Burkina Faso – Visa optimisation in Ouagadougou

Ouagadougou (pronounced ‘waaggaadoogoo’), affectionately known as Ouaga, is the capital of Burkina Faso which ranks 181 out of 187 on the UNs development index. It wasn’t really my intended destination for this trip, but bizarrely it was cheaper, faster and easier to add in a stop in Burkina Faso to get a visa for Mali rather than apply in London. The Mali visa in Burkina Faso was €50, and the Burkina Faso visa set me back another €150, BUT just to get a Mali visa in London would have cost €220 and here i can get the Mali visa in one day versus two weeks in London (time I didn’t have). What sealed the deal is that I was headed to the famous Dogon country, which was half way between Ouaga and Bamako (the capital of Mali,) so just as easy to get there from Ouaga.

Burkina Lottery – there were stalls everywhere

It didn’t start off well. Arriving late in the evening, the immigration guys had a unique system where they will give you a visa on arrival, but as they don’t want to work late, you pay for it and then you have to come back at 3pm the next day to pick up your passport. Not super helpful for someone like me who was supposed to be lodging their passport at the Mali embassy the next day at 8am. Just as well I had a back up passport with me.

Main cathedral

Next morning I woke up starving at 5am. Breakfast was apparently from 7. At 7 am when I woke up the receptionist he didn’t know where the cook was. At 7.30 the receptionist made me a coffee…. but sadly no breakfast. I found a moto taxi to take me to the embassy and it seemed to go off without a hitch, and my new friend Sila at the embassy said I could come back at 2 to pick it up my visa.


So off to check out the sites.  Ouaga is steaming hot. By 9.30 am I was soaked through with sweat, it was already 38 degrees and I wisely choosing my path to optimise shade. There are no real sights to see here, but I made an effort and went to the mosque and the cathedral.

Famous Ouaga cinema

Bemusingly and somewhat depressingly I was referred to as a ‘jeune homme’ (young man) by numerous passers by, and a chinois (Chinese) by a few more. I am happy to take the ‘young’ but I am not sure how I got the ‘man’. Is it my short hair? the lack of boobage? the enormous calves? Who knows? Oh well, it probably isn’t something I want to be conducting a street poll on.
I beat a retreat after two hours and went for coffee (well Nescafé) in a busy cafe stuffed to the gills with male Burkinabes solving the problems of the world (or more likely discussing the arsenal game) at high volume, with continual arm waving, and an air of importance, interrupted only by answering (obviously urgent) incoming calls on their old Nokia mobiles. It was an amusing and much needed respite from the heat. At this point I am questioning the wisdom of signing up for hiking 30k per day in the Dogon….. with no breeze and in full sun it is hard to walk let alone hike.

Grande Mosque

I summoned up the courage to walk some more, and wandered around the central market. I was way too hot, so I put my umbrella up for shade much to the amusement of many of the locals, quite a few of whom stopped and stared as I strolled by. The market was the usual frenetic west African market, pungent with the smells of animals being gutted, rotting fish and mangos. It is nice being back in a steaming vibrant west African city. The women here are loud, vivacious and demanding. In many ways they are more challenging than the men when they have their hearts set on selling you something.
After an hour I scarpered to a lovely French restaurant for lunch, and enjoyed the shade, fans and wifi. One of the few good things that has come out of French colonisation is that there is always good bread and a steak with Roquefort sauce to be found!. The day was definitely improving!

Ouahigouya cathedral

I went to the airport, hoping to pick up my passport before the 3pm pick up time, and managed to persuade the 4th policeman I asked to give it to me, and then headed to the Mali embassy to get my visa! Yay, all sorted. The lovely Amadou Traore had come to get me from Dogon country, and after an hour navigating the dusty streets and traffic, we finally exited Ouaga and hit the highway to Ouagigouya!
Amadou entertained me on the voyage with two themes which appear frequently in west Africa. 1) a long and caring lecture on why I needed to have children. I have heard this from almost every African man I have ever met….one even said I was like a sad fruit tree who bore no fruit. I showed him pictures of the cats, but he didn’t think they were sufficiently child like, and then 2) a detailed discussion on how and where he might find his second wife. He is looking for a ‘femme blanche’ (a European) and reckons he is in with a shot as in his mind the European women think African men are more powerful. He wondered if I might know anyone who was interested…. if you are feel free, do let me know and I can pass on his details.

Luxurious $50 hotel room

Three and a half hours and several goat road blocks later we arrived in ouahigouya, which has 12 banks! Bizarre (I know this because I counted all the welcome signs from the banks on the way into town). For the princely sum of $50, I secured a room at the luxury hotel l’amitie – no hot water, pretty filthy and no loo seat, but at least the AC worked intermittently albeit noisily.

I went to the restaurant for dinner, after giving me the eight page menu and saying they didn’t have my first two requests, the waiter confessed he only had spaghetti or chicken. Hmmmm, perhaps a blackboard menu would work better. I actually felt sorry for the chicken I ate, as I was pretty sure even though it was free range it hadn’t eaten much in its life.
I passed the evening watching the storms last down the street. Torrential rain and sideways trees, it was a lovely respite from the heat. The next day an early departure to Mali. The border post was amusing as they had never seen a NZ passport, and had only had 30 or so tourists cross the border this year! Goodbye Burkina Faso and thanks for the visa!

Ouahigouya, Burkina Faso, May 16, 2017