Friday, 12 July 2013

Burkina Faso part IV: Domes

Karfiguela Falls
After a peaceful evening spent sipping Brukina beer – one of West Africa’s finest brews – and nibbling groundnuts in the gardens of Le Calypso, Hannah and I awoke slowly the next morning and ambled down to breakfast. After two years in Ghana, our body clocks were set to GMT – Ghana Maybe Time – so the pre-arranged 9.00am meeting time was treated as little more than a vague suggestion.

But Burkina Faso is not Ghana. On the dot of the hour, Metina, our tour guide, hurried into the hotel grounds to see where we were. Burkinabes pride themselves on punctuality; we had noticed already that the buses leave on time, rather than when they are full, when the driver wakes up, etc. We scoffed down the fresh baguettes and coffee while Metina chatted to the hotel’s owner – another of his contacts on Banfora’s informal tourism network.

July is the rainy season in this part of West Africa, the hot days interspersed with welcome bursts. But with few roads properly surfaced, many resembled a thick porridge after the heavy downpours. Metina guided us expertly through the worst ponds, over rickety bridges and through the numerous herds of cows being led to new pastures, waving to the herdsmen as we passed.

The recent rains also meant that Karfiguéla Falls, the next stop on our two-day tour, were at their most resplendent. We pulled into the car park and Metina introduced us to the group of young men who scratch a living guiding the region’s infrequent tourists to the nearby falls. Handshakes all round, and we set off along the mango tree-lined path.

Sugar cane
Our young guide was keen to show us the base of the falls first. “You must see the top and the bottom”, he said, without explaining why, exactly. But storms had brought down several trees, meaning we had to pick our way through fallen branches and leaves to get there. Unfortunately, soldier ants had wasted little time setting up camp in the foliage and objected strongly to us passing through their new home. I’m not sure if there is an international scale for measuring the painfulness of ant bites, but if there is, then these lads must be near the top.

Hannah and I retreated quickly but the guide was insistent: we had to visit the lower falls for the perfect photo opportunity. As the ants split up into two groups, one for each leg, more schoolboy French came flooding back: “Je ne veux pas un photo; je vais maintenant”. It’s amazing how much actually sinks in at school, even when you’re not listening.

The chocolate-brown water cascading through the upper falls didn’t look too inviting, but with burning ant bites to soothe, I stripped off quickly and slid in. The curved rocks, worn smooth with the water, provided handy entrance points, plus some underwater seats to lie back and admire the view.

Not as high as it looks
And we could admire it in solitude. This is one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions, but even on this weekend morning it was far from crowded. The few visitors – a group of American volunteers, a large family from Ouagadougou, and a local church group – spread out among the chocolate-filled pools, each finding their own private section to bathe and picnic. This is one of the benefits of visiting Burkina Faso – the country’s spectacular natural attractions have yet to become overcrowded or over-developed. Facilities rarely extend between a local person to show you the way and a few plastic tables and chairs for enjoying cold drinks and simple meals.
Metina has spent 20 years driving tourists around Banfora and he knows how to plan a tour. The car weaved through fields of bright green sugarcane, vibrant in the midday sun, until we reached the entrance to the best of all the sights around Banfora – the Domes of Fabedougou.

They are a truly remarkable sight. Over 1.8 million years ago, layer upon layer of sediment was laid down. These have since eroded to form a jumble of giant stone teacakes, all tumbling down a hillside with patches of forest clinging into the gaps. They demand exploration; even Metina eschewed his usual car-seat nap to come with us.

After two hours clambering about the domes alone (Metina had taken his nap on the first dome we climbed), we reluctantly descended. The heat was rising and there was a Brukina with my name on it waiting at the hotel. Tourism is coming slowly to Banfora, and in time its nearby attractions will get the visitor numbers needed to boost the local economy. But having had the rare experience of exploring this phenomenal natural wonder in solitude, I could only be thankful that they hadn’t come just yet.


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