Saturday, 4 August 2012

The Ivorian Pin

IVORY COAST (Thursday, July 12 - Wednesday, July 18 2012) 

Our pins: Daloa, Abidjan, Grand Bassam

Welcome to Ivory Coast
Gbapleu - Noe: 900 kilometers in a postwar country.. not fast, but for sure less interesting.. let's say a kind of transit flight..

Very early in Thursday morning, we departed from our lovely N'Zerekore having already met some wonderful people. In the Guinean borders, once again we slipped like eels by keeping saying the keyword (tourists). At the border of Côte d'Ivoire we did not face any significant problems. However, a cop did like my watch! Our passports were stamped by the officials and slowly headed to the mainland. The customs authorities were about ten kilometers ahead, where once again we had a professional stamp. No hint of bribe, no hassles, no troubles at all.

Nottice: Despite the fact that it is a daily routine for us, we need to describe in some way the border crossings. In most cases, it is in the middle of nowhere that means that you need to ask for directions every 3 km. Since you arrive, you tend to meet a bunch of people: gendarmerie, police, customs, money exchange people and locals. You can only recognize who is who by their uniforms. In some cases there are no flags. Sometimes, you need to explain the basics (name and surname, where is Greece, the fact that Greek and Hellenic is exactly the same thing etc). In all the cases –it is hilarious- they do not know what the Carnet is and how they should complete it. Because it is of crucial importance for the Carnet to be stamped correctly (so as to get the 3.000 euros guarantee back from ELPA), each time we explain them patiently what they should write and where exactly. 

UN everywhere!
It was in 2010 when the Second Civil War started in Ivory Coast while the political situation has started to be stabilized the last year. We believe that (basically we are sure) that Greek politicians are the worst ever. However, it seems that Ivorians politicians are kind of people who do care only for politics. And off course, not for their people. In the last elections in 2010 when the people voted twice, both candidates self announced themselves winners and presidents of the country in different ceremonies. It was then that the violence broke up and the Second Civil War started. What is more, the latest information by the embassy in Dakar and local police was to avoid all the western region that borders with unstable Liberia. We saw dozens of UN camps and many military vehicles in the main roads. For all these reasons, along with our travel partner, Ghislain, we decided to move as fast as possible within the country like we did in Guinea. Our only mission was to get the Ghanaian visa, in Abidjan.
3km to Daloa

Covering very easily our first 200 km in, we arrived in Daloa. In all our way, we faced some difficulties –not that much but still a problem– to find the cheapest and safest accommodation in the cases we cannot find a camping but hotels or guest houses. Usually, local people cannot understand that we just need a place to park the car and make moderate use of a toilet. In Daloa, we camped for free within a hotel where the owner just asked to have dinner in the hotel’s restaurant. He was quite surprised when we said that we do not even need a bathroom. Off course, he offered us a room but we cannot spend a night outside our super-spacious roof tent :Fifika". It is very funny for us to see every night Ghislain to inflate his tinny mattress and pillow and de inflate the next morning. Every time we make fun of him and every time he is so jealous of our tent. Though I am very jealous of his bike.

Basilica, Yamoussoukro
Welcome to Abidjan
Next day we headed east to the capital Yamoussoukro where we only visited Basilica of Our Lady of Peace. It is a great Catholic church, the biggest Cathedral in the world according to Guinness World Records that is basically based on the St. Peters Basilica, in Vatican City. What else to do in a capital without embassies. Despite the fact that Yamoussoukro is the political capital of Ivory Coast, Abidjan is the biggest city and the financial center of the country where a traveler can find all embassies and enjoy the seaside as well! With an unsuccessful attempt to apply for the Ghanaian visa late in Friday afternoon, we moved south to Grand Bassam. Once again, Ghislain who is always ahead of us so as to handle all the communications with locals, find it extremely difficult – even impossible – to understand West African people that strive to speak French. And even they do, their French suck. Even though Abidjan is a huge metropolis filled with skyscrapers, it is inhospitable for travelers who want some rest. For this reason, we all decided for the first time in our trip to find a nice hotel and spend our weekend till we could get the visas. What is more, we were – especially Ghislain – exhausted because of our race from Senegal to Ivory Coast without any sufficient stop for relax.

Cooking within the room!
Grand Bassam is a touristic place full of hotels and resorts only 40 km away from Abidjan. We found a spacious room in a great resort and spent our next 5 days like kings. We did our laundry, tried local food, uploaded all our stories and photos (quite reliable internet in the room!) and kept sleeping for a looot of hours. Grand Bassam was the first capital of Ivory Coast as a French colony over the country and even today is a popular destination on the outskirts of Abidjan for locals and tourists. It is divided into the old colonial community and the new town with the “Pont de la Victoire” to separate the two areas. We walked a lot in the town, talked with local people, tried local flavors and did “shopping” in the local markets and stalls. 

Plantations everywhere
Ivory Coast is a rich country and it seems to come back to development quite rapidly since the Civil War of 2011 has finished. Relying primarily on agriculture and being one of the largest producers of coffee and cocoa, it manages to have a reasonably high per capita GDP. Wood is the main natural resource while there are some early attempts for oil exploitation across the coastline. Finally, we noticed extensive road works on our way from Yamoussoukro to Abidjan (which is connected through a four lanes highway). We did not notice any Chinese “intervention”. However, we made up a conspiracy theory about the recent move of Didie Drogba from Britain (Chelsea) to China and the also recent visit of Ivorian Prime Minister to China. Local media and African websites refer to Chinese intrusion – especially in the East Side – as the new colonial power despite the fact that the benefits are significant with a considerable impact on the local economies, people and environment.

Bananas in blue bags
We liked: Our giant room at the Koral Beach Hotel in Grand Bassam, the local wood handcrafts, the pineapples and mangoes and the explosive cocktail by Isabelle in the Koral Beach bar. 

We did not like: West Africans DO NOT speak French. We are sure that if Ghislain had to write something on this, definitely it would be his comment. 

We saw: Extensive deforestation of tropical areas and vast plantation of bananas and pineapples.


Average price for diesel 0.95 euro

Local currency: CFA franc - Exchange rate: 1 EUR ≈ 650 CFA

Ivorian Logistics
Driving in Côte d'Ivoire: In general, driving was smooth. Ivorians make use of their indication lights and their horns and they are quite prudent. The main road network is quite good with some potholes from Yamoussoukro to Abidjan. However, it is the first country since Morocco that we drove on a four-lane highway without tolls! Off course, bus and taxi drivers make the difference and sometimes your life less easier.   

Car: Ivory Coast was not a big deal for Zikos. No real off road with the main road network to be paved (only some tropical kilometers after the Guinean borders) and the consumption to be kept as low as possible. 

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