Saturday, January 1, 2011

Arly National Forest Visit

The Burkina Faso Arly National Forest is adjacent to national forests in Niger and Benin, so the wild animals are free to roam where they want to in the three countries.

On the 26th we left my village at 7:15, with the driver, Prosper, me and the family. The first part of the trip was pretty smooth, about 7 hours on paved road. My friend Prosper had made reservations for us in a “hotel” at the game park, Arly, with a friend who works there. He called his friend to make sure the rooms would be ready and found out that, unfortunately, there was a screw up of some sort and the reservation never got into the book. At first we thought we would be able to stay there only one night and then have to move to another place where there was no electricity and no dining facility. Eventually they worked something out so that we were able to stay all three nights.

Getting There
Between the end of the nice paved road and the game park the road was unbelievably bad and the drive took us 5 hours. My son in law, Jonathan, said that the road was similar to some he had taken out west as a geology student, but there were times when I was not sure it was a road, and the driver was not sure which way to go. I certainly was glad we had Prosper with us. He knew exactly where he was going because he used to teach at a school near the park. The last hour we were driving on a track that often was deep sand, and then deeply eroded rocks. It was kind of exciting, but also kind of scary, especially when we were not sure if we had a place to stay out in the middle of nowhere.

The Encampment at Arly
The resort was an amazing place, designed for eco-tourism. They had 12 housing units, most of which were built in the round room style with grass roofs.

There was a lounge area near the swimming pool and bar. The food was first class. There was a set menu for each meal, but everything was delicious, and there were three courses for lunch and dinner. The encampment is not only for photo safaris, like we wanted to make, but also for hunting. I was shocked when Prosper asked if my family wanted to hunt some of the wild animals while they were here when he was making the reservation. Just as in the States, there are seasons for killing various kinds of game and they sell hunting licenses for the park. Essentially the hunters keep down the population of grazing animals because there are not enough lions to do the job. Human beings, after all, are the ultimate predators. As a result, the meat we ate was fresh meat from the hunt.

Our Evening Photo Safari
We visited the park twice, once in the late afternoon and once in the early morning. In the afternoon we piled Jonathan and the kids on the top of the 4X4 in the luggage rack so they had a great view.

We had to have a guide with us, and took us on one of the bumpiest rides I have ever had. He explained that the elephants preferred to walk on a cleared path rather than through the tall grass, so the road is full of holes made by elephants walking in the mud. Here is an example of the tracks elephant make, with Janet for size comparison..

We saw lots of an antelope of some sort, or maybe of several sorts. I could not tell for sure, but here is a picture of one of them.

We also got a look at some of the wild boars. I think these are the two creatures we had for lunch and dinner at the encampment.

Our morning Photo Safari, the Elephant Experience
The kids really wanted to get a look at an elephant. The guide said there were some near by so we set out on foot. We saw lots of foot prints and scat (AKA poop). We knew they were nearby because the scat was fresh. The guide pointed to a thicket and said there were a mother and baby behind the brush. Jamie said he could see the baby, and then a big elephant head stuck through the branches of the tree, ears fully fanned out on each side of her head, tusks gleaming in the sunlight, and trumpeting loudly. The guide yelled RUN (in French, of course) and we all took off. Abby ran right out of her flip flops. No time for pictures, of course, but here is Janet at the place we saw the elephant head, pretending to be the mother elephant.

My impression of the event was that it was like being on Disney World on a ride of some kind where a big elephant head pops through the brush and trumpets at you. Really hokey at an amusement park, but stunning when it is the real thing.

We took the 4X4 on a different, awful road and saw a few birds and a troop of baboons on the top of a cliff. Those things at the top of the cliff are not rocks but the baboons.

Later on, back at the guide post, we were visited by a troop of baboons, above. We could almost have skipped the bumpy ride and just hung out where the guides live.

Back to Ouaga
We returned to Ouaga by daylight and the rough road was a bit easier for the driver to navigate so we got back in a little less time. I was able to take the family on a tour of the Peace Corps office. The next day we had planned to visit the Artisan Village, a great place to shop for authentic African art here. Unfortunately I got very sick during the night and was not able to go with the rest of the family. I ended up in the Peace Corps infirmary (again). When the family came to say good by, several of them were also feeling the effects of whatever I had. We think it was the food we ate along the road. It is all part of the African experience, and I was glad it didn’t happen until the last day. Luckily there were able to get on the plane and make it home without any tragedies. All in all, a wonderful experience for all. So, when are YOU coming to visit?

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