Burkina Faso: Road to Bobo-Dioulasso

21st November - 27th November 2000


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I woke up early at the Zanga Hotel in Sikasso. The bus I bought a ticket for when I arrived in town late last night was due to leave for Bobo-Dioulasso at 07.00 this morning. I walked down to the reception and the tout who arranged my ticket was waiting. He said he was just coming up to my room to make sure I was awake and ready to leave; I thought that that was good of him to look out for me, I must have given him the right tip last night for making my travel arrangements. As I walked up the road to the bus station in the bright morning sun, there was a pleasant chill to the air. After the heat of the savannah and the grasslands further north this mornings chill was very refreshing. It must have been freezing to the locals who I found huddled around a fire at the bus station wrapped in warm coats. They offered me a seat on an old wooden bench and I sat down to wait for the bus to depart.

The bus was a minibus and there were about a dozen passengers. Only one other person could speak English, a well-dressed man from Ghana. He couldn't speak a word of French and I felt reassured that it was not only me who could not understand what was really going on. He walked around inspecting the minibus, prodding the tyres, which were bald and tutting at the poor state of repair of our vehicle. Without too much fuss and hanging around we soon departed and drove off down a dirt road out of Sikasso and towards the frontier with Burkina Faso.

Arriving in the dark last night I hadn't had the chance to see my current surroundings. I was pleasantly surprised to see some lush green vegetation, rather than dried grass scorched by the sun. We made steady progress along the dirt road, passing through small villages, fertile fields and patches of what you could almost describe as forest. We even passed a small tea plantation just off the road. The southern part of Mali is said to be more lush and green than the rest of the country; things actually grow here rather than just survive. The journey took a turn for the worst when we caught up with a large truck in front of us throwing up a huge cloud of choking dust. The road was fairly rough and it took what seemed like an age for our driver to pass the truck as it wound its way along the road trying to avoid the worst potholes. By the time we had passed it we were all covered in dust and coughing.

The first checkpoint we reached along the road was the Malian customs post. We stopped long enough for me to buy a small loaf of bread, the first thing I had eaten since my last night in Bamako 36 hours ago. I was still not feeling too well since that meal and didn't want to do anything that would make me feel worse, especially to the extent that I would have to stop at a hotel while I recovered. It didn't take long to get past the customs checkpoint; there wasn't exactly a queue of traffic this morning taking this road to the frontier and the customs officials didn't seem that interested in any of our luggage.

A little further along the road, about twenty minutes drive but only a few kilometres, we finally came to the border post. We parked beneath one of the many trees lining the road and all climbed out of the minibus and strolled across to the hut where the border guards were waiting for us. We stood in a semicircle in front of the hut where a large stocky man, who seemed to ooze authority, sat in his uniform with important papers and stamps on his desk in front of him, just inside the open fronted hut. He pointed to me first and asked for my passport. I sat in front of his desk and he started asking me questions. Where was I coming from and going to? Where did I live? What did I enjoy most in Mali? Would I be coming back again? I told him that I had enjoyed my visit to his country and wish I could of stayed longer but I had to be in Accra in three weeks time to catch a flight home. I promised though that I would return some day in the future. He stamped an exit stamp in my passport, shook my hand and I had officially left Mali.

It took a lot longer for my fellow passengers to complete the immigration formalities. For some reason there was something wrong with the Ghanaians paperwork. There was a lot of heated arguments and waiting. Once his passport was finally stamped he came over to talk to me, the only other English speaker in our group. Apparently he had either been fined or had to pay a bribe to get his passport stamped, he wasn't sure which and asked me if I had to pay anything. I hadn't, he looked disappointed and cursed the officials as we paced about waiting for permission to continue our journey over the border and into Burkina Faso.

At last everyone's papers had been stamped and we were free to continue our journey. We crossed the border and into Burkina Faso and soon stopped again at the Burkina border post. In that short journey between the two border posts I could see that I had entered a more prosperous country. The road on the Burkina side was tarred, there were crash barriers by the side of the road on bridge crossings and even some road signs, which were definitely absent on the road from Sikasso. We once again went through our now well-rehearsed routine at the Burkina border post. Apart from our vehicle there was no one else making the crossing; only a few local villagers wandered about the large parking lot selling bananas and oranges under the intensely hot sun.

Continue reading this journey: Bobo-Dioulasso