Most people who would drive from Europe to Ghana, or Togo or Nigeria or anywhere in this area, would drive through Senegal. That would be the safest route. Well, from that point where most people would turn right, we turned left. Our car was bit too old to drive through the Senegal. Senegal has special tax for the cars entering with release date more than 10 years ago.
Our car was 11. So while over-landing West Africa we took the uncommon and as we later found out dangerous route. We decided to drive to Ghana through Mali and Burkina Faso instead of Senegal and Cote D´Ivoire. The route is considered dangerous cos lot of kidnappings of travelers have been taken place on the road from Nouakchott to the border of Mali. Luckily we heard about those kidnappings and all the warnings “not to use that road” once we had already safely arrived to Ghana.
Our bit uncommon route had its advantages. Taking the “beach road” would have leaded us through many small countries. And we would have needed visas for all of them. But the Mali and Burkina Faso route meant less countries on the way, less borders to cross and less visas to apply.
Visas for Morocco and Mauritania we made on border. Now if to think back of it – I would not recommend making visas on border (expect for Morocco) cos imagine if you wont get it on border (we almost did not get the Mauritanian one) you would not like to start driving back to capital? From Mauritanian border to Rabat, Capital of Morocco would take like 3 days of driving. We meat one couple in border who was sent back to capital to make visa. Therefore once we were in Mauritania, we decided to make all visas in Embassies. That meant visa for Mali we made in Nouakchott (Capital of Mauritania) and visas for Burkina Faso and Ghana we made in Bamako (the capital of Mali). Which was great, cos apart from deserts we got to see the cities.
I loved Bamako – the capital of Mali. Yes, the city center or the developed area was very small by area, but therefore looked even better and more modern. It was like very concentrated. OK the area were all the embassies was had mostly dirt roads and not much pavement. But there were some nice modern office buildings and very beautiful hotels around. We used to sit in one of those hotels enjoining the WIFI while waiting for our visas to get ready. Although a Francophone country, we meat lot of people in Bamako who could speak English. I guess this was so cos Bamako is popular starting point for Mali Safaris. So tourists there were not so uncommon as they were in Nouakchott where we really struggled with communications cos we did not speak any Arabic nor French.
The desert in Mali, closer to the Mauritania side is amazing – imagine red sand tunes?! Yes red, cos surface in Mali has lot of clay and this makes the sand red. Closer to the Bamako and the area from Bamako towards Burkina Faso does not have sand tunes anymore. This is more grassy Savannah area. Different and beautiful Savannah – although. I loved the real desert more. In desert of Mali we meat also a wild life, but that meeting was not so pleasant as the meeting with camel or cute goats in Mauritania. While wrapping the tent together one morning a brown scorpion ran out. My first reaction was to scream and drop the tent on top of the scorpion. Yes, it was not very smart move, cos i made finding the insect more difficult, while we had no interest in taking the scorpion with us. The kids from village near by came to help us. They found the scorpion and killed it. I would have preferred if they just would have taken him bit more far away, but I guess they had their own reasons not to love scorpions so they chose to kill it. The funny thing with villages in desert was that no matter how empty place we set up our tent at night, in the morning we still woke up by the village.
This time we did not get to explore Burkina Faso. We drove it through with less than a day. Anyway – no sign of desert there. Instead of lonely desert there was plantation full jungle. Therefore I was happy we passed Burkina Faso so fast. Jungle was not really a place where I wanted to sleep in tent. Especially after the Scorpion incident in Mali. But if you are into African handcrafts and jewelry (big, heavy, metal kind of jewelry) you should make time in Burkina Faso and shop in Ouagadougou Craft Market. Its one of the best craft markets in West Africa. For instance the kind of jewelry you get there, you would not from any of the Ghana Craft Markets – which are also great! Ouagadougou – such a funny name, but that´s a capital of Burkina Faso.