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Friday, 13 April 2012

Ivory Coast

Day 1 – 7/4/12

The Ivory Coast border crossing was a little more chaotic than some others. A lot of the officials/soldiers were very interested in camper, so we opened the door a number of times to satisfy their curiosity. It took Ray a little time to find the customs office. He was then directed upstairs to the Chief’s office, apparently he is the only one who can sign the Carnet. No problems, it was done quickly. Then to the immigration, again it took Ray a little time to find, but the passports were stamped promptly and we were on our way. No hint of a bribe. At the border crossing we spent our last Ghana money on some drinks and then bought a SIM card, on the spot.

The road to Abidjan is generally of high standard and in very good condition with only a few pot holes. Almost immediately we seemed to be in industrial scale agriculture with massive palm, pineapple, rubber and banana plantations.

The Lonely Planet guide book has Grand Bassam as a highlight, so we diverted off the road to have a look. There is some remnant colonial buildings, though generally in poor condition and not as impressive as, say, Hanoi. It is very difficult to get to the beach as hotels have been built along the foreshore. We suppose you need to pay for access? Makes us very appreciative of the Australian approach of beaches being for all the people. The road from Grand Bassam basically follows the beach to Abidjan and there are lots of cafes and places to stop and relax.

Most of the police road blocks do not bother to stop us and where we stop the police are very polite (we hope this continues). In the towns the road side stalls have a good variety of seasonal fruit & veg - better than we have seen for some time. Also, there seems to be a café culture with small cafes and restaurants in the towns. At least on this day, the traffic seems to be organised, no road rage etc. 

We had organised to meet Didier Ricard, who had looked after us in Mayumba, Gabon, in Abidjan (where he is resident). We stopped in the car park of a large shopping complex with a huge supermarket – it would rival the best in most countries, but clearly the best so far in Africa (strange the things that excite us, hey?). We followed Didier to the accommodation he had kindly booked for us. Le Refuge, sort of a boutique hotel, with pool and a/c. a bit expensive, but nice.

After a bit of a rest we joined Didier & his lovely wife, Corinne at a local restaurant for pizza and some Lebanese food. Yum

Avril driving. 154 km. 7 hrs N  050 16’ 16.1’’ W 0030 58’ 38.5’’

Day 2 – 8/4/12

In the morning, we went back to the Sud Coast shopping centre for a bit of retail therapy. It is a bit like home and it was nice to have something that felt even a bit familiar for a short time. Ray took the opportunity to have a haircut at another equally impressive shopping centre.

Didier and Corinne, had invited us over for lunch and we spend a very pleasant few hours with them. Corinne had cooked up a storm. They have a beautiful 2-year old daughter, Mathilde – how appropriate for Aussie visitors. She is absolutely gorgeous and really took a shine to Ray!!!????

We relaxed in the evening.

Day 3 – 9/4/12

Wow, what a building!!! After a peaceful nights sleep in a/c and having our vehicle washed inside and out, we filled up with fuel and went to the great supermarket to get some fridge items. We were then on our way to Yamoussoukro, the capital of Ivory Coast. On the way we drove past Abidjan’s city centre. Lots of sky scrapers. Abidjan has the reputation of being quite western in appearance and approach and the city with its good road and freeway system gives that impression.

The drive out of the city is all freeway and continues as a high standard divided highway for 140 km. The local lore is that after this it deteriorates to a bad state with poor drivers. Our impression was different, it was Easter Sunday and so the road was not that busy and sometimes there were more repaired road than original, but at least they repair the road. The potholes are very small and inconsequential compared to our past experience – long may this continue. With the easy traffic, nice road, tropical vegetation and the occasional hill, we had a very pleasant drive.

When we reached Yamoussoukro we drove straight to the Basilica. It is an awesome, totally impressive, magnificent building. Forget the negative comments re the money etc, we loved this church. It is taller & larger than St Peters, Notre Dame would fit inside it etc – lots of very impressive statistics. But the whole thing comes together magnificently. 24 massive stained glass windows, soaring columns and a colour scheme that delights. Avril thinks it is the best church that she ever seen and she has seen hundreds! Please could someone let us know when a church becomes a cathedral and when a cathedral becomes a Basilica? And, for Rafik, it was designed by a Fahkary, living in Abidjan. Any relation??

After sitting in the church in awe, we drove to the Catholic Mission to see if we could camp. After shouting us a beer, initially, they said yes and we set up. However…

We had met Charles, a Cameroonian UN peace worker at the Basilica (who could speak English) and he came around to check we were OK. Mmm, problem. Actually, it is not OK to camp, a bit embarrassing all around. So we packed up and Charles took us to a new hotel, Hotel Fondy. Brand new, with a/c, internet etc and all for CFA 15,000. A very good deal.

We went for a chicken and chips dinner with Charles and a friend.

Ray driving. 254 km. 3.25 hrs N  060 49’ 59.7’’ W 0050 15’ 36.2’’

Day 4 – 10/4/12

 It looked like it had rained overnight. This makes us a bit worried. The day started rather badly, Rays Kindle had frozen – looks like this might be a common problem as there are instructions on how to fix this on the Kindle site. Our problem is that our West Africa Travel guides are on the Kindle. So now we are “guideless”. Ray spent a lot of time on the phone to Amazon and it seemed we might be able to sort out a solution to transfer the material to Avril’s Kindle. But, despite the call to the UK supposedly being “free”, we ran out of credit at the critical point.

We got more credit, but when we rang back, go a very ineffectual person. Ray asked for the supervisor, but we were cut off; mmm, wonder how that happened. So, it could be an interesting time until we get to a high speed internet connection.

Amazon will replace the unit for GBP 50. But we need to select a place to get the Kindle delivered to.

Charles was kind enough to lead us out of the capital and we then drove to Man. The road is generally in good condition, however there are some badly degraded sections of pot holes and wash-aways. The good road runs out as you hit the main street of Man, which makes for a wild-west town sort of appearance. To assist matters, there were road works on the main through-road, so we had to drive through the very narrow lanes of the local market.

After a bit of a drive around, a local lad attached himself to us and we made our way to the only “decent” hotel in town – the Hotel CAA; CFA 8,000/night. We then took a tour of the local attractions, monkeys, water falls (very dry, but life is full of choices dry water fall or rainy season?) and scenic view from what will be the president’s house when he is in town (renovations are underway).

Ray then had the frustration of trying to sort out the Kindle books again (no success).

Avril driving. 333 km. 6 hrs N  070 24’ 20.3’’ W 0070 32’ 45.1’’

Day 5 – 11/4/12

A bit of adventure and a pleasant drive. We had a choice of driving directly to Liberia or taking a Michelin green/scenic route into Guinea. After ignoring some pessimistic weather reports we elected to go the scenic route. It did not rain all day, so that was good.

After a relaxed start we drove to the turn off to Danane and the Guinea border. At the turn off one of the soldiers assisted Ray in finding a store selling his omelette in a baguette breakfast. The road it Danane is good tar and the tropical vegetation continues. We notice that folks are a lot poorer in this region than down south.

At Danane the road becomes a reasonable quality gravel road and then 10 km before the border it deteriorates quite a bit. But, they are working on it at the moment. ~ 50 km to the border took 1.5 hours including a couple of road blocks.

We completed the customs formalities at Danane and the immigration at the border. They inspected out inoculation books, seemingly/maybe looking for something wrong. Ray did not have his passport number on his (BHP issued) book and they began to question this. Quick as a flash, Ray grabbed a pen and wrote the number on the book, the police laughed and the problem was solved. No request for a bribe.

 Ivory Coast Summary

We really enjoyed our brief stay in Cote d’Ivore. It seemed to be a very organised country. Despite some negative reports, we had no security concerns and walked around the streets where we were staying in Abidjan. The roads are generally in good condition. We had no issues at the road blocks. We enjoyed the shopping & restaurants in Abidjan. There was generally a good selection of fresh fruit & veg.

The Basilica is wonderful.

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