A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about sights

Gold Digging in the Wild West

What to do when a country – in this case, Burkina Faso – lacks obvious attractions to visit? Gold mining? Sure!

sunny 35 °C
View West Africa on askgudmundsen's travel map.

Sissoko (middle)

Sissoko (middle)

West Africa could be described as ‘the Wild West’. Mostly known for civil wars, blood diamonds and Ebola; it’s not far from Indian wars, gold rush and dysentery. But I’m old school, so I went hunting for gold rather than diamonds.

Last time I was in Burkina I made some good friends in the north of the country. Not far from the border with Mali. One of those had told me that there are some pretty impressive gold mines a few hours north-west of the capital Ouagadougou. So why not visit a goldmine. I’ve certainly not done that before, and I was pretty sure my travel mate Bo hasn’t done either. My Burkinaian friend, Sissoko, even came down to show us around the mining area.

Legoland

Legoland

To be honest, I didn’t expect much. We knew it was so-called open-earth mining, meaning that the mining was done by hand and straight from the ground. Jokingly, I suggested that it would be a little like visiting Legoland’s western town, where kids can wash fake gold out of mud to get a shiny medallion. At most I expected a few fortune seekers were digging through the dirt. Was I in for a surprise!

Driver and red(?) car

Driver and red(?) car

Having arrived in the rather unimportant truck stop town of Yako, Bo and I met up with Sissoko, who had been hanging out with a friend of his, waiting for us. Once there, Sissoko was a champ and asked us to wait in the shade for a couple of minutes while he would organise a ride out to the mine. It wasn’t more than six or seven kilometres away, but he insisted that jumping on three taxi-motos would be too bumpy and too dirty. A little while later he came back with the only real taxi in town – a former red car, so old that all the paint had peeled off and it was now simply a white/rusty car.

The driver was the father of Sissoko’s friend, and both him and Sissoko insisted that he would drive us for free. That wouldn’t do for us, so we paid the gas for the ride (about 4€’s worth) secretly. Sissoko would later pay our driver another 4€ for the gas, in that way the driver did get a little for his troubles. We also bought both of them lunch at the finest restaurant in town after the visit to the mine, which isn’t saying much. We tried our best, but between the four of us, we still weren't able to eat and drink for more than 15€…

Women tracing ore

Women tracing ore

Driving along the dirt roads, we quickly arrived at the village that’s the centre of operation for the gold mining. As we drove into town, we spotted a few makeshift dredges. We thought we’d arrived and were impatient to get out and chat with the guys showering dirt. But we kept driving. Straight through the village. Only to do a short stop where our driver shouted our arrival to the village chief – and more importantly that our purpose there weren’t to steal people’s gold.

Gold mining

Gold mining

We soon found out why we didn’t stop in town. Just outside it, behind a ridge of red earth, lay the real mining site. And what a shock. It wasn’t just one mine. It was dozens. Hundreds of young men, working in shacks, around handfuls and handfuls of mine shafts, dug straight out of the flat ground. All of it – including the young men – were covered in a fine layer of white sand, which must have been dug up from under the red top soil.

Shaft

Shaft

We all headed for the nearest shaft. The guys working there were openly surprised to see white people, let alone tourists. But they also took pride in the work. In the hardship of it. And in the danger. This particular shaft was 70 metres deep. Less than half the depth of the deepest shaft we came by. They offered us to be lowered down to see it from the inside. But standing on a small plank of wood strapped to a rope, with 70 metres of darkness below, was a little more excitement than both Bo and I was looking for. It goes without saying that we hadn't gotten many kilometres out of town before I regretted not risking my life to get a closer look at those mines!

Teenager pulling up ore

Teenager pulling up ore

The work itself is back breaking. Once a day’s shift has been lowered down, they stay in the mine for 24 hours. Always digging, hacking and washing out the potential ore. Others haul the ore up – 50 kilos at a time. This then gets washed, wild west style. Larger rocks and stones get crushed into powder, which is then also washed. Everything, every gramme of dirt, is carefully examined for specs of gold and gold dust.

Only two steps in the process are electric driven. The machines crushing the rocks, and the pumps pumping water down into the mines for the workers to wash out the ore. It’s all dangerous work, and people die every month here. And it’s not only dangerous due to the risk of the mines collapsing. Shacks must count at last ten strong men; otherwise, they’ll risk getting jumped by other groups of miners, who are after the ore they have dug up.

The open mine

The open mine

It was an unbelievable sight. Like stepping back in time. To the American, rather than the African, west. Having talked with a few of the crews and gotten our photos, we headed back to the car. Away from the burning Sahel sun that made conditions horrific. We wanted to sit down and have a drink, but Sissoko – himself a retired miner – warned us. Every single drink available at the mines are spiked with drugs, natural or chemical, that energises the workers. So better wait until we’re back in Yako.

Kid washing for gold

Kid washing for gold

On the way back to the car we came past a couple of kids – around nine years old, I would think – who were busy washing gold out of the mud. Child labour if I any saw it. But not particularly more horrible than the kids working in the fields, markets or harbours all over the continent. But it still, somehow, struck a nerve.

One thing is certain. What Africa lacks in ordinary tourist sights, it more than makes up for in shocking, fascinating and crazy experiences!

If you’ve liked what you’ve read, why not give a ‘like’ this blog on Facebook so you won't miss future stories?

Posted by askgudmundsen 17:32 Archived in Burkina Faso Tagged travel wild africa western sights gold mining mine travelling west_africa burkina child_labour Comments (0)

I’m Taking a Vacation

Starting 2017 with something very travel-related. A vacation.

sunny 32 °C
View West Africa on askgudmundsen's travel map.

Really & Serious

Really & Serious

2017 began with celebrating New Year’s Eve on a Ghanaian beach called Kokrobité. In other words: I soaked in alcohol for three days. Most notable from those three days, a couple of Canadian girls, that I’m simply going to call Really and Serious to hide their real identities, thought me to drink something new. Something called Triple Gin & Lime. And it’s pretty simple. Take three shots of gin and one shot of Rose’s Lime – you know, that yellow sticky stuff that is usually used to give cocktails a lemony taste. Then pretend really, really hard that is a proper drink and not just three shots of gin with yellow poured on top.

It tastes horrible. At first. After two or three of these death traps you begin to think that it’s actually a proper cocktail. This is a warning sign because it only makes you drink it faster. Which will, of course, only result in you getting shitfaced even more quickly. Go ahead. Pretend that three gin shots with some yellow sugar is a drink and see how fast your night is going to end. On the 31st Really, Serious and I started this show pretty early in the morning, and I’m real proud to say that I do remember the midnight fireworks. I don’t remember much after that, though.

Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing

Thus, I think that is it fair to take a short vacation from the hard traveller’s life. So, I left Really and Serious to soak in more Triple Gin & Lime and left for a fancy hotel in Accra. It’s not my first “vacation” on this trip. I spent about two weeks in both Freetown and Bamako lying around, doing nothing as a break from travelling. This time is different, though. In Freetown and Bamako, I was still on my shitty traveller’s budget, still couchsurfing and sleeping in a dorm. It was still budget travelling, just without the moving anywhere.

Fancy Hotel

Fancy Hotel

This time I’m doing it properly. Primarily because I’m getting a visit from my parents and my sister for two weeks. I’ve apparently been away for too long, and when I’m not going home to visit them, they have to come down and visit me. Which is, to be honest, very sweet of them. This means a massive upgrade of my living standards. Which is also why I was heading to “a fancy hotel” in Accra. Fancy hotels instead of dorms and bordellos. Air-conditioned restaurants instead of street food. And a rented car to get around in instead of the overcrowded buses.

Rental

Rental

Instead of taking a break from travelling by not moving while staying on my small budget, this time I would keep moving, but upgrade the travel budget massively thanks to the family visit. Something most people would actually be able to recognise as a vacation. Together we would explore Denmark’s colonial and slave-trading history on the former Gold Coast, cruise on the biggest human-made lake in Africa, visit West Africa’s largest market, see colonial forts and castles and, walk through the tree tops in canopy walkways.

Cruising

Cruising

My family’s visit had been arranged quite some months ago, and Ghana is certainly the ideal location. It’s the most developed country in West Africa, probably has the most prominent tourist attraction, and is Anglophone. Not surprisingly Ghana is often described as “Africa for Beginners”.

It’s also a quite strange feeling. Going from trashy, backpacker type to upper-middle-class vacationer. Though the word “backpacker” doesn’t really work here in West Africa outside Ghana. All that sitting around hostels, drinking with other western backpacker’s, which is, essentially, a huge part of backpacking – whether backpackers want to admit it or not – isn’t available here in West Africa.

Russian Train

Russian Train

I’m not going to lie. Staying at hotels that cost four daily budgets a night feels pretty damn good. But it’s nothing compared to being able to eat proper food! The travelling life had become somewhat routine after ten months, and this luxury break can hopefully do something to reset the excitement of travelling. Because that is essentially where the magic happens. I was rereading one of my first blog entries from my adventures in Central Asia the other day. My first experience on a Russian train. The sheer excitement and curiosity I expressed in that blog, is far from the feelings I have about West Africa after ten months of travelling here. I need to return to that!

West Africa, sigh

West Africa, sigh

But the time for this early and innocent excitement is probably over for me on this trip. Simply because I have learned how most things work here in West Africa. All the wonder and some of the excitement is gone. It’s pretty naturally. Travelling for a year in the same region, where the countries are relatively alike, means a certain getting used to everything. That is not to say that the travelling has gotten boring – not at all – but it isn’t new anymore.

Changing everything up, with two weeks of luxury, is new. And with a little luck, going back to the shoestring travel will afterwards hopefully be like coming home to an old friend once again.

If you’ve liked what you’ve read, why not give a ‘like’ this blog on Facebook so you won't miss future stories?

Posted by askgudmundsen 12:47 Archived in Ghana Tagged travel vacation sights ghana travelling west_africa Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 2 of 2) Page [1]