I’m going to cover Burkina Faso and Mali quite quickly since, well, we went through each other quickly, much of Mali and parts of Burkina are a little too Al Qaeday which doesn’t encourage too much exploring, and finally….
It happened. It had to really- I had been so smug while talking to others about their experiences. “Oh no, just small little bits once or twice that never really bothered me at all” I’d say. “I took it into account right from the start and tried to work with the environment and not against it” I’d explain, while listening to others tales of woe with what I’m sure was a look of condescending sympathy…
Politely put, I got a bad case of travelers sickness. By bad, I mean I decided I had to lay up in a hotel in Bamako for a couple of days after a badly rutted road caused me to have an unscheduled stop at a stream to do laundry and wash out my boots. I say we leave it there and get back to the post, shall we?
If there’s one country in Africa that someone hasn’t heard of it’s Burkina Faso. Much of this has to do with it being one of the rare Western African countries that doesn’t make the news with it’s endless problems being ‘solved’ with violence. Its staggeringly low GDP-per capita of $1200USD starts to look better when you realise that all but 5 of the remaining 25 countries below it are in Africa as well. Really, it’s the nice guy of Western Africa- both politically and geographically. And while the relative political stability is good, the generally flat, scrubby terrain doesn’t really call out to you- Africa has enough geographic bad boys that anything else just seems bland. So, why do I have such fond memories of this fall back choice?
Two Landys and their occupants is why! The first overlanders I’d seen since Namibia- about 15,000km ago!
Okay, they weren’t on bikes, but just seeing others making the trek was great. I’d seen and talked to the occasional other westerner, but they were all flyins and didn’t really count. Riding into Ouagadougou I passed them and then a while later was stopped trying to figure out my notes to find a place to stay when they stop to offer help. A fun Italian couple in their Aussie registered oldster and a cool English/SA couple who were driving down to South Africa while their belongs were moved there then led me to a hotel that had free camping and use of facilities for overlanders!
Hanging out and talking about good routes, customs issues, and generally updating each other on what we’d seen and done was a fantastic treat. I was happy to share my information on what they had ahead of them and they updated me on the north- including some important import/customs rule changes for Senegal that put the last nail in the coffin for me visiting that country. But the big thing they shared with me related to THE cheese. It’s the only cheese product you can get fairly frequently in West Africa and it doesn’t require refrigeration… It’s ‘La Vache Qui Rit’ or laughing cow cheese and it’s terrible. But, like some abusive partner you can’t let go of, you keep coming back to it’s hideous embrace since there just isn’t another choice… Until you meet someone who knows the key to subdue this beast- balsamic vinegar. Just drizzle a bit of it on some vache with bread and it becomes something quite different, something less disgusting; almost tasty! It was a wonderful revelation, but as we all know, revelation isn’t free; it seems to always reveal things we already had or knew, but had chosen to ignore. In my case, I had carried and used balsamic vinegar for my whole trip, but never thought of adding to vache… I had to accept that for thousand of miles I had followed the wrong path while all the ingredients for my culinary salvation were with me the whole time. It was a bitter pill, but one I took happily, knowing that never again would the vache own me.
Yes, little things like that become that important.