Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Minding the Elephants

The collection of our visas didn't go quite as planned. We turned up at the collection point just after 3pm, as we thought had been requested. I guess there was a misunderstanding as it was closed for the day. With it being a Friday it was therefore closed for the weekend, in an unfortunate twist Monday and Tuesday also happen to be bank holidays. We now had four days to kill, and our original plan was to go to Parc National du W. This is a national park that extends across 3 countries, Benin, Niger and Burkina Faso. We believe there is no border control within the park itself, but decided it wasn't worth driving 500km only to be told we couldn't get in without a passport. We decided to travel to the Nazinga Game Reserve within Burkina itself instead.

We drove down to the edge of the reserve setting up camp on the outskirts to give us a full day inside the following day. We were rapidly swamped by tiny annoying flies. Two boys turned up and sprung to the rescue, lighting a fire and throwing on green foliage to create plenty of smoke. This seemed to get rid of most of them. The boys left as the sun set and we settled in for the evening. Now, our evenings in the bush usually follow a familiar pattern of Hannah hearing a noise and saying "what's that?", and the evening went as usual.

"What's that?"
"A donkey"
"What's that?"
"Some people talking"
"What's that?"
"A dog barking"
"What's that?"
"Sounds like someone felling a tree" - I thought this was slightly strange as there had been no saw or axe noise, and it was dark. Thinking it wouldn't worry Hannah I left it at that. (note from Hannah - please don't think I'm actually gullible enough to believe the felling trees line though!)

We sat there in silence as the sound of cracking branches and falling trees grew gradually closer. It was starting to sound within 100m heading straight towards us. Time to admit I was getting a little concerned too. The noise grew closer and closer, now less that 50m away.
"Ok, get in the car" - I've never seen Hannah move so fast. I grabbed the torch and shone it in the direction of the noise and shouted (Bonjour - just in case it spoke French?!). Elephants have very poor vision, especially at night and the last thing I wanted was it walking into our camp and being startled by our presence. There was silence, just the red glow of an eye reflecting the torch light through the trees about 30m away, staring at me. Ten seconds or so passed before the cracking of branches started again, this time moving away from the car. We decided to spend the rest of the evening in the tent!

We entered the park the following morning, initially wondering where all the elephants had gone. We then had our first daylight encounter with a herd crossing the road in front of us. It's moments like this that make you realise how far you've actually driven. From the sub zero temperatures of Europe to the 40 degree heat of North West Africa with elephants in the road. We sat a safe distance while they crossed, they then stopped to feed just over the other side of the road. We crawled along slowly a matter of metres from them. Them watching us, us watching them.

We carried on along the 35km stretch of road to the camp where we would be spending the night with several more encounters on route. We then arrived to a waterhole full of elephants, the adults having a drink and the teens all splashing around and playing in the water. We spent the day crawling along the roads of the park, seeing a few other species, mainly various antelope, although in this kind of heat most animals are in hiding during the day. The wildlife viewing in the woodland isn't nearly as easy as on the open savannah of southern and eastern Africa.

We returned to Ouagadougou the next day, spotting a great looking short cut on the map of the park we thought we'd take that. Several hours later, while following a boy on a bike down footpaths through the wood, squeezing between trees we decided the shortcut wasn't such a great idea. We'll learn one day. We'd picked up the boy in a village we'd stumbled across where the road just seemed to just end, he was a great help in re-finding the road.

So, back in Ouagadougou, another day of rest today before collecting visas tomorrow. There are several things to note about Ouagadougou. The number of things the locals carry on mopeds, and even bikes is incredible. We saw one man carring about 30-40 live chickens, all just tied by their legs hanging off the bike. Huge stacks of wood or hay, piles of goats strapped on. The other amazing thing is these people on bikes, and there are massive numbers of them, cycling round in the middle of the day when the temperature is 40+. Hannah and I struggle to walk from the car to the pool, let along cycle across town, yet there are probably more bikes here than Amsterdam!

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