3 hours of walking. But it was free, and it got done!
Plus, low and behold, when I arrive to Tamale, couch-surfing is there to lend a hand to me in dire need of a bath. I got four positive replies out of seven! In Europe that would be impossible!
Tamale... itself. Is not worth much mention, except that their local food, this slimy okra sauce with a variation of fufu, is horrible and I've had to eat it three times in two days! Wonderful living on a fuck all budget sometimes!
The fortunate turn, which gave some color to this dismal town, was a guy I met, Kwame, back at Wli Falls, showing up in Tamale as well.
With my being able to help him with the couch-surfing accommodation as well, it seemed that I would have a roommate.
Just having someone to hang out with, have a chat, talk some shit has been really, really great.
It's impressive that through all the people I meet all the time, very, very few could even be a friend. Even in an English speaking country like Ghana. Kwame, however, I certainly can say, who I met by chance, actually made a friend out of the process. There are few times I can say that about Asia either. Just worlds apart. And most of the time it can be the language barrier, it's more than that, it's a real connection that is missing -no common denomination.
Relish it Baby! Or cry tryin!
Since leaving Accra, its been pure hitch hiking. Its been some very nice gestures from local hands. Great rides. A couple very interrogative, others refreshed to see an Obronis (white person) movin the way I am.
Offerings of open hospitality are nowhere short of excellent and in fact, shocking. A couple of peeps that didn't want me to leave, that had sadness in their eyes. Moments I had rarely, very rarely come in contact with since leaving Europe.
Very close contact. This heart to heart emotion being traded between us. I've really not had this, especially when my girl was around.
Sadly, travel as a solo soldier, gets one much closer to the impact. And that's just about everywhere. Just about eh!
Four different waterfalls, the biggest in West Africa as one of them and the largest Lake around as well. Campin out in some remote villages, seeing traditional dancing, one of them with her ass in my way, swinging it like she had a license!
An election! Opposition winning ground! People excited everywhere, with blow horns and white dust on their bodies to declare victory! Jungle movements all over the place. And this. I gotta say. This is actually a little more on target to what I figured I would overturn in Western Africa. These are the events I figured would fall right into our laps as we proceeded down wind. But it never happened like this.
And it gives me deep sadness that I cannot share this all with my girl who worked so hard, with me, to make it down so far. Just to stand under Wli Falls together, I know that woulda made the girl so friggin happy.