Thursday, February 24, 2011

Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso - the country of honest people. (Burkina Faso means honest people). But even more funny is the name of the capital - Ouagadougou. We did't know almost anything about this country, except that it is one of the poorest in the region and in the world. We were pleasantly surprised, however - the roads were perfect and the streets much cleaner than those in Senegal and Mali. And as we come round later - people are wonderful here.
The white people with the white minibus left us in Ouahigouya (the first town after the border) in their hotel which was quite expensive for us and didn't allow tents. So we were late in the evening in a new country not knowing where to sleep. It was too far and too late to get out of town. We decided it was not safe to hang around in the dark streets with backpacks and went to ask in the nearby bar where we can camp for the night. They were very kind to us and invited us in the courtyard of the bar for free. We were very happy for the goodness of these first Burkinabe that we met. In the morning we found a cyber cafe after 2 weeks without internet in Mali. We found a couch surfer in Ouagadougou and hit the road again. Only after five minutes waiting a Toyota pickup with a specialist in construction of irrigation systems for agriculture took us directly to Ouagadougou. We arrived in dusk and decided to stop 20 km before Ouagadougou and to sleep in the woods. The moon was full and the place looked very beautiful and mysterious bathed in moonlight.

The next day the first car took us to Ouaga. We found the house of the couch surfers - Pavel and Margerit - Lithuanian and French couple living in Burkina for one year. They welcomed us warmly in their homes and for a few days we became very close. We prepared the Bulgarian cold soup tarator for them, and then Pavel made us the Lithuanian version of it - yogurt with cucumbers, beets, eggs, onions (only dill was missing). So we brought some Slavic environment in Ouagadougou :)
Pastor Michael with his wife Lidia and their grandson
От тук трябваше да вземем следващите визи-
Here we had to pick the next visas- for Ghana. Finally an English speaking country! But to our amazement we were refused visas on the grounds that we need to get the visas from our own country. And we even have no Ghana Embassy in Bulgaria. There were many other Europeans and Americans, but the rules applied to everyone - the embassy issues visas only to resident people in Burkina Faso. And this rule has been for only 2 weeks. How quickly things change! We tried to contact the Bulgarian Embassy in Ghana (the only one in that area), but neither the phone nor the e-mail were current. We had no other choice, but to travel a bit throughout Burkina and then decide what to do next. The hitchhike here is so good. We went to the west of the country - Bobo Diulasou city and the region of Banfora. From Ouaga we were picked after a long waiting by Lydia – the wife of Pastor Michael, who invited us to sleep in their village near Ouaga because it was already a nightfall. She spoke good English and seemed to be a good person. It turns out it was a village with schools and 500 children from poor families who study and live here. Michael and Lydia were Christians and wanted to give a chance to poor children and orphans who had never dreamed of going to school. Their project was really big and the children really studied here many different things. There were also workshops for sewing and mechanics, to enable children to have craft. They were planning to build even a university. "I could build apartments in Ouaga and to rent them, but what will be left after me? It's better to build something for the people that will remain after you."- Pastor Michael said. We wish success to their good cause, and who knows - we may go back to the village and help in some way.
the children in the village Word of Hope

The next day we got a pick-up by a new Land cruiser with the very cool driver Suleiman - owner of a transportation company. We literally flew with a 150 km/h and arrived pretty quickly to Bobo. He spoke English, had gone to Macedonia and was one of the few locals who knew about Bulgaria. When we arrived he asked us whether we had where to stay and invited us into his house. It turned out really great and luxurious house. There were LCDs, leather seats and even hot water in the bathroom. We had't seen hot water from Spain. He showed us the room and disappeared. We did not see anymore. We went for a walk around Bobo - the second largest city in Burkina. It was much smaller and a very nice town - with small shops for souvenirs, many musicians and artists. The next day we woke up to find that Suleiman was gone and we could not even thank him for his goodness to us. We left him a thank-you note and continued for Banfora (the way to Cote d'Ivoire). After an hour of waiting and searching for a suitable place we got picked up by a local Mercedes with retailers of cosmetic goods. They tried to persuade us to buy creams and perfumes, and then they wanted us to become representatives and to sell them. We explained to them that we did not want any of these things. However, they didn't stop. It was the most tedious hitchhike so far. We descended in their village with a great relief and continued hitching to Banfora. The road was pretty empty and the only car that went through half an hour later stopped. The SUV was driven by white people who had business with karite (shea) – a special tree that is made into various cosmetic oils, well known in these latitudes. They left us straight in Banfora and there amongst the madness of insisting guides and all kinds of offers we managed to rent a moped for 3 days.

We decided to go around the area with a motorcycle on dirt roads. The very first minutes we managed to hit one store with gasoline in glass bottles. We both fell down, but luckily the bottles with the precious liquid remained. With a few scratches and lots of laughter we left the accident. We drove over 550 km with the small motorcycle on the dusty roads and even we got stopped by the police in Gaoua in the lobby country. We ate a lot of dust and got very tired of the constant driving through the potholes and sand. We returned the bike with great joy and decided to continue walking toward the Lake Tangrela - 8 km from Banfora. We slept along the lake, rode on a boat and we saw hippos, birds and hundreds of beautiful lilies. The camping on the lake was just 1,50 Euro for both.

waterfalls near Banfora

on the motorbike
in Lobi country

Stopping for water from the water pump of some village
at the Tangrela lake

On returning to Banfora it was a market day. The market day is naturally a great fuss - hundreds of people selling and buying something. Most are tramps doing nothing all day and finding pleasure in the fuss and buzz, but others sell. Actually there are not as many things on the market as people. It was the season of mangoes and we took six mangoes all for 0.15 Еuro  and continued hitching back to Bobo. We did not wait long and the man who took us had a chauffeur. Many people here had their own chauffeurs. We arrived in the afternoon and decided to go outside the city and sleep near the road in a tent. Along the way we spoke to some Burkinabe and Frenchmen who turned out to be musicians. One of them, Benjamin, had a birthday and invited us to party with djembes and balaphones in a house in Bobo. The house was Lolo's – a French living for several years in France and Burkina with his Togolese wife and their son - Asan. Just after the party started the electricity went off. This was the best opportunity to enjoy unplugged party with all kinds of instruments - djembes, balafons and maracas. With only one headlight and many musicians. The evening was very exciting. When the electricity turned on after several hours, music from the stereo started and everyone began drinking, eating and having fun. We slept there the night and the next day we got back to hitchhike to Ouagadougou, where we had left our large backpacks in Pavel and Margaret’s place. Very soon we got picked by two old Burkinabe with tattooed faces. Here almost everyone had scars from cuts on the face as a sign of ethnicity. After a few miles they turned for some camping and we continued our hitchhike. While we were walking down the dusty road, a super luxurious Lexus flew past us and after a few hundred meters managed to stop and came back to take us. He explained to us that he had no right to carry passengers because he was a personal driver of some bigwig, and if his boss had seen him – he would be kicked away. He said he would drop us half the way in Boromo for he did not want to be seen. In Boromo he invited us to eat, payed for everything that we got and refused to take our money. He did not want to leave us on the road and said that we should get on one of their trucks going to Ouagadougou. (his boss was making the roads and had a lot of trucks). We tried to convince him that there was no problem and we could continue on our own, but he insisted. However, the trucks were full and he didn't even stop, so he decided to take us back in his Lexus. We sat back behind the tinted windows and he told we that his boss was traveling by helicopter, and he followed him with the vehicle. We reached Ouaga and he dropped us secretly, turning in the small streets at the beginning of the city. The next day he called us and asked if we were ok.

the usual buses
There was a lot of distance to our neighborhood and we started walking along the road. One SUV slowed down, watching us, we waved spontaneously and he stopped. It turned out again to be a pastor and he drove us straight to the house of Pavel, which was on the other side of the city.
There were already two more couch surfers – a Danish guy and an American girl and one guest from France. For several days we were like an international family, it was great fun and we almost forgot that we were in Africa. During this time we managed to get visas for the West African Union, including Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin, Niger and Ivory Coast. The visa was for two months and cost 40 Euros. Finally after the good time with Pavel and Margerit, we decided to set off for Togo. We packed our backpacks and with a bit of sadness we said good-bye to them, hopefully we meet them again somewhere. However, we met Benjamin – the Frenchman who had a birthday at Bobo and got invited to a 48-hour balaphone party in a house in Ouagadougou. So we stayed another 48 hours in Ouagadougou in a tent in the house. From dawn to dusk music went on and on, mostly balafons and some djembes. Liters of chakpalo were pouring-the local beer that everyone drinks from a cup of pumpkin, with a strange taste and usually warm. There, we celebrated yet another birthday, this time Bob Marley’s – on 6 February.

when we filtrate water usually we have big audience

restaurant" for omelet in Ouaga
When the next day we took our backpacks and started to go out from Ouagadougou again, we met the Italians with the trucks that we saw in Bamako. It was really funny how our paths were constantly crossing with the other travelers. We offered them to go with them to the village of Pastor Michael and to help with the work and make movies for the children. We stayed with them one day, but they had other commitments for the next day and we decided to continue on our way. We started hitching in the afternoon and till dusk 3 cars had picked us up. The last one- a Mercedes left us in the village in the dark, though we asked him to drop us before the village to sleep. The driver said he knew where we could sleep, and finally left us in front of the church. We were in the center in the dark and had to walk a lot to go in the bushes to sleep. There was no problem however and finally we bent our tent after the village near the road. The next morning a man and a woman us a ride, to the border all the time telling us they want us to invite them to Bulgaria. This time there was no distance between the two borders and we moved quickly into Togo.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Mali – the country of legendary Timbuktu, mysterious dogons, one of the most powerful African empires in the past, rich in cultural and ethnic diversity.
We passed the border Senegal- Mali relatively quickly and smoothly. The funny thing here was that there was no border post and we had to go around the village to find the police to give us stamps. Besides the long lines of trucks, there was nothing showing that we are entering another country.
We traveled with Michael and his Land Cruiser down to Bamako, where we stayed together at a camp for two days. At the campsite we met a large group of Italians with a truck and a camper. Their truck was huge, 15 tons and carrying a lot of things for Africa - computers, clothes ... They were going to Burkina Faso.
Bamako was a nice city on the Niger
River . It looked pretty neat and orderly compared to other capitals we saw. We walked around for one day and we hit the road again. We had only 15 days visa for Mali and we wanted to see the most interesting places in this mysterious country. We had no time for Timbuktu, which is now not so hard to reach as it was in the past - there  is even an airport! Actually the most interesting thing in Timbuktu is the desert festival, which takes place right now ... but the ticket is around 150 euros for 3 days ... so maybe we'll visit it some other time in this life ...

shitting boys
Distances here are huge and we waited a long time at the beginning. First a local guy took us to the first post to pay (in Mali roads are paid). Then we got a ride with three other locals for another hundred kilometers. Overall the hitch-hiking went well and nobody wanted money (which happened in Senegal and we had to ask every time before we go is it free). Finally a 4x4 filled with overflowing luggage took us both in the front seat. Although in the beginning we refused as we saw there is no place, but he insisted we went. On one of the police posts, however, police stopped us and made a major problem for being 3 people in font.After a long discussion, checking our visas and passports, they let us go for 5000 CFA (almost 10 euros). We were very surprised how all the cars and buses were packed with people and animals, sometimes they had people on the roof, and they stopped us for this. The Malian explained: Everybody pays here.

In the evening we slept near the road for Djiene – a village, all built of mud, with the largest mud mosque in the world. (And generally the largest mud building).In this part of Mali, most villages were built of mud and after every rainy season people had to rebuilt them.
In the morning hitched two Germans with a guide and we went straight to their hotel in Djienne. We asked if he could put out tent on the roof and they agreed, but the patron wouldn't tell us how much it costs We spent the day with the Germans and their guide, who showed us around. The mosque was impressive and the small alleys and mud houses looked like from a fairy tale. Everything was, however, many touristic and there were no cheap restaurants and shops. Because of the dry season and the desert wind - harmatan air was filled with sand and dust. Sometimes it was difficult to breathe. There was no sky - everything was wrapped in sand.

market day in Djiene

The biggest mud mosque in the world

No bridges. To come to Djiene you have to cross the river.
second hand
In the evening in the hotel refused dinner – we asked for rice but there was only couscous, which was not our favorite, and was also very expensive. We put our tent on the roof and rested from the long day. Later one guy from the hotel came and brought us a bowl of spaghetti and two fizzy mango. He said it was free, he cooked it for himself. He apologized that there was no rice for dinner. We accepted with pleasure, but he didn't even stay to talk. Do not know why you were so kind to us at this hotel. We asked the owner many times how much to pay for the tent and he finally said it was free.We were not asked for any money and in the morning they gave us two loaves of bread! We were charmed by the kindness of Malian people and started to like this country more and more. We left with the Germans back to the main road. They went to Bamako, and we stayed at the road in the opposite direction - to Mopti. We had confirmed couch-surfer in Bandiagara - the village from where the trekking in Dogon country starts - the most beautiful and extraordinary place in Mali.

Kola nuts-bitter fruit that elder people eat for energy,
in Dogon country is a mandatory gift for people in the village

Traces of tears in the dust

Not long after a Malian family with a little boy picked us up. They drove all the way to Mopti with the music of Burning Spear, Alpha Blondie Bob Marley turned to the maximum.
In Mopti we ate had a breakfast and after headed to Bandiagara. As we walked on the road, people came to us, offering us guide, bus or taxi. When we said that we are hitch-hiking, they laughed and said it was impossible.We waited a lot and finally a Mercedes stopped. Just after we put our backpacks in and got in the car, the same two Malians who wanted to offer us a bus or taxi came to us with a motorbike and started shouting something to the driver. After a brief squabble the driver set off, trying to avoid the motorbike, with witch they were blocking our road. Finally he hit the motorbike and continued. 500 meters further down we stopped to pick up another hitchhiker-military guy and again the men with motorcycle came. This time they were furious and blocked our way with the moto so that we can not go from nowhere. Finally, our driver stepped on the gas and maneuvered off the road, running over the motorbike. Luckily we did not hit the biker, he only fell down. Apparently they didn’t like him giving us a ride. The whole episode was pretty brutal, but the Mercedes was a solid machine and went through the whole bike without problems. Luckily. We were afraid that they will chase us again, but fortunately they gave up and didn’t follow us anymore. The Mercedes left us at the first police post in the middle of the road to Bandiagara. There we waited a bit and a brand new Audi took us to Bandiagara together with the military hitchhiker.

In Bandiagara, however the phone to our host John was off. All day he rang, he wrote text messages and even found other Americans, volunteers from the Peace Corps, but even they refused to help us. In the evening we decided to go walk to the Dogon country and sleep near the road in the woods.
ora]: The next morning I felt pretty bad. I had a little fever, I was cold and had diarrhea. For several days I was quite weak and because of the numerous mosquito bites in the last week,I immediately decided it was malaria. Other people we met traveling longer time in Africa said that if they had fever they start drinking antimalarial pills without even going to the doctor. We also bought the pills from Dakar, but we still decided to go back to the hospital in Bandiagara to make a test. For the first time since the beginning of our journey I felt bad, hardly carrying my backpack for five kilometers to the village. The hospital was fairly good - almost like Bulgarian hospitals. The doctors were very nice, although I do not understand much French. They made me tests for typhoid and malaria, and waited until the afternoon for the results.
Fortunately, the results were negative
and they prescribed me some powders for stomach and said that it is because of the water or the food. I drank one and I felt better immediately and the same day I was fine.We set off again on the road to Dogon country. I was still extremely exhausted and I hoped someone to pick us. The road was very bad - sand and stones – only for bikes and 4x4 but almost no vehicles passed. In the morning we saw only bikes. Luckily, however, almost immediately we a jeep took us to the next village 5 km. And even more luckily just when we reached their village they received a call from a car that was broken on the road more 5-6 kilometers ahead and we continued. There we thought to stay somewhere to sleep near the road, but two guys with motorbikes stopped and offered us a ride to the next village- Duru. For the first time we hitch a moto and it was great fun with the big backpacks on the dirt road. In Duru we knew there camping for 1euro per person. We spent the night there, we left one backpack in storage at the campsite and we went on trekking through Dogon country.

It was very beautiful from the beginning - rocks, trees and yellow dry grass. We were the only tourists without a guide, we photographed a small map of the area and thought we could ask the locals if we got lost. We understood immediately, however, that local people deliberately give us wrong directions to get lost and then ask for money to show us the path. The road was not easy, constantly had to climb high cliffs and valleys with orchards, up and down, and here were many confusing paths between gardens and villages. From the beginning, when we asked about the first village they answered: "Oh ... you are lost, it is not this way" But we had a map and a compass, and we believed them. It was very funny how everyone was trying to give us wrong directions, and children ran screaming after us: "this is not the way" without even knowing where we are going. Finally, we reached the first village - IdeliNa and in the next-Komokani we stayed to sleep in a „campoman“- that is on the roof of one Dogon house.

on the way to Dogon country


Dogon Country was actually a number of villages high in the rocks, completely disconnected from the world without water and electricity, but with a rich culture and knowledge. The mystery about these tribes, except colorful dances with masks and houses-caves in the rocks left from the Telem people, is their ancient astronomical knowledge. Dogons knew about the rings of Saturn, the moons of Jupiter and the spiral shape of our galaxy centuries ago - things that can not be seen with the naked eye. And most puzzling – the sacred for them star Sirius B, which was completely unknown to astronomers until 1862 dwarf star, composed of extremely dense matter, they think that it is the most heavy metal world. Ancient star maps painted on the rocks show exceptional astrological knowledge of these tribes of primitive and isolated life. There are different theories, some say that aliens have brought this sacred knowledge, but the mystery remains unsolved. .

Obama - my dream

With much effort to maintain the gardens in dry season

типичните стълби тук

Obama is a big star here – there are T-shirts, hats, stickers, even underpants with Obama

We could not find this knowledge in today's Dogons. The only thing they said to us was 'donner mois cadeau' (give me a gift). It is sad how traditions and culture unchanged for centuries now break under the tourist influx. There weren't in fact many travelers along the way, all the campsites were empty and very rare we saw white people on the road. But their attitude towards us was tiring. When we pass by a village, we were immediately attacked by both children and adults - they want gifts, money, pens, to carry our backpacks, to become our guides ... sometimes thy followed us for kilometers. To talk normally to someone local was almost impossible. Perhaps the reason was that we did not have a guide, but we couldn't learn a lot about the true nature of there people.
Otherwise the place was indeed magical. On one side, cliffs with villages, on the other side - the red dunes and then the endless wild savannah. The villages high in the rocks appeared in front of the eyes like magic. The bent little graneries made of mud, looked like melted chocolate into the hot sun. The caves in the rocks, inherited from the Telems, were sacred now and we were not allowed to see them from close. They breathed cool air and mystery. The small thatched houses called graneries served for storage of things. There different graneries for men and women. People live simple lives and far from civilization. There were no cars, no shops and we could not even find bread. Four days we ate only rice and we dreamt of some fruit or vegetable.

houses actually have flat roofs and you can sleep on the roof. The graneries are for storing miel....


Telems' rock houses

On the second day, when passing by another village, we were again attacked by the local crowd. They asked where is our guide, shouting that we should have a guide and will now bring us one of the village. We tried to go forward without listening, but they began to pull us to dlock our way and become rude. We explained that we do not want a guide, but many people had gathered and didn't let us go in any direction. One went to the village to seek a guide, another offered us for 3 euros to take us to the next village (which was very close). Finally we said we wanted to talk to the chief of the village and that is it is not forbidden to walk on the road without a guide. We went all to the village, but when we ask where's the chief, they wouldn't tell us. Suddenly, after about an hour quarreling they let us go. We cotinued along the road trying to figure out why so suddenly they decided to let us. We walked as quickly as possible away from this village. To avoid the fuzz in the villages, we decided to climb the dunes at the other side of the road and spend the night there. The place was really strange - red dunes, and behind them an infinite flat savannah with few small trees. We put our tent on the sand and even made a fire and cooked rice. It was the most beautiful camping so long. In the morning we watched the sunrise, packed our backs and went down to the villages again. We stayed on the campsite in a village named Ireli. There we took a guide for 3 euros to show us around the village and climb up the rocks. The village had a church and a mosque, but most people were animists. There is a place for sacrifices. The guide give us his address and asked us to bring him a woman from Bulgaria and a pair of shoes size 40.People here had no shoes, children ran barefoot on the stones up and down, only some had flip-flops.

The most wonderful camping

The next day we decided to go back up on the dunes and walk through there.There was strong desert wind blowing and the sky was brown from the dust. Up on the dunes the wind was even more brutal. We went for hours without stopping through sand and thorns. At dusk we reached the last village, climbed the rocks and stayed there to sleep. Without a tent, only with sleeping mats on the rocks. It was beautiful night. We were only 5 kilometers from Duru (the village where we left one backpack). On the next morning we reached Duru and again we were attacked by locals. More than 10 people were walking after us and more and more were joining the crowd. Everyone was telling us that this is not the path, but nobody told us where is the path. Finally we went through some rocks just to escape the crowd and they left us. There an old man came and seriously started telling that we shouldn't walk here. He led us to the campsite, but he stayed there explaining to the boss that we have entered a prohibited place. He said that the rocks, where we passed were a holy place and now we had to get two chickens to sacrifice for this. We tried to explain that we are against killing animals, especially in our honor, but the man was really angry and said he would complain in Bandiagara and will make a big problem if we do not take two chickens. Also he said it would harm us if we do not. We had to pay for our mistake. We apologized and gave him 5 euro for two chickens. He was happy and went to make sacrifices. 

Two days before our visa expired we started for the border with Burkina Faso. We had to walk 5-6 km through the rocks to a small road, marked on the map. Again, climbing and descending over rocks and valleys, again locals refused to show us the path. Finally, thanks to a good teacher we found the road. Before our eyes revealed a beautiful but frustrating sight - a desert with and endless desolate track in the sand. There were more than 50 km to the border village of Koro, which we had to walk through the sand with backpacks. The road was only for 4x4 with and enthusiast rally driver. We had not yet gotten off the rocks on the sand when we saw exactly such 4x4. We could not believe our eyes. We ran down, waving and the... stopped. They were two very nice Frenchmen who helped in finding and drilling for water in the villages. They had lived many years in various African countries and had much experience here. They themselves also could not believe seeing hitchhikers on such a „road“.We flew with 70-80 km/h over the dunes like in a real rally. It was great fun and even a bit scary. Pretty quickly we got to Koro and they left us there.

It turned out that from Koro to the border there are 15 km, which we walked. After we exit Mali, it turned out that there are another 20 km to the entrance of Burkina. It was almost getting dark and the border worked till 18h. It was impossible to get there today. We decided to walk until dark and stay to sleep between the two countries. Throughout the day not a single car passed by us. Shortly before 6, however, a white van with white people appeared on the road. We thought it was a tourist bus that will cost money, but it proved to be a group of Europeans who came under a program for greening of the Sahel. We crossed the border with them and they left us in the first city in Burkina Faso - Uahiguya.