Saturday, July 24, 2010

Trip to Koudougou - Part 4

After siesta, Aristide suggested we visit the caimans of Sabou. Caimans are a species of semi-aquatic reptiles that are similar to alligators. So we all piled into the minibus and bounced and chattered our way over 25 kilometres of potholes and washboards to this well-known tourist destination on the Ouaga-Bobo road. We’d often heard of the place since living here in Burkina, but had never had the occasion to go there.

It was interesting to watch and listen to Aristide and the other men negotiate our entrance fee. The posted prices were something like 1,000 francs for Burkinab√® (about $2) and 1,500 francs for foreigners (like Kathy & I). After much negotiation, they got it down to 750 francs each, with the children getting in for free. Had Kathy and I come by ourselves, we’d have just ended up paying the 1,500 francs each, even if we had tried to negotiate something lower! Maybe I need to become a more determined negotiator! In any case, the total came to 5250 francs, so I pulled out a 5,000 franc bill, handed it to the guy, and told him to keep the change :)

We hadn’t stepped out the minibus for 30 seconds before several young men appeared out of nowhere and attached themselves to our group like parasites. They began asking us where we were from and if we didn’t want to come to their displays of handicrafts to buy something. Well, we were here to see the caimans, not to listen to sales pitches, so we just ignored them. However, at one point, I noticed that most of these guys were handicapped in some way, hobbling along or using crutches and even wheelchairs to get around. The thought crossed my mind that maybe the caimans here were more dangerous than we imagined! Were these guys that had gotten too close to the reptiles?!!!

Fortunately, it turned out to be nothing that dramatic. A local handicapped association had provided a place nearby for handicapped people to produce and sell handicrafts as a way to earn a living.

Once down at the lakeshore, a couple of guides waded into the water and threw out a young chicken on the end of a rope. The squawking and struggling fowl soon brought a caiman to the surface (they said that there are over 100 of them in the lake!) who was intent of making a meal of the bird. Once he had the chicken firmly in his mouth, however, one of the guides prevented him from swallowing it by keeping the rope taut while the other pulled him up on land by his tail. At this point, they invited the visitors to come and touch the reptile or crouch by it and have their picture taken. I suspect that the reason this was possible was because the caiman already had something in its mouth to occupy its attention. Supposedly this would prevent it from trying to grab hold of another tasty morsel, such as a visitor’s arm or leg! Nevertheless, the guides cautioned visitors to approach from the rear and to stay away from the animal’s front end.

At first the kids were frightened and didn’t want to go near the reptile. However, in time, they grew bold enough to stand by it with their parents and friends to have their pictures taken.

At one point, another guide lured another caiman up on land with a flapping chicken on a rope. Attempting to snatch the bird, the reptile missed and its jaws made a loud snapping sound as they came together. One of our company had his back turned to this event, intent on taking a picture of something else. When he heard the jaws snap behind him, however, he yelped, jumped in the air and came down running! Haha, we all had a good laugh over that one!

On our way back to the vehicles, we gave in to the insistent haranguing of the handicapped handicraft vendors and went to take a look at their stuff. Some of it was pretty good. Some of it wasn’t. In any case, we had not come prepared to buy.  Besides, their high pressure tactics, along with their horrendously inflated prices (2-3 times what we would pay in Ouaga), helped us realize that the caimans were obviously not the only predators in this area!

So we climbed back into the minibus and bounced and chattered the 25 kilometres back to the hotel.

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