Day 1: Getting to Tanguieta On Friday morning I left Houegbo bright and early (6:30am) and took a bush taxi to Bohican about an hour and a half north of Houegbo. There I met my friends Jordan and Rima and we caught the “Coton Bus” to tanguieta in Northern Benin. The bus ride was long and tedious. It was especially boring since some random guy decided to make a presentation about some sort of herbal remedy he had that could cure anything. It was a long annoying sales pitch and I don’t think he had any takers. We got to Tanguieta around 5pm and met up with our friends Megan and Kate. Tanguieta is a really beautiful town and it is the gateway to one of Benin‘s wildlife parks. The people are very different from those in Houègbo even though they are also Beninese. The northerners are more likely to be Muslim and are more reserved and calm then the Fon peoples who live in the south. In Houegbo, children constantly yell out at me and follow me, but people left me alone up north. It was a nice change to walk around without causing a commotion. We stayed at a volunteer’s house in tanguieta and left early the next morning to go to Burkina Faso. Day 2: Getting to Ouagadougou Kate and Megan found a driver that would take us to Ouagadougou in his van. The trip was going well until the car started to break down. We kept hearing loud pops and then the car would sort of lurch a bit. It was actually a little scary. We must have stopped at least six times while the driver fiddled with the engine (that was underneath his car seat). We ended up going so slow that the donkey carts were passing us by! Finally, the driver stopped and flagged down another car for his 14 passengers to take. We all crammed in and made it to Ouaga that evening where we ate a delicious meal… the highlight being chocolate mousse. The owner of the restaurant scared us into thinking Ouaga was dangerous because he told us several tourists had been mugged, so we walked quickly back to our dingy and mosquito filled hotel and didn’t leave. By the way no one bothered us too much in Ouaga. There are a lot more beggars there. Lots of kids walk around with large tomato sauce cans strapped around their shoulders. They are asking for people to give them food. It’s hard to think that their parents can’t feed them. Day 3: Bowling, ice cream, and Ouaga Woke up early to find a new hotel (there were way too many bugs in the one we stayed at the first night) and eat strawberries. We were so excited to here that people grow strawberries in Burkina Faso because we’ve never seen them in Benin. We eagerly looked for them and you can imagine our delight when we saw a woman carrying a basin full on her head. We bought a kilo for 1,000cfa, some bread, and goat cheese and had a feast for breakfast. Delicious! There’s a great picture of Rima enjoying her strawberry! We also tried to stay at the hotel run by the nuns at the catholic mission but they were full. Lucky for us though, they recommend trying the brothers who had two rooms available and let us stay even though we weren’t priests, men, or missionaries. The rooms were pleasantly clean and comfortable. Every odd number year Ouaga hosts a famous film festival so we went looking around for the movie theatres hoping something good would be playing, but alas no luck. One theatre wasn’t even there anymore. We did find Oscars, an ice cream parlor… I don’t think it is as good as Festival in Cotonou and to our surprise a bowling alley! Well we had to stop and go bowling. Never thought I’d be so excited to put on bowling shoes… Kate out bowled us all easily. The highlight of the day was eating dinner at le Verdoyant. We had great pizza and salad. Day 4: Taking the Bus to Bobo We woke up early to take 7:30am bus to Bobo- Dioulasso five hours to the southwest of Ouagadougou. It was a greyhound style bus, except it seats 5 in a row instead of 4, so a little more cramped. However, the air conditioning made up for it. It was a long, long ride and I was happy to make it to Bobo, which I absolutely loved! It was smaller than Ouaga, the people are calm and friendly, and it was so clean with broad, tree lined avenues and well maintained buildings. Hard to imagine you are in the second poorest country in the world… except for the poor kids wandering around asking for food. It is a popular destination for tourists so there are lots of vendors selling locally made crafts. We went to the Mosque which was originally built in 1880. It is made in the “banco” method… mud and stick and is gorgeous. As a non Muslim, I wasn’t allowed inside, but I admired it from the outside. We also took a tour of the old town and saw the oldest house in town supposedly built in the 1500s but since it is made of traditional mud and stick, new mud has to be applied every year to keep it from disappearing. At the end of the tour we saw the “sacred fish pond” which was really some dirty looking water that had catfish type fish in it that the Bobo people find sacred. Day 5: Trying to go swimming Decided to go the Musee in Bobo. We discovered it had a contemporary art exhibit as well, which Megan who has a degree in art history, loved. The paintings were made using mud of different colors and were striking. Megan, Kate, and I ended up each buying one and getting to meet the artists. The museum also had to examples of housing in Burkina Faso. One was a mud Bobo structure and a Touareg house. The Touareg house made me think of the Wampanoag Wetus. It was made of woven mats into the shape of a dome. In the afternoon we hired a taxi to take us to “La Guinguette” a must see excursion according to our guide books. It was described as a beautiful water hole 18 kilometers outside of Bobo and a great place to go swimming. We lathered on the sunscreen, packed our swimming suits and set out in eager anticipation. After and hour of driving on terre rouge (dirt roads) our driver took us to a stream… and said here it is. We looked at the villagers doing their laundry and the cows in the water upstream and decided no way! This is not it, where is the forest setting? The clean water? We insisted the driver continue and he came upon a catholic mission and thankfully some missionaries who pointed to the lovely paved road and said the watering hole was only a few kilometers away. Our driver didn’t want to go and went at a snails pace. When we reached a bridge over the before mentioned stream, he tried to convince us that was it but we persisted and low and behold we drove up to the tourist entrance of the Forest de Kou. We were happy to see the guinguette was a real place but disappointed to learn people are no longer allowed to sleep there. Oh well. We did the hike around the woods and saw the hole at least. Then our dear taxi driver got us back to Bobo in less that 20 minutes since that beautiful paved road went all the way there! Rima and I hit the market that afternoon. She was bound and determined to buy lots of gifts and she is very skilled at “discuter” or bargaining. The grand marche in Bobo had lots to offer tourists: beaded necklaces, tie dye or batik fabric, fabric died with mud, bracelets, baskets, and stuff made from dried out gourds. Rima, who is going home for a few weeks this summer, wanted to load up on gifts for her family. Lucky for us, we stumbled upon an area of the marche which was full of local crafts. Together we managed to talk the prices down. I remember when I first got to Benin, I couldn’t imagine how on earth I was going to be able to bargain with people and now it just seems like a part of the process. For instance, many of the vendors started the prices of necklaces at about 7,000cfa but Rima managed to get them down to 1,000cfa by doing the “walk away”. Basically, you walk away and they call you back and give you your price. I want to pay a fair price for the goods and there were lots of things that I didn’t buy because I knew I couldn’t offer a good price, especially some of the hand dyed fabrics. I’ve taken a photo of some of the things I bought. My favorite are the two little gourds that I plan on using as Christmas tree ornaments so that every Christmas I will remember my exciting trip to Bobo. The evening we went out to Les Bambous, a music club, for some live music and dinner. It was full of French tourists. The dancers were amazing. They can move their bodies so quickly and with such control. Day 6: Bobo Goes on Strike while shopping the day before, vendors kept telling us the market would be shut down Wednesday because they would be on strike or “greve” as they say in French. Apparently, prices were going up and the people wanted to protest them. No big deal we thought. So when I was sitting outside our hotel eating breakfast Wednesday, I remarked on how much noisier it seemed. then looking around we noticed large groups of men congregating on the streets and determined that this must be part of the strike. The shops on the streets were all closed and locked up. The men did get rowdy at times… they refused to let cars pass through the streets and I saw some guys trying to pull down the Stop sign on the corner. They barricaded the street with big rocks and groups of people would come running down the street as if fleeing something. At one point the air became full of a stinky odor and the waiter at our hotel insisted we move inside because they were gassing the protesters. Luckily for us we not harmed and the street we were on was not witness to the most violent acts of the day. In other parts of town, people broke windows, and took out street lights with rocks. They also tore down a statue of the Burkinabe President. Because the strikes became violent, we were unable to leave Bobo to visit the village of Koro as planned and we couldn’t wander around town since it didn’t feel safe. (there were all of riot police blocking off roads). So we went to the fancy, French owned hotel to go swimming. There we ran into a peace corps volunteer and his visiting parents. Corey was really nice and helped us get in touch with his country director. Peace Corps Benin also checked in with us to make sure we were okay. Volunteers were put on stand fast due to the striking which was also happening in another city. that night we were moved by the peace corps to a hotel out of the city center and the next morning peace corps shuttled 16 people in one of their SUVs to another town an hour and a half away. It was a good thing they did, because the situation in Bobo apparently got worse. In Oradora, we were confined to the hotel. Not a total hardship as it had air conditioning and television. It was a great opportunity to meet some volunteers in another country. Being a volunteer in Burkina Faso seems much more difficult. They seem less likely to have post mates and it is more difficult to travel around the country. One volunteer I met has to bike 36km to get to the road where he can then take a bush taxi three hours to Bobo. But on the whole, the volunteers seemed to like Burkina and their work. Day 7: Driving around Burkina Faso in an SUV Oh what a long day Thursday was. Bright and early, we were whisked away into the peace corps SUV. The mission was to drop off three volunteers at their posts and then take us five tourists back to Ouagadougou. Well normally it is about 6 and half hours from Oradora to Ouaga, but we did it in about 9. You see we couldn’t go through Banfora or Bobo due to the striking so we had to take the long round about way on dirt roads. We made it to Ouaga around 7:30 that evening. Day 8: Back to Benin More driving: peace corps Burkina drove us to the border, where Noelle, our Beninese safety and security officer, was waiting for us. He took us all the way to Nattitingou where Rima, Jordan, and I stayed the night at the workstation. I was sooooooo tired. Day 9: Back to Houegbo Yet another day in a moving vehicle. took the bus to Houegbo. Was so good to see Jeff again. I missed him so much.