It's mid-morning, the sun is high already and the heat is tightening. I am happy because I am about to cross into a country that I have been waiting for so long to arrive: Burkina Faso. It is one of those countries (as were Kyrgyzstan, Gabon and others in the past) to which, with total honesty, I always wanted to go mostly because of the very curiosity that the name generated in me. I had to be in a country called this way. What's more, and way more relevant, was the fact that Burkina Faso marked the perfect entry point for me to explore the Sahel in search of the Fulani, the ancestral ethnic group that inhabits this inhospitable region of the world since the dawn of time.
Being Togo, a country so small, sparsely populated and little known, the amount of traffic on this border catches my attention, but I am unconcerned and full of enthusiasm, pedalling between long lines of stopped trucks and people everywhere. However, I'm a little restless to be honest because I don't have a visa. Although I arrive with reliable information that Burkina Faso began issuing visas at its borders recently, I have been in Africa long enough to know that everything can happen and indeed, it could.
When I arrive at the precarious immigration post I find three great surprises. A good one, a bad one and a ball-breaking one. The good one is that after extending my passport to the immigration officer and telling him that I need a visa, he diligently answers me that there is no problem. As soon as I hear this, a sense of alleviation takes hold of me, so I fill out the form in relief until the moment he interrupts me to say:
- “bien Monsieur, It's 94,000 CFA (~ 160 USD !!!!!)"
The surprise overwhelms me in such a way that I open my eyes so much that I feel my eyeballs will fall off my face.
-SAY WHAAAAT??? 94,000 CFA ???? - I answered trying not to scream - but as far as know this visa costs 15,000 CFA! (~ 25 USD) - I exclaim.
- Oui Monsieur but that is in the consulates, not at the border - And he proceeds to show me the official price list.
Indeed, the visa costs that. It's official. I ponder my options but I don't have much choice really. To begin with, I left Togo already and my Togolese visa valid for one entry expired right after my passport was stamped. If I decided to go back, I would have to pay for a new 40 USD visa. On the other hand, the nearest Burkinese embassy is in Lomé, the capital, which lies 500 km to the south. That would mean that I would have to go back with the bike in a bus, traveling a whole day one way, staying in Lomé, starting the process, paying, waiting for the visa to be issued, returning to the border in another bus and a spend a whole other day. And since I’m in Africa, that’s without even taking into account all the events that I can’t predict. Even though doing all that would still turn out to be cheaper than 160 USD, I do not feel like spending a whole week or more for such an endeavour. So I decide to bite the bullet and with all the pain in the world fork out 94,000 CFA one by one, which is the amount of money with which I believe I can buy 10 houses in that border town of Burkina Faso.
Once I pay I try not to think about it anymore. If only the story ended there, but no. The officer had more news in store saved for me. While I am still trying to digest the cost of this visa with the feeling having chewed glass, he returns my passport and adds:
-Very good, here it is Monsieur. Now you have 7 days to present yourself at the immigration office in Ouagadougou to obtain the final visa - He tells me calmly s
- Whaaat ????? 7 days? But I plan to go in the direction of Niger / Mali and reach Ouagadougou in 25 days !!! - I tell him again trying to keep my eyes from falling off my face.
-Aww no Monsieur, this is a temporary visa stamp valid for only 7 days. Your final visa, valid for 90 days is issued in Ouagadougou. There's no other way.
I take a deep deep breath. Now, while chewing glass I feel that I need a shot of ammonia to pass it through my windpipe. I will have to reconfigure my entire well-thought out in advance plan. Honestly, I don't even know why I am so surprised, given that African bureaucracy seems to be a hallucinogenic trip at times. As if that wasn’t enough, this is also an expensive one.
By the time I leave the border, trying with all my effort to digest the blend of glass and I have just swalloed, I find myself standing at a crossroads of orange dirt streets in the bustling centre of the semi-desert town of Sangha. In front of me, the traffic consists of donkey-pulled cars, prehistoric bicycles, some noisy motorcycles and people of many different ethnicities coming and going. Walking with the bicycle under the hot midday sun, I look for a place with an electric generator to see if I can get a cold drink. As I walk, I stumble upon a cardboard box that says: TERMIDOR !!! (the most popular, low-cost Argentine wine, consumed mostly by working class people). Termidor? ... I think about it, I process it ... TERMIDOOOR ??? It can't be! Now I'm really hallucinating. I can't be seeing a cardboard of Termidor in Burkina Faso, if this is not globalization, then what is it.
This is my entry to the country I had dreamed of: Burkina Faso, or “Bureaucracy Folly”. I guess those are the big surprises that bring those things that intrigue us the most, and that is what makes them so unique and special. These things do not happen on the border between Switzerland and Austria or between Norway and Sweden, where everything is predictable and coldly precalculated. That is why much of the magic of adventure is precisely in the very impossibility of predicting events and moving forward spontaneously as things happen one after another. Although sometimes they are frustrating events, they bring to our life both physical and psychological challenges that are necessary to grow. That is why I decide to finish digesting my glasses with ammonia and enjoy, because after all, all this is part of a great adventure that I am choosing for myself.