Burkina Faso Road Trip
“Uncle Paul, do you know the capital of Upper Volta?” a cocky 12 year old quizzed his elder.
“Upper what?” Uncle Paul responded, perplexed with a dollop of indifference.
“Ouagadougou!” the proud 12 year old responded, hitting each one of the syllables. The brash pre-teen of course was me. At my school, every 7th grader spent an entire semester leaning world geography, and I took a shine to trivia aspect of committing to memory every nook and cranny of the globe.
In 1984, Upper Volta changed its named to its current Burkina Faso, a country located in West Africa. The name change marked a symbolic end to French colonialism, who named the country Upper Volta. Burkina Faso, which means “land of upright men”, was announced by the military leaders of the 1983 coup. The country gained its independence in 1960 from the French.
I was a bit surprised when I found myself walking around, dusty and hot, Ouaga, the nickname of the capital. I never imagined as a 12 year old, I would be visiting this off-the-beaten path country.
As part of my quest to travel to every country in the world, I ended up visiting Burkina Faso.
Through my friend Ramblin Randy, I connected with a local guide, Marlon, who Ramblin Randy had recently used. Marlon, was not from Burkina Faso, but was actually born in the South American country of Suriname and currently lived in Holland. What?
Marlon, a musician, fell in love with the music of Burkina Faso, and eventually began to spend half the year in the west of the country in Bobo Dioulasso. In addition to being a professional musician Marlon also occasionally introduces visitors to his second adopted country. Marlon is a true citizen of the world, tracing his roots to Africa, China, India, and Europe. Marlon speaks fluent French which is a giant benefit in this French speaking country. Marlon also has a 1994 Land Cruiser which is perfect for Africa. It has over 300,000 miles on it.
If you have spent time at Maasia Mara or Krueger, you might want to skip Nazinga Reserve. You will not be overly impressed with the range and quantity of animals. I spotted a handful of elephants, and antelope or two in the distance, and some crocs. The nature is beautiful and the park is quiet. In fact, I was the only guest staying at the simple huts. On a side note, if not traveling in winter, be prepared to sweat. There is no AC in the huts. The basic restaurant overlooks a large pond, where if lucky you will witness some animals taking a sip. In the morning, we took a brief safari walk. Nazinga is in the south of Burkina Faso. When arriving in the village of Po, turn west for approximately 90 minutes.
This is a unique and interesting spot near the border with Ghana. At the village of Tiebele, turn east at Po and drive for an hour or so down a graded, dirt road. The village is unique with the walls of the homes painted, sharing the stories of the people. I wrote more about my experience visiting Tiebele.
About an hour outside of the capital as the dusty urban sprawl transitions to village live in the town of Bazoule and the Sea of Crocodiles. The Africa Nile crocodile is considered sacred in Burkina Faso. This tradition dates back 600 years and these crocs are served up live chickens as sacrifices. It was believed the crocs, which can grow as long as 20 feet, could bring the seasonal rain. And in this village and other areas, crocs are living within the community.
The pond at Bazoule, is one of those sites you do not see back in home in the west. Dozens of crocs rest on the edge of the pond surrounded by hundreds of locals. Buses would drop off groups and school children. Then they would line up to straddle the inert crocodiles. And then would pose for the photo with the croc. Time to update their Facebook profile photo! One after another. Hundreds of them. Some were unconcerned, others oblivious, and some in near panic. But they lined up, realizing this is a rite of passage.
Marlon, my guide, asked me if I was ready. I politely declined. He asked again and questioned my courage. When in Burkina Faso …
If I am going to say Ouagadougou has a town center, it is next to the Splendid Hotel. It is not exactly touristy or even interesting. There is an outdoor café. A couple of stalls selling trinkets with no corresponding tourists. But Splendid Hotel was subject to an all too familiar Al-Qaeda terrorist attack. Twenty-eight people died. There is a memorial plaque today honoring the victims.
Cathedral of Ouagadougou
An attractive brick Cathedral of Ouagadougou serves the Catholic community in the capital. Joanny Thévenoud, a Frenchman, who was the Archibishop of Ouagadougou, founded and built the church in the 1930s.
Grande Mosquee de Ouagadougou
The Grande Mosque is under major renovation, with the enlargement and addition of the second floor. Four minarets stand guard over the structure today. We were provided with a guided tour during our visit. I would be curious to see the results when the construction is finished.
Swing by here, to escape the heat and relax and even use the wifi. Indulge in some French pastries and some cold ice cream.
The people you meet can make or break your trip. And I found the people in Burkina Faso to be warm and gracious. Besides my awesome guide, Marlon, there are four people who I will recall fondly.
Hakuna is a hanger-on who hung out in the area near the Splendid Hotel. He is a character. He saw Marlon’s truck park and he promptly ambled over to greet us. He spoke great English which is atypical for Francophile Burkina Faso. He was originally form Mali but had lived over West Africa. Hakuna was a musician but was also living off the streets. Hakuna ranked the women of West Africa sharing with us that Cape Verdean women were tops in the region. As we parted, he pulled his necklace off his neck and placed it over my head. I hope he is doing well.
While visiting Bazoule, we stopped at an enclosed housing complex. I ducked my head and entered a small mud hut. An elderly woman sat on a simple mat. A colorful blue scarf was wrapped her head. She informed me that she was 100 hundred years old.
In the village of Bazoule we stopped by the local king’s complex. While I did not get to meet him, I was able to meet some of his twenty wives. Five of his wives had gathered under a tree to avoid the sun. The wives were buzzed, sipping local, homemade brew. After some laughing and cajoling they all posed for pictures.
During my trip to Burkina Faso I was accompanied by my drone. The drone is a great ice-breaker. It was a great way to make friends with the local kids.
Where To Stay
I stayed at Hotel de la Liberte which did the trick at around $25. There was a pleasant patio in the back serving food and drinks. The rooms are simple. Wifi works OK. It is not luxury but for the price point it is good enough.
Burkina Faso Road Trip
Disclosure: If you book a room with Agoda, I will earn a fee.