Burkina Faso, Benin and Togo

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I didn’t mean to suggest in my posting on “Advice on West Africa” that I wouldn’t recommend visiting Burkina Faso, Benin, and Togo. In that posting, I focused on things that I would have liked to know before my trip began, which is the kind of information that I value the most from ITN and this message board. These three countries receive far fewer tourists than Senegal, Mali, or Ghana, so, not surprisingly, they don’t have very well-developed tourist facilities, which is one of the points I tried to make in my first posting. During my two-week visit, I encountered some French tourists, but that was all, as far as I could tell. I didn’t encounter any other native English-speaker except my travel companion, and I don’t believe that we crossed paths with any other visitors at any of our stops, including major markets in Ouagadougou and Lome. As both cause and consequence, traveling in these countries is somewhat more adventurous and less-filled with obvious “sights” than their more popular neighbors. But I thought that was part of their appeal—experiencing west Africa as west Africans live it. We had one ten-hour drive to cross Burkina Faso, but other than that, we rarely drove more than three hours at a time, though the roads weren’t very good. Even the best of them often had potholes large enough to swallow Omaha, and some of the unpaved roads were truly bone-jarring. We laughed and shook our heads, but this kind of travel obviously isn’t for everyone. If you prefer more comfort—as I increasingly do—then you’ll prefer other destinations. What were some of the highlights? Learning to spell Ouagadougou. Visiting the white mud mosque of Bobo Dioulasso. Pulling the tail of a crocodile at Sabou. Visiting the Lobi cultural and historical museum at Gaoua. Exploring the “somba tatas” (two-story mud-brick compounds) near Natitingou. Meeting the “king” of Djougou and playing with the local kids while our vehicle was receiving emergency repairs. Walking around the village of Taneka, near Djougou. Visiting the two remaining royal palaces at Abomey. Boating through the stilt village of Ganvie. Appreciating the slave route in Ouidah. Meeting the inhabitants of the Python Temple of Ouidah. Wandering the central market and the fetish market of Lome. And haggling for this and that. My favorite experiences were visits to public markets of varying sizes—small in Natitingou, medium in Bobo, and huge in Lome—full of colorful produce and equally colorful market women wrapped in block-print fabrics with matching headdresses. As the only Caucasians around, we sometimes were greeted with looks of curiosity or perhaps even hostility, making it fun to break the ice and induce a smile, even if it was only with a polite greeting. This is a trip most suited to people who are prepared to rough it a bit (though no camping!) and are truly interested in west African cultures. While there, I couldn’t help thinking of Dorothy saying to Toto, “I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more.”