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Riding a bicycle around Tiabele

Sleeping out on the roof was quite the experience and the stars were absolutely brilliant and shone magically, aided by the lack of streetlights. It will be something I will always remember, especially listening to the village noises in the night. We had heard drumming at around 1 in the morning (apparently there had been a funeral) and a rather upset donkey who brayed at regular intervals through the night, matched only in force by several roosters who I’d gladly see shot. Upon rising to take breakfast and returning – we even found little goats prancing around our mattress, having jumped onto the roof in curiosity.

Our bed for the night was a mattress on the roof of the traditional style home. In the morning, goats were frolicking about.

Arnaud’s cousin, Herman, would take us on the tour that day since he did speak some (broken) English, and with my broken French – we made a passable attempt at understanding one another. The royal court housed approximately 300 people and was marked at its entrance by a seating area surrounding an altar-like building and a mound behind that, rather disturbingly, we were informed contained the buried placentas of all the descendants of the King of Tiabele.

Ok, then.

And so began the running theme of the day: what men can do and what women can/can’t do in this tribe. To start, this seating area was reserved only for men – it was forbidden for women to sit here. Then we were shown the various structures for dwelling – the rectangular houses for grandparents and the children/unmarried women – the round houses for single men over the age of sixteen (who get to live alone while women have to do as grandma says till she finds a man) and the hexagonal units for couples.

The homes in the Royal Court

Built out of clay, these homes all have very low door entrances, presumably to keep the interiors cool. Once inside the initial room, they can extend another two to three rooms further back, with each room requiring a dexterous crawl to enter. Though super impressive in terms of the organization and how there was a place for every conceivably needed tool, I started getting super claustrophobic at the thought of needing to crawl 3 times before getting to daylight again.

Each March, after the harvest, the women of the village use local plants/reeds to make inks that they use to paint the homes with symbols like turtles, trees, birds and all kinds of patterns. Just the women. (Me, rolling my eyes.)

After the royal court, we got on scooters and had Herman and his cousin Charles take us to another village where we had a woman show us how she made pottery, and another village called Tangassouko. For me, the most memorable time during this very hot afternoon, was stopping in the shade at this brightly green painted bar in the middle of nowhere for cold beer and donuts. Somehow, Africans always forget to include plans for refreshment and peeing in their trips.

They’d get more tips if they did.

Could this dude, in Tiabele, be any cooler if he tried?? Check out those shades!!

After a much needed nap, we then rented bicycles and after a slight delay getting new SIM cards cut to nano size, and a foray to the market in search of paw paw, and an improvised way to eat it, we set off on the very dusty road out of town in search of the nearby lake.

This was my first time on a bike in West Africa and incredibly, this rickety old cruiser fit me perfectly. We were quite a sight to the locals and quickly stirred up lots of kissy noises (sound Africans make to get someone’s attention) waves, and invitations to come over to where they were socializing.

Woman making pottery

We stuck to our bikes as the sun was already starting to set and we didn’t want to have to return in pitch darkness.   As it turned out, we did, because we decided to make one more stop for a drink at a roadside café that was playing too good of a reggae beat to pass up.

We used our iPhones as bike lights for the return to our Auberge and dinner.

Arnaud was a musician and he had planned a musical performance and dance for a group of Belgians that had arrived that day, and us, that evening at the Auberge. It was actually rather good, it felt genuine and was especially entertaining when about 20 children poured into the courtyard and took turns showing us their mad skills at the traditional form of Tiabele dance, which involved a lot of stamping and rhythmic arm movements. We westerners often got pulled into the circle, but alas, our skills were quite lacking.

Mike was very thankful when the festivities ended around 10 o’clock and like the true grandma and grandpa that we had become, we exhaustedly hobbled up the steps to our rooftop mattress for the night.

Arnaud and his band entertain us with song and dance

We had learned that there was a minibus going directly from Tiabele to Ouagadougou that Tuesday morning at 7am, and that would save us from needing to rent the car for another day. Since the bus was leaving from the center of town, a dusty ½ mile away, Arnaud had offered to pick us up on his moto (or at least our luggage) at 6:30 to drop us there.

Unfortunately, he didn’t show up and we started walking ourselves in the dawn light, armed with packed coffee for the minibus. Herman walked up and said goodbye and that Arnaud was still asleep. That riled me up and I called him. He lied and said that he was working with the Belgians. He didn’t know that Herman had just told me he was still sleeping, and moreso, that the Belgians were staying at the same Auberge as us and we had seen a handful of them up brushing their teeth or sleeping – so it was a rather obvious lie.

When I pointed out that he’d offered us a lift to the bus the day before, he paused, remembered, and said he was “coming”.

About 100 meters from the bus, he pulled up on his motorbike and started telling me how my French is bad and that I had misunderstood him yesterday. I thought: Is it really necessary to drive all this way just to insult your paying guests who are about to leave? Even IF I had misunderstood his offer to give us a ride to the bus, was it necessary to come over just to tell us that? And not, instead, just apologize for the confusion and wish us a good onward journey? Thank us for visiting?

Burkina might be suffering from a lack of tourists, but Arnaud was not helping himself out in any way by treating the rare guests he did get badly.

Luckily, we made the Tro Tro and got the front seats again. The tro tro left five minutes early and we were on the way to Paga. The coffee I had mixed with milk from yesterday and I think it had gone a little bad because I had explosive diarrhea on arrival in Ouaga and fortunately found a bathroom in a hotel in the nick of time while a taxi waited for us.

The journey had taken five hours in total from Tiabele and there hadn’t been much to see other than a group of elephants that were on the side of the highway just north of Paga! The driver seemed very happy about that. Our seats were relatively comfortable except for the fact that the gear shift was literally against my left leg and the driver had to touch and move my leg away every time he wanted to shift.

Entering Ouagadougou

Burkina and all the northern latitude locales in West Africa are so full of dust, red dirt and pollution this time of year that my cough was back in full force, and Mike’s throat would swell up each night and he was suffering with nose bleeds. This has made traveling here that much more arduous and I haven’t really felt well since we left Amedzofe. I am almost recovered now, writing this from the beach in Benin.

Taking the oldest and most unreliable vehicle you’ve ever seen – we made our way through the capital to our reserved hotel for the night – Hotel de la Liberte. Mike has converted me to Maps.me – and it is super fun to be able to direct a taxi driver how/where to get somewhere, offline, in his city – better than he knows it himself. This cab was so old there was a thick film of dust all across the dash, the roof was sagging, and the windows were permanently rolled down.

Our hotel could not have been more of a welcome oasis. Quiet, clean, simple, with a lovely back courtyard bar/restaurant and just enough creature comforts in our second floor room to offer us some needed rest after our journey.

We later ventured out on foot, with caution, to Kwame Nkrumah street. We had decided to get coffee and cake at Cappuccino, figuring that with the armed guards and body scanner at its entrance, this was probably the safest place for us to hang out, despite its awful history. We ordered cappuccinos, a strawberry cream cake and a chocolate mousse cake.


Coffee and cakes at Cappuccino!

Walking back through the city, we debated whether to get a cab as the light was fading, and decided together that we both felt quite safe and this was a chance to get some exercise and take in the city’s vibe.

There are a lot of motorbikes in Ouaga…far more than in other cities. People often carry a scar on their cheek, which is intentionally cut into the face of babies to signify their tribe. The practice is very common in Benin too. Streets were wide and buildings spread out and designed in such a way that Ouaga reminded me very much of Harare. It was, of course, dirty and littered trash was visible everywhere alongside the roads. We passed businesses of a large variety and tried to avoid the darkest of streets. On arrival at our hotel, we found there was a power outage, so we waited for the lights to come back on before ordering a simple dinner.

We were, as yet, undecided as to whether we would stay another day in the city or not – and fell asleep committed to making plans in the morning.

As it turned out, our goal was to meet back up with the truck in Ganvie on the 28th of January. If we still wanted to see Pendjari National Park in northern Benin, we would have to leave the next day and get as close to the border as we could.

So we opted to get a taxi to take us to a number of the more tourist “sites” in the city for some photo opportunities, and then to take us to the Autogare for the bus that headed east to Fada N’Gourma at either 12 or 2pm– information obtained with great effort in over an hour of conversation and calls with the front desk lady at our hotel.

Ouaga Sculpture

God how we take getting information as simple as bus departure times via the internet at home for granted!!!!

Our taxi driver, being a little overzealous in his estimation of speed, got us to the station after the 12pm bus had already left. Luckily, there was a waiting area with a TV playing the move Alien: Resurrection, in French to keep us entertained.

The signs said the next bus to Fada was at 1500. The guy who sold me tickets confirmed that there was a bus at 1400. Then another guy asked to check my tickets and told me I had tickets for the 0600 bus and that I should go back to the window. More questions, and the ticket guy just crossed the 0600 time out in colored marker and wrote 1400 in, which seemed to appease the other guy.

Seriously, NOTHING is simple here. Fucking NOTHING.

In need of a beer, Mike agreed to let me walk down the dusty main street in search of one for him and I. I finally came across a street side bar that was full of men, four across sitting at the bar directly opposite me, staring in disbelief. One asked “who are you? Who do you think you are, as a woman buying beer in the middle of the day?’ – or, at least, something to this effect. I replied “Une femme qui a soif “ or a woman who is thirsty. All four of them raised their glass to me at that, and it was quite a funny moment.

After our beer, we boarded our old, falling apart, large, but comfortable bus that was heading to Fada. We got a row of seats each and despite it being very hot and dusty – it was actually a rather comfortable journey of five hours.

Me getting dust off our nasty mattress

Our crack den for the night in Fada

We arrived in Fada just after 7 and I immediately thought I’d landed in post-war zone Iraq. At least what I imagined that would look like. It was desolate, dark and covered in red dirt streets. We walked to a hotel that we’d found in the Bradt guide and found an abandoned building.

Not a good sign.

Taking two motorbikes across the river to a second guesthouse – we found what appeared to be the same thing (we later found out that the lights were just turned off and that we could have stayed there…I guess if we’d yelled loud enough?) and then found a guesthouse that was open, but no one had stayed there in over a year – or so it seemed by the layer of dust on the crappy mattress and the cobwebs in the ceiling.

Mike told me to take a breath and deal – it was, after all only $10 for the night.

Strangely enough, we managed to have one of our best meals of the trip that night which came to $4 including a beer each.

Tomorrow, we’d be heading to the Benin border!