Back in Boston

We’re home. We’ve actually been here since Sunday night, but jey lag and attempting to catch up on life here has kept us from posting. Some more catch up posts should come before we forget everything that we did.

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Burkina Faso in summary

Another delayed blog post (being finished in the Accra airport just before our flight home). Sorry.

We arrived in Burkina Faso from Mali. The border crossing went relatively well. First we visited immigration, where the immigration officer, “Pastor” Daniel, stamped our passports, gave us his phone number in case of any trouble and told us, “Welcome to Burkina Faso. It’s very safe. There is no Al-Queda here!” We then visited customs to purchase a laissez-passer, which was well marked (prices and all) and only took about 5 minutes to get (much better than the hour and a half it took in Mali).

We rode on to Banfora, which is a town surrounded by a bunch of really nice natural sites. We checked out:

  • The Cascades at Karfiguela, some waterfalls 15km from town.

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  • Lake Tangrela, where we hired a canoe guide to show us the hippos (he also made a nice water lily necklace and crown).

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  • and

  • Our day trip to the previously mentioned Sindou Peaks.

We spent three nights in Banfora and a huge amount of time trying to get online. We got a ton of help from Jackie’s brother Bryan, who sent us systematically collected screen shots of satellite images of all our potential routes to the border with Ghana in order for to evaluate the state of the paved and dirt roads.

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Right when we had finally downloaded the pictures, we got an email (part coincidence and part because we finally had a good enough connection to download and check email) from Jackie’s friend Claire in Ouagadougou who said we could spend the next night with her, thereby setting our route for us as the one with longer distances, but paved roads.

On our way to Ouagadougou, we did a quick drive by tourist viewing of the Great Mosque in Bobo-Dioulasso.

Claire was a gracious host who shared her huge house with us including the guest room, garage, and hot shower. She also made us a baked vegetable dish, which was a welcome change from all the fried food we had been eating.

The next morning we headed off to the Ghanaian border. Our time in Burkina was short, but we saw some beautiful places and met some very friendly people.

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Sindou Peaks in Burkina Faso

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Here are a couple pictures from from the Sindou Peaks in South West Burkina Faso. It’s probably the coolest natural site we’ve seen on the trip.

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It’s our last night in Burkina Faso and we will get a summary post up soon. Burkina Faso is green and beautiful, has great natural sites, and has terrible internet (at least in and around Banfora, where we spent most of our time).

Senegal in (inadequate) summary

We just spent what is planned to be our last night in Senegal. We realize that we’ve been a bit negligent with blog posts but hopefully you’ve all been too preoccupied with the holidays to have noticed. In order to make up for the impression of Senegal you may have based on only stories of harried border crossings and ferries run aground, we present you with the highlights of our time here in list form:

  • The main roads in Senegal have generally ranged from good to excellent. This is especially true the roads from the north border down past Dakar and until our ferry to Foundiougne. Starting from Foundiougne to Kaolack to Tambacounda we’ve hit patches of dirt road (that looked like it was being prepared for paving), areas where giant potholes appear with slalom-able frequency, and a few stretches of pothole fields where weaving left and right across both lanes or standing on the pegs and sucking it up were the only ways to go. That said, most of the country has been navigable at 60mph+ (100km/h+) and outside Dakar traffic has been pretty light.
  • We spent Christmas Eve at ZebraBar, south of Saint-Louis, Senegal. It was a lovely dinner with a bunch of other overland travelers from Italy, Spain, and Switzerland. We relaxed and traded stories and traveling tips.
  • Christmas day was spent hanging out, chasing birds that walked like tiny dinosaurs, kayaking, and running on an empty beach accessible only by boat. That night was spent with Jackie experiencing flu-like symptoms and 101.5°F (38.6°C) fever.
  • We got on the road to Dakar in the morning with Jackie feeling better, full tanks of gas, and almost no cash. With only about $20 on us, we decided to skip the toll road into Dakar. This meant that we sat in two hours of traffic getting into the city, but we got to see the street vendors, people hopping on and off on minibuses, and life on the outskirts of town. (We took the toll road out of the city. It was cheap and really nice.)
  • In Dakar we followed excellent recommendations given to us by our Senegalese friend, Aminata. We walked out to the Westernmost tip of all of Africa and then took a short taxi ride to our lunch spot for the day and one of Aminata’s best recommendations. We ate at La Cabane du Pecheur situated on the water across from Ngor Island. Those of you who know Aron know that he doesn’t eat seafood, but the meal was so fresh and well prepared that he broke down and just enjoyed the excellent food.
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  • After lunch came a trip to Gorée Island which was one of the smaller ports of departure for the slave boats that headed towards the Americas. While waiting for the boat we met Kane and Abdel, a Dakar local and his cousin who moved to the US at the age of seven and is now a college football player and CS student at Ohio State. Abdel heard our American accents and responded with his own American accented question asking where we were from. We talked to two of them on the boat and then Kane conducted our tour of the island. We also met up with him for dinner last night in Tambacounda where we were staying and where he is living and working as a doctor.
  • We bought a small, hand carved wooden chair, the “petit chaise”. We usually have different styles and we both liked this chair. It cost about $30 and we got to see where the guys on the street were hand carving them. Our intent was to ship it home. We tracked down the DHL office and brought our “chaise” there only to find out that it would cost $250 to ship it home. The “petit chaise” is now in Aron’s motorcycle case for another 2,000 miles or so of traveling through Africa and will be one of our carry on “bags” for the flight home.
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  • After Dakar we met up with Aminata, her sister, husband, and friends at her family’s beach house outside Saly, Senegal. They all left after we had lunch together, but we stayed and spent the day swimming in the ocean, doing an oil change on the bikes and resting. We were really happy to be outside Saly in “our” private villa. (Note: Saly, which is a pretty small town, has its French Consulate due to the huge numbers of French expats there. We probably saw more white French people in Saly than we did in Paris last summer.)
  • We did a two hour mini safari in the Bandia Animal Reserve, where they bring animals from other parts of Africa, but we got to see antelopes, water buffalo, giraffes, rhinos, and zebras.
  • Then we headed for Foundiougne, where our ferry across the Saloum River got stuck in the sand (blogged previously), where we spent New Years Eve, and where Jackie got taken out by food poisoning for about 30 hours. With an unplanned recovery day behind us, we got to Tambacounda last night.

Our ferry is stuck in the sand

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We’re in the river near Foundiougne, Senegal. Our ferry is stuck in the sand and the sun just set. It’s beautiful but we’re hoping that we aren’t just waiting for high tide. Once we get across it will be time to find a hotel. We hope to get up some of our other Senegal blog posts soon, but we’ve been busy getting everything sorted out before heading into the countryside.

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Moroccan Money

We’re a little confused by Moroccan money. They seem to have both a 20 Dirham and a 25 Dirham note (worth about $2.35 and $2.93). When I got them both as change, I figured one of them had to be fake.

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A quick search online says the 25 is a special commemorative note and the first bill of any country printed on a new paper, plastic, paper composite material. The supposedly punctual Swiss were supposed to have launched a bill first, but they’re delayed until 2015. So much for all those clocks.

Engaged

A bit of personal news on our motorcycle blog. The subject line pretty much says it all. Aron designed the ring himself (with Jackie’s input) and worked with a jeweler in Boston to make it. Since it’s valuable, he didn’t want to bring it on the trip. So Jackie has an awesome 3D printed version of the ring instead, made from the same source file Aron gave to the jeweler for the casting. Pictures below.

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Cultural Observation – The bars in small town Spain

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We got to a small town called Elche de la Sierra at about 7:30pm, checked in to a hotel, and went to walk around town at about 8:15. I know that dinner is typically late in Spain, between 9:00 and 11:00, but I didn’t realize that bars are a before dinner stop.

Walking around, we saw a kind of sketchy looking bar with dim lights and a couple men inside. Jackie wasn’t very interested in going in, so we skipped it. Next another bar with low lighting, but livelier, with men only again but from age 15, or so, up to 80. We stopped in for a beer and a bottle if water and got the free tapa, which was some sort of bean dish.

Next another bar with a more open feel and a younger bartender. After a snack it was about 9:15 and time for dinner. We went into a restaurant and played a round of “What would you like? What do you have?” It went something like (but in broken and unbroken Spanish):

Us: Chicken?
Restaurant Owner: Sure. Chicken with potatoes?
Us: With vegetables?
Restaurant Owner: Let me check.
Restaurant Owner: No vegetables. With salad?
Us: Sure. With salad.

What followed was a very tasty, simple grilled chicken breast with a generous salad, and bread with some excellent olive. (The local supermarkets were selling 5 liter bottles of local olive oil for about $15US.) We watched TV out of the corner of our eyes while eating. It was Will Smith and his son promoting a movie on a Spanish talk show in broken Spanish worse than mine. it was a surprisingly entertaining and surprisingly long guest spot, lasting at least 40minutes. With a big bottle of water and a beer dinner was 14 Euros and change. Not bad.

Walking back to the hotel brings us back to my cultural observation. It seems like what men do at the end of the day is have a beer or glass of wine at the bar with the guys. By 9:00 you head home. When we finished dinner and were walking back to the hotel, both of the previously mentioned dimly lit bars had transformed into respectable looking restaurants patronized by families with children and older couples.