‘Once in a lifetime’ moments in Burkina Faso

I never thought I would ever get to sleep on a military bed under the stars in the middle of rural Africa. I never dreamt of being invited to attend a film festival in the presidential tribute no less. I didn’t expect to get cold in 25+°C temperatures. I didn’t think I’d ever have a discussion about how many animals would be a suitable offering from any suitor wanting to marry me. Or that I would have to explain in great details that living in a developed country didn’t automatically make me rich.

And yet…

'Once in a lifetime' moments in Burkina Faso ● #travellinkup

In the winter of 2007, I took the plane for the very first time together with a team of students from my high school. We were on our way to the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou, and from there to a rural area an hour’s drive away, where we would stay for two weeks on a rural development mission.

Unlike what many would expect from a ‘once in a lifetime’ story, it wasn’t a glamourous experience. It was boiling hot (45+°C when the sun was at its highest), there was no running water, no electricty, no phone connection.

Every task was more complicated than it should have been.

No running water means we had to arrange from water from the nearby lake to be delivered every two days, and then treat it with many filters and chemicals to ensure it was drinkable. For two weeks, water tasted like bleach. There were also no showers, and the toilets were of the dry (and smelly, because 45°C temperatures tend to have that effect on things) kind (and home to a family of scorpio).

No electricty meant waking up early to make the most of daylight as there was only very limited lighting after sunset (our generator would only provide for about 4h of it). We cooked over an open fire and had to get groceries every day since we had no ways to stock them. We all got sick from the heat, dehydration, poor sanitation or a combination of all of the above.

'Once in a lifetime' moments in Burkina Faso ● #travellinkup
Yours truly, building (or rather, failing to build) a sun dehydrator…

Cultural gaps made for many a fascinating discussion.

We fought with the local welders, who wouldn’t explain why there were getting so behind on fulfilling orders. We later found out it was because if they had made enough money to sustain themselves for the week by say Thursday, they would simply stop working until the next week.

We talked with local students, who asked us how it was to live in France and ‘be rich’. Followed a 3 hour passionate debate on why we weren’t actually rich and how standards and costs of living somewhere affects disposable income.

A few of us were proposed to against various amounts of chickens, goats and even cows. The prospective husbands fully expected us to be thrilled. And to be able to pay for a plane ticket to France and a few electronic gadgets for them.

'Once in a lifetime' moments in Burkina Faso ● #travellinkup

We sang and drew with school kids. We helped our guard to carry a used mattress he was very excited about having bought (and pretended not to hear him and his lady friends making good use of it the following nights). We lost every football game we played again the village’s teenagers.

We ate strawberries in February and the sweetest mango I’ve ever had. We slept outdoors, staring at the upside-down moon and counting the stars late into the night.

We took bet on how many of us it’d take to go around the village’s biggest baobab (12!!).

We fought over who’d get the limited strawberry flavour Fanta at the local bar. It was horrific and nobody liked it but still, every day, we fought for it.

My bag almost got stollen but my then-boyfriend jumped off our running car and catch up with the thief. My parents’ camera, who was never meant to have to face 40+°C temperatures, died after a week.

We were invited to the African Film Festival opening ceremony, where we fully humilited ourselves by wearing terrible clothes amongst the crème-de-la-crème of the continent cultural icons.

We came back from our African adventures tired but wiser, covered in orange dust but with new perspectives on life and the world. And with a brand new appreciation for the little every day thing we wouldn’t even have noticed otherwise (oh, the life-changing magic of a light switch after 2 wekks without electricity!).

Coming back was hard, finding the words to explain what it was like was even harder. 11 years after, I still struggle with it.

It was surreal and a true, once in a lifetime experience. It wasn’t one bit glamourous, and I hardly have any photo of it, but it was the sort of things money can’t buy, which makes it even more precious.

This blog post has been written as part of this month’s #travellinkup, which theme was ‘once in a lifetime travel experiences’. If you’re a travel-addict, make sure you join the monthly #travellinkup, hosted by Adventures of a London KiwiSilverSpoon London and Follow Your Sunshine. Every month, there’s a new fun travel brief to share stories of your adventures!

More #travellinkup travel stories

How to find the perfect travel companion

10 things I learnt from traveling

Highlights from our first US trip

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‘Once in a lifetime’ moments in Burkina Faso

A taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris

If by day, Paris is the city of love, by night, it’s really quite the spot to party!

Of course, there are plenty of clubs in town, but what Paris truly excels at is the understated, intimate sort of party.

Rooftops & champagne bars, teeny-tiny wine bars, and everything in between, it has nothing in common with London’s sweaty clubs and their ‘are-you-kidding-me’ priced drinks.

A Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + Whisky

And the place to be to party the Parisian-way?

The holly hipster area between République and the Canal Saint Martin!

A Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + Whisky

At daytime, it’s home to loads of small clothes & home boutiques, with loads of street art and a handful of nice coffee shops and cafés…

But at night, it’s all about the underground, speakeasy-like bars!

A Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + Whisky

Hidden behind a door that looks just like any other one, at the back of an absolutely ordinary courtyard, is my favourite of them all: Comptoir Général.

If it wasn’t for the bodyguards (and the constant flow of people), you’d never know it was there…

A Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + Whisky

The rather grand entrance sets the tone in terms of decor.

Think colonial palace meets dirty-around-the-edge brothel, with a hint of flea market added in for good measure.

A Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + Whisky

It even gets quite random at times, with a full-sized tiki bar…

A Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + Whisky

… and a full size pirate boat to match!

A Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + Whisky

Which is all rather weird if you think about it, but Comptoir Général is really all about discovering & exploring obscure, marginal & under-estimated cultures from around the world.

And the thing is, the atmosphere you get from those seemingly juxtaposed bits is simply fantastic.

A Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + Whisky

Authentic and relax, fun, very, very bo-bo (bourgeois-bohème, Paris’ answer to our hipster culture!) and a little bit dirty around the edges…

A Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + WhiskyA Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + Whisky

Trendy Parisians come in group, with their friends, their parents and even their dogs for a couple of cocktails, a bite to eat and the garantee of a great time.

A Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + Whisky

There’s a small but to-the-point cocktail list, with brilliant African-inspired drinks full of tropical flavours.

A Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + Whisky

The Draquecito: rum, lime, cane sugar & mint

A Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + Whisky

Basically a pimped-up mojito, and just as refreshing as you’d expect!

A Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + Whisky

Punch Bimbo, a citrus-y take on the Caribbean classic.

A Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + Whisky

And a few too many glasses of the obligatory Planteur.

In hintsight, a few less of those would have been wiser, but the combination of rum, orange, pineapple, guava and mango was just too good to resist!

A Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + Whisky

Starving and a little bit tipsy, we made our way to the next room in search of some nibbles to match.

A Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + WhiskyA Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + WhiskyA Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + WhiskyA Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + Whisky

With that same flea-market-y feel that runs through the whole thing, super friendly staff & a short-and-sweet sort of menu, Comptoir Général’s restaurant is basically a piece of central Africa in the heart of Paris.

With food to match!

A Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + Whisky

We started off with a double order of a Salt Cod puffs with ‘Chien‘ dipping sauce.

A Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + Whisky

Delightfully light and subtle fish doughnuts, and not one dog in sight in the sauce!

Despite it’s name, the traditional dipping sauce from Martinique is actually made of herbs, garlic, chilli, lemon & oil.

Sour, fresh and rather pungent, its the perfect accompaniment to cut through the richness of the salt cod puffs!

A Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + WhiskyA Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + Whisky

Corn hush puppies with fiery Chipotle mayo

A Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + Whisky

Followed by the Special of the day, an Indian-inspired burger.

A vibrant and tasty hommage to the flavours of India, that are becoming more and more popular in Africa.

A Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + Whisky

And an excellent Chicken Maffé (a traditional peanut-based stew from Sénégal), which took me back to a trip to Africa I did many years ago.

Down to Earth, homely food that tastes just like what an Africa Mamma would cook, good cocktails, some cracking music and a winning experience everytime, Comptoir Général is the perfect place to get a taste of Africa in the heart of Paris!

Go with friends, book a table and stay ’til late… It’s always a fun place to be!

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A Taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris | Cake + Whisky

A taste of Africa at Comptoir Général, Paris