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krisek Bobo-Dioulasso - A travel report by Krys
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Bobo-Dioulasso,  Burkina Faso - flag Burkina Faso -  Houé
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krisek's travel reports

Bobo-Dioulasso, West Africa's most pleasant city

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I travelled to Bobo-Dioulasso for my birthday. It claimed to have been West Africa's most pleasant city. It might have once been. True. But it still needed a lot of work to catch up with, say Segou or Saint-Louis. It had great architecture and nightlife.

Bobo-Dioulasso's Grand Mosque
Bobo-Dioulasso's Grand Mosque
As I made friends with Ali, who was my driver in Mali, I let him take me from Segou in Mali all the way to Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkinabè second largest city, and beyond to Burkina Faso's capital.

The trip to Bobo-Dioulasso was shorter than I expected and the formalities on the frontiers of top quality. I should not forget to tell you that I travelled within the ECOWAS, an African equivalent of European Union, dare I say. Ali, therefore, did not need to take his Malian passport and I was asked no questions apart from one at the Burkina’s border if I needed to buy a visa or whether I already had one.

There was some paperwork to be completed because I was travelling with a rented vehicle, but that was harmless. The Burkinabè officials needed to make sure that I was not allowed to sell the car in Burkina Faso and that was all!

Bobo-Dioulasso was a very pleasant town with streets lined up with mango and other large trees. I was not sure if I liked the town at the first sight but I have to admit that it is difficult to appreciate West African cities since there is little one can see from the streets. Buildings are usually two, maybe three, storeys tall and they are hardly visible behind high mud or concrete walls.

There were some interesting buildings in Bobo but governmental bodies or government-related organisations usually occupied them and therefore they could not be photographed. Even the magnificent railway station was off limits to picture takers, but I managed to steal a shot very quickly.

Favourite spots:
Bobo-Dioulasso's Old Mosque
Bobo-Dioulasso's Old Mosque
The Old Mosque of Bobo (as it is affectionately referred to by the locals) was truly magnificent and most definitely my favourite sight. It was so remarkable as despite the fact that the construction looking seriously old the mosque was maintained in a perfect condition. I loved it! Unfortunately it was surrounded by various large objects making it hard to photograph, some of which did not fit into a description of an attractive background. They included trees (excellent for the shade), iron prayer shelter or overhead power or telephone line cables (neither very pretty). It was actually amazing to see how beautifully this building survived. I understood clearly that it was being in constant use so it had to be kept in adequate condition.

The mosque stood on the edge of the old quarter, which was very interesting but rather odoriferous. I am saying odoriferous, but I do really mean very smelly.

What's really great:
Old Town's smelly stream
Old Town's smelly stream
There was a small and filthy stream between the quarters of animists and Christians (picture on the right), right next to the part where the old mosque stood. It was filled with large catfish, faeces, pig waste and washing detergents. The fish was considered sacred and hence it was not eaten. If one actually ate this fish surely would become very sick due to the water quality, in which this poor fish was reduced to live. The catfish was therefore easily attributed magical powers. I took a stroll around the old town, but it did not offer any spectacular sights. The households were poor and simple. But the people were friendly, and they were the main sight of these parts of the city. And the old town was so different from the more flamboyant new town. This was what made Bobo such a great place to visit.

City's museum in modern Sahel architectural style
City's museum in modern Sahel architectural style
In Bobo-Dioulasso, I encountered something utterly strange. Well, at least I thought it was strange. A poor, and probably ill, naked man kept appearing everyday in various places of the city. He was only wearing an open coat and looked dirty and homeless. He was like a ghost, walking peacefully on the streets without making any sensation or consternation whatsoever. I wanted to give him some clothes but I found from the local people that many gave him clothes but he always threw them away. He had become an inseparable part of the city’s sights whom the locals learnt to ignore. I took me a while to learn not to think about it too much or try to understand his motives.

The main sights of the city were the grand mansions in the Sahel architecture, some of which housed museums, police stations and other official institutions. Few were just regular residential buildings. The grand train station was also a great place to explore.

The Old Town
The Old Town
My first night in Bobo-Dioulasso, I spent in the Watinoma hotel recommended by guidebooks. It was rather shabby for the price – more than CFA 20,000 with very poor bathrooms that perhaps might have seen better years ages ago. 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 - see below.

The very next morning I decided to change the hotel and moved to something more upper class. It was my birthday, so I deserved to splurge around 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. They appear not to care about anything and were poor liars. The rooms were very comfortable, had large TVs and a smallish central pool in the courtyard.

Bobo-Dioulasso's famous train station
Bobo-Dioulasso's famous train station
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. That was not good enough. I wanted to party all night long if possible. Not only was it my birthday but I was also on holiday in a rather nice place. I guess I started a bit too late into the night. Some of the drumming session had already started and some were just about to wind down. I went to see one of the musical events, but it did not last too long. It was not far from the Watinoma hotel. Then, I thought I had to find a place that would keep me busy until the wee hours of the morning.

Local boys
Local boys
I stumbled across a discotheque, or a 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 by myself waiting for the crowds to trickle in, with no guarantee that anyone would actually show up. Ali 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. So, we gave the disco a miss and found a few Malians trading in the streets of the new town and hang with them drinking the impossibly strong and sweet tea. It was very interesting as they spoke their local languages and laughed a lot. In fact, it was a great party after all. We played some music from 1980s cassette players and even boogied a little. I realised that any other night I wanted to go out for a party - a tea party rather than a disco was going to be much better option.

Dafra Escarpment
Dafra Escarpment
For food, I tried two places only. The first one was the pizza restaurant at the Watinoma hotel, called the Watinoma restaurant. It had the best pizza I had ever had in West Africa! It was seriously very good! The chef knew exactly how to balance the dough with the beautiful magnitude of toppings. There are no words to adequately describe how delicious it was. I was doubleplushappy. First for my stomach being in heaven and secondly I was happy for Ali, whose favourite dish was pizza. He was ecstatic! The chef occasionally wandered around the tables, so I rushed to shake his hand and congratulate him.

The second place was the restaurant at the Auberge Hotel, where a greater variety of good dishes was served. Their chips were rather good and they perfected the way how to cook rice. The only thing I was not particularly happy with there was pasta - it was definitely overcooked. The service was efficient and friendly and the scenery (by the pool) created an illusion of luxury!

Other recommendations:
Dafra Pinnacles
Dafra Pinnacles
A site literally just outside Bobo was Dafra, famous for its sacred catfish. The guidebooks somehow forgot to mention that it was quite a hike to see the natural pond with the fish. It was in parts tricky on loose rock and very steep. Good boots were essential.

The scenery was on the other hand unexpectedly striking with rocky pinnacles and domes with the trail eventually entering a rather deep canyon filled with surprisingly lush vegetation. This was all part of the Banfora Escarpment, a range of cliffs similar to those of the nearby, in fact, Dogon Country of Mali. The trick was that as Bobo-Dioulasso was on the top of the escarpment, the cliff wasn't visible and this was why it came as a great surprise in Dafra, where it dropped several hundred meters. The legendary and famous catfish was in large numbers rather than size, which was disappointing. The individual fish measured maybe 60 cm the most. Therefore its descriptions of 'enormous' or 'huge' were seriously inaccurate.

Published on Tuesday January 20th, 2009

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Wed, Jan 21 2009 - 08:22 AM rating by pesu

Krys, do you know more about the extryordinary architecture of the Old Mosque - is it just for decoration?

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