November 2017: As part of a larger 2-week trip that included South Sudan, Benin and Togo, I visited Burkina Faso for 3 days with my friend Richard. I hired a 4WD vehicle along with a guide/driver in Ouagadougou, the capitol of Burkina Faso to drive us across West Africa all the way to Lomé, Togo. I was astonished by how cheap the cost was in comparison to the distance and the rigors of the roads and itinerary I had put together. Burkina Faso is an amazing country. A country with incredible music, friendly people that is seldomly visited by tourists and maintains a truly authentic appeal. 

About Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso is a landlocked Sahelian country that was once a French colony. it is mostly Muslim but also has a large population of animistic followers of traditional African faiths.  it is one of the poorest countries in the world and has a long history of military coups. Coups are so common, that as a tourist visiting the country, you have to expect that there is a possibility you could be there during a coup. Burkina Faso has also been embroiled in a war against Islamic terrorists along the border of Mali, Niger and Benin. These terrorists have targeted tourists, kidnapping for ransom and in some cases murdering them. In recent years Burkina Faso has become increasingly unstable and this has effectively removed much of the country from the tourist map. During my trip, I planned a route that was still considered relatively safe with heightened levels of alertness necessary along the Togo border region. 

Our plan was to fly into Ouagadougou and drive overland from there into Togo visiting Bajoule’s Sacred Crocodile Pond and the animistic painted village of Tiebele, where my guide was from. From there we would cross the border into Kande, Togo. 

Ouagadougou

We stayed our first night in Burkina in Ouagadougou at a small French run guest house, Hotel Jardin De Koulouba. I proposedly chose this guest house because it was not high profile and unlikely to be attacked by terrorists unlike some of the other nicer more prominent hotels in the city that were attacked prior to my trip. The guest house was still secure with a wall and hired gun men to guard it.

Our 4wd vehicle a test drive and it broke down a few feet from our hotel and we were able to replace it with another one before setting off on the long trip. Luckily our car broke down in the city instead of in any one of the many remote locations we would drive through later in the trip. 

The neighborhood of the guesthouse was quiet and rustic, and, in the evening, I went for a walk down to the local bars to listen to some live Burkina Faso music, which I absolutely love. I definitely attracted some attention in the bar as the only foreigner, but it was all good attention, and I had a great time sipping beers while watching the band play. 

 

Bajoule, Sacred Crocodile Pond

Bajoule, Sacred Crocodile Pond is a place that I had seen photos of crocodile ponds with foreigners sitting on their backs. It seemed touristy since this was the place that everywhere Burkina Faso tourist visits but, in my book, if I am going to visit a touristy place it might as well be a crocodile pond in Burkina Faso, where the villagers believe they are reincarnated into 15 ‘ crocodiles and where you can feed live chickens to them and sit on their backs. The crocodiles are considered sacred to the animistic villagers and are not hunted are harmed. over the years the pond has become popular with tourists.

The next morning, we drove approx. one hour to the dusty village of Bajoule and a local guide took us to the pond in the village. As part of the entrance fee, we were given 4-5 live malnourished chickens. The pond, more of a muddy lake was in the middle of a village and I saw several villagers washing their clothes along its shores, and a few others fishing. But there were no crocodiles in sight. I asked the village guide where the crocodiles were, and he said turn around. As soon as I turned around at least a dozen giant crocodiles anticipating a feeding started to emerge on the shore all around us in a stealth like fashion.

The guide tossed the first chicken to a crocodile who swallowed it like a skittle. The same process played out for a few other chickens. I felt a little bad for the chickens, but it was a quick ending for them at least. One chicken actually managed to escape, and I was rooting for him to make a getaway. The chicken ran off into the bushes and I figured he would make a clean breakaway, but he decided to return to the lake and a crocodile snatched him and devoured him. I guess the chicken just couldn’t handle the stress of its newfound freedom.

The crocodiles were big and menacing and could easily kill a man in a second. Despite this they were surprisingly calm and docile allowing us to stand very close and even sit on their backs. The villagers claim no one has ever been attacked by one of the crocodiles since they are reincarnated village ancestors and are regularly fed. I had seen firsthand just how fast a crocodile can be, and I didn’t want to trust a limb to one of these beasts, so I opted to take a photo, which I have since lost, of me standing near the crocodile but not sitting on one.

 

Giant crocodile

Hungry Crocodile

Villager showing his affection for crocodiles

Feeding crocodiles live chickens 

Tiebele Village Painted Village

From Bajoule we drove a few hours to Tiebele across some very stark and desolate countryside with very picturesque villages made entirely of traditional building materials and completely cut off from the modern world with no electricity.

Tiebele and a few other similar villages in the area have a cluster of beautifully painted houses that are part of the royal court and the nobility of the Kassena people. Local villagers re-paint the houses every year and the houses have been maintained for hundreds of years. My guide was from the village and wore his traditional hand maid shirt that men wear in the area. The religious beliefs of the people of the area.  The houses have symbolic animal paintings on them that represent People continue to live in the houses.  Ritualistic animal, goat, chicken, sacrifices are performed during certain occasions on giant stone slabs we saw in the village. It was good that our guide was from the village and knew everyone making the experience less voyeuristic.

Tiebele Village

Tiebele Village

My guide in his traditional shirt of the Tiebele area inside one of the royal houses with fine interior wood paneling of polished mahogony

Friendly Village Girl

Village Life

Girl sitting on one of the stone slabs used to sacrifice animals durig rituals inside the Royale village

Friendly lady and baby

Tiebele House

Village Life

School kid studying under a giant ancient tree

At night, we slept in one of the compounds and since there was no electricity and the temperatures were soaring even at night, I slept on the roof of one of the houses. I woke up early the next morning to the clatter of children marching passed the house. Approx 50 school aged children, some with bicycles and schoolbooks marches by chanting a protest in defiance of their school. it was truly bizarre to see these kids protesting. I’m not sure what they were protesting exactly but they refused to return to school until their grievances were resolved. I was envious and wished I had done the same during my school years. 

Rooftop where I slept on my sleeping mattress in the open

School children protest

On our last day we drove all day to get to the Togo border and at times we were lost following really bad 4 wd tracks sometimes through fields. The GPS was useless, and it was nerve-wracking for all of us especially since the border region was restive and known to have Islamic terrorists and bandits. We did eventually find the Kande border, a dusty and awful place with a crazed naked man running around yelling at people and were able to cross into Togo after along and grueling border process involving the paid help of a local guy who assisted with the process.

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