20,000 leagues under the sky, 2004- travel blog

Stranded bus

Road to nowhere


The start of the country with great names, Ouahigouya pronounced something like We_gee_ya. Unfortunately after the Dogon high I'm back in the land of dusty dirty towns. Using the Travellers Century Club list this is my 100th country but I'm still 8 short on my count.

Today I discovered that an Ox-cart is not the most comfortable form of transport, nor is it the fastest, it's quite possibly the slowest form of transport I've ever taken. I guessed that the 5km trip to Bankass would take about an hour and a half, they guys in Ennde all told me it was only an hour, you know whats coming. I also discovered that an ox has 3 accelerators, or 2 accelerators and a turbo boost. First is the traditional big stick across the back or flanks, the second is quite subtle, squeezing the base of the tail can get the thing up to a continuous fast walk or trot. The turbo boost involved the drivers foot going between the back legs and brought tears to my eyes never mind my ox which wasn't castrated but probably wishes he was. [I've just discovered via Wiki that what was pulling my cart was infact a Zebu or humped cattle].

There was no shade on the back of the open cart and no shade from any trees on the sandy track to Bankass, as we'd set off at 10:30 it just kept getting hotter and hotter as the sun got higher. At midday my watch showed a temperature of 42°, I was pouring sunscreen on any exposed skin like it was going out of fashion and desperately trying to keep my arms out of the sun. At 1pm, that's two and a half hours of a one hour trip, we rolled into town and my watch was showing 48°, and I'd been keeping it out of the sun. When we passed what looked like the bus/taxi station he kept on going, I pointed this out but the young lad driving didn't speak English or French and pointed that he had to take me further. He pulled up outside a hotel with the same name as the one in Ennde, once the guiding clans have you in Mali they don't like to let go. The English speaker in there told me to sit down and relax, the Koro bus (Koro is the border town) would pass by the hotel. I had the distinct feeling that I was being hindered rather than helped but being very very thirsty I took some of their overpriced soft drinks and water. Eventually someone rode up on a motorbike and said that there was a minibus about to leave for Koro and it was waiting for me. I refused to pay him until I saw the bus but after a highspeed 2 wheel trip through town there it was, packed to the gills and nearly ready to go. As I was having my bag put on the roof 3 French tourists turned up for the last last last 3 seats. Once jimmied in we were off.

It was only just over an hour to Koro and when we arrived there in a typically un-african show of organisation a Burkina Faso bus to Ouahigouya pulled up alongside. Luggage was transferred directly from one rooftop to the other and the usual CFA500 luggage charge was demanded. I should have stayed quiet but I kept asking how much was it for me until they realised that I didn't already have a ticket and directed me to the ticket man. During the brief wait for the heavier luggage to be loaded I managed to rehydrate, drinking 2 bottles of fruit cocktail straight off and then restocking my water and cigarette supple.

I've read before that the Burkina Faso bus system is the envy of the rest of West Africa with buses that leave to a schedule and on time, this was the 4pm bus and left bang on time - half empty! Unbelievable, I had 2 seats to myself to stretch out and enjoy some space. In half an hour we passed the Mali border post where passports were taken away and quickly returned fully stamped with no pack snooping or bribe requests, this was turning into my kind of trip. A short way further up the road the driver stopped, got out and inspected one of the front wheels, he looked a bit concerned but got back in and carried on. Then we stopped again and the wheel was reinspected and a few heads shaken, I got out to have a look, the front axle had sheared, this was terminal. We couldn't have been in a worse place for this to happen, halfway between Mali and Burkina, everyone including myself checked phones for mobile coverage but there wasn't any, there was no passing traffic save for the odd bicycle and at one point 3 camels. I did consider trying to hitch on the camels but I'd had enough of four legged transport for one day. Eventually someone realised that there was a moped in the luggage on the roof so this was brought down, it had about a thimble full of fuel in it and took a lot of starting but eventually one of the luggage boys was sent back to Mali to get help.

I was very pleased that I'd had the foresight to stock up on water and cigarettes but unfortunately not everyone else had been and started bumming cigatettes after only an hour. For the first hour I sat in the shade of the van as the sun was still quite fierce but eventually it sunk into the haze and dust and it cooled down. I found some nice rocks and got in some good juggling practice, I found appropriate tunes on my phones mp3 player and generally sat around wondering if we would be there all night and whether I should ration the food and water I had.

Just before the sun set I spotted what looked like a couple of hyenas or wolves stalking along the road but non of the locals showed any concern so I resisted the temptation to hide on the bus. 3 hours after it left the moped returned in the back of a minivan with some mechanics and bus company people. The mechanics started to fiddle with the axle by torchlight while the others transferred the luggage from one van to the other. The new van was half of the size of the first, getting all of the luggage on wasn't easy. There was one washing machine sized box which took 4 people to lift it and as they moved it across they split the base shedding half a ton of dried fish on the road. The owner wasn't happy and made the roof boy pick up all his fish and put it in a sack. They told us to get on the new bus but I pointed out that the moped was still jammed in the back and there was no room for people. The moped joined the rest of the junk on the roof and now the passengers only just fitted in, so much for my comfortable 2 seat trip.

We set off once again but no more than a mile down the road did an emergency stop as the headlights failed. Ten minutes of fiddling with the electrics had us back on track - for half a mile until the lights went again. This time they had a bigger fiddle and the lights stayed on. We reached the BF border post at 10pm, filling in a visa form entirely in French by the light of a gas lantern wasn't the easiest thing I've done but the border guard was patient and corrected my mistakes.

We finally made it to Ouahigouya bus station just before midnight, after a long day and not wanting any more drama I paid a boy at the bus-station a generous mille CFA to carry my pack and guide me through the dark streets to my chosen hotel.

OHG wasn't worth sticking around in so I decided to get the bus straight out to Ouaga. I wasn't sure where the bus station was for STMB (the best bus company for this trip) nor what times buses to the capital left so I went out looking for it without my luggage and found an ATM to replenish my cash supply. I couldn't find the bus station so I decided to just get my bags and head to the area again and ask someone. I figured that there would probably be a bus around 10am which is a popular time. When I got to the right area I asked someone who led me to the station, the enterance was on the street behind where the LP map had it. As I was waliking into the station a bus was pulling out, one of the station people shouted Ouaga to me and I said yes, he banged on the bus for it to stop and it carried on, he ran along side it banging away but the driver refused to stop and sailed away into the distance. It was 9:15am, I went into the station and there on the timetable was "OHG a Ouaga - 0915" below that the next bus "1315" four hours to wait. I bought a ticket and left my pack in the left luggage then went off to explore. At 10:30 I went back to the station and sat in the waiting area to see if there were any decent restaurants suggested in the LP, then someone ran up to me and told me to get on the bus that was sat waiting. I don't know where this bus appeared from, it wasn't on the timetable and my ticket was specifically for the 13:15 bus but at 10:45 I left for Ouaga virtually empty and I'm happy to say that it arrived in Ouaga incident free 3 hours later.



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