Cote d’Iviore aka the Ivory Coast
After two weeks in Ghana I’ve crossed into French speaking Cote d’Iviore Aka the Ivory Coast and my 35th African country.
I crossed into the IC at a remote border crossing between Sampa and Soko. The IC officials were initially not pleased to see us but after a while we got our passports stamped and they mellowed. We were the first tourists they’d seen in a long time and a bit of a novelty for them. By the time we were leaving, all the customs, immigration and police officials wanted their photos taken with us in front of their building.
We drove for another two days, eventually arriving at Comoé National Park.
Comoé National Park is the largest protected area in West Africa and in 1983 the park was pronounced a biosphere reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage site, due to its unique biodiversity. The park out ranks the more famous East African parks like the Serengeti, in supposedly having the most biodiverse savanna in the world.
It took two days of forest roads which weren’t all that bad to reach the ranger station and then an hour of rough national park roads to get to the research station where we spent two nights. Our only real obstacle was a bridge we couldn’t drive across so we drove down the bank and across the creek bed.
The research station is on the banks of the Comoé River where I spent a few hours sitting on the rocks, having a swim and watching the world go by while keeping a watchful eye out for hippos and crocs.
I did a couple of walks exploring the gallery forest and adjacent savanna but disappointingly wildlife was thin on the ground and was probably all killed for food during the recent civil war.
From Comoé we drove west towards Kong and Korhogo for two days which I didn’t enjoy after being bitten by a spider in the park. To add to the fun we drove for long days on rough roads, through hot, dry, dusty and burnt savanna to get to Korhogo, which was pretty much the worst landscape I’ve come across on the continent so far.
After a quick look at the adobe mosque in Kong we continued west and occasionally we’d come across small villages with hundreds of Cashew Trees in nearby plantations. We stopped a couple of times to fill up our water bottles from the village well and crossed a river by a hand operated ferry.
It was washing day when we arrived at the river.
Korhogo was a good two day break from the dusty roads and gave me a chance to pick up a few items from the shops, do some laundry and have a look around town. I left the motel and walked past the ‘Ministry of Professional Techniques’ building (not sure what that’s all about) before checking out a couple of artisan markets and then found myself out of town at a women only granite quarry.
It’s a common sight in Africa to see people on the side of the road breaking rocks but this was the first actual large mine I’d visited. When I walked up to the edge I had trouble comprehending what I was seeing. The hillside mine was uniformly grey granite and there were women in brightly coloured clothes in the mine. I soon realised they were carry bags of rock and most were swinging large hammers in the heat. The photos above and below haven’t been photoshopped. These are the actual colours.
On the last afternoon I joined a local tour operator and we visited a nearby village for some traditional dancing and drumming.
Many countries in Africa have local tribal displays and I always have in the back of mind that they’re going to be contrived and touristy but generally they turn out to be pretty good. I had no hesitation going along to this one because one thing West Africans can do exceedingly well is drum and dance. Most of the village showed up and the dances put on an acrobatic display to sensational drumming. It was a really good afternoon.
My next stop was in whats most likely the World’s strangest and most bizarre capital cities… Yamoussoukro.
Built by the previous president, who like many of his African counterparts ruled the country for thirty years, convincingly winning every election. He was born in the small village of Yamoussoukro and decided he’d turn his village into the capital city, as you do! He spent billions on six lane freeways, grand hotels, government buildings and a huge presidential Palace with a moat full of crocodiles. African nations might struggle when it comes to education, health care and democracy but they’re gold medalists when it comes to building presidential palaces.
If you thought the World’s largest Christian church was in Rome or Europe, you’d be wrong. It’s here in Yamoussoukro. After the ex-pres finished his palace he decided to build a church and built the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Paix. He even convinced the Pope to pop down to Cote d’Iviore to officially open it.
The drive to Abidjan was quick and smooth along the freeway and being Saturday, the run through the city was relatively quick.
Before long I was back on the coast and at the resort town of Grand Bassam which reminds me of Zanzibar, with local artisans, hectic traffic, overcrowding, beach boys and a constant stream of people walking the beach selling everything imaginable, all in an atmosphere of dripping humidity.
Forty kilometers East along the coast is the much smaller town of Assinie-Mafia, so the three of us got in a taxi the next morning and went exploring the coast.
The area is basically a long sand spit of humid palm lined beaches backed by a blue/green lagoon and tempered by a warm breeze from the Gulf of Guinea. We found a guy with a pirogue and set off to explore the lagoon which winds its way behind town through several channels, many of which are lined with large beach houses with private jettys, owned by rich Ivorians from Abidjan.
Joseph Conrad in his famous book, ‘Heart of Darkness’ described the area as, ‘uniform sobreness’, which is a pretty accurate description even today.
Lunch and dinner everyday was deliciously the same. The local barbecued whole fish (poisson braise) with spices is excellent and one of the things I was looking forward to most in West Africa. With the occasional ‘pain au chocolate’ and Bordeaux red, the French influence was much appreciated.
After two weeks I’d covered a good portion of Cote d’Iviore with only the highlands near the Guinea border remaining. We couldn’t visit the IC without visiting the remote mountain tribes which are famous for their Stilt Dancing ceremony.
We drove north towards a town called Man and stayed a night in the village Silakoro, a further 110km through the mountains, where we spent the afternoon watching Stilt Dancing.
The villages sang and danced and drummed for over an hour and then the spirits appeared from the forest on their stilts and spun and danced until dusk when a tropical thunderstorm descended on the village. Another great day in Africa
After four days we crossed the border into Guinea. I’ll be only spending a couple of days in Guinea before heading to Mt Nimba in Liberia. We’ll make our way through Liberia and then Sierra Leone, eventually crossing back into Guinea again sometime in mid-April.
Bye for now.