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krisek Banfora - A travel report by Krys
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Banfora,  Burkina Faso - flag Burkina Faso
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krisek's travel reports

Southern Burkina Faso and its dramatic landscape

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I knew little about Burkina Faso, until my hands landed on travel guidebooks and a keyboard. I couldn’t believe how well hiding Burkina was. Many websites and travellers raved about the scenery and the countryside in general. I needed to see it.

Domes de Fabedougou
Domes de Fabedougou
Southern Burkina Faso has plenty to offer. One of the natural choices is Banfora, which in itself is not a nice town at all. Perhaps in the past it was a pleasant village with mud brick houses and huts roofed with dry palm tree leaves. Now, it is a simple by-the-road-en-route place with square concrete or corrugated iron structures with no colour and absolutely no character. Unfortunately. One does not come to Banfora to see the village, though. It is the landscape; rock formations, a lake (Lac de Tangréla) and a waterfall (Chutes de Karfiguéla), which are the traveller magnets. I came to see one thing there – a site, which in my opinion should be rated at least as a national park, or even considered for UNESCO inscription – the rock formations. That site’s name is Les Dômes de Fabédougou. They are a very interesting groups of rocks eroded by water and wind to the shape of gentle but giant domes. Although, there are a few of pinnacles around as well. It is very easy to climb them and the view from the top is great! Not only to the other domes, but also the vast plantations of sugar cane, a key ingredient for certain type of liquid being produced in the nearby brewery. I stood there on the top of the domes, and tried to imagine how many millions of years it took the waters and the wind to shape these rocks. The domes have those horizontal lines indicating that this must have been a staged process.

The Domes are located in a rather isolated place and it is tricky to find them. It is best to take a local guide. the fact that they are secluded, means that few tourists venture there. I was there on my own, and no other people came. It was perfect, only nature and I. The rocks make also, a perfect spot for picnicking. There are two possibilities, one is at the top of the domes, which make a perfect table with a view, and the other hidden between the domes, when no-one can spot you or, even better, you’s.

Favourite spots:
Dafra Escarpment
Dafra Escarpment
Dafra is famous for sacred catfish. It is quite a hike to see the natural pond with the fish. It is in parts tricky on loose rock and very steep. Good boots are an advantage. The scenery is unexpectedly striking with rocky pinnacles and domes with the trail eventually entering a rather deep canyon filled with surprisingly lush vegetation. This is all part of the Banfora Escarpment, a range of cliffs, which drop several hundred meters. I was trekking there with mixed feelings. The first one was that it was so unprepared for hikes longer than an hour in full sunshine (no water!). The second one was utter awe and joyful contemplation of the completely unanticipated scenery. And both of the feelings provided my bloodstream with ample adrenaline, exactly what I needed for my holiday.

The legendary and famous catfish is in large numbers rather than size, which is disappointing. The individual fish measures maybe 60 cm the most. Descriptions as 'enormous' or 'huge' are seriously inaccurate.

What's really great:
Peaks of Sindou
Peaks of Sindou
Another magnificent scenery are Les Pics de Sindou. They are quite remote and it was almost a miracle that I actually got there. The route from Banfora to Sindou is navigable with low clearance vehicle only in dry season. It’s not too bad but it can get very dusty. It was a good morning. I enjoyed looking at numerous picturesque little hamlets on the way with extremely relaxed parents letting their toddlers wander off onto the road with absolutely no-one else in the sight. Like those kids came down from the sky with no mummy or daddy. I had a close call of eliminating one of those!

The Pinnacles of Sindou are an impressive piece of nature's art. The 3 km long sandstone massif presents tall and slim rock towers occasionally crowned or hatted by more erosion-resistant pieces of rock. It’s a splendid place, which was inhabited until XVI century. There are small ruins of a village and a castle. Now, people moved to Sindou declaring most of the pinnacle area sacred, restricting access.

Koumi village
Koumi village
I got attracted to see the village of Koumi, which is referred to as a ‘touristic village’. It’s described as a fine example of semi-defensive or pseudo-fortified architecture, which I honestly didn’t manage to find. There were finer examples of pseudo-fortified villages around with round huts placed in a circle and linked together with a wall. It is a pity that I didn’t take a picture of them actually. The Koumi village should be renamed “tourist-trap village”. There is absolutely nothing there to admire.

I had a bad luck as on the day I was visiting the chief of the village was out so everyone wanted to introduce their own laws about tourists visiting the village trying to profit from any foreign visitor. I don’t even remember how many people wanted to be a guide and charge me on the top of the ticket I had to buy to visit the village and the ticket for photo permit. I already came with two guides, but that apparently wasn’t enough. I only had a quick look and left promptly.

Dafra Pinnacles
Dafra Pinnacles
There weren’t poor overnight options near Banfora but I stayed in the nearby Bobo-Dioulasso. First night I spent in the Watinoma hotel. It was rather shabby for the price – more than CFA 20,000 with very poor bathrooms, which perhaps had seen better years. The majority of the rooms had no windows and the rooms were small, dark and completely uninviting. The only good thing about the place was pizza. It was actually very good! The chef knew exactly how to balance the dough with the beautiful magnitude of toppings. I was so happy!

The very next morning I decided to change the hotel and move to something more upper class. It was my birthday, so I deserved to splurge a little. I chose L'Auberge hotel, which was run by the same family who owned L'Auberge hotels in Segou, Sikasso, Bamako and Ouagadougou. It was nice with great facilities and rather good restaurant yet disappointingly awful service - slow and unfriendly.

Domes de Fabedougou
Domes de Fabedougou
On my birthday, I wanted to go out a little and check the local nightlife scene. Unfortunately, as this was Wednesday, I found that few places had actually anything going on. There were a few bars of doubtful reputation and upscale restaurants offering traditional drumming until 11pm, not long before they were closing.

I stumbled across a discotheque, or nightclub, but it was completely empty. The bouncers dressed in rather expensive leather jackets let me have a peek inside but I thought it would be unwise to pay for the ticket and then spend the entire night playing with myself waiting for the crowds to trickle in, with no guarantee that anyone would actually show up. A guide I took from Segou kept me company all the time, but he was not so keen on going out that night. He was missing his tea drinking and socialising with his fellow Malians. Fortunately, he found an acquaintance from Segou, who was on a trip, with whom we socialised.

Domes de Fabedougou
Domes de Fabedougou
In Burkina Faso, people do not drink tea like they do in Mali. Occasionally, they do but not at the same scale, I noticed. They sit on two wide planks of wood crossed, so one end sticking up in the air is intricately carved and serves as a backrest, the second - almost horizontal - is the seat and the other two ends are the chair’s legs. And they drink tea. The tea is very strong and boiled three times. It is also very, very sweet. It is served in small glassed, slightly larger than a thimble - but of the same shape. One has to drinks three glasses. It is obligatorily three. That can take an hours and a half. During that time, family stories, gossip, trouble sharing and the English Premier League results are discussed.

Peaks of Sindou
Peaks of Sindou
Banfora or Sindou weren’t amongst the poorest places to eat. The good option were available in Banfora only and apparently included Hotel la Canne a Sucre, McDonald (not the US one!) and Hotel le Comoe and but I didn’t check them. I ate in Bobo-Dioulasso - at the hotels: a perfect pizza at Watinoma - I mentioned that before :) and French-inspired dishes at L’Auberge. Both were good, but I preferred the pizza. Other options in town included market with fresh produce and basic street food, usually fried things.

Other recommendations:
Domes de Fabedougou
Domes de Fabedougou
Minutes from the unpleasant incidents in the village, I was a witness to the Police Municipal freely exceeding their mandate making it virtually a lawless region. The evil and obviously corrupted officers waved at cars, which was supposed to mean 'stop'. Well, this was not something peculiar, I know, but sometimes they stuck out their hand right at the front of the windscreen, in a last second, expecting the vehicle to stop at their feet. This was unbelievable, impossible, clearly unacceptable and dangerous. So, if you were unwise and eventually stopped ten yards farther (a skill in itself) they charged you CFA 10,000 for not stopping at their feet. Such behaviour obviously brings Burkina a bad name and press, and although one crooked police officer is not a representation of the entire population, but the government should better deal with this before being accused of the same. My recommendation is not to stop. I tried it and nothing happened. They just take their chances.

Published on Tuesday February 19th, 2008

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Fri, Mar 14 2008 - 01:32 PM rating by alfonsovasco

incredibily good very good report. thanks great traveler!

Sat, Feb 23 2008 - 11:24 PM rating by jorgesanchez

Good enough report to to receive 5 stars.

Tue, Feb 19 2008 - 10:14 PM rating by rangutan

Miles and miles of Africa. I cannot understand how one gets to get in this land-locked country. Do you hit a map with your finger and say: "I am going there"? Well, the reports are excellent. You make an otherwise boring country sound very interesting. You are a good ambassador for them!

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