Burkina Faso: Ouagadougou & on to Ghana
21st November - 27th November 2000
It was late in the afternoon on Saturday when the bus arrived in Ouagadougou. I wasn't sure exactly which bus station we arrived in but guessed it was somewhere north of the city centre. I planned to stay at the hotel Le Pavillon Vert but wasn't too sure which direction to walk in. I gave in quickly, the bus station and the surrounding streets were a chaotic mass of people and vehicles. I took a taxi and knew that I would be ripped off but just wanted to get to the hotel. Sure enough I was right; after five minutes driving, half of which was stuck in traffic jams, we covered the approximate kilometre and a half to the hotel for a fare I negotiated before hand of CFA2000. I suppose the moral of the story is to work out where you are starting your journey from before agreeing to a fare.
Once I had made myself at home in my hotel room I went to sit in the courtyard to have a cold drink and to see whom else was staying there. A couple of people walked past me, their faces looked very familiar but I couldn't place them. A while later someone else walked by who again looked familiar. That's when it clicked; they were the group of overlanders I had met some weeks ago in Sevare, Mali who were driving from the UK to Kenya. I joined them for dinner and a drink to catch up on the gossip on how their trip was going. They were currently stuck in Ouagadougou with a broken suspension spring on one of their vehicles. They could not buy a spare so a local mechanic was making and fitting a new leaf spring. As soon as that was fixed they would be heading on to Ghana, which was also my next destination.
They offered me a lift, if I didn't have too much luggage. That at least gave me another option for getting to Ghana. I was having problems trying to find transport to take me across the frontier; there didn't appear to be any Burkina Faso buses that went over the border. All the buses heading south from the city only went as far as Po, a few kilometres from the frontier. From there I would have to take a bush taxi across the border to Bolgatanga, the first major town along the road in Ghana. From there I would have to find another bus to continue my journey south. It was all beginning to get complicated. I had had enough of complicated journeys and really could do without the hassle, but this was Africa. So the offer of the lift from the overlanders was very welcome and appealing and could be the answer I was looking for.
Ouagadougou seemed a very quiet place over the weekend I was staying there, especially on Sunday when the city appeared to be almost deserted. I would of expected more hustle and bustle for a capital city, but I wasn't complaining; the city had a very relaxed, friendly feel to it. In 1441 Ouagadougou became the capital of the Mossi Empire and the city grew up around the imperial palace of the Mossi king that was built some 250 years later. During the colonial period the city expanded and more recently the migration of people from the rural areas to the city has lead to the sprawling suburbs springing up around the city.
There is not much to see and do as a tourist in the city. A lot of the architecture is modern and the city looks and feels like any other African city. Despite its ordinary looks the city did function as a city; there was power and water, the sewers were covered, the roads paved and there were traffic signals at most intersections that everyone obeyed. On the Sunday afternoon I was walking north along Avenue Dimdolobsom. There was no traffic around except for an old man on a bicycle. The traffic lights in front of him changed to red and he dutifully stopped and waited patiently. There wasn't another vehicle in sight on any of the roads leading into the intersection but still he waited for the green light to proceed. In any other town or city I had visited on this trip no one would of paid much attention to the traffic lights in those conditions, especially someone on a bicycle.
I wanted to leave for Ghana on Monday morning so that I could spend the last two weeks of this trip travelling south through the country and along the coast to Accra. On Sunday afternoon it still wasn't clear when the overlanders would be able to leave for Ghana, there were even discussions about going to Cote d'Ivoire instead. They wouldn't be going anywhere though, until their mechanic had managed to make a new leaf spring. I continued on my mission to find a bus company that could take me all the way across the frontier into Ghana. I walked for miles around the city to the various bus stations but still had no luck until someone mentioned to me that the Ghanaian STC bus departed daily from the Gare Routiere at around 08.30 in the morning.
I arrived back at the hotel late in the afternoon to find no news from the overlanders as to their departure date, so I jumped into a taxi and went downtown to find the Ghanaian bus company office, which was closed. My taxi driver was very helpful and knew most of the details about when and where the bus would depart and offered to pick me up outside the hotel at 06.30 the next morning. With my plans set we drove back in the battered old Renault 4 to the hotel. I told the overlanders of my plans; they still didn't have visas for Ghana and the earliest they could leave would be Monday afternoon, as long as there was not a delay in processing their visas and the suspension was fixed in time.
Sure enough, at first light on Monday morning I walked out into the street and found my taxi driver waiting patiently across the road outside the Esso gas station. It was good to see him again and we drove south through the city to the Gare Routiere, which was right at the edge of the city, past the airport. He dropped me off in a dusty corner of the bus station beside a rather weary looking sign marking the stopping place of the Ghanaian STC bus. I was the first person to arrive and wait for the bus. There was no-where to buy tickets or make enquiries so I just sat on a rock beside a wall and waited. Other passengers began to arrive, all heavily laden down with luggage. Eventually a cloud of dust announced the arrival of the bus; still I did not have a ticket, even though all the other passengers were clutching theirs eagerly trying to be the first to load their luggage on to the bus. I really didn't think I was going to get on the bus, as I had not booked a ticket in advance. After a long struggle I managed to find the driver who sold me someone else's ticket; I presumed that they hadn't managed to make the journey today. I didn't really care that much, I was just pleased to have a seat onboard the bus and the driver just crossed out the ticket's previous owners name and scrawled mine in its place.
Against the odds I found myself at last travelling south to the Ghanaian frontier on a bus, which was travelling all the way to the coast. There was a slight hold up leaving Ouagadougou as a new statue in the centre reservation of the main road was being officially unveiled. A military band had set themselves up in the eastbound lane and a small grandstand for the dignitaries and onlookers had been constructed in the westbound lane. The traffic meanwhile, had to find a way around the obstacles by winding around the dirt back roads. I sat back and watched the countryside and villages roll by as we speeded on our way to Po and the border. I was heartily reassured by the STC corporate logo displayed at the front of the bus, 'We will get you there alive.' At least I no longer had to worry about death on this journey; I was in safe corporate hands.
This journey continued across the border into Ghana.
Continue reading this journey: South from Burkina Faso