COTE d’IVOIRE – The Trip

COTE d’IVOIRE Dec 9-11 2017

Ivory Coast is a country located in West Africa. Ivory Coast’s political capital is Yamoussoukro, and its economic capital and largest city is the port city of Abidjan. Its bordering countries are Guinea and Liberia in the west, Burkina Faso and Mali in the north, and Ghana in the east. The Gulf of Guinea (Atlantic Ocean) is located south of Ivory Coast.
Prior to its colonization by Europeans, Ivory Coast was home to several states, including Gyaaman, the Kong Empire, and Baoulé. Two Anyi kingdoms, Indénié and Sanwi, attempted to retain their separate identity through the French colonial period and after independence. Ivory Coast became a protectorate of France in 1843–44 and was later formed into a French colony in 1893 amid the European scramble for Africa. Ivory Coast achieved independence in 1960, they were led by Félix Houphouët-Boigny, who ruled the country until 1993. It maintained close political and economic association with its West African neighbours while at the same time maintaining close ties to the West, especially France. Since the end of Houphouët-Boigny’s rule in 1993, Ivory Coast has experienced one coup d’état, in 1999, and two religion-grounded civil wars – from 2002 and 2007 and the second during 2010-2011.
Ivory Coast is a republic with a strong executive power invested in its President. Through the production of coffee and cocoa, the country was an economic powerhouse in West Africa during the 1960s and 1970s. Ivory Coast went through an economic crisis in the 1980s, contributing to a period of political and social turmoil. Changing into the 21st-century Ivorian economy is largely market-based and still relies heavily on agriculture, with smallholder cash-crop production being dominant.
The official language is French, with local indigenous languages also widely used, including Baoulé, Dioula, Dan, Anyin, andCebaara Senufo. In total there are around 78 languages spoken in Ivory Coast. The main religions are Islam, Christianity (primarily Roman Catholicism), and various indigenous religions.
Despite recent conflict, its gorgeous beaches and rainforests make it a great stop. In the south, the Parc National de Tal has chimps and Man has a highland climate, fresh air, peaks and valleys. The beach resorts of Assinie and Grand Bassum are weekend retreats from Abidjan – home to lagoons winding their way between skyscrapers and cathedrals.

Official Name. Republic of Cote d’Ivoire
Capital and largest city. Abidjan 6°51’N 5°18’W
Languages. Official – French. Vernacular – Betel Dioula, baoule, Abron, Agui, Cebaara Senufo
Ethnic Groups. 42.1% Akan, 17.6% Voltaiques / Gur, 16.5% Northern Mandé, 11.0% Krous, 10.0% Southern Mandé, 2.8% others
Demonym. Ivorian, Ivoirian
Government. Unitary presidential republic. President Alassane Ouattara
Independence from France. 7 August 1960
Area. Total 322,463 km2 (69th). Water 1.4%
Population. 2014 estimate 23,919,000[2] (53rd). 2014 census 22,671,331. Density. 63.9/km2 (139th)
165.6/sq mi
GDP (PPP). 2016 estimate – Total $85.310 billion. Per capita $3,506
GDP (nominal). 2016 estimate. Total $34.284 billion. Per capita $1,409
When to Go. May-Jul: Storms with lots of rain and lightning. Jun-Oct: Wet in the north but humid with bursts of rain in the south. Temperatures about 28C. Dec-Feb: Prime beach season with temperatures hitting 30 and not a cloud in the sky.

MONEY. West African CFA fra (XOF). Exchange rate (Sept 2016): 1 Euro = 655.96 CFA fra. 1US$ = 587.94 CFA fra.
ATMs are widespread in Abidjan, Grand Bassam, Yamoussoukro and major towns. Visa best. Banks are open from 8-11:30am & 2:30-4:30pm M-F.

VISAS. All but nationals of Ecowas (Economic Community of West African States) countries visiting must obtain a visa before arrival. The process is online at the Official Website. The website design is lacking and completing the application process may require you to translate some french. Extensions available in Abidjan.
The Ivory Coast embassy of Conakry currently (April 2016) refuses to deliver visas to get from Guinea to Ivory Coast and the border is theoretically closed.
Yellow fever certificate required. Will be given on the spot if you don’t have it.
We obtained our Cote d’Ivoire visa in Rabat, Morocco. The fee (68 Euros) must be paid online, the emailed receipt is printed out and is taken to the embassy. There, biometrics (finger prints and photo) are done, forms filled out and all is scanned and sent to the home immigration office. The visa was picked up 2 days later.

We arrived at the border post at 6pm and camped at the Cote d’Ivoire immigration post after the standard 1 hour waits to get exit and entrance stamps on each side. There are few available places to camp in the forest. I wish that we would stay more in towns and have a chance to interact with the locals more. Everyone seems to feel there is a security problem, but I think it is unlikely that anything would be stolen in these rural areas.

We have been lucky to camp at elevations around 500m producing relatively cool nights after the sweltering days. It was lovely waking up to the cacophony of competing roosters and the bleating of goats surrounding the post. Many of the older homes had roofs of sod planted with a thin green vine. Concrete blocks are rarely used in these rural places and the production of mud bricks (dirt and water placed in molds, but no straw as in the adobe of the American South West). It makes building a home within the reach of practically anyone. If plastered and covered with a good corrugated metal roof, they can be quite water-resistant. Living in these rural areas involves a lot of work. The road always has women carrying firewood and unbelievably large metal basins of water on their heads.

At one village we had a group of 6 little boys run for what seemed like a kilometre after the truck. These kids have such exuberant reactions to us. I occasionally wave at the adults if they wave but always have a smile and wave at the children. I think they are yelling ‘white man’ in their local language. The commonest play thing for boys is a small, narrow tire rolled along with a stick. I once saw a kid pulling 2 wooden train cars on a long string. All towns have a rough football pitch.

After a few hours, at Kenan-Houle, electric power lines appeared and the road improved to 2-lane dirt with fewer potholes. By noon, we drove through Kanou and hit pavement. It is astounding our dirty we get in the truck on dirt roads. The tarp on the front top of the truck and all the windows are rolled back for ventilation. Even though we meet almost no traffic (since Lola we saw only one truck full of men and one other truck; almost everyone travels on these rough roads by motorcycle), the truck stirs up a lot of dust that soon coats our clothes and the thin layer of sweat that covers our skin. It is hot and humid during the day and I could never have imagined how dirty we would get. Even Sotaro, the young Japanese guy is filthy (Japanese are easily the most perfectionist and clean people anywhere). When we wash our clothes by hand, it is astonishing how dirty the water gets.

At Duekore, we dropped off 5 of the group who were heading south to go to Tai National Park. Held by rebels until 2009, the park is apparently pristine with great wildlife. But they are having to stay in accommodation (unbelievable expensive in these countries), arrange transportation in share vans and will be leaving the truck for at least a week. They will also be traveling through Abidjan and all the beaches on the coast of Cote d’Ivoire, which we are all missing.

We didn’t go to Abidjan or any of the beaches. The following is included for information and possibly summarizes the trip taken by the rest of the group.
WESTERN BEACHES
SASSANDRA. A low-key beach resort in the far-western corner of Côte d’Ivoire, may be a little dog-eared these days, but there’s something endearing – and enduring – here, for travellers keep going back.
SAN PÉDRO. Framed by a strip of soft, white sand on one side, and the distant shadows of the fertile Parc National de Taï on the other, a stop in San Pedro promises beach life and forest treks. It’s also the best place to overnight if you’re heading overland into Liberia via Tabou and Harper.
UTB buses link San Pédro with Abidjan once daily. Shared taxis go west to the balmy beaches of Grand-Béréby and east to Sassandra. For Harper, just across the Liberian border, you can take a shared taxi to Tabou then continue on by a combination of road and boat; it’s not worth attempting in the rainy season.

PARC NATIONAL DE TAÏ
There are many places in West Africa that could be dubbed one of the region’s ‘best-kept secrets’, but perhaps none so as much as Taï (www.parc-national-de-tai.org), a 5000-sq-km reserve of rainforest so dense that scientists are only just beginning to discover the wealth of flora and fauna that lies within.
Until about 2009, Taï was off limits due to the presence of militias, who set up camp beneath its birdsong-strung canopies. Now the only camp inside is an eco-camp, the year-round Touraco Ecotel (www.parcnationaltai.com) , which has a sprinkling of thatch-topped round huts and a restaurant on the edge of a forest clearing. Take forest hikes with local rangers, visiting the Hana River, Buya Lake and Mt Niénokoué, where you can stop at the primate research base famous for its nut-cracking chimps.
Taï is 213km from San Pédro; it’s about a three-hour drive outside the rainy season. If you have your own vehicle, hit the road until you reach the village of Djouroutou, on the west side of the park. Public transport will take longer and you may have to change.

ABIDJAN (pop 4.5 million)
Côte d’Ivoire’s economic engine lies between lagoons and waterways, overlooking the Atlantic. At first glimpse, you wonder if these shiny scrapers can really be in West Africa. It is one of Africa’s sleekest party cities. Its breathtaking skyline started with La Pyramide by the Italian architect Olivieri.
Cathedrale St Paul (8am-7pm). Designed by the Italian Aldo Spiritom, the Cathedrale St Paul is a bold and innovative modern cathedral. The stained glasswork is as warm and rich as that inside the Yamoussoukro basilica.
Musée National (9am-5pm Tue-Sat) This museum houses an interesting collection of traditional art and craftwork, including wooden statues and masks, pottery, ivory and bronze.

THE EASTERN BEACHES
GRAND BASSON. Arty and bathed in faded glory, beachside Bassam was Côte d’Ivoire’s former French capital, until a yellow-fever epidemic broke out there, prompting the French to move their capital to Bingerville.
The city is laid out on a long spit of land with a quiet lagoon on one side and the turbulent Atlantic Ocean on the other. If you take a dip, watch the strong currents. A walk through town will take you past the colonial buildings the city is known for; some have been restored, while others are slowly falling apart.
Palais de Justice. Built in 1910, it was in this building that members of Côte d’Ivoire’s PDCI-RDA political group – that of Houphouët- Boigny – were arrested by the French authorities in 1949, in the struggle that preceded independence.
Musée National du Costume. in the former governor’s palace, has a nice little exhibit showing housing styles of various ethnic groups.
Dugout-canoe trips to see traditional crab fishers, mangroves and birdlife can be arranged with local boatmen.
ASSINIE. Quiet little Assinie is a triumvirate of villages: Assinie village, Assinie Mafia and Assouindé. It attracts overlanders, washed-up surfers and rich weekenders from Abidjan who run their quad bikes up and down its peroxide-blonde beach. Watch the rip tides; they can be powerful.

MY TRIP
The trip is approximately one week behind because of the detour through Mali (the only place to get a Nigerian visa) and Liberia where neither Steve nor Oasis had ever been before. Some of the travellers obtained their Ghana visa too early and we need to be in Ghana before they expire. There has also been a major strike of police and there are fears that we could get involved and possibly be trapped in Abidjan. Travel insurance is invalidated if medical care is required as a result of civil war or disturbance.

Around the city of Man, there were a few industrial sawmills, something I have not seen before. The road drove through road that crossed over Lake Bono, a huge reservoir resulting from a dam on the Sassandra River. Large rice paddies surrounded the lake and fish were for sale in the towns.
We bush camped at the construction site of a university just outside the town of Keibla, east of Duekoré. Loud music from the town lasted until about 2am. There are surprisingly few insects when we are away from the ocean. I often read at night with a headlight with the door of my tent open with no bugs.

Elaborate graves (elevated on top of cement crypts and often tiled) line the road especially around most towns. This is a primarily Christian country. We stopped at stands selling fruit – 80¢ for 20 oranges or a large pineapple, a large bag of ginger for $1.50. The main crops are banana, cassava (a spindly tree that produces large root tubers, a mainstay of their diet, relatively deficient in vitamins, but it grow well in the hot, dry climate), tomatoes, rice, potato, and maize.
It was a 140km drive to Yamoussoukro, the capital of Cote d’Ivoire. The first president of the country, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, moved the capital here, his home town. He built a large Presidential Palace with ponds full or crocodiles (a UN employee died here while posing for photos) and a huge basilica.

BASILICA de NOTRE-DAME de la PAIX (Basilica of our Lady of Peace)
This was built supposedly using President Houphouët-Boigny’S own money (he owned large cacao plantations; the cost is unknown but was built to thank God and show his belief in peace in his country; he donated the 150 hectares of land, once a coconut plantation). It was designed by the Lebanese/Cote d’Ivoire architect Pierre Fakhoury and construction took 4500 men working 24/7 from 1986-1989. It was consecrated by Pope Jean Paul II in 1990. It sits on the northern edge of Yamoussoukro, well separated from the city itself and sits on 37 hectares. The gardens are modelled after Versailles with grass (brown) and elaborate hedges surrounded by a wrought iron fence. It is 1 kilometer from the gate to the front of the basilica, all paved with marble. In all there are 7 hectares of marble forming the road and floor of the basilica. The marble came from 3 countries. All the columns are built of concrete made from locally accessed material. All the rainwater falling on the marble floor is collected and piped to the crocodile infested lakes in front of the Presidential Palace.
Designed to be a close copy of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, it is the largest basilica in the world. The dome is the largest in the world at 138m high, 2 meters taller than St Peter’s. On top is a 28m tall golden globe lantern bringing its total height to 160m. The globe weighs 320 tons and required 12 hydraulic engines seventeen hours to raise it to the top of the dome.
The basilica has three major parts:
St Peter’s Square. The four hectare square is able to hold 150,000 people and is formed by two huge arms welcoming worshippers. The arms are formed by 128 huge columns holding up a roof with four domes representing the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In the center of the square is a large marble dove designed into the floor. The right arm has the 14 Ways of the Cross.
The Lobby. Designed as a huge cross that surrounds the sanctuary, it can accommodate 30,000 people. 84 columns support a panoramic walkway that sits 42m above the floor of the structure. A Christmas tree backs an intricately wood carved Nativity Scene on the far end.
The Sanctuary. This huge circular structure is centered under the dome and has seating for 20,000 worshippers. A 38m high balcony surrounds the sanctuary. It is supported by 48 smaller columns with Doric capitals and 12 large columns with Ionic capitals and is accessed by stairs with 196 steps and an elevator (takes 27 seconds to ascend the 11 stories) built into two of the large columns. The dome rises 82 meters above the balcony.
The dome is formed by decreasing blue concentric walls topped by a 40m-diameter skylight composed of stained glass with a dove with a 7m wingspan. A second balcony circles the bottom of sky light (not accessible by the public).
There is 7,400 square meters of stained glass in the sanctuary, the largest area of stained glass in the world. Made in Bordeaux, France, the 24 main windows tell bible stories and are all magnificent creations. The second level balcony has 12 large stained glass windows for the 12 apostles.
The pews are made of Kotibe wood from Cote d’Ivoire. The backs of the pews contain built in vents supplying air conditioning to the center of the sanctuary. A plaque marks the presidents seat in the front row of pews. Each seat has a red cushion constructed of covered fiberglass used to absorb sound for the acoustics.
The center of the sanctuary is supported by 4 huge 28m twisted columns made of brass and silver. Each column has 14 speakers make redundant by the perfect acoustics of the structure. In the center hangs a 50kg gold-plated cross under a cut glass chandelier made in Morano, Italy. The balcony has 456-1000 watt light projectors that project into the dome and reflect down onto the lapis lazuli altar of the sanctuary.
There are two chapels in the sanctuary. The Mary Chapel contains a marble statue, a replica of the Michelangelo statue in St Peter’s but has a raised right arm and holds the baby Jesus in its left arm (opposite to St Peter’s in respect to African culture). Mass is held here on March 19 and May 1, World wide Workers Day.
The Joseph Chapel has a 860kg white marble statue.
Other statues in the sanctuary include a wood African Mary carved by a Muslim man who was in jail at the time and had never carved anything before. Looking at from underneath, the face is sad, but from a distance, it shows Mary smiling. The other wood statue is of Jean Paul II who was canonized in 2013. He visited the Basilica three times. There are 12 confessional boxes. Offerings are placed in boxes topped with lighted candles that “light” when money is inserted.
Under the center is an Adoration altar where the blessed sacrament of bread and wine is prepared for Holy Communion.
A baptismal font sits on the outside right of the sanctuary. It contains an inlaid dove.
The sanctuary is entered via 24 doors between each huge stained glass window and each fronted by huge circular air conditioning vents that blow air upwards forming an air curtain to keep the cold, air-conditioned air coming from the back of the pews inside.
Services are held on Sundays at 10am and are usually attended by about 400 worshippers. Baptisms and Anniversaries are also held here but not weddings.
The entrance fee is 2000 CFA (about 3€). No dogs, cats, horses, exposed abdomens, shorts, open-toed shoes (we all entered wearing flip-flops or sandals), pipes, cigarettes, cigars, machetes or fighting are allowed.
A large building to the west of the basilica is a residence for the pope when he visits.

Steve lost our original Yellow Fever vaccination certificates (probably at the Liberia/Guinea border). This could have caused significant problems as the originals are required by every country we visit. But he was able to obtain new ones copied from photocopies in Yamoussoukro for a relatively minimal cost.

We bush camped in dense forest east of Yamoussoukro. We were visited by about 10 villagers and the local police enquiring about us. They took our passports to be returned in the morning.
We then drove SE to Abergourou and then turned NE to Agnibilekrou, all on good paved roads. It was then a long drive on dirt roads east to the Cote d’Ivoire/Ghana border. The Indian man on the trip had had great difficulty obtaining a Ghana visa (he was given a letter issued by someone in Ghana government in Accra) that was very unusual. It took several hours and many phone calls to Accra to get the whole mess sorted out. It ended up being dark by then and we camped next to the immigration office in the large truck bay. This was the first time I had power in several days (Monrovia) and wrote this until midnight in the immigration building open 24/7.

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I would like to think of myself as a full time traveler. I have been retired since 2006 and in that time have traveled every winter for four to seven months. The months that I am "home", are often also spent on the road, hiking or kayaking. I hope to present a website that describes my travel along with my hiking and sea kayaking experiences.
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