Painted Houses of Burkina and Ghana

Our last night in Burkina was spent bush camping near a National Park called Ranch Nazinga, a popular site for elephant viewing.  The late afternoon was another off-road excursion down a mud track  to try to get into a campement that was located some 5 kms off the main road.  There had been a great deal of rain the previous night and day and we had to traverse some wide stretches of water.

for about 20 minutes until we arrived at the Nazinga River, which normally one just drives through.  However, it had swollen its banks and was about 100 yards wide where the track went in.   I waded in to check the depth, egged on by an audience of local teenagers who kept saying  “ca peut aller” (it can go).  Clearly for them this was a spectator sport.

Wading in to assess crossability. It may not be clear here, but that is water as far ahead as you can see, and more water off to the right

One of the older boys said “il y a un trou” (there is a hole) and that there was  another route upriver where they had put in some boards to help the crossing.  If we had had a couple more hours of daylight I might have tried it but there was quite a current and it was getting late so we decided that discretion was the better part of valour, swallowed our pride and turned around, much to the chagrin of the boys. The fact was that we were just looking for a place to camp for the night and there was no reason for us to risk having the Landy swept downriver.   We retraced our route through down the wet track and found a nice place to camp on higher ground to pass a very pleasant night.

At Nazinga we were only about 40 kms from the border, but before we left Burkina we took a detour east to the village of Tiebele where the Gournonsi practice of decorating the outside of the mud houses with painted geometric patterns is still evident.   Despite the poverty Tiebele almost felt touristy as we were flagged by prospective guides.  There is no system for assigning guides, you get the one that you decide to stop for, but once you have chosen one it seem the rest leave you alone.

We were taken to a complex of mud houses that are apparently the residence of the Chief and his family, the guide said some 80 people lives within the walls.  It was a bit more refined than houses we have seen elswhere with some very unique features.

Mom and child in compound – note the Y branch roof ladders

We did get a sense that maybe this was more of a museum than an actual house, it seemed too neat and clean.  There were some people around, and women on the roofs stirring grains as they dried in the sunshine, but the place felt like it might be more a place to show the tourists than an actual chief’s compound.  However that did not detract from the very unique structure, which had many features we had not seen in other villages we have visited.

We could see plenty of other similar structures around, it is much less disruptive that they have one they can take the tourists to without disturbing people.  That is just good community tourism management.   In the Tata Somba houses we went to in Benin and Togo we had to pay a tip to people whose houses we visited, which was a bit awkward.

On our way out of Tiebele we stopped at the local pump to fill up our 20 litre wash water jerry can.  We paid  the Village Water Committee 200 CFA (50 cents) for the water, and another 200 CFA 50 to the fellow who lugged the full water can back to the vehicle.

Our objective that night was Sirigu in Ghana,which is about 60 km from Tiebele by road through the border crossing but probably only about half that as the crow flies.  We spent the last of our CFA on diesel  at the last filling station in Burkina at Po before we crossed the border.  Then after crossing the border, just as we were clearing  Customs on the Ghana side, the last of all the check points on both sides of the border, we realized that the filling station we had stopped at in Po an hour earlier had not put the gas cap back on. As it is a locking tank it meant a full set of our keys was also still in Burkina Faso.  Fortunately, officials in both countries were prepared to pretend we were still in Ghana while we quickly drove back to Po to pick up the keys and cap and waved us back through when we came back 20 minutes later.   I don’t think they would do that at the US-Canada border, but then they probably would not have forgotten to put the gas cap back on either.

We arrived in Sirigu about 5 PM, about 20 km in down a laterite road from the highway.  En route via the laterite side road we were pulled over by a Ghana Immigration crew that were clearly driven by pecuniary motives, and were none too pleasant about it.  They asked why were going to Sirigu and laughed when we said we were going to visit the Women’s Co-op.  “Ohhh, going for a visit are you?”   It was almost funny to see their reaction when they realized that we had diplomatic passports and the Land Rover they had surrounded to hassle had diplomatic plates.  They apologized profusely for bothering us and let us move on, but left us with an impression that the Ghana Immigration Service is not the most professional of organizations.

Sirigu and the surrounding region is also known for decorative painting of the houses.  There is a strong women’s co-operative in Sirigu that runs workshops and a guest house with a lovely grounds where we were able to camp for the night.  There was a Dutch man staying there who had taken workshops in pottery and basket-making, and an  American woman doing research in the region for her Masters thesis in Art History.   A pump on the grounds was visited by a steady stream of locals, mostly children, picking up water.   As the co-op facilities are themselves painted in the local style we did not have to go anywhere  to see it up close.

Laura on a Sirigu Roof, mimicking the cover of the 2009 Bradt Guide to Ghana
The Craft Shop at Sirigu Women’s Co-operative

Sirigu more modern and refined than what we saw in Tiebele, but does not convey the historical sense.    We visited the co-op shop in the morning and were on our way to Bolgatanga by 10:00 AM.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PS.  A systems note:   We have now put on more than 5,000 km on the Defender in the month we have been on the road.  Everything is working well.  The early charging problems we had with the second battery have disappeared and there is no longer any loss of coolant.  Incredibly, there is also no appreciable oil consumption – we have used less than a half litre of since we left Accra.  Even the air conditioning, for which I thought it was only a matter of time before something failed, is performing perfectly.   We did discover an interesting electrical glitch related to the faulty  hazard light switch that is the stuff Land Rover folklore is made of.  I had discovered sometime before we left Accra that if I turned the ignition off when the flashers were on the motor keeps running.   It was explained to me by Eric our electrician that the hazard switch overides other systems and that this can happen if the switch is faulty.   Replacing said switch did not make the cut when determinng the priority things to do before we left.  We discovered a new twist on the switch problem one day near Sindou when our stereo suddenly stopped working.  I thought it was simply a fuse and on inspection found that indeed there was a fuse that was blown that could have been the problem.  We were still looking for a place in Banfora to buy a fuse from when we put the flasher on to turn around and the stereo suddenly started working again.  We subsequently learned it was just a matter of playing with the hazard switch until the radio comes on, then it stays on, at least until we go into reverse gear, which for some bizarre reason knocks the stereo off again.   I am not making this up.   Apart from that rather humorous glitch, and a slow leak in a rear tire that needs attention,  everything is humming.

Sindou Peaks of Western Burkina

On  our drive west from Bobo- Dialaisso to Banfora we stopped to take a picture of a particularly green valley below and it was only in the process of framing the picture that we noticed a waterfall tumbling across a field not 100 metres from where we were parked.    What a great picnic spot!

Our destination that day was Sindou, site of the most amazing natural landscape.  We did a bit of an unplanned detour toward Cote d’Ivoire because on our map it appears to be straight through the town of Banfora and, unbelievably,  the dirt track turn-off for Sindou in the town of Banfora is not markedl.   Great road, but the mille bournes (milestones – a legacy of the French colonial system) all kept counting down the distance to  the border town of Koloka, which was not on our route.  We caught this after about 10 km and turned around to go back to Banfora.  The correct road was only dirt, but it was much more attractive than the highway.

 

The Sindou Peaks are quite special.   Created by limestone rocks on one side of a very fertile valley that have been eroded into narrow stalactite-type structures.  The guidebooks all refer to landscape as reminiscent off “Planet of the Apes” although somehow that does not quite seem appropriate.

Walking tours of the area are provided by the Association Senoufa, a local community development group that uses the proceeds to help pay for childrens’ school  fees.   One can get tours that range from 1 hour to more than a week and involve hiking back to Bob0-Dialasso, the distance we had driven over  two short days.  We took the two hour option and that allowed us to hike to the upper plateau and get a great view.

 

Sindou Peaks as seen across the valley from our tent window

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was a special bonus to our visit to Sindou, in the form of what has to be one of the best campsites in the world, at least the best we had on our trip. We had been told about a campement in Douna, a town 10 km shy of Sindou, by Alain, the French owner of the B&B we stayed at in Ouga.  He did not rave about it, he just mentioned it, but we decided to have a look because it was getting late afternoon and it was before Sindou.  We are very glad we did.  As a campement it had also had rooms, but they were just very basic huts that were not really even furnished.  But as a campsite for us it was perfect.

Not a bad campsite at all

 

Sunset at Sindou

Mud Mosque of Bobo-Diaoulasso

After Ougadougou we headed toward western Burkina.   We had an overnight bush stop near Boromo, where we were treated to some good off-roading in search of a campement which we eventually gave up on for fear of getting trapped by more rain and instead retreated to stay closer to the main road.  Next was Bobo -Diaoulasso, Burkina’s third largest city to see the spectacular mud mosque.

Islam is a very important religion throughout much of Africa and this phenomenon is well-represented in  West Africa.   The faith was brought here by traders crossing the Sahara a thousand years ago, Timbuctou was a center of muslim acadenia and scholarship hundreds of years ago.  Today significant portions of the populations of most West African countries are muslim, in Burkina Faso it is about 40% of the population. Every village has at least one mosque, they are certainly the most common religious structure and call to prayer is resounds through the streets.

Typical Village Mosque in Sahel, this one is from Burkina

One of the great architectural manifestations Islam in West Africa is the unique mud mosques that are present throughout the Sahel.  Built only from mud, they are also identified by the pieces of wood, usually tree branches, that stick out  from the sides.  Contrary to first impressions, these pieces of wood do not serve any structural purpose, rather they are intended to serve as a permanent scaffolding to provide easy access for replastering and painting work which has to be done every year.

Mud Mosque of Bobo Dialassou

We went to Bobo-Diaoulasso in western Burkina Faso to see one of the larger examples.  Built in the 1840s it has some 56 mud pillars that are “towers” that provide support for the roof over the prayer area inside.   Each of these pillars is about 4’ by 4’ and they easily take up a quarter of the interior floor area.  That means it does not have a large open hall that is characteristic of other mosques.

Interior of of Bobo Mosque

 

Below are some shots of the smaller mud mosque at Nakori in northern Ghana we visited on another occasion.

Nakori Mosque near Wa, capital of Upper West Region of Ghana

Our first night in Bobo was at a place called Casafrica, which had little to recommend it, and the worst washrooms we had seen.  We did like Bobo enough to give it a second night, but after one night in CasaAfrica we decided we needed a night in a hotel.  We found a great place called Toucouleurs, complete with TV, WiFI and a lovely pool.  It was real treat, much deserved after a couple of weeks of roughing it.

There is more to see in Bobo than the lovely mosque.  The city itself is very laid back and pleasant, with wide boulevards running from large traffic circles each with a sculpture.  It is a bit reminiscent of the work of Bernard Hausman in Paris and Washington, ironic given the relative poverty of the country.

Place de la Nation in Bobo

 

We also toured the oldest section of the city which is like a small village almost separate from the city that surrounds it.  One pays a formal admission to enter with a guide who explains the different sections of the neighbourhood.  It is quite a masterful blend of history, contemporary life, and a working craft village.  There was one place where a craftsman made drums out of his house, another workshop where they worked with brass using the so-called “lost brass method”, another where they made “bark-cloth” purses and bags, where the cotton or leather is coloured using dyes made from bark of different local trees.  
Daily life in Bobo

 

Art and Music in Burkina Faso

What a rich culture. The music wafts through the car windows. The crafts range from simple carving to works of art. We want to sample it all.

Our time in  Ougadougou was mostly spent looking for crafts and music.  Burkina is a very poor country, but has a very rich culture and Burkanibes are very creative.    Burkina is the site of a bi-annual African film festival called FESPACO Festival Panafricain du Cinéma et de la Télévision de Ouagadougou, held in October that attracts films from all over Africa.  On the off-years there is another bi-annual ffestival:  Le Salon International de L Artisanat de Ouagadougou (International Art and Craft Fair).  We are not here for that but there is no shortage of galleries in which to view the creative work.

Burkina and neighbouring Mali are the West African wood carving masters. Pieces we have seen elsewhere we now learn are from here. Statues that might have had origins in traditional religion that is still so much a part of local life. Carvings that invoke plentiful rains or a healthy child. We opted for a sun that tradition says encourages a good harvest. (Who knows what we might decide to plant in our Ottawa garden.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bronze is another speciality of Burkina using the so-called “lost-wax method”.   Ghana has a few artists that use this same method but here it is used in large pieces of art. The design is first built in wax – for example a woman dancing. Then the wax is coated in clay and the wax is melted out leaving a clay mold. Into this mold the artist pours molten bronze which takes the shape of the wax. The clay is then cracked open and voila a one-of-a-kind work of art.

Then there is fabric. Wax print is ever popular but Burkina adds a bright batik style and indigo printing. The indigo printing that was in the market was a strange overprint on other fabric. More interesting than useful. So instead we now have quite a stock of the batik and coordinating colours. Make the best of what is available! And start to dream of new quilts to come.

Contemporary Burkina music is called Coupé Decalé – unhinged steps. We went out both our nights in Ouagadougou (a miracle in and of itself) to listen to music. One night was a dj with a busy dance floor. We sat outside among the many tables on the sidewalk and bought barbequed chicken from a freelance guy set up right there and cold Brakina beer from the club.   We even danced.  The second night was live music alternating between traditional djembe, drums and flute, on one stage and a 5-piece band with female lead singer on the other.  As the evening wore on the band moved into earlier Coupe Decale, with the woman replaced by an older throaty singer who also played guitar.  There seems to be live music all over the country.  We bought 4 CDs that have quickly become part of our driving repertoire.

 

Camping Wild in Burkina

 

With the exception of Pendjari Park in Benin, virtually all of our camping thus far has been within the grounds of some establishment, for which we pay the average of about $10.  While we had not planned it, for completely circumstantial reasons we are doing a lot more camping in the wild here in Burkina.

Our second night in from Benin we were en route to Ougadougou late in the afternoon down a good paved road through classic Sahel landscape, sandy and desert-like but with some trees and scrub.   We could have made Ouaga that day but decided we did not want to arrive  in the late afternoon, the risk of getting lost and driving around in the dark in a strange city, poorly lit city is no fun.  Instead, we took from the Bradt African Overland guide  about a campement  located about 5km off the main road some 50 kilometre east of Ouga.   We arrived there about 5:00 PM to learn from the attending gardien that it is only open for business on the weekend.  A telephone called to the partron confirmed he was not keen on us camping on their grounds, although we could take a room for the equivalent of $40.  Clearly he had a particular idea of what a campement is We were not keen a spending that much to take a room in an empty hotel that was not even offering meals.   The late hour, the threatening rain clouds closing from the south and the vast exotic landscape in which we found ourselves inspired us to set up camp in the wild, midway between the campenent and a village called Wakpati near what has to be the largest baobab tree I have ever seen.

Camp Baobob

There is something a bit unnerving about camping in the middle of nowhere is a strange country.  You are never sure you are alone, and in this case we did see a few people passing on foot and on bicycle to and from a nearby village.   But once we were set up and the stars came out it was quite special.  We were visited in the morning by someone from the campement who apologized for us being turned away and he gave us some pintade (guinea fowl) eggs.  No hard feelings.  By 10 we were back on the road to Ouagadougou.

Our next experience with wild camping also provided some great off-road 4×4 fun.  It was a couple of days later when we left Ouga for Bobo-Dialassou.

Picnic lunch en route to Bobo-Diaoulasso, it is much wetter and greener west of Ouga.

We had read of a Campement  Kaicera at the halfway point, billed as 7km off the main road.    This turned out to be a very long 7km was across a dirt track along the base of power lines, bordered on either side by rice that was just started to grow.  Recent rains had reduced large sections of the track to mud.  We followed it for 8 km through the mud in search of the campement but concern that further rain that night would submerge  the already barely passable track in another foot of water led to us decide to turn around and go back toward the main road.  The trip in was a bit scary at first, travelling through  mud in a truck laden with all our gear: two weeks supply of food, a heavy fridge,  a 55 kg tent and 40 litres of water.   Most of it was done it 4WD low, which takes some getting used to, you have to shift to 3rd before you get to 10 km/hr, and once we realized how the Landy was able to carve through whatever we came to we relaxed, blasted some rock music and forged on.  There were a couple of times when it started to slow down and we thought we might be getting stuck, but somehow it just grabbed and kept going.

An hour later we emerged back on high ground in a very dirty Defender (which we had had thoroughly washed the day before in Ougadougou to get the mud from Pendjari off)  to set up camp in lovely bush, not too far from the track where agricultural workers would pass in donkey carts on their way home from the fields.

The terrain here is completely different than that east of Ouga, much greener and wetter, in many places muddier.

 

Land Rover Laundry Day

 

We passed into Burkina Faso from Benin on a Wednesday afternoon.  Burkina is a land-locked country in the Sahel region.

 

Burkina was for years called Upper Volta, or Haute Volta in French.  The new name means ‘country of `honest men’ a name given it by highly admired president in 1973 by a President who was later taken out and shot by the military following a coup.   Dry and poor, it is ranked 173 out of 178 countries on the UN Human Development Index (HDI).   I had heard that despite, or perhaps because of,  the geographical and environmental challenges Burkina had developed some good agricultural  and water management practices that compared very favourable to Ghana so I was interested to see it.

The border crossing was without any hassle.  Staff on both sides were very pleasant, although the facilities on the Burkina side extremely basic. We sat in a shabby room with a nice gentlemen in uniform who was watching television (just like Ghanaian Immigration staff were when we left to go into Togo) surrounded by discarded office furniture as we came in.  He stamped our passports and wished us a pleasant stay in Burkina.

We spent the first night in a pleasant rural hotel restaurant run by a French couple near a town called Pama.  They gave us a great spot to set up camp on their lovely grounds just far enough away from the goat pen.   We took advantage of their restaurant for supper and endured one of the longest Celine Dion sets ever known, which was presented by the DJ for the benefit of the visiting Canadians.   The next morning took advantage of their water pump to do laundry and clean the worst of the Pendjari dust from the interior of the Defender.

Clean up Day in Pama, Burkina Faso

We were on the road to Ougadougou by early afternoon.

Pendjari Safari

Benin has a couple of large national parks in the north and the Parc Pendjari provided our last adventure in Benin.  http://www.pendjari.net/english/

The drive up from Nattitingou was much further than we expected.  There seems to be a commercial mafia in Nattingnou that works to give visitors the impression that Natti is the logical jumping off point for the park, which we learned is quite nonsensical.   It is 50 km from Natti to Tanquieta  on the main road, then another 30 km up a along a laterite road featuring some serious stretches of washboard to get to Batia, which is the actual Park entrance.

Washboard road into Batia from Tanquieta

We were insulated from that because we had our own transportation and we were not in a hurry.  We planned on going to the Park before looking for a guide and this worked perfectly. Batia is the place where visitors should plan to head for, not Natitingou. We arrived at Batia about 16:00, just in time to make arrangements with a guide to heinto the Park at 6:00 AM the next morning.  We stayed that night at a great campement  in Batia. Campement Numi is run by a German named Alfred who has been there for some 15 years.  Set against a cliff he has  a couple of rooms and a good campsite not far from a creek that also feeds his swimming pool.   Numi was the first campement we have been in with hot water, and it was very hot, a real nice surprise.  For overlanders is it s great place because he also has a mechanical shop.   He also rents 4X4s.   So, if you go to Pendjari, with or without a vehicle, don`t waste time in Natitingou, rather plan to arrive in Batia mid-to late afternoon, make arrangements for a guide there and with Campement Numi to rent a vehicle if you do not have one.

We got an early start the first day, were on the trail in the park before 7:00.   We slowly cruised about 7o km into the park along a good laterite road.

Our visit to the park were two of the most languid days we have spent in a very long while.  We set out at 7:30 and drove at a very leisurely safari pace (max 40K/hr) along 250 km of piste which varied from quite good

to quite challenging.  Indeed the challenging bits let us have some fun with the Land Rover.  We took some videos of the best parts.  For example we had to drive through the bush to get around this fallen tree that blocked the road…..

The Park is quite large, it to0k us a good day to reach the northen part that borders Burkina, where an inaccessible river full of hippos discourages anyone, certainly us, from crossing the border there.    We spent ne night camping  within the Park itself, with our guide who we engaged for the first two days.  There are no facilities as such, you just find a place that you like and set up.   We picked a spot adjacent to the so-called Pendjri Lodge, which was closed for the season but gave us the option of retreating to covered picnic space in the event the threatening rain clouds ever arrived.  They did not.

Boondocking in northern Pendjari

It is the rainy season which is not the best for wildlife viewing because of the abundance of water and concealing vegetation.  Of course we knew this, and it is actually much prettier now than in the dry season when there are no leaves and the grass is brown.

 

In addition to the landscape the abundant bird life was also a highlight for us.  We had a few great sightings of birds we had never seen before.

Abyssinian Roller

Of course we also saw a few of the regulars, like hippopotami, antelope cob and baboons.

Hippos in tbe rainy-season-full Oti River with Burkina Faso visible on the other side.
Buffon Cob Antelope

From Pendjari we continued our trip north into Burkina Faso.

Tata Somba in Two Countries

Today we went out from Nattatingou in northern Benin on a real overlanding adventure.  The object was the amazing residential

Typical Tata in Benin

structures known as Tata Somba, which span the border region here between Benin and Togo.   In 2004 UNESCO declared the Koutammakou area on the Togo side a World Cultural Heritage site and it is easy to see why.   The tata were apparently designed in the 1700s to provide some degree of security to the family against mauraders (slave hunters primarily).  They are compact single family dwellings that consist of four two-storey towers joined together by an external wall.  The main floor is dedicated to animals (guinea fowl, cows, etc) and the man, who sleeps in the base of one of the towers.  Another tower base is for cooking and grinding maize, another provides the access to the second storey where the mother and children sleep in “rooms”.  The tops of each of the towers is a flat slanted space used to dry grains in the sun.  This is also where the grain is stored, in a large conical bin that is also accessed by means of a ladders.

 

Our guide Valerie leaning against one of the towers on the second floor of a Tata. The door behind her is the room where the Mother sleeps

The advancement of modernity is seen in the presence of numerous complexes that consist of larger, rectangular brick structures integrated into the expanded circumference of the original house for children who find the original structure too small and impractical.  Our guide in Togo referred to children who worked as civil servants in Cotonou, Lome, or Paris, who built these so they could come home for their holidays.  It is intriguing to think of the Immigration or Customs official or Tax Policy Analyst who goes on holiday fromtheir office in the city and moves into the family tata.

Traditional Tata with Modern Additions

The traditonal animist religion is evident everywhere.  Families build fetishes to represent deities that protect the family or the property.  Each member of the family has a fetish to represent them.

 

Collection of fetishes outside the main entrance door to a tata.

 

Even without the human footprint, the area is beautiful. You actually cross the Atakora Mountain chain as you go west from Nattitingou and then descend into a beautiful valle and into Togo, made more so now by the green lushness brought by the rainy season.   The green of the exotic vegetation and the fantastic nature of the Tata Somba residential  complexes gave the whole thing an unreal feel to it.  It looks like something out of  fantasy writers imagination.  I almost expect Bilbo Baggins to emerge from a doorway.

Atakora Mountains en route between Togo and Benin

 

Abomey

Abomey is the historic heart of Benin, it is where the Dahomey Kings reigned for 4 centuries from the early 1600s.  We ended up  setting up camp at Chez Monique, a  backpackers complex spread out over four adjacent properties that offers camping in a garden full of sculptures where craftsmen work every day.  It sort of varied between fascinating and scary.   We cooked ourselves an Italian dinner with wine and were witness to a steady parade of locals and backpackers going by.

Images from Chez Monique

 

More Imaghes from Chez Monique

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abomey has many, many palaces in varying stages of decay or reconstruction , the main palace is a walled area 14 hectares in area.   We hired a guide out of Chez Monique for two hours in the morning to show us things other than the museum in the main palace because the admission includes a guide.  Two hours is not very much time but he took us to an older, quasi-restored palace on the outskirts of town.  Here one could see some of the same structures that had been present in the Palace of Tofa I.   The element that this visit most drove home to us was again the link between the past and present.   In this case it came in the form of the respect which the guide showed for the king that had been dead for 4 centuries.    It is traditional that anyone visiting the king visiting room has to take off his shirt, partly as a sign of respect and partly to show he has no concealed weapons.  They excuse tourists from this requirement, but any Beninois to this day takes their shirt off when they go in.  Our guide was not the only one to do this.

Jonathon and our guide Marc at a Dahomey Palace

The visit to the palace was not an altogether positive experience.  The site included a cage for two sick looking lions and a pretty disgusting pit where they kept a pitiful-looking crocodile.

Afterward we took our guide for a slow lunch that took up any time we might have to spare for the museum before we had to leave for our next Dassa, the next destination in our journey north.   Dassa is only a stopover on a long journey to Nattitingou, which holds both enthnocultural (the Tatasomba houses) and natural (Parc national Pendjari).  After numerous unsuccessful visits to ATMs and filling stations we were able to get some CFA (French West Africa francs) and some diesel before we headed north out of town.   The bank that worked for us was the Bank of Africa, which we have not used before but seems to have many branches so we can relax a bit about cash flow.  We are actually not spending very much money at all: diesel is cheap, our accommodations are not expensive even when we go to a hotel, and we make most of our own meals.  Guides and souvenirs are likely to be among the greatest expenditure we have.

 

African Print Fabric

Wax print is the typical fabric of west Africa. We know it in various forms in Ghana. This traditional brightly printed fabric is sewn into lovely up-and-downs(skirt and top) and some shirts for men. Wax print designs tend to be large and multi-coloured. I’ve seen wax print with images of alphabet letters, computers and now purses and stiletto heels. A few years ago a Ghanaian promotion of local fabric encouraged wearing traditional cloth on Fridays. We both enjoyed following this local custom.

Benin takes wax print to a whole other level. Men and women wear clothes made from the bright fabric as everyday wear. Men wear pants and shirts from the same fabric. Women might have a skirt of one and the wrap of another and baby tied on her back with a third. And somehow all the bright colours, the matchy pants and shirt, and various combinations of prints all seems to work and to our eyes looks so glamorous.

Jonathon bought a shirt (but not matching pants). Laura will stick to buying yards of the fabric for future use.

Some Beninois men looking good