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Where they went

Strange days becoming no longer a stranger

Email|Print| Text size + By Diane Daniels
Globe Staff / June 18, 2006

WHO: Deborah Higgins, 61, of Quincy, and Lea Nation, 59, of Chattanooga, Tenn.

WHERE: West Africa

WHEN: Three weeks in February

WHY: ``My friend Lea had been in the Peace Corps in 2002, in Zimbabwe and Morocco. She'd traveled, but not in West Africa and she wanted to go there," Higgins said. ``When she proposed this to me, I said, `Not only is Africa not high on my list, it's not even on my list.' I was timid about the health issues, and it seemed dangerous to me somehow." Still, Higgins decided to seize the opportunity.

BACK TO BASICS: ``I travel independently, but this was really down and dirty. Lea knew how to travel this way. Now, having done it, I feel I can go anywhere." They stood out everywhere they went, she said, because ``not only were we white, but we were older. But the people could not have been more hospitable and open." Higgins speaks fluent French, one of the languages of the countries they visited.

ELEPHANT ALLURE: The women started in Ghana and headed north toward Mali. To get to Mole National Park in Ghana, ``we took a taxi there on 60 kilometers of paved road and then 60 kilometers of a washboard-surface dirt road. We were caked in orange dirt by the end. I was thrilled to see the elephants."

FOUR-WHEELED WONDERS: It took them a few days to make their way through Burkina Faso, traveling in all kinds of vehicles. ``Sometimes we were in rickety buses, or sometimes minivans, full of people with stuff on the roof. We also used bush taxis, a seven-passenger Peugeot that they put 14 people in. They don't have a schedule; they just go when it's full. We spent one day waiting five hours. While we waited, there was a wind called harmattan , which is full of sand." On one bus ride she was ``half on the bucket seat and half on a gas can. On another ride there was a chicken flapping around my feet."

VILLAGE TOUR: In Mali, they hired a guide in Dogon Country to visit the cliff dwellings unique to the area. They stayed in village huts made of mud reserved for tourists, and chose to sleep on the roof. They walked between villages to tour the cliffs where the Dogon, an African people, used to stay for protection. ``My images from there are of these women with these huge loads of things on their head and the baby wrapped on their back. In Mopti on the Niger River , ``there were boats, long and narrow, some with sails made out of sacks sewn together."

NEW WORLD: Now, Higgins said, ``I love Africa. I'm really riveted to it and I have this wonderful mental image of the countries. I'm dying to go back."

GO SEE WHERE THEY ALL WENTVisit boston.com/wheretheywent for other readers' photos. Send suggestions within two weeks of your return to diane@dianedaniel.com.

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