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W, Arly, and Pendjari National Parks
Burkina Faso, Niger, Bénin

Tapoa Association of Ecoguides and Ecosystem Protection (AEGT/PE)
BIALA, the tourism association of Tapoa Province
 
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What to take

Clothing

Although on a brisk January morning when the temperature falls to 70 F (25 C) the locals will don their ski jackets, you will find it hot. December and January may be in the 80s F (30 C); March through May are much hotter as the sun is overhead. During the park season (December through May) it is also very dry, with a north wind coming off the Sahara. It's hot, it's dry, it's dusty. The Weather Channel says so; Le Monde says so. And you will not be doing laundry, other than perhaps your underthings.

Cover your knees. Burkina Faso has a mix of religions. About 60% are Muslim; anywhere from 10% to 35% (depending who you ask) are Christian; close to 100% are animist. Although bare arms and shoulders are fine, to avoid offending anyone you should not expose your knees. (This is true for both men and women.) So usually women will want cropped pants or capris, or a skirt that covers the knees. That said, there are places where shorts are fine -- climbing around the rocks at the Chutes de Koudou, for instance -- and bathing suits are of course accepted at the pools and swimming holes. (Although the locals will generally cover their knees, exposed breasts are not uncommon, so don't be shocked.)

Certain colors are not recommended for wildlife watching, especially yellow. Blue and green are fine, as is tan, which shows dust the least. If you wear white, it will be orange after five minutes.

Locals wear traditional clothing on special occasions. But most men will be in pants and a shirt, either locally made or passed on from a Western thrift shop. Women wear colorful cotton cloth, often just wrapped to create a dress or skirt, often cut and sewn. The cloth is sold in lengths of about 2 yards (2m) called pagne (pronounced pahn-yuh), which makes an easy-to-pack souvenir. If you dare, you can wrap your own skirt. If you spend time in a village, the local tailor can sew one up for you. He can also turn out a nice button-front pagne sport shirt for the men.

Women also wear a scarf tied around their heads (sometimes a Muslim headscarf), and men often wear a tight-fitting cap. You will want a hat or scarf, both to keep the sun off and to keep your sweaty hair from turning into orange mud.

Joggers, slip-on canvas or other breathable shoes, and sandals are all appropriate.

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Other things to take

Sunscreen, and lip balm with sunscreen.

Binoculars. Elephants are large enough to see, but birds aren't. You don't need fancy ones; an inexpensive pair of 7x35 or even lightweight 8x25 is fine. Learn to use them before your trip. (It is recommended that you keep your eyes on what you're watching and raise the binoculars to your eyes without taking your eyes off the target.) Keep your lens caps on in the car to protect against dust.

Camera. If it's digital you don't have to worry about what the heat and dust are doing to your film. A good zoom will help. Many of the animals you see will be at some distance, since they don't like cars. They'll cross the road right in front of you, too fast for a picture, and then stand and watch you from 50 or 100 meters away. For photographing at a watering hole or mirador, you may want a tripod. Take plenty of extra batteries. You may not always be able to recharge overnight, and unless your camera uses AA batteries you probably won't be able to buy replacements. Remember, the batteries always die just when the rarest animals show up.

Cadeaux. Wherever you go outside the parks you will encounter children with outstretched hands. The words you will hear are "white person" in the local language (and it's not pejorative), "cadeau" (gift), and "Bic". Most children don't learn French till they go to school, so "cadeau" and "merci" may be all they know. One of our most touching experiences was giving a used 2-liter bottle to a little girl at the ranger station in Arly, and seeing her cuddle and coo to it as her prized new baby doll. Her delight was worth more than any "merci".

Sunglasses. And spares. They will get covered with dust, and if you wipe them they will probably get scratched. But apart from the sun, they keep the dust out of your eyes.

Flashlight, and plenty of batteries. This close to the equator the sun sets within an hour of 6 p.m., so evenings are long. AA batteries are commonly available, but not other sizes. Or go solar. The PiSat Solar K-Light is a nifty solar-charged LED lantern/flashlight a little bigger than a soda can. When you go back home, your guide would probably love it.

Some sort of day bag or other way to carry water when you're out walking.

Airline security rules will affect your packing, but you can plan for that. You can not plan for the capricious African security checkers. For instance, although the TSA lets Americans carry nail clippers, some (not all) Burkinabe security people will confiscate them. Consider what you might do as well to leave behind in Africa when you return home, because your guide might regard your old binoculars, flashlight, or even nail clippers as a fine gift.

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