After a two-hour tro ride from Tamale to Bolgatanga, we got ripped off when the mate charged us to take our bags down off the top. Then we managed a half hour shared cab to Paga, the border town on the Ghana side, where we were accosted by black market money changers and guides, one of which just decided to become our guide for the border despite our refusals.
We made it through the Ghana Visa Office, where the officer helping us was very impressed we had obtained Ghanaian visa extensions, while a Burkinabe man stood next to us insisting his nationality to the border officers with no identification whatsoever. We traipsed through a hot grubby truck stop area to the Burkina Visa Office, where they were stamping our visas before we finished our paperwork. (They didn’t care who we were or what we were carrying, they just let us in.) Border-guide-man led us through more truck stop, and the official border was two girls holding a chain open insisting we buy their gum.
We get in a new shared cab to Po, the next closest town in Burkina, holding our bags on our laps so we don’t have to pay to put them in the back (but we end up paying for them anyway.) Outside our hotel in Po, we learn from the hotel guide Patrice that it’s 50,000 CFA each ($100 US) just to get driven to Nazinga Game Ranch, our first planned tourist stop. We definitely haven’t budgeted for this, and it’s only noon, so we decide we’ll skip the elephants and head strait to Ouaga (capital of Burkina.) Patrice tells us the bus to Ouaga will pass in 5 minutes. Perfect! Half and hour later, with no bus in sight, he hails a Land Cruiser with whites (“les blancs”) in it, and arranges us a ride with them.
The couple is French. The man apparently guides European hunters to “hunt” (probably poach) elephants in Nazinga. The wife smoked a lot and scoffed when I tried to ask them about Ouaga in French. The man spoke English but refused to speak to us, apparently finding our Americaness offensive on his post-colonial French turf. He found great pleasure in careening up over the banks and over dirt speed bumps, so much so that Lauren and I were hitting our heads and flying out of our seats for the entire ride. Jean Pierre and his wife were not very helpful upon arrival in the capital either, dropping us off at a random taxi station in the middle of Ouaga to fend for ourselves. Oh well, I guess we got ourselves into this.
We tried to pick a cab to the S.I.L Guesthouse, our planned housing suggested by Compassion International, but none of the group of 10 Burkinabe taxi drivers we were talking to understood us or recognized the name. (Why, WHY did I not brush up on my French more before we came?) Finally one guy waved his arms about and told us he knew where it was, so we put our bags in the back. He drove us around town for a bit and proceeded to take us to what appeared to be a strip club called La Prestige. We insisted that this was not our hotel. Our driver proceeded to consult the strip club neighbors including a Nigerian who spoke English. They tried to help us use our unusable phone to call the numerous contact numbers we had for Compassion, our hotel and guesthouses. After about 15 minutes we gave up, collected our Bradt guide from our backpack and picked the most affordable hotel on the list.
With directions from our nice strip club neighbors, Nigerians and Burkinabe alike, our taxi driver once again insisted he knew where he was going. After paying him twice as much as we originally agreed, we were finally had a bed. We ate a yummy dinner, and then headed for water sachets across the street. We wondered why the formerly busting streets were now empty of their mopeds and donkey carts and masses of people, but found as we walked that a sandstorm was quickly gathering speed and a full-blown thunderstorm was about to erupt above our heads. We bought our water and ran as fast as we could back to our room, yelling the whole way, since I am blinded by the grit in my contacts and Lauren is trying to lead me home.
Our adventures did not end for the day, oh no. As we slept we kept seeing bright flashes of light through our window and hearing loud popping and cracking noises, almost like firecrackers outside our door. Our sleep induced deliriums caused us to interpret these unusual happenings in very different ways. I assumed the flashes were lightning, and attributed the strange noises (which were certainly not thunder) to my dreams. So since there was no real threat, I felt no need to get out from under the mosquito net and investigate. Lauren, however, was under the impression it was a terrorist bombing attack aimed at getting Burkina Faso on the political map via the assassination of the white American exchange students in the guesthouse. She felt it was critical to not only confront the terrorists outside, but also to cover the crack in the door with a towel to keep the fire from the bomb off of her feet as she opened the door standing in her underwear. As the door opened, I woke up to see a strange figure in the doorway, whom I am convinced is a Burkinbe man who has just kidnapped Lauren (she is no longer in bed) and is about to come get me. I try to sound calm as I inquire, “Hello?” Lauren replies, “It’s just me. I think there’s a bomb outside. But I don’t see or smell anything.” I reply, “Me neither. Come back to bed.”
In the morning there is an electrician curiously peering at the exploded light bulb outside our room as we brush our teeth in the shared loos.