23-Oct-2006 -- Although Matt and I are seasoned travelers in West Africa, we were novice confluence-seekers. Taking advantage of a two-week business trip to Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, we set our sights on not one but two Confluences: 12N 1W and 12N 2W.
My good French friend Richard loaned us his 4X4 Toyota and driver, and we set out for 12N 1W. I knew from our Landsat satellite images that it fell squarely within a forest reserve, the Forêt Classée de la Nakambé, and that driving to the actual Confluence might be a challenge. I also knew that most forest preserves in the West African Sahel are often degraded, open shrub and tree savannas. We hoped to get close enough to hike through the bush on foot. This was not to be. We found a serviceable track into the "forest", but it petered out 20 km from the Confluence. We were unprepared for the 40 km roundtrip hike in 100°F heat. Alas, we had to turn back to Ouagadougou without the prize. We do plan to make a second attempt to reach 12N 1W in the near future.
Undeterred by our first attempt, a few days later we headed for the second target at 12N 2W. We took the highway towards Bobo Dioulasso, then headed south on a dirt road past Bourou. 12N 2W lies within a transition zone between the Sahelian and Sudanian ecological regions. In the early 1900s, an extensive wooded savanna draped the land, interrupted by dense gallery forests and a few widely scattered villages. Today it is an agricultural region, but it still preserves vestiges of its former natural glory – magnificent baobab and locust bean trees, lily-covered wetlands, and shoulder-high elephant grass.
We pushed ahead along narrow cart trails among towering stalks of sorghum. At 2.5 km from the Confluence, the track disappeared into a stream. We dared not cross the stream by car. While turning around, the driver got us hopelessly stuck in mud. Spinning wheels and engine noise attracted the attention of local farmers. We knew that with their help the driver would be able to extricate the vehicle from the mud, so Matt and I headed to the Confluence on foot. Despite the late rainy season humidity and heat, it was a beautiful hike. Twice we forded streams, and then made our way through the swaying elephant grass, stopping occasionally in the shade of a mango tree. Grey hornbills flew from tree to tree.
I had fears that the degree intersection would fall in the midst of a sorghum field with 6-foot visibility, but to our relief, the Confluence was fairly open. We got our zeros, took our pictures, and celebrated the prize with lunch under a magnificent shea nut tree (Vitellaria paradoxa). We then enjoyed the hike back to the muddy ruts where the car had been. We were pleased to find the car and driver not far away in the shade of a mango orchard. We had bagged our first Confluence – one of many we hope. A special thanks goes to Bruce back in South Dakota for turning us onto the Degree Confluence Project.