Monday, February 27, 2012

On Being a Tourist in Burkina Faso

Gas Stations

Being a tourist here is not quite like being a tourist in the states. For example, after a visit to my village, we needed to refill the tank with diesel fuel.  The one gas station in my village was out of it.  We hoped we would be able to get to the next village large enough to have a gas station.  We found a place along the way that did have diesel fuel, but the attendant had to pump the gas by hand.  I don’t think I have even seen anything like this before.

Speaking of gas, one of the things you see all along the road are “gas stations” that consist of whisky bottles filled with a liter of gas for motor cycles. When I first saw these I thought the contents really were whisky and I was surprised that it would be sold from a stand like this.  Our driver said he would not trust the gas from places like this to put in a car, but people with motos use it all the time.

What with all the terrible roads we drove on, I was not too surprised when we got a flat tire.  Here there is no AAA to call to come to the rescue and I was glad we had a good spare tire. We had to take time out to look for a replacement.  We stopped at several villages along the road before we found a place that had the right sized tire and we were keeping our fingers crossed that we would not end up with another flat before we found one. Luckily this was our only tire disaster. 

Another challenge for the traveler is avoiding the animals that may decide to cross the road in front of you.  As in the American west and England, the animals have the right of way. Here are a few we had to avoid:


I have always been a bit surprised to see signs that say STOP, regardless of the language of the country.  This sign, however, takes the cake.  Is it a stop sign or a yield sign?

We stayed in a variety of places, with very different levels of accommodation.  The most luxurious was the home of the Country Director, where Dawn and her family, and later Elizabeth, were generously given three nights in very comfortable beds, with hot water, fans, and even access to air conditioning, although they did not need it at that time of the year. When we stayed at the Ranch with the elephants, we stayed in these small cottages that do have running water, but it is whatever temperature it happens to be in the water tower. 

There we had electricity only between 6 and 10 at night. Elizabeth took this picture of me (with her flash) so you can see how we managed to carry on even when the power went off at 10 or in the morning before the sun came up. I have the cloth over my shoulders because it was quite chilly.


Where Elizabeth and I stayed in Banfora, I was able to access the internet with my cell phone connection from our room, but it was very slow.  In the morning I saw the sign at the registration desk saying (in French) there is WIFI here.  Elizabeth was happy to get on high speed internet to take care of a few things at JCU.

In Bobo, with the family, we stayed in a very nice small family place that was something like a motel, but not on a main street. There some of the rooms had hot water, but not others. We had one of each kind.  As you can imagine, the shower in the room with hot water was used by all of us. The courtyard was beautiful, and a really nice place to hang out and enjoy the lovely setting.

When I was traveling with Elizabeth we stayed at a very nice hotel in Bobo.  Here she is, by the swimming pool.  It was a bit cool for a dip this time of year, but in the hot season I am sure it would be much appreciated.

While we were traveling in a 4X4, we got much the same treatment as the folks in this bus every time we stopped at a toll booth or near a bus stop.  Women spend the day waiting for the next bus or car to stop.  They run to the bus, holding up whatever they have to sell: onions, apples, water, bread, eggs, or sweet treats made from sesame seeds and honey. I am surprised many of them are not injured by passing vehicles. I am also surprised that they usually get paid for what they pass through the window.

One of the most eye-catching things they sell are bunches of carrots. They scrape off the skins and keep them moist so they are bright orange and ready to eat.

One final thing I found odd about driving on the two lane highways here is the use of turn signals.  Roads, of course, have hills and curves, and some vehicles go faster than others.  When a faster one comes up behind a slower one, it is not always clear whether it is safe to pass.  On some roads there are lines between the two sides of the road, dashed when it is safe to pass and solid when it is not. People do not always respect these signs, especially when the vehicle ahead is going very slowly.  In order to signal a person overtaking you that it is or is not safe to pass you put on your right turn signal if it is safe and your left turn signal if it is not safe.  That makes a kind of sense, because if the vehicle ahead of you is signaling a left turn, you would not want to pass.  However this has been extended to putting on the left turn signal when you are approaching an oncoming vehicle. At first I thought it was a bit odd, because when you see this, it looks like they are about to turn in front of you.  Our driver explained that people do it so that the oncoming drivers know that you have seen them and you are not asleep at the wheel. An interesting custom!

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