Sunday 21 August 2011

Running From the Border: A Journey Across West Africa

We knew that before we finished our service, we wanted to explore other parts of Africa. So on a rainy night in Yaounde, we bought our tickets to fly to Mali in July! We’d head overland to visit Lindsey’s best friend serving in Peace Corps Burkina Faso, bush taxi down to Togo, and fly back from Benin.

Getting there was a triumph in itself as direct flights weren’t an option and we first flew to Ethiopia. Though we searched Couchsurfing for a place to spend the night’s layover, Ethiopian Airlines took care of us by putting us up in a swanky hotel complete with hot showers and an all-you-can-eat buffet. The next day, we flew to Togo to pick up some more passengers, and then finally landed in Bamako, Mali.

Our journey flying across Africa!

The whirlwind trip included climbing mountains, butterfly hunting, canoeing across lakes and rivers, napping on beaches, dancing all night, and shopping for everything from Obama pagne to hand-woven and decorated mud cloth. The trip was even more memorable as we met world-famous fashion designers, Peace Corps Volunteers, chiefs of villages, and some of the nicest random people that helped us out from time to time.

Hiking between villages in Dogon Country, Mali

A small boy sells fans at the Grande Marche, Bamako, Mali

People always ask us of the trip “Was it the same as Cameroon?” On surface level, yes, pagne was everywhere and transportation was uncomfortable, but when you take a deeper look, each country was beautiful in its own way. In Mali, we found not only mud homes, but ones that were multi-storied creating an ancient town of varying building heights. Burkina Faso, being a transport country, had remarkable roads and the nicest people (no “white man” or “nassara” yells!). Togo was a mix of tiny villages in the North, lush rain forests in the South, and beautiful beaches on the coast with voodoo culture thrown in. Benin was a great place to end with a trip to Ganvie, a village that rests on stilts!

The largest mud mosque in the world, Grand Mosquee, Djenne, Mali

Banfora Waterfalls, Burkina Faso

Stilt village of Ganvié, Benin

However, this is not to say that the trip was without its challenges! Bush taxis almost every day, a car accident with a visit to PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) Burkina, five-hour long hikes beneath the beating African sun, worm and rash outbreaks, monkey attacks, and a brief runaway stint from the Togolese border are just the realities of backpacking West Africa. Luckily, we’ve mastered the fine art of negotiation; I saved us from paying 5.000CFA in Mopti, Mali for a “mandatory” visa extension fee and let’s just say that Lindsey Dattels has a future immigration officer husband waiting for her in the Contonou airport who allowed us to board the plane back to Cameroon.

Monkey attacks are no fun on a vacation
If you’re looking for an adventure (because it was anything but relaxing!), consider backpacking West Africa. We’ll send you our Excel itinerary!

*Note: The first version of this article appeared in the November 2011 edition of the US Peace Corps Cameroon's Small Enterprise Development Gazette.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Rob! I hope this comment isn't too late either :)