This article is not about cycling but travel so we wanted to share it with you!
Our friends Pierre and Oana, living in Abidjan for 9 months, invited us with some friends to spend a week in Ivory Coast. After having found an arrangement in the family to keep our daughter Adélie, we do not hesitate to buy our plane tickets. Visa: Ok, yellow fever vaccine: Ok! A few days before departure, Pierre tells us that he has contracted malaria for the second time. Quickly we find some malarone tablets.
Leaving Abidjan airport in the middle of December, the heat and humidity strike us (34 ° C)! But we are lucky, it has not been so cold for 9 months. In fact, at this season the Harmattan begins to blow: a very dry and relatively cool wind coming from the Sahara in the north.
The first days we visit Abidjan. The city is located around a lagoon which divides it into different districts. We stay in the district of Cocody known to be chic but very large. The place where we are is quite popular. From the roof of the building, you can observe the football match taking place on the nearby field, listen to the masses of the many churches in the area, see the tower of the famous Hotel Ivoire, admire the lagoon and see the business district: le Plateau.
We cross the lagoon by water bus to go to the Treichville market. We can buy everything: fruits, vegetables, meats, animals …
We are most interesting in African fabrics. We learn that they are in fact not originally from Africa but were imported from China by Dutch traders. Regardless, this is where we find the most beautiful. We buy some in order to go see the tailor and bring back a beautiful colorful dress to Fanchon.
Overlooking the lagoon, a huge building is crowned with a “Bolloré” sign. The firm is well present in the country and operates the only railway line with mixed success. In general, French companies are still very present here and do business to the detriment of the country’s development according to some sources. Raw materials like cocoa, coffee and cotton are sold at low prices and exported for processing rather than being processed locally. We are also surprised to see that for 1 €, we get 655.957 CFA francs. This currency used in many countries of West Africa has remained indexed to the old franc. It seems that thanks to this, France earns a lot of money. In any case, this reveals a problem of independence of the country’s economy regarding Europe.
Next to Yopougon, a popular district of the city, there is the largest open-air laundry in the world. After washing, the washers dry the laundry on the lawns overlooking the road. With the colors of the clothes, the final result is not bad!
They the water of the Banco river, it crosses the Natural Park of the same name located in the middle of the city. A guide takes us there. We discover many species of plants and trees, some of which are threatened. Macoré seed needs to be eaten and digested by an elephant in order to germinate and grow. However, wild elephants are very rare in the country.
The spoken language is French. It is not doomed to disappear because it allows to federate ethnic groups, each having their own language. However, their French is quite different from ours, especially in terms of vocabulary. It is not easy to understand at first glance what someone is telling us in the street.
In the districts that we visited, we were surprised to feel a fairly light and peaceful atmosphere if we disregard the many “la blanc, la blanche” repeated by the children. It disturbed us a bit at first but nothing wrong.
However, poverty is quite obvious and the pervasive corruption of police officers can lead to embarrassing and recurring situations. First rule: if we can do otherwise, never stop in front of a policeman or a soldier even if he is waving to us!
We move away from the coast to visit the north of the country. Our first stop is the capital Yamoussoukro. Compared to Abidjan, it looks like a small village, but this is where the President hotel, the deputies’ hotel, the largest basilica in the world and the Félix Houphouët-Boigny foundation stand. This former president decided to make his native village the capital of the country. He was the first president of Ivory Coast after independence in 1960 until his death in 1993. Some consider him the father of the nation, others as a despot.
So far the road is decent. A few kilometers further north, we understand why the rental agency force us to take a SUV. We slalom between the holes, we avoid the cars which suddenly find themselves in front, we drive in the ditches because a 50 cm deep trench blocks the road. The landscape changes: we leave the tropical forest to reach the bush. Huge leafless trees with orange fruits stand tall, they are baobabs. On the side of the road, Ivorians come out of nowhere to go who knows where. Some offer travelers agoutis by holding them by the tail. An agouti is a wild rodent hunted in the bush that can be eaten in the maquis, a kind of refreshment bar. They are accompanied by Attieke (cassava semolina), alloco (fried plantins bananas) and seed sauce (palm seeds), leaf sauce (with sweet potato leaves) or clear sauce (which blow your head off!) .
After a tiring day of travel we reach the town of Korhogo. This is our base camp to explore the surrounding countryside. A guide who was recommended to us offers us a formula where he takes care of giving small gifts (Knor cubes, soaps, betel nuts, candies …) to the people and children we are going to meet. We accept and leave in his company to discover the region. We start the visit with a sacred rock, a high place of animism. In exchange for a sacrifice (usually a chicken), we can ask the spirits for something. There is something magical in this area.
We continue with local crafts: the factory of painted earthen beads, the fabric factory, the forging of traditional tools and painting on canvas. For the latter we go to a village where Pablo Picasso has stayed on several occasions. He would have given people here special techniques like using a toothbrush for bold lines. We also visit a village where impressive fetish huts stand. Their roof is huge because each year for decades and decades a thin layer of straw has been added.
We end our tour with the largest bush market in West Africa. You can find everything there: food, drink, traditional medicines, shea butter, clothes. There are lots of colors, smells and sounds, all this in the middle of a forest accessible only by (bad) dirt roads. The atmosphere is very pleasant and very unlikely.
During these two days, the inhabitants and in particular the children observed us with curious glances but it is towards the guide that they turned for gifts and sweets.
We must now take the road in the other direction, avoiding the holes and military roadblocks. Fortunately, Chantal Taiba and the Zouglou are there to support us. We find them in the evening on the occasion of New Year’s Eve in the maquis of the youth center around some Solibra (local beer).