Bobo-Dioulasso – City of Trees

A small white furry dog.
This is Bobo, my old dog of several years; sadly I had to part with him and give him to a friend while I travelled. Nothing to do with Burkina Faso, but made it all the more significant that I come here!

Chilling in the funky guesthouse room, I reflected on the past couple of days, on what I’d managed to achieve and how it didn’t matter that I’d chosen to miss out on things, instead finding my own time to rest and recuperate. Everyone needs time to recover, mentally, every so often, and I definitely more than most.

There are sometimes towns that, from the first moment you set foot in them, you know it’s not going to be right. Whether it’s a bad initial contact, the company you’re with, the weather, or even something external to travel that affects your mood, you may end up with such a negative feeling about a place that no matter what you find to do there, you can’t help but feel you want to move on. The worst I’ve felt like that was probably in Fremantle, meaning it’s one of those places I just don’t ‘see’ what everyone raves about.

Then there are the opposite; towns which may in themselves not be that special, but you arrive at them in a mentally happy place. Whether because you’ve just come from a place that makes you feel low, or your first contact with locals is warm and welcoming, or even if things just feel right, it makes your whole mood lighten and you want to be there; indeed it feels ‘right’ to be there. I had this feeling in both Vilnius (despite the rain) and, of all places, Adelaide.

Bobo-Dioulasso has fallen quite squarely in the second camp. I had so many fears; would I cope with the language? Would I find it less easy to get around? Would I panic and spend most of the time locked in my hotel room? For some reason though, despite the bus dropping me off at some obscure petrol station not on my map, despite the driver of the shared taxi take me on a tour of downtown Bobo in a vain effort to find a bank open to change money, despite taking a couple of hours to find a hotel because one of the two I wanted no longer existed and the other had changed its name, despite all this, it all felt perfectly calm and natural to be here.

To be fair, it’s a very pleasant city. There are trees everywhere – while not quite a Sylvan Elf town built in and of the forest, the centre of the city is very verdant which must provide a natural air-conditioning environment in the height of summer. Although the pavements are slightly dubious, the majority of the streets are wide enough to walk comfortably down without fearing for your life from wild motos. In addition, the layout of the city itself is quite easy to navigate – very much a grid pattern, centred on a huge market area that makes up most of the central area. A ‘Central Business District’, if you will, except with stalls rather than skyscrapers.

Part of the market area of Bobo – much of the city centre looked like this.

While I didn’t end up buying anything in the market (one aspect of travelling with only hand luggage is a relative inability to take items back home), I did end up chatting to a couple of of the stallholders – one in particular selling local tribal crafts, who was disappointed when I declined any purchases (so was his dad!), but in general very glad that I, as a Westerner, was here at all.

Railway Station
The railway station of Bobo – very grand for what it actually does.

Church in Bobo
I passed by this church and thought it looked slightly, well, out-of-place, maybe? Burkina Faso is a religious patchwork; Islam more in the North, Christianity in the South, and tribal religions everywhere.

The city lends itself well to idle walking, with quite a few things that catch the eye. The large and quite imposing railway station doesn’t see a lot of traffic, but its location and design certainly draws you towards it. There are a couple of small mosques, and a slightly odd church that looks for all the world like a disused Victorian railway station, but the main sight in Bobo is the Grande Mosquée.

Sahelian Mosque
The Grande Mosquée – it looks just as odd close up in real life.

It’s set in quite large, flat grounds and surrounded by trees. But what makes it most notable is its construction – it’s made primarily of mud, with huge wooden sticks holding it together. This is quite a typical method of construction for the area (making full use of the materials you have), and of course mud sets like stone when baked in the endless Sahel sun. Although larger and more impressive examples exist in Mali especially, this mosque is the largest of its type in Burkina Faso, and by inference one of the largest that’s currently convenient for tall, hairy, pasty-white backpackers to get to. The only downside is that it’s surrounded by ‘hawkers’ desperate to act as a guide for a quick buck.

Villa Olivia
The frontage of my hotel, down a quiet sideroad.

Inside the hotel
The courtyard area of the hotel. Very relaxing place to sit, although not terribly big.

The ambiance of the guesthouse I found also helped my mood. It was called the ‘Villa Olivia’, and lay on a wide stony backstreet on the far side of the railway line. Not quite ‘the wrong side of the tracks’, more the ‘peaceful suburbs’ – indeed the area is known (rather optimistically, I will admit) as ‘Petit Paris’. By the time I found it (after asking two people for directions for its old name, with no results), I was knackered; this, plus my need to mentally self-medicate, meant I chose one of the more luxurious rooms (with AirCon) for a whopping 15,000CFA (around £16) per night. Sometimes you have to pamper yourself, right? Even as a backpacker on a budget!

Inside my hotel room
The colour scheme revived me. It also had an en-suite shower room with a tiled floor in rectangles that hurt your eyes after a while of staring at it. All quite quirky.

The room was very colourful inside, and appealed to my quirkier tastes, even making me subconsciously feel even more rested. The main courtyard area, whilst not very large, felt spacious with the trees and tables scattered around it. There was also, rather unexpectedly, a small enclosure of monkeys. Food was available, but while you gave the hotel staff your order, rather than cooking on site, they ordered it from one of the nicer restaurants in the city.

One of the monkeys. They didn’t seem to have a particularly large enclosure, and I was rather confused as to why they were there in the first place. I assume they’d been rescued from poachers.

I’d arrived on a Saturday lunchtime, and originally toyed with the idea of leaving the next day, but examining my visa very closely and doing a little bit of internet research suggested that, as it didn’t have an exit date, it would be valid for a month rather than five days. So although I still needed to use the country as little more than a stopover, I wasn’t quite in the rush that I’d first thought. In any case, my mood was quite elated to the extent that I started imagining scenarios where I’d argue the toss about it with the border guard at the frontier. Sometimes when happy I start to consider ludicrous things. I don’t even know the official French term for ‘there’s no exit date stamp on my visa’. This did mean staying here over a weekend when virtually nothing would be open, but that suited my mental state very nicely – I could choose to do nothing and not have to worry about it. The guidebook stated that over to the West, near Banfora and the Mali border, there’s stunning scenery and old caves, but they can wait till next time; I’m sure I’ll be back.

Visited: 29 November – 1 December 2014

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